By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing for us to set a small number of cookies. Cookie policy

Desktop
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
 
You are in :

Cofnod y Trafodion
The Record of Proceedings

Dydd Mercher, 2 Chwefror 2011
Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cynnwys
Contents

Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog dros Faterion Gwledig
Questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs

Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog dros yr Amgylchedd, Cynaliadwyedd a Thai
Questions to the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

Dadl ar Adroddiad y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad o dan Reol Sefydlog Rhif 16.8 Debate on the Committee on Standards of Conduct’s Report under Standing Order No. 16.8

Adroddiad y Pwyllgor Plant a Phobl Ifanc, 'Darparu Mannau Diogel i Chwarae a Chymdeithasu’
The Children and Young People Committee’s Report 'Safe Places to Play and Hang Out’

Dadl y Ceidwadwyr Cymreig: Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus
Welsh Conservatives Debate: Public Services

Dadl Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru: Addysg
Welsh Liberal Democrats Debate: Education

Cyfnod Pleidleisio
Voting Time

Dadl Fer: Achub yr Achubwyr—Dyfodol Darpariaeth Gwylwyr y Glannau yng Nghymru
Short Debate: Rescuing the Rescuers—The Future of Coastguard Provision in Wales

Yn y golofn chwith, cofnodwyd y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y Siambr. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir cyfieithiad Saesneg o gyfraniadau yn y Gymraeg.
In the left-hand column, the proceedings are recorded in the language in which they were spoken in the Chamber. In addition, an English translation of Welsh speeches is included.

Cyfarfu’r Cynulliad am 1.30 p.m. gyda’r Llywydd (Dafydd Elis-Thomas) yn y Gadair.

The Assembly met at 1.30 p.m. with the Presiding Officer (Dafydd Elis-Thomas) in the Chair.

The Record

Y Llywydd: Trefn ar gyfer cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog cefn gwlad.

The Presiding Officer: Order for questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs.

Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog dros Faterion Gwledig
Questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs

The Record

Blaenoriaethau

Priorities

1. Nick Ramsay: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am ei blaenoriaethau ar gyfer 2011. OAQ(3)1253(RAF)

1. Nick Ramsay: Will the Minister make a statement on her priorities for 2011. OAQ(3)1253(RAF)

The Record

Perhaps I should say early 2011 specifically. [Laughter.]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Elin Jones): I remain committed to delivering the objectives set out in the 'One Wales’ agreement and working to deliver sustainable farming, forestry and food industries for the benefit of Wales and its rural communities—in early 2011.

Nick Ramsay: I will get these questions right one day.

I wish to ask you about the Red Meat Industry (Wales) Measure 2010. What has happened, policy wise, since that process was approved? I am sure that you are aware that, in the mid-1990s, the agriculture industry in Wales contributed £634 million to the gross value added figures, but it shrank by 68 per cent over the following decade. I accept that it also shrank across the UK, but there was a particular shrinkage in Wales. The shrinkage in the GVA that agriculture contributed was due in many respects to the type of agriculture that we have here. You delivered the red meat Measure, which was welcomed by all political parties, as a means of addressing the particular problems that the farming industry faces in Wales. Since that Measure was passed, how have your policies changed, and how has your approach to the agriculture sector changed, in order to ensure that, over the coming months and years, our agriculture industry can contribute more to Wales’s economic wellbeing than it does at present?

Elin Jones: Thank you for the question. The red meat Measure did not aspire to increase the contribution of agriculture to GVA directly. It was meant to contribute to putting powers in place that would enable us to allow Hybu Cig Cymru to raise a direct levy from the red meat sector, as well as powers to ensure that, if we need to consider in future a different system of levy collection to the one that exists currently in Wales, England and Scotland, we would have the powers in place to do so. I believe that it is known that there is a leakage of levy to England, especially the cattle levy, as we do not have enough cattle slaughter capacity in Wales. That is to the detriment of our ability to raise funding to promote red meat.

However, I am heartened by the statistics on farming incomes that have been released over the past 12 months, which show an increase in farming incomes in Wales. That increase has been at a higher rate than in general farming incomes in England. That increase is primarily in the livestock industry; I do not claim direct credit for that, and I do not believe that the red meat Measure directly affected that. Several circumstances, especially trading circumstances and the export of lamb, in particular, have contributed to a higher market price, which has led to an increase in farming incomes, albeit from a low base, as I am sure farmers would want to remind me.

The Record

Y Llywydd: Tynnwyd cwestiwn 2, OAQ(3)1271(RAF), yn ôl.

The Presiding Officer: Question 2, OAQ(3)1271(RAF), has been withdrawn.

Blaenoriaethau

Priorities

3. Nerys Evans: Beth yw blaenoriaethau’r Gweinidog ar gyfer gweddill y Cynulliad hwn. OAQ(3)1281(RAF)

3. Nerys Evans: What are the Minister’s priorities for the remainder of this Assembly. OAQ(3)1281(RAF)

Elin Jones: Mae fy mlaenoriaethau ar gyfer gweddill y Cynulliad hwn yn cynnwys gweithio i sicrhau’r fargen orau posibl o dan y polisi amaethyddol cyffredin, rhoi Glastir ar waith, dileu TB buchol, ac adeiladu ar lwyddiant fy nghynllun cymorth i newydd-ddyfodiaid i amaethyddiaeth.

Elin Jones: My priorities for the remainder of this Assembly include working to secure the best common agricultural policy deal possible, the implementation of Glastir, the eradication of bovine TB, and building on the success of my young entrants to agriculture support scheme.

Nerys Evans: Un mater sy’n codi’n ddyddiol wrth siarad ag etholwyr yng nghefn gwlad Cymru yw pris petrol, pris olew i’r tŷ, a phris diesel coch. Cynyddodd pris olew i’r tŷ 73 y cant rhwng misoedd Medi a Rhagfyr y flwyddyn ddiwethaf. Bûm yn siarad â chadeirydd grŵp henoed Llangynog yn sir Gaerfyrddin yn ddiweddar. Dywedodd ei fod yn pryderu y daw amser pan na fydd henoed yn gallu fforddio byw yng nghefn gwlad oherwydd pris cynhesu’r tŷ. Yr oedd diesel coch yn costio 17c y litr yn 2002. Yr oeddwn yn trafod hyn gyda ffermwyr yn nhref Caerfyrddin ddechrau’r wythnos, ac mae rhai ohonynt yn talu 70c y litr amdano erbyn hyn. A ydych yn rhannu fy siom bod y cynnydd yn nhreth ar werth wedi dwysáu’r broblem hon, fod Llywodraeth San Steffan hefyd yn cynllunio cynnydd arall, sydd ar y gorwel, a’i bod wedi camu’n ôl o’i haddewid i gyflwyno rheolaeth tanwydd? Mae’r materion hyn yn effeithio ar bawb yng Nghymru, ond yn effeithio’n fwy ar bobl yng nghefn gwlad sy’n ddibynnol ar y car ac yn ddibynnol ar olew i wresogi’r tŷ, ac ar ffermwyr sy’n ddibynnol ar ddiesel coch i allu gweithio bob dydd.

Nerys Evans: One issue that is raised on a daily basis by constituents in rural areas is the price of petrol, domestic oil and red diesel. The price of domestic oil increased by 73 per cent between September and December last year. I spoke to the chair of a group representing the elderly in Llangynog, Carmarthenshire recently. He said that he is concerned that there will come a time when older people will not be able to afford to live in rural areas because of the cost of heating their homes. Red diesel cost 17p a litre in 2002. I discussed this issue with farmers in Carmarthen at the beginning of the week, and some of them are now paying 70p a litre for red diesel. Do you share my disappointment that the increase in value added tax has intensified this problem, that the Westminster Government is also planning another increase, and that it has also reneged on its pledge to introduce a fuel regulator? These matters have an impact on everyone in Wales, but have a greater impact on people in rural areas who are dependent on their cars and on oil to heat their homes, and on farmers who are dependent on red diesel to be able to work each day.

Elin Jones: Yr wyf yn cytuno bod effaith y cynnydd ym mhrisiau petrol ac olew tanwydd yn effeithio ar bawb yng Nghymru, a’i fod yn effeithio ar fusnesau a chymunedau yng nghefn gwlad yn enwedig. Mae’r cynnydd yn ystod y misoedd diwethaf wedi arwain at wasgfa ar fusnesau yng nghefn gwlad yn benodol. Yr wyf yn falch o ddweud heddiw fod Prif Weinidogion a Dirprwy Brif Weinidogion Gogledd Iwerddon, yr Alban a Chymru wedi codi’r mater penodol hwn yng nghyfarfod y cydbwyllgor Gweinidogion ar lefel gwledydd Prydain. Maent wedi gofyn yn benodol i Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol beidio â chodi’r dreth ar danwydd, fel sydd i fod i ddigwydd ar 1 Ebrill, a chydnabod y byddai gwneud hynny’n gyfraniad pwysig tuag at yr economi wledig yn y tair gwlad hynny. Gobeithiaf yn fawr y bydd Llywodraeth San Steffan yn ymateb i’r her gan Weinidogion y tair gwlad.  

Elin Jones: I agree that the impact of the increase in petrol and oil prices has an impact on everyone in Wales, and that it affects rural businesses and communities in particular. The increase in the past few months has led to a pressure on rural businesses specifically. I am pleased to be able to say today that the First Ministers and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have raised this specific matter in a meeting of the joint ministerial committee on a UK level. They have asked the United Kingdom Government specifically not to increase the tax on fuel, as is supposed to happen on 1 April, and to acknowledge that not doing so would be an important contribution to the rural economy in those three countries. I hope very much that the Westminster Government will respond to the challenge laid down by the Ministers of the three countries.

The Record

The Leader of the Opposition (Nick Bourne): I have a question about Glastir, which I have raised with the Minister previously. Of the 15,000-plus people who expressed an interest in the scheme, only 2,904 applied; that is about 20 per cent, give or take, which is a very low percentage. I know that a review has been initiated, and perhaps the Minister can update us as to when we can expect some information on it. I wonder, because of the concerns expressed by the farming unions as well as individual farmers, whether she will look at allowing farmers to join the scheme for 2012 early this year.

Elin Jones: To update Members on the review, I appointed a panel to undertake the review and have asked Rees Roberts to chair it. I think that that appointment has been well received and I hope that the panel produces a piece of work that is independent of Government and will inform the future shape of Glastir. I believe that the first meeting was held yesterday and that the panel has scheduled further meetings for February so that it is able to provide me with recommendations on any changes to the Glastir prescriptions so that I may make the decisions in March. I have also taken the decision to pay Tir Mynydd in full in 2011 and 2012. The process will then be that the changes to the Glastir prescriptions will be offered retrospectively to those who have made applications in the first round, and will be offered to those seeking to make applications in the second round in 2012. If I have not answered your specific question, I will need to hear it again, because I may have not understood it.

Nick Bourne: I think that you did, perhaps, understand it, but possibly not. The specific question was that if there is going to be a significant shift as a result of the review, will you consider opening the process now to allow farmers to apply so that they can join Glastir in 2012, which is not possible at the moment.

Elin Jones: No; I do not think that it would be possible for me to do that. As I have said, I will apply any changes retrospectively to those who made applications in 2010 for 2012. The next opportunity to apply will be later this year for entry in 2013. I do not think that we are in a position to be able to re-open the Glastir application round for farmers for 2012. However, a number of farmers in Tir Gofal and those with Tir Cynnal agreements have chosen to carry on with those fully until the end of 2013, and I expect that a number of them will then look to enter Glastir at that point rather than doing so this year.

1.40 p.m.

Lorraine Barrett: I would hope that an improvement in the welfare of racing greyhounds is, and will continue to be, a priority for you, as it is for me. You will know that I have done a lot of work with Greyhound Rescue Wales, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Dogs Trust to bring the greyhound regulations into fruition. I understand that you now have those regulations. Could you give an update on how you see those regulations to improve the welfare of racing greyhounds progressing?

Elin Jones: Yes. You have raised the greyhound regulations with me before as they have been introduced in England, but have not, to date, been introduced in Wales. We have one remaining greyhound track in Wales, although that should not necessarily be an indication of the extent of the issue of greyhound welfare in Wales. We have, as a Government, looked to prioritise new legislation on animal welfare issues, such as on the issue of electric shock dog collars, and have undertaken a consultation on the breeding of dogs. They were priorities for my department. In time, under the next Government, I am sure that a Minister will want to look fully at considering the introduction of the greyhound regulations.

The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (Kirsty Williams): Minister, there appears to be a misconception among many in the farming community with regard to the reasons behind your Government’s decision to ultimately cease Tir Mynydd payments, given that you have now made a commitment to make those payments for the next two years. It is believed that that is driven by the European Union. Can you confirm this afternoon that it would be perfectly within EU rules for the Welsh Assembly Government to continue to make less favoured area payments?

Elin Jones: Given that I have committed to making Tir Mynydd payments in 2011 and 2012, the issue of further LFA payments will be one for consideration as a result of the common agricultural policy review. It is currently unclear as to how LFA payments or support for farmers will be provided. The European Commission proposals refer to it as possibly being a pillar 1 payment, which would be a significant change from where we have been in terms of our ability to make LFA payments here. Of course, I have recognised the need to contribute payments for the higher costs of farming in the LFA, and that has been achieved by topping up Glastir for LFA farmers.

Kirsty Williams: I am grateful for that answer, but it does not address the question that I asked. There is a misconception within the farming community that your decision to do away with Tir Mynydd payments is as a result of European rules, and that you have no choice but to take this action. Of course, there are only two countries in the entire European Union that will not continue with direct payments for LFAs—England, following a decision taken under the previous Government, and Wales, following your decision, prior to your review, to do away with Tir Mynydd payments. LFA payments in Scotland, for instance, are going to continue. Can you clarify that it is not a decision of the European Union that has driven you to make the decision about LFA payments?

Elin Jones: I have outlined previously in the Chamber that the common agricultural policy health check pointed all European Union countries to the requirements and challenges of future agricultural policy. Those requirements were to halt biodiversity decline, to promote renewable energy production, to promote water management and to combat climate change. That is why I have embarked upon a scheme for Wales that meets those criteria. In doing so, I have also looked to provide additional payment to meet the costs of farming in LFAs.

The Record

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Weinidog, yn gyntaf, croesawaf y ffaith eich bod wedi dod i gyfarfod yr Is-bwyllgor Datblygu Gwledig i adrodd yn ôl ar gynllun Glastir, a’ch bod hefyd wedi adrodd yn ôl ar eich penderfyniad ynglŷn â thaliadau Tir Mynydd. Credaf fod y penderfyniad hwn yn eithriadol o bwysig i ffermwyr. Gallaf ddweud wrthych fod ffermwyr yn sir Gaerfyrddin yn ddiolchgar iawn eich bod wedi gwneud y penderfyniad hwn. A allwch ddweud wrthym, yng nghyd-destun dyfodol cynllun Glastir, a fydd cyfle i ffermwyr nad ydynt wedi mynegi diddordeb ar hyn o bryd fynegi diddordeb yn y dyfodol er mwyn dod yn rhan o’r cynllun?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Minister, first of all, I welcome the fact that you came to a meeting of the Rural Development Sub-committee to report back on the Glastir scheme, and that you also reported back on your decision on Tir Mynydd payments. I believe that that decision was extremely important for farmers. I can tell you that farmers in Carmarthenshire are very grateful that you took that decision. Can you tell us, in the context of the future of the Glastir scheme, whether farmers who have not expressed an interest to date will be able to express an interest in the future to join the scheme?

Elin Jones: Wrth gwrs, bydd pob cyfle i ffermwyr nad ydynt wedi gwneud cais yn y flwyddyn gyntaf i wneud cais eleni ar gyfer mynediad yn 2013 a hefyd ar gyfer mynediad yn 2014. Ar hyn o bryd, yr ydym yn rhagweld y bydd yn bosibl cyflwyno ceisiadau’n flynyddol i’r cynllun hwn. Yn ogystal â Glastir ar y lefel Cymru gyfan, mae cyfle yn awr i’r 3,000 o ffermwyr sydd wedi gwneud cais i ymuno â Glastir ymgymryd â thrafodaethau pellach â’r Llywodraeth ynglŷn ag a fyddant yn gymwys ar gyfer Glastir ar y raddfa uwch, ar y raddfa wedi ei thargedu. Bydd hynny yn ateb gofidion nifer o ffermwyr ynglŷn â chytundebau Tir Gofal, os gallant weld sut y gall Glastir gyflwyno cyfleoedd ariannol iddynt ymgymryd â’r gwaith amgylcheddol maent am ei wneud ar eu ffermydd.

Elin Jones: Of course, there will be every opportunity for farmers who have not applied in the first year to apply this year for entry in 2013 and also for entry in 2014. At the moment, we anticipate that it will be possible to apply on an annual basis for this scheme. In addition to Glastir on an all-Wales basis, there is now an opportunity for the 3,000 farmers who have applied to join Glastir to undertake further discussions with the Government on whether they will be eligible for the higher rate of Glastir, the targeted rate. It will allay the fears of many farmers about Tir Gofal agreements if they can see that Glastir offers them financial opportunities to undertake the environmental work that they want to do on their farms.

Diwydiant Pysgota

Fishing Industry

4. Alun Davies: A wnaiff y Gweinidog roi’r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am y diwydiant pysgota yng Nghymru. OAQ(3)1249(RAF)

4. Alun Davies: Will the Minister provide an update on the fishing industry in Wales. OAQ(3)1249(RAF)

Elin Jones: Lansiais strategaeth pysgodfeydd Cymru yn 2008, sy’n cynnig fframwaith cyffredinol ar gyfer datblygu a rheoli pysgodfeydd hyfyw a chynaliadwy ac sy’n cael ei rhoi ar waith ar hyn o bryd drwy’r cynllun gweithredu.  

Elin Jones: I launched the Wales fisheries strategy in 2008, providing an overarching framework for development and management of viable and sustainable fisheries, which is being delivered currently through the implementation plan.  

The Record

Alun Davies: Thank you for that response, Minister. I am aware that you have recently embarked on a comprehensive review of the legislation covering all these areas. You will be aware that there has been a significant amount of conflict in this area in the past few years. You will have been aware of the work that the Sustainability Committee did on access to inland waterways and you will be aware, in terms of coastal waters, that there has been tension between the demands of conservationists and those of the industry. The Pembrokeshire coastal forum has had some success in bringing together the different groups and making the system work. On your review of the legislation covering fisheries, will you make a commitment to ensure that the legislation promotes both fisheries and conservation work in harmony? Will you confirm that, if you were to bring forward new legislation, that new legislation would create a statutory framework for the resolution of such issues, rather than allowing conflict to continue, as seems to be the position at present?

The Record

Elin Jones: Ers i Lywodraeth y Cynulliad gymryd cyfrifoldeb dros faes pysgodfeydd y môr yn Ebrill 2010, ac etifeddu cyfrifoldebau’r cyn bwyllgorau pysgodfeydd, daeth i’r amlwg bod angen adolygiad o’r ddeddfwriaeth sy’n rheoli’r pysgodfeydd yn ein moroedd gan fod cymhlethdod o ddeddfwriaeth wedi cronni dros y blynyddoedd. Mae angen mynd i’r afael â’r ddeddfwriaeth honno er mwyn ei symleiddio i bawb. Law yn llaw â hynny, wrth gwrs, mae gofynion o ran sefydlu ardaloedd o warchodaeth benodol o gwmpas ein harfordir a bydd y gwaith yn y maes hwnnw yn cael ei arwain gan y Gweinidog dros yr Amgylchedd, Cynaliadwyedd a Thai. Yr ydym yn glir fel Llywodraeth fod angen i ni daro’r cydbwysedd cywir rhwng y buddiannau cymdeithasol ac economaidd, drwy’n pysgotwyr yn bennaf, a’r buddiannau cadwraethol. Nid oes rhaid i hyn arwain at wrthdaro; yr ydym eisiau sicrhau bod pawb ar eu hennill. Nid yw’n rhwydd bob amser, yr wyf yn derbyn hynny, ond yr ydym yn ymrwymo i ymgynghori gyda phawb, dros y cyfnod hwn, sydd â buddiannau yn ein moroedd.

Elin Jones: Ever since the Assembly Government took responsibility for marine fisheries in April 2010, and inherited the responsibilities of the former fisheries committees, it has become clear that a review is needed of legislation governing marine fisheries, as a confusion of legislation has developed over the years. That legislation needs to be dealt with so that it can be simplified for all. Hand in hand with that, of course, go the requirements to establish specific conservation areas around our shores, work on which will be led by the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing. We, as a Government, are clear that we must strike the right balance between social and economic interests, mainly through our fishermen, and conservation interests. This does not have to lead to conflict; we want to ensure that everybody benefits. It is not always easy, I accept that, but we are committed to consulting everyone, over this period, with an interest in our seas.

1.50 p.m.

 
The Record

William Graham: In light of the findings published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, namely that 32 per cent of global fish stocks are overexploited or depleted, how is the Assembly Government directing its marketing to capitalise on recent media campaigns, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s television programme Hugh’s Fish Fight, to encourage consumers to purchase more sustainable species of fish found in Welsh waters, such as mackerel, gurnard and dab?

Elin Jones: Thank you for your question. Our ability to regulate our fisheries and sea fisheries is governed by the fisheries policy, which is under review—a review that is much needed. I want Wales to play a full part in that. As part of our efforts as a Government, we have been working with fishermen and others to identify areas of our seas and fisheries that can be accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable fisheries. We have had success with regard to the number of our shellfish fisheries that have achieved that accreditation. Ultimately, this means that our fishermen are able to receive an economic return from a higher-value product being sold into the Welsh market and beyond.

William Graham: Thank you for that answer, Minister. I am sure that you will agree that further opportunities to better market Welsh caught or cooked fish exist at events such as the Abergavenny Food Festival. This year, few Welsh companies at the otherwise excellent festival exhibited freshly caught fish. There are compelling economic and environmental reasons for encouraging consumers to buy locally sourced, sustainable fish rather than products imported from Canada and Alaska. How is your Government supporting seafood businesses in their marketing and expansion plans?

Elin Jones: We have provided direct support to a number of seafood and shellfish businesses so that they can involve themselves in food festivals and use other means to sell and promote their products directly to Welsh consumers. Indeed, I think that 2009 was the first year in which fish, particularly Welsh fish, was promoted in the food hall at the Royal Welsh Show. As a Government, we have sought to give direct support to fishermen who are interested in selling directly to the Welsh market rather than exporting their catch.

Brian Gibbons: As you will be aware, Minister, angling is a key part of the fishing industry and the tourism industry in Wales. What discussions have you had with the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in relation to fish stocks in our rivers, particularly the declining fish stocks among the more popular species that are generally caught by anglers and fishermen?

Elin Jones: The Government, both in terms of the work of the Minister for sustainability and my work as Minister with responsibility for fisheries, is looking to work with angling associations and river trusts to promote the recovery of habitats in the many fine rivers that we have in Wales. We have invested money, through our European fisheries fund and the rural development plan, to support habitat restoration, which ultimately aids fish stocks to help our anglers and to improve the quality of those rivers. We have seen considerable success in that respect, particularly in our post-industrial areas, where a significant improvement has been achieved with regard to the water quality and fish stocks in those rivers. I am thinking in particular of the work that has been done by anglers in Merthyr Tydfil and other places who have put a considerable effort into replenishing the rivers, and take a great deal of pride in what they have been able to achieve in their communities.

The Record

Economi Wledig

Rural Economy

5. David Melding: Sut y mae Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru yn bwriadu ysgogi twf yr economi wledig yng Nghymru. OAQ(3)1282(RAF)

5. David Melding: How does the Welsh Assembly Government intend to stimulate the growth of the rural economy in Wales. OAQ(3)1282(RAF)

The Record

Elin Jones: While having certain unique characteristics, the rural economy has to be seen as part of the overall economy and there are a range of programmes being delivered to support the future sustainability of our economy in Wales. Actions under the rural development plan support the strengthening of that economy.

David Melding: I understand that the Wales the True Taste stand at the winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was a great hit, with more businesses present than ever before. It demonstrates the importance of the fine food market. We produce some of the world’s finest shellfish, and it is often eaten in France and Spain; although that is great, would it not be nice if more of the French and Spanish came to Wales to eat it in our magnificent restaurants? It is important that we develop the economy so that people see Wales as one of the great places to visit to eat and enjoy the produce of our wonderful pastoral economy.

Elin Jones: I congratulate you on being better informed than I am on the success of the San Francisco Wales the True Taste stand. I am pleased to hear that it was a success, and has been acknowledged as such by the Welsh Conservatives. It is important that we continue to promote Welsh food outside Wales, and the North American market is one that has been targeted over a number of years. Our fish, and shellfish in particular, is of great quality, but it remains a frustration of mine that too much of it is exported. I know that a number of fishermen have put considerable effort into seeking ways of generating interest in local economies. It is not always easy to get businesses and restaurants to take on locally caught fish, because people have vested buying practices. However, we have put effort and investment into seeking to create that supply chain between locally caught fish and local distribution. In turn, I have no doubt that French, Spanish or Italian tourists who come to Wales would want to benefit from locally caught fish and shellfish. That would be advantageous to all.

Mick Bates: The rural economy is under many threats, not least of which is the age balance within communities. In many of them the economy is slowing down, and in some places has become almost stagnant, because the age balance has shifted to an older profile. What are you doing to ensure that there are working-age young people in our communities so that there is a real rural economy? That would impact upon many of the issues that we debate here, such as small schools; they would be thriving rather than disappearing because the economy is no longer vibrant, and no longer based within the private sector.

Elin Jones: The Government is making many efforts to ensure that we have a vibrant economy throughout Wales, so that younger people can have a choice as to whether they want to remain working in rural Wales, or return to rural Wales. To deal specifically with the Welsh farming population, we are seeing a change of fortune in that we have, as an Assembly Government, put money towards a young farmers entrants scheme that has, again, in its second year, been oversubscribed, and looks as if it will be successful. I heard earlier this week that our agricultural and land-based colleges are seeing significant increases in the numbers of young people applying to study agriculture and to have other forms of land-based training. That is an indication that young people want to be involved in jobs that are primarily located in rural areas and that they see an economic future for them in those rural areas. Therefore, it is not always doom and gloom; there is now a resurgence in the farming community, with young people wanting to stay and work in rural communities.

2.00 p.m.

The Record

Ymchwil ar Anifeiliaid

Animal Research

6. Bethan Jenkins: Beth mae Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru yn ei wneud i helpu i ddileu ymchwil ar anifeiliaid yng Nghymru. OAQ(3)1267(RAF)

6. Bethan Jenkins: What is the Welsh Assembly Government doing to help eliminate animal research in Wales. OAQ(3)1267(RAF)

Elin Jones: Nid yw’r mater hwn wedi’i ddatganoli. Ar hyn o bryd, mae bridio a chyflenwi anifeiliaid i’w defnyddio mewn gweithdrefnau gwyddonol yn cael ei reoleiddio yn y Deyrnas Gyfunol gan Ddeddf Anifeiliaid (Gweithdrefnau Gwyddonol) 1986.

Elin Jones: This is not a devolved issue. The breeding and supply of animals for use in scientific procedures is currently regulated in the United Kingdom by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Bethan Jenkins: Diolch am yr ateb hwnnw. Yr wyf yn cydnabod y cyfyngiadau ond, yn anffodus, mae nifer yr anifeiliaid sy’n cael eu defnyddio mewn ymchwiliadau ac arbrofion yng Nghymru wedi codi 20 y cant rhwng 2008 a 2009 o dros 48,000 i dros 58,000, sy’n cyfateb i ryw 161 arbrawf y dydd. Mae’r duedd hon yn fy mhoeni’n fawr, yn enwedig wrth i arbrofion ar anifeiliaid yn yr Alban leihau 10 y cant, ac 1 y cant dros Brydain yn gyfan gwbl.

Bethan Jenkins: Thank you for that reply. I recognise the restrictions but, unfortunately, the number of animals used for research and testing in Wales increased by 20 per cent between 2008 and 2009, from more than 48,000 to more than 58,000—the equivalent of some 161 tests a day. This trend worries me a great deal, particularly as a report in Scotland shows that there has been a reduction of 10 per cent there, and a reduction of 1 per cent throughout the whole of Britain.

Er fy mod yn cydnabod y cyfyngiadau o ran pŵer, a oes modd i chi, fel Gweinidog, drafod â Llywodraeth San Steffan pam y mae’r lefelau mor uchel yng Nghymru? Pa ymgais y gellir ei wneud i leihau’r arbrofion a gynhelir yng Nghymru o’u cymharu â gwledydd eraill y Deyrnas Unedig?

Even though I recognise the limitations in terms of powers, would it be possible for you, as Minister, to discuss with the Westminster Government why the levels are so high in Wales? What efforts could be made to reduce the number of tests held in Wales as compared with the rest of the UK?

Elin Jones: Mae cynnal profion ar anifeiliaid ar gyfer gwaith gwyddonol yn bennaf yn amodol ar gyfundrefn lem o reoliadau. Pasiwyd cyfarwyddeb Ewropeaidd newydd y llynedd, a bydd yn ofynnol ar Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol i gyflwyno’r gyfarwyddeb honno i mewn i ddeddfwriaeth.

Elin Jones: Animal testing for sceintific work comes under a strict system of regulation. A new European directive was passed last year, which the United Kingdom Government will be required to introduce into legislation.

O ran yr ystadegau, gallaf ddweud mai un sefydliad yn benodol sy’n gwneud y mwyafrif o’r gwaith profi ar anifeiliaid yng Nghymru. Mae’r sefydliad hwnnw yn gwneud y gwaith yn bennaf ar gyfer ymchwil meddygol, ac mae wedi ymrwymo, fel unrhyw sefydliad, yr wyf yn gobeithio, sy’n gwneud y gwaith hwn yng Nghymru, i ddefnyddio cyn lleied o anifeiliaid â phosibl ar gyfer ei waith gwyddonol.

As for the statistics, I can tell you that one institution is responsbile for most of the testing work on animals. That work is done mainly for medical research, and that institution has committed itself, like all institutions doing this work in Wales, I hope, to use as few animals as possible for its scientific work.

Ymrwymiadau 'Cymru’n Un’

'One Wales’ Commitments

7. Andrew R.T. Davies: A wnaiff y Gweinidog amlinellu pa ymrwymiadau o’r Cytundeb Cymru’n Un yng nghyswllt ei phortffolio Gweinidogol y mae hi’n rhagweld na fyddant wedi’u cyflawni pan ddaw’r Trydydd Cynulliad i ben. OAQ(3)1247(RAF)

7. Andrew R.T. Davies: Will the Minister outline which commitments from the One Wales Agreement in relation to her Ministerial portfolio she envisages will remain upon dissolution of the Third Assembly. OAQ(3)1247(RAF)

The Record

Elin Jones: All of the 'One Wales’ commitments that fall under my portfolio have been met.

Andrew R.T. Davies: I want to question you about the TB eradication programme, and the new consultation process that had to be undertaken following the Court of Appeal judgment. Are you confident that, by the end of this third Assembly, the measures that you envisaged when you set out the Government’s proposals for the eradication of bovine TB will be in place, and that the aspirations of the original Order, for example around the protection zone in west Wales, will be able to progress, given the consultation process that you have undertaken?

Elin Jones: The vast amount of work that needed to be undertaken to progress the TB eradication in Wales has been, and continues to be, undertaken. We have introduced significant increased effort into the annual testing of all cattle in Wales and introduced pre-movement testing legislation in Wales and compensation payments to good agricultural practice around TB. We have also seen the removal of infected animals at a quicker rate, and a substantial decrease in the rate of overdue tests.

You are right to point out that the consultation on the TB eradication Order for north Pembrokeshire in particular closed towards the end of last year. There were a number of respondents to that consultation and my officials are working on the consultation responses before providing advice to me on any decisions that need to be taken on that Order in the next few weeks.

Joyce Watson: Minister, I have had an e-mail from the Farmers’ Union of Wales telling me that concerns are being expressed about the future of the Welsh Assembly Government’s offices in Dolgellau. The offices are important to farmers in Meirionnydd, especially during submissions of the single farm payment application form, with the office open every day in the two weeks leading up to the middle of May each year. Do you agree with me that Meirionnydd farmers need easy access to an office that can answer queries and handle correspondence, and is it possible for you to provide an update on the status of that Dolgellau office?

Elin Jones: Yes, I can. There is no intention to change the service that is currently provided from the Dolgellau office.

The Record

Eleanor Burnham: Yr wyf yn siŵr bod hyn yn flaenoriaeth o ran datblygu ffermydd, fel yr ydych wedi dweud eisoes wrth ateb cwestiwn Mick Bates. Cefais alwad gan yr NFU i ofyn am sefyllfa ffermydd sydd yn eiddo i awdurdodau lleol. Gofynnwyd i mi sut y gall y Llywodraeth helpu rhai o’r siroedd sydd yn gorfod gwerthu rhai o’r ffermydd hyn—rhai ohonynt heb lawer o ymgynghori. A allwch fy helpu ynghylch y mater pwysig hwn, os gwelwch yn dda?

Eleanor Burnham: I am sure that this is a priority in terms of farm development, as you mentioned earlier in your answer to Mick Bates’s question. I have received a call from the NFU to ask about the situation regarding local authority-owned farms. I was asked how the Government could help some of the counties that have to sell off some of their farms—some of them without much consultation. Can you help me with this important matter, please?

Elin Jones: Mater i awdurdodau lleol unigol yw penderfynu a ydynt am gadw neu werthu’r ffermydd sydd yn eiddo iddynt ac sy’n cael eu rhentu i denantiaid. Fy unig sylw i’r prynhawn yma fyddai datgan bod y rhwydwaith o ffermydd—rhai bach ar y cyfan—ar rent ac sy’n eiddo i lywodraeth leol, yn rhwydwaith gwerthfawr ac o les, yn enwedig i ffermwyr ifanc sy’n edrych am gyfle i fynd i mewn i’r diwydiant, ac yn enwedig i’r ffermwyr ifanc hynny nad ydynt o deuluoedd â chefndir amaethyddol neu sydd eisoes ar fferm deuluol ac sydd felly’n edrych i fynd i mewn i’r diwydiant o’r newydd. Mae’r ffermydd hyn ar hyd a lled Cymru yn chwarae rôl bwysig yn hynny o beth ac yn rhoi cyfleoedd i’n pobl ifanc.

Elin Jones: It is a matter for individual local authorities whether they wish to keep or sell the farms that they own and rent out to tenants. My only comment this afternoon is to state that the network of rented farms—small farms, on the whole—under the ownership of local authorities is a valuable and beneficial one, especially to young farmers who are looking to enter the industry, and especially to those young farmers who do not come from an agricultural background or who are already on a family-run farm and are therefore looking to enter the industry anew. These farms the length and breadth of Wales play an important role in that respect and offer opportunities to our young people.  

Phytophthora Ramorum

Phytophthora Ramorum

8. William Graham: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am reoli’r achosion o’r haint Phytophthora Ramorum (marwolaeth sydyn y deri) yn Ne Cymru. OAQ(3)1274(RAF)

8. William Graham: Will the Minister make a statement on controlling the outbreak of Phytophthora Ramorum infection (sudden oak death) in South Wales. OAQ(3)1274(RAF)

The Record

Elin Jones: Forestry Commission Wales is currently felling all infected trees on the public forest estate and taking action to ensure that diseased larch in the private sector is also felled. Strict biosecurity is in place to minimise the risk of spread, and surveys are in place to identify new outbreaks.

William Graham: Thank you for your answer. You will know of the continuing concern in the forestry industry since the announcement last spring of the discovery of the sudden oak death pathogen in south Wales, especially following comparisons between this disease and the Dutch elm disease epidemic of the 1960s and 1970s. I would be most grateful for your reassurance today that there will be clear felling, scientific analysis and replanting.

Elin Jones: Yes, I can confirm that the Welsh Government and Forestry Commission Wales are taking this disease seriously and have acted urgently to confine the disease to the areas where it has been identified. That is why we have put resources into felling larch at a significant level in the areas of the public forest estate where it has been identified and also into working with the privately-owned forests to ensure that this disease is tackled and ridded from our forestry.

2.10 p.m.

Brian Gibbons: Many of the trees that are felled as a consequence of sudden oak death are still capable of being used for value added production activities, such as use in the construction industry and, indeed, we know of the excellent work that has been undertaken by projects such as Tŷ Unnos, which would be in a position to take the felled trees as part of developing sustainable construction in Wales. Could you outline what work the Assembly Government is doing to facilitate the value added contribution that our forestry may make to the industry in view of the sad outbreak of sudden oak death?

Elin Jones: You are right to say that timber that is felled as a result of the programme to eliminate the disease can be used, subject to certain restrictions. That timber is being marketed as such, and is available for certain work. I am not aware that we particularly intend for that timber to go to the construction sector, but as I said in response to your question yesterday, identifying ways in which the resource of the public forest estate can be used more widely for construction purposes in Wales, and housing construction in particular, is an area of work that we need to focus on in the next few years. We need to make a clear connection between our timber resource and the construction industry, which will increasingly need to have timber available to it.

The Record

David Lloyd: Trof yn ôl at y cwestiwn gwreiddiol. Y pryder yw y bydd yr haint hon, Phytophthora ramorum, yn parhau’n ddiddiwedd. Felly, a allwch ddweud unwaith eto eich bod yn hyderus y byddwch yn gallu mynd i’r afael â’r haint hon a threchu marwolaeth sydyn y derw?

David Lloyd: Returning to the original question, the concern is that this disease, Phytophthora ramorum, will persist. So, can you tell us once more that you are confident that you will be able to tackle this disease and banish sudden oak death?

Elin Jones: Mae dwy agwedd i’r gwaith i drechu’r haint hon. Yn gyntaf, mae gwaith yn cael ei wneud i waredu’r haint o’r coed sydd eisoes wedi’u heintio. Yn ogystal â hynny, mae gwaith i sicrhau bod system fonitro mewn fforestydd ledled Cymru, er mwyn sicrhau nad yw’r haint yn cydio mewn mannau newydd ac nad yw’n cael y cyfle i ledaenu yn yr ardaloedd hynny. Felly, mae’r Llywodraeth yn ymgymryd â’r ddwy agwedd hynny, sef gwaredu’r coed sydd wedi’u heintio’n barod, a monitro ein coedwigaeth i sicrhau nad yw’r clefyd yn lledaenu ymhellach.

Elin Jones: There are two approaches to the work of defeating this disease. First, work is under way to rid already infected woods of the disease. In addition to that, there is the task of ensuring that a monitoring system is in place in forests throughout Wales, in order to ensure that the disease does not spread to and take hold in new areas So, the Government has taken the twin approach of removing already infected trees, and monitoring our forests to ensure that the disease does not spread further.

Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog dros yr Amgylchedd, Cynaliadwyedd a Thai
Questions to the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

The Record

Cynhyrchu Ynni

Energy Production

1. Nick Bourne: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am gynhyrchu ynni yng Nghymru yn y dyfodol. OAQ(3)1534(ESH)

1. Nick Bourne: Will the Minister make a statement on future energy production in Wales. OAQ(3)1534(ESH)

The Record

The Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing (Jane Davidson): 'A Low Carbon Revolution’ sets out the actions that will be taken to accelerate the transition to a resilient low-carbon energy system via indigenous renewables and energy efficiency. Practical steps include measured planning guidance, Welsh European Funding Office support for innovation, community-scale generation projects, such as Ynni’r Fro, and the microgeneration certification accreditation scheme.

Nick Bourne: Thank you for that response. Angela Burns and I recently visited Eco2, which the Minister will be familiar with, and we met its chief executive, David Williams. It is Wales’s leading renewable energy business, and it is doing some fantastic work. I want to ask about tidal power. As the Minister probably knows, Eco2 is developing broad-based renewable energy businesses. It is looking particularly at developing DeltaStream technology, and is investigating, with current design work, the possibility of having a site at Ramsey sound in Pembrokeshire. Clearly, that is central to driving the Welsh economy forward in respect of renewable energy, as well as being the right thing to do. Could the Minister update us on what she is doing in relation to a renewable strategy for tidal and hydropower?

Jane Davidson: As you know, Nick, tidal power has been less developed commercially than wind power, for example. We have been working closely with colleagues, not least in the Low Carbon Research Institute, on taking the marine energy agenda forward. We published a policy statement on marine energy in Wales back in July 2009, and we have put £1.5 million into a marine renewable energy strategic framework, and that is now coming to its end. It was a three-year piece of work to assist in defining potential areas of commercially exploitable resource, thereby providing a management tool for Government and an evidence base for developers. The sustainable expansion of the applied coastal and marine sectors is the first programme to bring together some of the world’s leading research expertise. We work very closely with the sector on this. I have attended the Marine Energy Pembrokeshire forum, and I will be doing so again before the end of this administration.

Alun Davies: Minister, you will know that the Sustainability Committee launched its report on planning last week, at the conclusion of quite an extensive investigation into the planning system in Wales. The report contains a number of recommendations to which you will no doubt respond in due course. I would not seek to pre-empt those responses this afternoon. However, a key part of our work and of the evidence that we took related to the potential for confusion in this context, and the disjointed approach between the UK Government and the Welsh Government, given that major energy projects are not fully devolved. In your remaining months in office, I hope that you will continue to press the UK Government to devolve these major energy projects to Wales so that we can take a more holistic approach, as you have already outlined this afternoon.

Jane Davidson: It remains a source of deep sadness for us all that we have not managed to get the major energy consents devolved to Wales. I have previously reported to the Assembly that we are particularly keen to achieve powers over land and sea projects of up to 100 MW. We now have five major companies behind us: Nuon Renewables, RenewableUK, Scottish and Southern Energy, Windpower Wales and Centrica. We are also supported by the Welsh Local Government Association. So far, however, my bids to the UK Government have fallen on deaf ears. It is up to all of us, including me, to continue to propose to the UK Government that these powers to consent are devolved to Wales, not least because it will lead to a much more efficient and effective system.

 

Mick Bates: Minister, many of us are still looking forward to the low-carbon revolution that will occur in Wales. However, we have great admiration for the targets that you have set, such as having 20,000 micro heating units and 10,000 micro electricity systems by 2012. Minister, these targets require significant investment, and I am very supportive of the investments that you have made, which were outlined in your first reply to Nick Bourne regarding microgeneration. However, it appears that there is a need for greater economic renewal, and to use that renewal to further those targets. The Deputy First Minister has brought forward an economic renewal programme in which energy and the environment represent one of six key sectors. What discussions have you had with the Deputy First Minister to examine how you could obtain more funding through the economic portfolio in order to further your ambitious targets for renewable energy production?

Jane Davidson: I worked very closely with the Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport in the development of the economic renewal programme and in the designation of energy and environment as one of the six key sectors. As a Government, our only funding comes from the UK Government, and we are looking at a £1.8 billion reduction over the next few years. Therefore, it is increasingly difficult for this Government to be able to put additional investment into these very important areas. The UK Government has also changed the process in England and Wales of bidding for money to support the ports in the context of renewable energy and turned this into an English fund. We know that the UK Government, which is jointly led by your party, Mick, is not committed to or interested in helping us with the renewable energy agenda in Wales. Despite that, this Government will continue to do everything it can to support the renewable energy agenda.

The Record

Nerys Evans: Mae fy nghwestiwn yn dilyn ymlaen o’r cwestiwn a ofynnwyd gan Alun Davies. Mae cynllunio strategol yn y maes ynni adnewyddadwy yn hanfodol. Fel y bu ichi ddweud, mae angen datganoli pwerau dros brosiectau ynni mawr i Gymru. Yr ydym yn anghytuno’n llwyr â’r ffaith mai corff annemocrataidd yn Lloegr, sef y Comisiwn Cynllunio Seilwaith, sy’n penderfynu ar faterion mor bwysig â hyn. Mae gan Lywodraeth San Steffan gynlluniau i symud dyletswyddau’r CCS i Adran Cymunedau a Llywodraeth Leol San Steffan, sydd ond yn delio â materion yn Lloegr, gan fod materion yn ymwneud â llywodraeth leol wedi’u datganoli i Gymru.

Nerys Evans: My question follows on from the question asked by Alun Davies. Strategic planning in the field of renewable energy is essential. As you said, we need to devolve powers over large-scale energy projects to Wales. We completely disagree with the fact that it is an undemocratic body in England, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, that decides on matters of such importance. The Westminster Government plans to move the duties of the IPC to the Department for Communities and Local Government in Westminster, which deals only with matters in England, because matters relating to local government are devolved to Wales.

2.20 p.m.

 

Beth yw’r diweddaraf o ran eich trafodaethau â Llywodraeth San Steffan i sicrhau datganoli pwerau dros brosiectau ynni mawr, er mwyn i ni allu cynllunio a manteisio yn briodol? A yw eich plaid yn Llundain hefyd yn cytuno â ni yn y maes hwn?

What is the latest regarding your discussions with the Westminster Government to ensure the devolution of powers over large-scale energy projects, so that we can plan and benefit appropriately? Does your party in London also agree with us in this area?

The Record

Jane Davidson: The question about what happens after the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is very important. Of course, we are not just talking about taking the powers away from the IPC and giving them to an English body, because the Planning Inspectorate is separately and differently accountable to the two Governments in England and Wales. The key will be to ensure that that separate accountability is fully recognised, for which we still need the devolution of the major energy consents. One of the important elements of our debate with the UK Government at the moment is how we can ensure that the relevant policy guidance for Wales is reflected as a material consideration within each of the final national policy statements, to provide a suitable framework for decisions to be made on applications for development consent for nationally significant energy infrastructure in relation to Wales. So, we need to ensure that we win the debate on having Welsh policy appropriately recognised in the national policy statements.

Angela Burns: Minister, I was pleased to hear your reply to Mick Bates, when you said that your department works closely with the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Transport and the Economy. What structures have you put in place—yourself, or in conjunction with the Deputy First Minister—to maximise what is potentially a game-changing opportunity for Wales in terms of the arrays in the Bristol channel and the Irish sea?

Jane Davidson: I agree that it is a game-changing opportunity for Wales. The way that we have taken forward the economic renewal programme will mean that the policy that is decided within a portfolio Minister’s department is then enacted through the Department for the Economy and Transport, with a set of experts who are able to help the department to look at how to get the best effect and the quickest outcome. So, it is a clear relationship between policy and using the new business mechanisms for delivery. It is an exciting opportunity as we move forward.

Angela Burns: I was less excited to hear that answer. In fact, my heart runs cold. Before I became an Assembly Member, I took part in bidding for multimillion pound projects in the companies that I have worked for in the past—as I know Alun Davies also did. I know how difficult it is to get hold of any slice of that action. I have met numerous businesses throughout Wales that do interesting things; they make pipes, they make galvanised steel and they have enormous potential. However, the roadshows that are being promoted throughout Wales—there was one in Llandrindod Wells not long ago—are just not able to get them in front of RWE and Centrica in a way that would enable them to put forward their bit of the action. In addition to this, they do not know which bit of the action to go for because it is such a new game. Why is the Government not putting together a crack team of two or three people from within the Government who can bring together all of these companies in Wales, make team Wales, and go out and win this bid? It is a game-changer, and I am worried that we are going to faff it and that we will end up not winning any of the business at all. That is the history of the big projects that Wales has bid for in the past.

Jane Davidson: If you were to look at the comments made by the Carbon Trust this morning, you would see that the green economy is the only economy in town. Every one of us should be encouraging every business to move forward on this agenda. Therefore, all of the mechanisms inside the Assembly Government, as well as the mechanisms inside the Carbon Trust and other agencies, are all dedicated to providing these opportunities. There is also a major role for the UK Government in this. If the UK Government explicitly does not support Wales in the context of renewable energy, then it is very difficult for us to say, as a Government that is funded only by the UK Government, that we have game-changing opportunities here when the UK Government will not even let us take the appropriate planning decisions in our own country.

Angela Burns: Presiding Officer, may I come back briefly on that point?

The Presiding Officer: You are a spokesperson. I think that the Minister should be further scrutinised on this matter. There are some people who seem to be saying these days that we are not very good at scrutiny, so have another go.

Angela Burns: Thank you very much indeed. It is just so easy, is it not, to blame the UK Government for everything? Let us be absolutely clear: a turbine costs about £6 million to build. Whether you are doing the nacelle, the bed plates, the main bearings, the main shaft, the gearbox or the generator, these are the companies involved: ABMB, Siemens, Draka, Nexa, Leroy Somer, RENK, Liebherr. They are not Welsh companies; very few of them are UK companies, but they are the specialists in what they do. If Wales wants to have a bite of this, and if we want our 150-people strong pipe engineering companies in places such as Pembroke Dock or Anglesey or anywhere in Wales to have a bite of this, we have got to stop saying that we cannot do anything because it is all the fault of the UK Government and actually plan how we are going to go out there to get this business.

As I have said before, and you have agreed, it is a game-changer, but if we sit and do nothing but say, 'Oh poor us’ we are not going to win this. That would be a crying shame, because the revenue that this could bring to this country would change our economy for ever.

Jane Davidson: Yes, and can I make it absolutely clear that this Government has taken a number of key initiatives on this agenda and invested despite a lack of support from your Government. [Interruption.] It is indicative of the position of your Government—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. I do not believe that Angela Burns is a member of any Government at this moment.

Jane Davidson: No. It is quite indicative of the way that your colleagues in Government in the UK have behaved since May that we have had a major reduction in funding to Wales in the context of developing renewable energy. This Government remains committed; this Government is delivering on an ambitious action plan in the context of renewable energy, and we will continue to seek support from the UK Government to ensure that Wales gets a fair deal. We should not have to do all the heavy lifting ourselves, because we are helping the UK Government to meet its renewable energy targets.

The Presiding Officer: I think that it is time we got to question 2.

The Record

Y Sector Rhent Preifat

The Private Rented Sector

2. Sandy Mewies: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am y pwysau ar y sector rhent preifat yng Nghymru. OAQ(3)1544(ESH)

2. Sandy Mewies: Will the Minister make a statement on pressures on the private rented sector in Wales. OAQ(3)1544(ESH)

The Record

The Deputy Minister for Housing and Regeneration (Jocelyn Davies): I believe that the most immediate pressures facing the private rented sector probably arise from the reforms to the housing benefit system that have been proposed by the Department for Work and Pensions. I set out the reasons for my concern recently when I gave evidence to the Communities and Culture Committee.

Sandy Mewies: Thank you, Deputy Minister. You referred to the changes to the housing benefit system being made by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government in Westminster. They will inevitably reduce the number of houses available for rent to the most vulnerable people in our communities. They will increase homelessness and put extra pressure on local authorities. Do you agree that, despite all of these difficulties, our Welsh Government will continue to do all it can to mitigate that pressure?

Jocelyn Davies: Yes, I agree with you, Sandy. The predictions that you made were taken from the DWP’s own assessment of what will happen. You will know that our homelessness strategy seeks to prevent homelessness wherever it can. There has been a massive decrease in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation because of our prevention agenda. We know that there is a huge impact on a child’s life and life chances if they have to experience homelessness. Any steps taken by anybody that increase homelessness are short-sighted and ignore the long-term consequences for individuals and society.

Peter Black: Deputy Minister, you will be aware from your own statistics that, whereas the social housing stock has increased by only 425 since March 2007, the number of privately rented dwellings has doubled from 7 per cent of the total number of homes in Wales to 14 per cent, largely driven, I think, by the slump in house prices over the past few years. Given that, many more people are now relying on privately rented accommodation. As a result, there are huge pressures with regard to the quality of and access to that accommodation, particularly finding bonds, and when you switch from accommodation to accommodation. What action is your Government taking to try to help those families who are relying in this way on privately rented accommodation, in order to offer a support network to enable them to remain mobile enough to find jobs and employment and to move in and out of education?

2.30 p.m.

Jocelyn Davies: There is no reason why the private rented sector should not be an affordable option. However, the proposed changes to housing benefit mean that, instead of five out of 10 of those properties being affordable, only three out of 10 will be affordable. What we want in Wales is a private rented sector that is well-managed and affordable and that offers good, decent accommodation. It would then perhaps be an option of choice. I do not believe that the changes that are afoot are likely to bring about that change. About 63 per cent of those who currently claim housing benefits have to make up the funding gap, which they do from their disposable income; of course, housing benefit is an in-work as well as an out-of-work benefit. I cannot see how people will be able to make up a bigger funding gap, and I believe that there will be difficulties. I hope that that does not result in poorer accommodation being on offer, or landlords not carrying out proper repairs.

Peter Black: Thank you for that answer, Minister. I was rather hoping that you would answer in respect of your own responsibilities, because that is how I directed the question. We are here to scrutinise your record, not the record of another Government. I wish to ask you about how the private sector is currently regulated in Wales. You will know that certain houses in multiple occupation are subject to licencing, and that, in certain areas of Wales—such as Swansea, Cardiff, and other university towns—other privately rented properties are regulated. That regulation enables local councils to monitor the quality of that accommodation, and to offer some protection, not just to the tenant, but to the neighbours as well. Given the expansion of the privately rented sector, are you considering extending that licencing regime, to offer further protection to the many other people who are now using privately rented accommodation, much of which is sub-standard already, irrespective of housing benefit levels?

Jocelyn Davies: I am sure that you would prefer that we did not keep mentioning the changes to the housing benefit system that the UK Government is about to make. However, those changes will have a profound effect on the private rented sector all over the UK, and especially in Wales. You mention licencing, HMOs, and so on. As you will know, we have very few legislative powers in relation to the private rented sector, although there is the licencing regime that you mentioned. We also have our accreditation scheme, which is now active in every local authority area. You will also know that the Communities and Culture Committee is doing a review into the private rented sector. I have given evidence to that committee, and have said that I would like to see a written tenancy agreement, which I would like to see being compulsory, but we do not have the powers to do that at present. We would like to ensure that there was a minimum standard of accommodation in the private rented sector; we do not have the powers to enforce that, other than through our accreditation scheme. Should there be a 'yes’ vote in the referendum, we will have powers over the private rented sector and I look forward to seeing the Communities and Culture Committee’s recommendations, to see how this could be taken forward in the future.

The Record

David Lloyd: Fel yr ydych wedi awgrymu, y cwestiwn mawr o ran y pwnc hwn yw’r newidiadau andwyol i fudd-dal tai. Yn dilyn yr hyn yr ydych wedi ei ddweud eisoes, ac o gofio nad yw budd-daliadau wedi eu datganoli, er eu bod yn effeithio ar filoedd o bobl Cymru, pa drafodaethau yr ydych wedi eu cael â Gweinidogion San Steffan i geisio lleihau effaith y toriadau hyn ym mudd-daliadau tai?

David Lloyd: As you have suggested, the big question on this topic concerns the appalling changes to housing benefit. Following on from what you have said, and bearing in mind that housing benefit is not a devolved matter, even though it affects thousands of people in Wales, what discussions have you had with Westminster Ministers to try to lessen the impact of these cuts to housing benefit?

The Record

Jocelyn Davies: I have written to the UK Government, expressing the views that were expressed in the Assembly Chamber during a debate on this issue. I am shortly to have a telephone conversation with the UK Minister to put over our point of view. I will let you know how that goes. I do not think that there will be radical changes, although I hope that consideration will be given to the Welsh situation. I know that the Department for Work and Pensions’ own assessment stated that the private rented sector is likely to shrink because some people will just not want to rent under those conditions, and that homelessness is likely to increase. I am concerned that the cost of that will mean more pressure being put on the public sector, and there could be costs that fall on the public purse. It is also worth noting that the Social Security Advisory Committee—the statutory committee set up to advise the Government—did recommend that these changes did not go ahead.

Mark Isherwood: I hope that you will agree that private rented sector access agencies can be part of the solution. You will be aware of Cefni social letting agency, working with the National Landlords Association, which delivered 87 supported tenancies over three years, only two of which have failed. I am told that Cefni Lettings has already built in the new reductions in local housing allowance. It has stated that it works and that landlords are now confident to come to the agency to identify the areas where properties are needed, the types of properties needed, and that it knows where and how to then go and acquire those properties and refurbish them up to standard. It states that the market will adjust if something is done now, but it also says that a new way of working is needed between the public and private sectors. Therefore, how do you respond to that call for a new way of working, which will maximise the potential for private sector funding and true partnership to meet broader social need at the standard required?

Jocelyn Davies: We do work closely with the National Landlords Association. As I say, we have been able to achieve an accreditation scheme for private landlords in every single local authority area. We are certainly not against the private rented sector. We like to see well-managed, affordable properties with good landlords. Social letting agencies certainly play an important role in that respect.

In terms of the market adjusting, as I mentioned earlier, 63 per cent of those claiming housing benefit must currently make up the funding gap between the benefit that they can claim and their rent. The market has not adjusted at present for the 63 per cent. I do not have the same confidence as you that, following the changes, the market will adjust even more.

The Record

Blaenoriaethau Tai

Housing Priorities

3. Lynne Neagle: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am ei blaenoriaethau tai ar gyfer gweddill y tymor Cynulliad hwn. OAQ(3)1530(ESH)

3. Lynne Neagle: Will the Minister make a statement on her housing priorities for the remainder of this Assembly term. OAQ(3)1530(ESH)

The Record

Jocelyn Davies: My overall priorities are set out in our national housing strategy. My specific priorities now include the new proposed housing Measure, the implementation of recommendations from the independent review of the Supporting People programme, and continuing negotiations with the UK Treasury on the housing revenue account subsidy system.

Lynne Neagle: I know that you are well aware of my concerns about the proposed changes to housing benefit. As you know, nearly 1,000 residents in Torfaen are set to lose, on average, £500 per year due to changes to the local housing allowance. The draconian and pernicious plan to reduce housing benefit for long-term jobseekers by 10 per cent will seriously exacerbate the problems with homelessness. On top of this, we learned yesterday that the UK Government plans to scrap the financial inclusion fund—a move that will mean the loss of some 500 debt advice workers across the UK, including six advice workers in Torfaen alone. Do you agree, Minister, that as we face the escalation of debt and homelessness brought about by this Government’s proposals, quality debt advice will be an absolute lifeline for our communities? Will you convey that view to the UK Government, and ask it to think again, at the same time as talking to colleagues here about what we can do to assist Citizens Advice in continuing to help people when facing this significant problem?

Jocelyn Davies: You have raised the issues of housing benefit and the jobseeker’s allowance proposal with me on a number of occasions. To get jobseeker’s allowance, you have to do all that you possibly can to get work. To reduce benefit for people who are doing all that they can just seems spiteful to me.

2.40 p.m.

I understand that there are reports that the financial inclusion fund will soon cease. I can confirm that I have not been consulted or informed about that. You are right to say that debt advice at this time is important, and I am sure that the charities and organisations giving debt advice will be concerned about that move. I will write to the UK Government to get clarification on that issue, and ask it to think again. You would not want to see people having to turn to companies that charge fees for debt advice, because the Office of Fair Trading has indicated that it intends to crack down on those companies because it found them to be riddled with bad practice. Therefore, I hope that people will still be able to access free debt advice, because the irony of companies riddled with bad practice charging fees for giving advice to people who are already in debt is amazing. We must ensure that that does not happen.

The Record

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Ddirprwy Weinidog, mae’n rhyfedd bod rhai yn y Siambr wedi anghofio fod Llywodraeth Lafur wedi bod mewn grym ers 1997 tan y flwyddyn ddiwethaf, ac yn awgrymu bod pethau wedi newid yn sydyn. Mae gennyf gwestiwn penodol ar dreth ar werth. Mae Ffederasiwn y Meistr Adeiladwyr wedi dweud pe bai modd gostwng treth ar werth, y gallai hynny fod o fudd mawr i’r diwydiant adeiladu yng Nghymru. Fel y gwyddoch, nid oes treth ar werth ar geginau ac ystafelloedd byw, ond mae’n bodoli ar gyfer ystafelloedd gwely. A gawsoch unrhyw drafodaethau gyda’r Gweinidog yn San Steffan ynglŷn â threth ar werth er mwyn gwella adeiladau yng Nghymru?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Deputy Minister, it is odd that some in the Chamber have forgotten that a Labour Government was in power from 1997 until last year, and suggest that things have changed quickly. I have a specific question on VAT. The Federation of Master Builders has said that if it were possible to reduce VAT, that could be of great benefit to the construction industry in Wales. As you know, VAT does not apply to kitchens and living rooms, but it does apply to bedrooms. Have you had any discussions with the Minister in Westminster about VAT in order to improve buildings in Wales?

The Record

Jocelyn Davies: I think that I can confirm that you are correct to say that there was a Labour Government at UK level, although it seems a long time ago to some of us, and I never thought that I would miss it, but I do. [Laughter.]

The Federation of Master Builders has been running a repeated campaign about VAT—there is no VAT on new build, but there is considerable VAT on certain improvements. There is a worry that the increase in VAT is causing those who operate legally to be undermined by those who operate in the black market, so that is something of which we have to be careful. This Government supports the calls by the Federation of Master Builders to reduce VAT on home improvements and maintenance work, and I would be happy to write to the UK Government to ask it to consider that. I will place the reply in the Library for Members to see.

The Presiding Officer: You could also place it on the internet. 'In the Library’ is a kind of Westminster expression, Deputy Minister.

Jocelyn Davies: If I receive an electronic copy, I will put it on the internet.

The Presiding Officer: Thank you, Deputy Minister.

The Record

Trosglwyddwyd cwestiwn 4, OAQ(3)1527(ESH), i’w ateb yn ysgrifenedig.

Question 4, OAQ(3)1527(ESH), was transferred for written answer.

Tynnwyd cwestiwn 5, OAQ(3)1542(ESH), yn ôl.

Question 5, OAQ(3)1542(ESH), is withdrawn.

Prosiectau Ynni Cymunedol

Community Energy Projects

6. Brian Gibbons: Beth mae’r Gweinidog yn ei wneud i gynyddu nifer y prosiectau ynni cymunedol yng Nghymru. OAQ(3)1558(ESH)

6. Brian Gibbons: What is the Minister doing to promote the uptake of community energy projects in Wales. OAQ(3)1558(ESH)

The Record

Jane Davidson: Community groups receive support from the Welsh Assembly Government’s Ynni’r Fro programme, which has received 141 applications to date for support for projects throughout Wales. We will issue a revised version of 'Planning Policy Wales’ by the end of February to provide further support for community energy schemes.

Brian Gibbons: Your reply touched on the two issues that I wanted to follow up. One of the projects to which you referred is in my constituency, in the upper Afan valley, which is being taken forward by Nadia Bogdan and the Upper Afan Forum. It is an encouraging project and I very much look forward to the outcome. You mentioned planning, and, with regard to renewable energy development in Wales, planning is frequently cited as one of the bottlenecks in the system. How do the announcements that you are planning to make contribute to addressing that concern?

Jane Davidson: One of the critical issues is to ensure that planning authorities themselves undertake an assessment of their potential for renewable energy, and use that as part of the evidence base for their local development plans. We intend to announce that it will be necessary for planning authorities to plan positively for renewable energy, and, therefore, to put in place the appropriate assessment of the potential for renewable energy in their own areas. Regarding the project that you referred to in the upper Afan valley, the upper Afan forum successfully applied for Ynni’r Fro funding for a scoping report into the potential for hydroelectricity in the area, and, in Ynni’r Fro, we have this money that enables people to start right at the beginning of a process and apply for funding for such scoping reports. I had a meeting this morning with the British Hydropower Association and it was really interested in how active we were in supporting the development of hydropower in Wales.

Angela Burns: I seek some clarification, Minister. I was at a meeting last week where a member of your Government said that installing hydropower solutions in Wales will be difficult because we do not have control of our own water, and have to ensure that we do not do anything that impacts on any rivers that flow into England or contribute to any reservoirs. I notice that the Environment Agency’s report on the possibility of small-scale hydroelectricity opportunities lists some 4,000 win-win situations throughout England and Wales, and I wanted to know how much further you had looked into the feasibility of some of those. It is of great interest to organisations such as Whitland Renewable Energy Group, which is very keen to look at hydropower, and to think that we may not be able to do it because we do not control our water is off-putting.

Jane Davidson: The majority of hydropower schemes that are likely to come through at community level will be high-head schemes in streams and small rivers rather than large rivers or reservoirs, which tend to have the low-head schemes installed. Working closely with the Minister for Rural Affairs, we have commissioned a review of the regulatory requirements for small-scale renewable energy generation, particularly hydro projects, involving the Environment Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales, and the Forestry Commission, to look at how we can lift barriers. I recently launched 'Hydropower: a guide for you and your community’, which was jointly commissioned by the Assembly Government, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Energy Saving Trust. There is a big incentive through feed-in tariffs at the moment. We know that the UK Government will review them, and, like me, you will want to ensure that everyone in Wales has an opportunity in the window before the tariffs are reviewed to ensure that there is the greatest possible incentive for any community scheme.

Bethan Jenkins: I was recently on a panel organised by National Energy Action on fuel poverty, and we had representations from a small windfarm in Pontardawe. My question is about how communities can benefit from these small energy projects. We hear a lot about the large windfarms run by multinational corporations, and that they do not give much back to communities. Could you expand on what these local projects could give back to communities, so that they can encourage more people to set up their own companies, and see the benefits in their everyday lives?

Jane Davidson: Our Ynni’r Fro programme, which has some £15 million of funding, is about exactly that: communities developing wind or hydro projects, as the two primary technologies, and looking at ways for these projects to bring back major income to the community using the feed-in tariffs. These are absolutely win-win situations, and there is substantial income there. As I said in response to Brian, many communities have already put in applications for support to get their bids off the ground, and there is also substantial capital investment that can come into play when the bids reach a final solution. There were some state-aid issues to resolve, but they are now almost completely resolved. We are, therefore, confident that the money that we have put in through Ynni’r Fro and the feed-in tariffs can work alongside each other in an incredibly positive way for communities in Wales.

2.50 p.m.

Eleanor Burnham: We are all great supporters of community energy projects, but what progress have you alone, or the Government as a whole, made towards your microgeneration heating target of 20,000 units by 2012 and your micro-electricity target of 10,000 units by 2012?

Jane Davidson: It will be for a Minister in 2012 to report back on how targets are being achieved by 2012. It is important to say that, given the amount of investment and support that is coming in from this Assembly Government in developing renewable energy, I hope that every Member in the Chamber ensures that people across Wales take up the advantages, particularly of the feed-in tariff, which is the best and most immediate incentive introduced by the UK Government, which I strongly support.

The Record

Effeithlonrwydd Ynni

Energy Efficiency

7. William Graham: A wnaiff y Gweinidog amlinellu polisïau Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i wella effeithlonrwydd ynni yng nghartrefi Cymru. OAQ(3)1551(ESH)

7. William Graham: Will the Minister outline Welsh Assembly Government policies to improve energy efficiency in Welsh homes. OAQ(3)1551(ESH)

The Record

Jane Davidson: The main Assembly Government vehicle for improving energy efficiency in Welsh homes is the home energy efficiency scheme, which has helped over 124,000 households. Other initiatives, such as the Arbed programme and the Welsh housing quality standard, are also making a significant impact in supporting improvements in our housing stock. Our new fuel poverty strategy will come into play at the beginning of April.

William Graham: Thank you for your answer, Minister. You will know that a higher percentage of people in Wales live in pre-1920s accommodation compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. How is the Assembly Government encouraging people who live in older houses, which are often poorly insulated and inefficiently heated, to upgrade their present insulation? You have given some details of one of the schemes, but do you not agree that opportunities exist for businesses in Wales to capitalise on the expertise required in providing insulation for older houses and to develop products that could be marketed further afield?

Jane Davidson: One way in which the Assembly Government’s Arbed programme has been such an enormous success is that it is not only working in the lower super-output areas, the 15 per cent most deprived areas in our regeneration areas, and using renewable technologies and looking at issues such as external solution, where appropriate, which previous cavity wall insulation schemes did not cover, but also developing the Welsh supply chain. That is crucial in how we move forward. In addition, somewhere in every Arbed scheme is a Welsh company. There are also greater opportunities in the new fuel poverty strategy for there to be local supply chains, because the contract requires the scheme manager to develop local supply chains and to open up opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, including social enterprises, to bid for work arising from the programme.

Val Lloyd: Minister, many of my constituents have benefited from HEES, but given that it will not be accepting applications after 18 February, it is important that information regarding the new scheme is known. I note that there is yet no available information regarding the eligibility criteria—I hope that I have not missed it somewhere—so could you tell me when we can expect to learn of the precise qualifying criteria, as well as the application process?

Jane Davidson: We have been working closely with partners on managing the transition between HEES and the new fuel poverty strategy starting at the beginning of April. I will be making an announcement in support of the launch of the scheme very shortly. Therefore, I will be giving Members information as soon as possible.

The Record

Gareth Jones: Mae fy nghwestiwn yn deillio o’ch ymateb i gwestiwn William Graham. A allwch ymhelaethu ychydig mwy ar hynny, Weinidog, a dweud wrthym pa fanteision economaidd fydd yn deillio o’r rhaglen o fesurau ar gyfer gwella effeithlonrwydd ynni o fewn cartrefi Cymru?

Gareth Jones: My question emanates from your response to William Graham’s question. Can you expand a little more, Minister, and tell us what economic benefits will flow from the programme of measures designed to improve home energy efficiency in Wales?

The Record

Jane Davidson: The economic impact assessment of the new fuel poverty scheme suggests that our investment in the scheme over the next five years will result in over £380 million-worth of benefits for Wales. Those benefits include energy bill savings, the economic value of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved local air quality, as well as the business opportunities. As I said in a response a few moments ago, the fact that we are requiring local supply chains and opening up opportunities for SMEs, which, I know, has been very dear to your heart, means that we will further develop the supply chain in Wales and provide local training and employment opportunities as well.

Brian Gibbons: I was at a Cut the Carbon event on Monday, organised by bodies such as the Federation of Master Builders and ConstructionSkills. The challenges of skill levels within the industry were highlighted, not only the lack of skills for things such as solar panels, but also the necessity to upgrade current skills. The example was given of plumbers or electricians who are not adequately trained in energy efficiency seriously damaging the energy efficiency that was built into a house. The Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills spoke at that meeting. Have you had any discussions with Lesley Griffiths, the Deputy Minister, on this matter so that we will have the necessary skills in construction to maintain an adequate level of energy efficiency in our homes?

Jane Davidson: The Deputy Minister for skills and I have met to discuss broadly the skills needs of the whole of my portfolio, and there are ongoing discussions between our departments as well as between us in the context of specific skills needs in the construction industry. You mentioned plumbers; the Assembly Government has been unique in developing a microgeneration support network to enable installers of the new technologies to get accreditation through the microgeneration certification scheme; they need such accreditation before the recipients can benefit from feed-in tariffs. We have supported that network by using a soft-loan mechanism to train up the installers to get the appropriate accreditation; I will be announcing the full figures for that in March. However, looking at where we are now, there has been a massive increase, for example, in the number of accredited installers for photovoltaics—it is up to 59—and in the number of solar thermal installers, which is up to 33. These numbers were very small when we started this process. We now have installers in Wales for everything apart from micro combined heat and power. We want to be able to build on the expertise of these installers to train others behind them, so that we can really benefit from the renewable technologies that are making our homes energy efficient.

The Record

Rhestrau Aros Tai Cymdeithasol

Social Housing Waiting Lists

8. Jenny Randerson: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am nifer yr aelwydydd yng Nghymru sydd ar restrau aros tai cymdeithasol. OAQ(3)1528(ESH)

8. Jenny Randerson: Will the Minister make a statement on the number of households in Wales on social housing waiting lists. OAQ(3)1528(ESH)

The Record

Jocelyn Davies: Statistics regarding households on social housing waiting lists are not collected by the Welsh Government. However, we have prioritised increasing the supply of affordable housing and exceeded our 6,500 target one year ahead of schedule. This should contribute towards easing pressure on waiting lists. Last year, we commissioned a report on housing needs in Wales, which I will be happy to send to you.

Jenny Randerson: As more social houses are built, the importance of good relations between tenants and housing associations becomes greater and greater. Therefore, I approve of, and appreciate, the measures taken in relation to tenant participation panels. Members of those panels have received training on what they can expect. What guidelines have you issued on how those panels should be run, and who should chair those panels? I have heard serious criticism levelled at the way in which some housing associations run their tenant participation panels, with meetings chaired by senior members of staff of the housing association rather than by tenants themselves.

Jocelyn Davies: Thank you for bringing that to my attention. You are quite correct that the relationship between the tenant and the housing association is vitally important, because the reason why housing associations exist is to provide services and homes to the tenants. The tenants are the important ones in the relationship. We have two national organisations—the Tenant Participation Advisory Service and the Tenants Federation—that are core funded by the Assembly Government.

3.00 p.m.

I am not aware of the guidance that we give on the tenants panels, but I will be happy to look at that, as they ensure that tenants have a voice. Therefore, I will be happy to look at individual cases. It is worth noting that we have changed the regulatory regime, and have given tenants a strong voice in that. Recently, when it gave evidence to the committee that was looking at the proposed Measure, the Welsh Tenants Federation said that it was involved locally, regionally and nationally in the development of policy. It would be a great shame if that was lost as a result of the way that certain housing associations run their tenants panels. Therefore, I would be happy to look at that, if you would like to provide me with specific details.

David Melding: Deputy Minister, you probably know that the UK as a whole has the lowest level of house building since the 1920s, in the private sector as well as in the social housing sector. Many forces have led to that, but the lack of supply of land is probably a major reason why the supply is so weak. In addition, we now have a generation of people who cannot afford to access the private sector, whereas in the past they would have. Indeed, on average, first-time house buyers are now well into their thirties. Do you agree that we need to look at more hybrid solutions? That would mean that when land does become available and housebuilding picks up, hybrid schemes would be available, whereby people mix their purchase with some form of social ownership in partnership. That would at least give the many people who would previously have relied solely on the private sector access to a family home, which is what most people, when they establish families, need more than anything else.

Jocelyn Davies: You are right to say that the majority of people aspire to home ownership, and we have a number of low-cost home ownership schemes. There is an issue with land prices and the availability of land, as you said. I know that the Minister with responsibility for planning is listening, and I am sure that she will take that on board. With regard to housing schemes, we have a number of shared equity products. We are also piloting a rent first model, and I will send you details about that. It is aimed at the intermediate market, which I think is the sector of the population to which you are referring. It includes people who would not perhaps qualify for social housing, who aspire to home ownership but cannot afford to buy on the open market at the moment. A significant deposit needs to be found now: perhaps in the region of £20,000. You are right in referring to the average age of the first-time buyer; it is estimated by the Chartered Institute of Housing to be a depressing 37 years of age. Those of you who have children will find that to be quite a prospect, as they could be 40 before they buy their first home.

Therefore, we do need to develop products that give flexibility, and there could be shared equity products rather than products for outright home ownership, in order to give people the opportunity to get onto the housing ladder. That is being looked at now in relation to the investment trust. The rent first product would mean that the tenant would pay 80 per cent of the open market rent—I should add that it would be fully coverable by housing benefit. After a few years, the property would be offered for sale on an equity share basis, with some of the rent paid until that time going towards the deposit. We are looking at different products that suit different people, in order to give more choice. However, we certainly do not want to go back to the days when mortgages were so freely available that house prices were driven up, to the extent that people could borrow the money but could not pay it back.

The Record

Y Llywydd: Diolch i’r Gweinidogion am eu hatebion llawn heddiw.

The Presiding Officer: I thank the Ministers for their full answers this afternoon.

Dadl ar Adroddiad y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad o dan Reol Sefydlog Rhif 16.8
Debate on the Committee on Standards of Conduct’s Report under Standing Order No. 16.8

The Record

Cynnig NDM4652 Jeff Cuthbert

Motion NDM4652 Jeff Cuthbert

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 16.8, yn cymeradwyo argymhelliad adroddiad y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad a osodwyd yn y Swyddfa Gyflwyno ar 26 Ionawr 2011.

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order No. 16.8, endorses the recommendation of the Committee on Standards of Conduct contained in its report laid in the Table Office on 26 January 2011.

The Record

Jeff Cuthbert: I move the motion.

The Record

Y Llywydd: Y cwestiwn yw bod cytuno ar y cynnig. A oes gwrthwynebiad? Gwelaf nad oes. Felly, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog Rhif 7.35, yr wyf yn datgan bod y cynnig wedi’i dderbyn.

The Presiding Officer: The proposal is to agree the motion. Are there any objections? I see that there are none. Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order No. 7.35, I declare that the motion is agreed.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Motion agreed.

Adroddiad y Pwyllgor Plant a Phobl Ifanc, 'Darparu Mannau Diogel i Chwarae a Chymdeithasu’
The Children and Young People Committee’s Report 'Safe Places to Play and Hang Out’

The Record

Cynnig NDM4650 Helen Mary Jones

Motion NDM4650 Helen Mary Jones

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru:

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

Yn nodi adroddiad y Pwyllgor Plant a Phobl Ifanc, 'Darparu Mannau Diogel i Chwarae a Chymdeithasu’, a osodwyd yn y Swyddfa Gyflwyno ar 23 Tachwedd 2010.

Notes the report of the Children and Young People Committee 'Safe Places to Play and Hang Out’, which was laid in the Table Office on 23 November 2010.

The Record

Helen Mary Jones: I move the motion.

It is my pleasure to move the motion, and in doing so, I commend this report to my fellow Assembly Members.

I will begin, as is customary, by thanking my fellow committee members, who have shown a great deal of commitment to this process. In Jonathan Morgan’s case, that included an excellent game of basketball. I also thank all of those who gave evidence, especially the children and young people who shared freely of their experiences. This was invaluable to our committee, as it always is. I am grateful to the Deputy Minister and to the Government as a whole for their response. I am also particularly grateful, in the context of this report, to the committee staff. The Assembly is, on the whole, blessed with excellent staff to support us in our scrutiny of the Welsh Government. However, those staff members are not often called upon to dress in dragon costumes, as committee clerk Tom Jackson did to encourage younger children to participate in this process.

Before I move on to the report itself, I wish to say a few words about the process that led us to undertaking a review of the provision of safe places to play and hang out. In 2007, our committee undertook a major consultation with children and young people on what mattered to them. As a committee, we felt that, in scrutinising the Government, we should not only listen to what the professionals and other adults told us, but that we should also listen to what children and young people were worried about. Encouraged by Tom dressed in a dragon costume, alomost 3,000 children and young people across Wales responded. Having safe places to play and hang out came in the top three issues that they raised with us. To us, it appeared to be the most appropriate one for the committee to examine.

We took traditional evidence from the usual participants. We are very grateful to all the children’s charities, to the Welsh Local Government Association and to all the other organisations that regularly respond to our consultations. We also sent questionnaires out to schools across Wales. We undertook rapporteur visits and worskshops. We ensured that, in consulting children and young people, we included disabled children, asylum-seeking children, young Gypsy/Travellers and young carers. We wanted to ensure that the voices of those young people who might find it hardest to get access to leisure facilities were heard.

We then had an excellent launch for our committee report, with 90 children and young people playing and enjoying themselves outside the Senedd. I would like to thank all the staff—not only my own staff and the committee staff, but also the events staff—for making that possible. I would also like to thank my fellow committee members for their participation. I have already mentioned Jonathan Morgan’s excellent basketball skills, but all committee members joined in. We were also blessed by a visit from members of the Australian under-19s rugby team, who just happened to be passing and stopped by to get involved. It was absolutely brilliant for the children and young people who were there. I believe that those young men were supposed to go on a formal tour of the Assembly, but they found out something slightly different about our democracy than what they had expected.

I spent a few moments on the process behind creating this report because it is a good example of the way in which the Assembly can innovate in the process of involving people in our growing democracy. That comprehensive process has led to what we believe is a very comprehensive and thorough report. I am very grateful to all the Assembly Members who participated in this, and we strongly commend our recommendations, not only to the Assembly and the Government, but also to other partners across Wales, especially local government.

In leading this debate today, I want to highlight one accepted recommendation that the committee believes is absolutely crucial. I then want to touch briefly on some of the recommendations that the Deputy Minister has accepted in principle and the one that he has rejected. The recommendation that the Minister has accepted and which we believe is crucial relates to the definition of 'play’. There has been a tendency in Wales in recent years to define what is called free play as the only real play—play that is completely unstructured and unsupervised by adults. In the evidence that we received, it was obvious that that is errant nonsense. Free play is a very important part of what children and young people want, but it is not all they want. Children and young people want adults and older children to be involved in their play experiences. They need free play, but they also need and want structure, which they welcome very much. I am very glad that the Deputy Minister has accepted the definition that we drew up after taking all the evidence, which includes structured play as well as free play.

3.10 p.m.

Turning to some of the recommendations that have been accepted in principle, I will begin with recommendation 10, which addresses the need to prioritise lighting on routes to play spaces and play areas. This was raised as a direct concern with the committee by older children and young people. Of course, it is perfectly reasonable to expect them, on a December night, to be out at 4 p.m., when it is dark. The Government commits in its response to examining the feasibility of including a requirement about lighting in the documentation that will support the play sufficiency duty. I welcome that commitment to looking at the feasibility, but I urge the Deputy Minister to include such a requirement. For older children and young people, this was crucial, and I hope that we will be able to address their concerns effectively. It is about feeling safe; we particularly heard messages from young women who felt that it was not possible for them to access outside play spaces where the lighting was inadequate.

I turn to recommendation 13, which is about risk. I am grateful to the Government for accepting this in principle, but I ask the Deputy Minister to consider doing more. We welcome what the Government is already doing in this regard, but more is needed. Children, young people and adults, especially parents, identified fear of risk and danger—whether it is a physical danger or a danger from strangers or traffic—as one of the biggest barriers to children and young people being able to play freely and develop their independence. We welcome the steps that the Government are taking, as the Deputy Minister outlined in his response, but we ask him to look again at our specific recommendations, because this is a massive issue for children and young people. We feel that there needs to be a national campaign of reassurance. We have all been in this situation, whether as parents or when we have supervised children. I remember standing behind the curtains the first time I allowed my daughter to go out in the road to play, so she would not know that I was watching. We have to learn to manage that risk. It is much harder for some families than others. Families of disabled children were particularly highlighted as finding that difficult. While we welcome the acceptance in principle, we ask the Deputy Minister to look again at the specific idea of a national campaign.

Recommendation 16 is similar in some ways, because it, too, is about perception. It is about the negative stereotypes of children and young people. We ask in the recommendation that the Government runs a series of regional summits in Wales, engaging with the local media to get them to think again about some of the images that they portray of children. This was a major barrier, especially for older young people, who were being excluded from places where they felt they had the right to be, because residents had objected. As a committee, we welcome the steps that the Government is taking, but we ask the Deputy Minister to look again at the specific ideas for some regional summits and a dialogue with the UK Government about the negative stereotyping that we get in some elements of the press, particularly the tabloids.

I turn briefly to recommendations 19, 20 and 21 with regard to transport. This was a key barrier identified to us. Obviously, in rural areas, it is difficult for children and young people to access any kind of time to spend with their peers other than in school. It was also identified to us as a real problem for children from poorer areas, thinking for example of some of the hilltop estates in Valleys communities, with which the Deputy Minister will be very familiar, where the bus stops running at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., leaving young people effectively stuck. We understand that recommendation 19 with regard to concessionary fares for 16 to 18-year-olds may be unaffordable now, but I hope that the Deputy Minister will be able to commit the Government to keeping this under review and to consider it as funds become available. It really was important to the young people who spoke to us. In recommendation 21, we welcome the Deputy Minister saying in his response that he will consider issuing guidance under the Proposed Safety on Learner Transport (Wales) Measure to ensure that children and young people using school transport are not excluded from extra-curricular activities at school. We heard of some innovative practice where school buses were delayed by just an hour, which enabled some children and young people to relax and spend time together, and others to take part in structured activities. I hope that the Government will use the opportunity of the proposed learner transport Measure to ensure that all young people get access to those opportunities. We spoke to some young people in rural and poorer communities who never saw their friends except in school, and this is a barrier that we hope the Government will commit to overcoming.

Finally, I will discuss recommendation 24 with regard to pricing. We accept that local authorities are in charge of pricing their own facilities, but the evidence showed that children and young people are routinely excluded, particularly children and young people from larger families and poorer homes. However, there was also some great, innovative good practice out there, which we set out in the report. I trust that the Deputy Minister will use the child poverty duties to get local government to address this and to act consistently.

Forgive me, Presiding Officer, but I must end by mentioning Gypsy/Traveller children. The clear message is that there is a need to ensure play facilities on-site. In its response, the Government says that it is not able to make play facilities compulsory in planning guidance. That being the case, I ask the Government to consider whether it could make it a condition of the funding for which local authorities are able to apply that authorities provide new sites for Gypsies and Travellers. If the planning guidance is not the right way to do it, one way or another, we must ensure that those children have the right to play.

Presiding Officer, it has been a great privilege to have participated in this very innovative process, which has led to our report. Again, I am grateful to the Deputy Minister for accepting those recommendations that he has, and I look forward to the debate.

The Deputy Minister for Children (Huw Lewis): I wish to extend my thanks to the members of the Children and Young People Committee for the work that they have undertaken in conducting this important inquiry. The Welsh Assembly Government places huge importance on children and young people in our society and recognises the central role of play and meeting together in their lives. The inquiry report and the evidence that has been provided by the children, young people and the wide range of organisations concerned for their interests, has been of great value to us in understanding the existing situation relating to play and hanging out and what needs to be changed to make life better for our young people.

I am pleased to report, as Helen Mary mentioned, that most of the recommendations in the report fit well with our existing policy agenda, either in relation to policies and strategies, programmes and statutory requirements, or to the direction in which we wish to travel. To pick out just a few of these policies, the Welsh Assembly Government is committed to fully realising the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for every child and young person in Wales. We have advanced this commitment through the Proposed Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure, which so recently received unanimous support from the National Assembly. Articles 15 and 31 of the convention clearly set out the rights of children to play and hang out, and article 12 sets out their right to express their opinions on decisions that affect them and that these should be taken into account in all decision-making processes.

Wales is leading the way in our approach to play, and we have had a play policy since 2002. That was supported by the play implementation plan in 2006 and has led to the play opportunities section of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010. This part of the Measure allows us to place a duty on local authorities to assess need and, with regard to that assessment, to secure sufficient play opportunities for children in their areas. We have engaged in discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including children, young people and their parents, on what they think communities with sufficient play opportunities would look like and how this can be achieved. This will be further developed and consulted upon during 2011, and guidance will be issued during 2011-2012. We will review the play policy implementation plan as part of that work.

We recognise that providing opportunities to play and hang out means providing spaces, facilities and activities for children and young people. These can be provided through play provision, leisure activities and the youth service and by considering how schools and other community facilities contribute to the agenda. We also recognise that it is about creating communities that understand and respect young people’s right to play and hang out and that are therefore designed to allow for and encourage it.

Supporting the right of children and young people to play has implications for a wide range of policy areas, and the committee’s report made that clear. Planning, traffic, street management and transport all affect children’s and young people’s ability to play, hang out and safely move around and enjoy their communities. As the report shows, this is about not only the physical environment and specific provision, but people’s attitudes towards playing children and young people meeting together in the community.

3.20 p.m.

As I have indicated in my responses, we are working to eliminate discrimination and inequality against children and young people through promoting positive images of children and young people and creating a campaign to do that. We are also working to highlight and celebrate the success of children and young people. We are working on this issue with the devolved administrations in the UK, as set out in 'Working Together, Achieving More’.

We strongly believe that opportunities to play and hang out should be available to, and be inclusive of all children and young people, including those of different ages, abilities and interests, disabled children and those from different cultural backgrounds. For the past two years, and again for 2011-12, we have made funding of £250,000 per year available to local authorities to support their programmes so that disabled children can take full advantage of play opportunities in their areas. In our responses to the report, we have shown how our policy development is working to achieve opportunities available to all children and young people.

We also believe that children and young people should be consulted and listened to in respect of decisions on provision that specifically affects them, such as play and leisure facilities, but also on wider planning for our communities. The Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010, which contains the previously mentioned section on play opportunities, also contains a section on participation, which will require local authorities to promote and facilitate participation by children in decisions made by the authority that might affect them.

Therefore, Presiding Officer, I look forward to the debate on this important issue, and I will attempt to respond to as many points raised as possible.

Jonathan Morgan: I am delighted with this report and its recommendations and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to the report. I would like to place on record my thanks and appreciation to the clerks of the committee, and also to the Chair of the committee, for the rather imaginative way in which this work was undertaken, the way in which we took evidence and information, and the way in which we launched the report, having turned the front of the Senedd into a playground. The cynics among us might argue that it was a mere extension of the playground that we have here, but it was far more fun out there. Quite imaginatively and shockingly, on two fronts, the clerks and the Chair of the committee managed to commandeer—as Helen Mary pointed out—the entire under-19 Australian rugby team, which had merely come to see the Assembly in Cardiff Bay, and ended up playing with a whole variety of children in basketball, hockey and other sports.

The second surprise was my, until that point, rather undiscovered ability to shoot a basketball. I went home and explained what I had done, and my wife looked at me with disbelief. I do not think that she believes that I managed to achieve that great sporting feat at that point. However, it was great fun. It reminded us, in a very nice way, of the challenge that many children and young people face. They want to be out there enjoying the fresh air, enjoying sporting activities, team games and even unstructured play. However, many of them face considerable challenges.

Although it was a fun report, it does refer to areas where we have patchy provision in Wales. Some young people in Wales are extremely lucky in what they can access, and others are less fortunate. We have patchy provision; we have difficulties in terms of access and transport; and difficulties with regard to perception among those children and young people who, for whatever reason, do not wish to use the local facilities. When we took evidence, it was clear that the largest number of concerns that young people had were around the prospect of being bullied, and seeing older children and adults, perhaps, drinking or taking drugs. That perception of how our outdoor spaces have developed in recent years was a significant barrier.

However, there are huge opportunities if we manage to improve the situation. Over a number of years, we could see a situation where the independence and confidence of our young people improves. We live in a society that has become incredibly risk-averse and in which we see and hear such horrors that, naturally, parents and young people feel almost confined to their homes because they feel uncertain about the outside world. We need to overcome that with a determined effort on the part of the Government to ensure that we have safe and enjoyable places for children to play.  

I want to raise two particular issues. The first relates to the planning system, to which the Deputy Minister referred in his speech. The way in which we design our housing, towns and villages in the future will be crucial to the way in which we manage our open spaces. We need to start looking at land not just from the viewpoint of the value that we can gain from selling it for a house, but also the value of what we can do with the land to develop and encourage our young people. We need to look at where we can provide that large-scale housing in the future, and ensuring that we have proper manageable spaces. The work that Dai Lloyd has done on protecting our playing fields sends the right message in order to provide the open spaces that children and young people need.

We also need to engage with the third sector. At lunchtime, I co-hosted an event with Helen Mary Jones, Lynne Neagle and Eleanor Burnham for Clybiau Plant Cymru. It supports thousands of after-school places in Wales, where pupils have the opportunity to play to develop positive messages about health and wellbeing. It demonstrated how successful it had been in improving the understanding of children and young people regarding nutritional expectations and how to improve their physical fitness levels; it was extremely innovative and encouraging. We have to develop that relationship with the third sector if we are to reach those parts of Wales that we have not yet been able to reach.

I hope that the Assembly Government will implement these recommendations, as it needs to demonstrate to the children of Wales that we value the role that they have played in the making of this report and the recommendations that we concluded.

Joyce Watson: I welcome the opportunity to debate this important report. I also thank the committee clerks and their staff, who have done incredible work. I pay tribute most of all to the young children who took time to meet us to give us their message. I also thank their teachers and support staff in schools, who empowered those young children to speak to us on an equal footing in a way that allowed that to happen. I just wanted to put that on the record at the beginning of my contribution.

 

The Welsh Assembly Government places great value on play and its importance in the lives of children across Wales. Its commitment to this agenda is clear, and there is no better example than my region, which has seen the recent opening of the youth centres in Llandrindod Wells and Milford Haven, both of which received considerable Assembly Government funding.

As a member of the committee looking at the provision of safe places to play, it was firmly recognised that the participation of young people in the decision-making process was vital. Recommendations 8 and 11 specifically recognise that. It has to be right that children and young people are best placed in directly communicating the obstacles that they face in their daily lives that prevent them from being able to play freely and safely in their communities.

As part of the evidence-gathering process for the report, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting pupils from Ysgol y Bedol in Carmarthenshire to seek their views on what stopped them from going out to play, or facilitated their being able to do so. I also spoke to the pupils of Ysgol Ardudwy in Harlech. Some of what came out of those responses is identified in the committee report, namely that children often felt, as was mentioned earlier, that cars and unsafe parking, along with bullies and a lack of designated places to play, were restricting their play opportunities. I strongly feel that road safety issues, and traffic in particular, must be tackled head on. It is unacceptable that a child who lives in a deprived area is many more times likely to be the victim of a road traffic accident than the national average. Will the Minister reaffirm the Assembly Government’s commitment to involve children and young people in the decision-making process when considering those issues? Will the Minister also look at local authorities’ provision, according to Welsh Assembly Government guidance on the use of 20 mph zones outside schools, and look at Ceredigion in particular, which has only two designated 20 mph zones and 75 schools?

3.30 p.m.

Eleanor Burnham: Some of us had a wonderfully playful childhood. I was fortunate in that I used to go for miles on my bike on my own. Compared with the average distance that many children go from their front door, which is so restricted, I was a fortunate person. I suppose that on the rural roads that Ieuan Wyn and I have discussed in the past, there were not as many cars, and perhaps they were not travelling as quickly as they do now. The Deputy First Minister and I have already discussed this issue—we were in the same place at the same time for some years.

The Presiding Officer: Order. I know where you were—you were in the old Meirionnydd.

Eleanor Burnham: I was therefore a fortunate child, and I worry about the current restrictions, which have been discussed at great length. I was pleased, along with colleagues, to be able to have such an interesting time in investigating these barriers. I would like to thank colleagues and staff, as other Members have done. It was pleasing to see the Australians; that was a fantastically entertaining interlude. I am particularly pleased to see that the report begins with a quote from David Lloyd George no less; what more could one want?

Having spent this year investigating the barriers that exist in our society, I thoroughly agree with the comments that have been made by colleagues, particularly about planning and design, and the management of open spaces. We have a lot to learn from the Europeans. We all travel around these days, and we see street games, for example, in many European towns and city centres. We must emulate some of the best practice that is to be found elsewhere. I believe that this report has challenged our understanding of play. As the Llywydd constantly reminds us, this place belongs to the people of Wales, and we are able to use it as a play area—that is an innovative idea. I wish to say 'well done’ to our Chair and to everyone who was involved with that.

The report that was published by CHILDWISE yesterday shows that UK children watch an average of more than two and a half hours of television a day, and spend an hour and 50 minutes online a day. In the context of our report, it is frightening to think of all the sitting that some of our children do. As I have already said, some of us were fortunate enough to go out and play and have a lot of exercise. That is one of the reasons for the issues with the health and wellbeing of some of our youngsters, that they spend such a lot of time sitting rather than playing. In response to the report, representatives of parents’ lobby groups asked whether it is possible, in this day and age, for children to play out in the street on their own. As Helen Mary and others have mentioned, that is difficult in many streets. Joyce mentioned the problems that face children who live in disadvantaged areas, which is an issue. Cars, and parking, are a particular problem, as has been mentioned.

Our report’s recommendations have not only raised new issues, but have also shown how important it is that Government policies and strategies are continually reviewed and updated. I know that this is dear to Huw Lewis’s heart, and I look forward to hearing his comments. I am delighted that the Government has accepted the great majority of our recommendations. I worry that our media stereotypes people in relation to many of the issues that we have discussed, which does not help. We need to get away from stereotypes and think outside the box, as we have done in this report.

I am particularly pleased about recommendation 5, on road safety, which the Government has accepted. As I mentioned, I was very lucky as a young cyclist. For many young cyclists, it is pretty precarious these days. The delivery of road safety through personal and social education was mentioned earlier, but that is often dependent on the skills and the knowledge of the teachers, and perhaps the time available. I seek an assurance that the Minister is committed to monitoring the delivery of this recommendation.

I wonder about recommendation 19, on the provision of concessionary fares. I realise that it could be costly, and I saw that there was a pilot—I cannot remember exactly where, but I am sure that the Deputy Minister will remind me. I worry that 16 to 18-year-olds are concerned about access to places because of the travel costs. Apart from that, I look forward to the implementation of our recommendations, and I hope that future Governments take a view on the issue of transport costs in particular.

Ann Jones: I thank Helen Mary and the committee for the comprehensive report. I took part as a substitute Member, and I had more than my two-penn’orth to say. I hope that I played my part on behalf of the children and young people in my constituency, and I notice that you took on board what I said about section 106 and planning. There is an important point about developing new estates in such a way that we plan the location of the play areas. As stated in the report, it makes it easier for families to decide which house to purchase—if they are able to purchase properties, given the financial constraints that we are in. However, if we get back to buying houses, then that will be an improvement. Older people will be able to buy a house away from the play area, so that we stop this negative stereotyping of kids always banging balls against walls. Designating play areas is the way forward, and local authorities can do a lot more on section 106 applications in that area.

I wanted to talk about the fact that the committee came out of Cardiff and visited Rhyl, and the children of Rhyl will forever be indebted to the committee for that. Many of them feel that they are left out, and although many in the Rhyl Adventure Playground Association have visited this Assembly, they go back and say, 'Well, it is a long way away’. However, now they know that the Assembly will work for them. That is because of the people in that play association who try to involve them in issues, and discuss what they would like to see, and how they would like the association to develop. It works, because the children now have structured play and free play in an area that is fairly safe and well-supervised, but at arm’s length, which is important. Another group that you took evidence from was the Rhyl Youth Action Group, which has about a 1,000 children connected by e-mail, Facebook and whatever else. They are from some of the most disadvantaged communities, and they have a say in how they run their organisation.

You could not come to Rhyl and not talk about the football club and its work with children through its academy, and the way that it gets young people involved. It has a fantastic mascot scheme whereby they are involved in the match day and are treated properly, as grown-ups. They thoroughly enjoy it. So, there is a lot happening in Rhyl.

I want to touch briefly, if I may, on issues where local authorities could serve children better than at present. They could go to associations like the Rhyl Youth Action Group, or the Rhyl Adventure Playground Association, and talk to these people about what they can do with their budgets. I was interested to hear the views of disabled children, and we have to listen to them about what they want. I would have thought that they would all want to be included, but there is an issue about them wanting separate play, so that they do not feel that they are different. We have to listen, and if it fits in one area but not another, then we should be brave enough to tailor services to them, or to others.

I feel that Helen Mary and the committee have done a great service to young people and I think that this report will stand for many years to come. It will make local authorities and other agencies sit up and listen to what young people really want for their areas. I thank you for the work that you have done.

3.40 p.m.

Andrew R.T. Davies: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report. I was not a committee member, but, as a parent of four children, when I saw the title, I was instantly led into reading more of the report, particularly its recommendations. The foreword alone shows the extent of the work that the committee undertook; it took evidence from 1,200 children, which is no mean feat in any country, but in a country the size of Wales, taking such a vast amount of evidence really provides a good cross-section of the views that are out there.

It is vital that we have a co-ordinated approach to play and places to hang out for the benefit of social inclusion. I represent South Wales Central, which probably has a more diverse ethnic mix than any other part of Wales. If young people can mix socially, then social inclusion begins at that young age, along with an understanding of the needs of others within the community. I want to touch on a few of the recommendations, because having 26 recommendations is extensive, to say the least. Someone, like me, who prefers a lighter touch may think that a few of these recommendations are somewhat intrusive, but I appreciate that that is my own view.

First, I would like to touch on the recommendation about planning, which has been touched on a little by other Members, given that, in the next couple of months, many of us will be going around delivering leaflets and all sorts of paraphernalia to housing estates. If you look at many of the modern estates, you will see that there seems to be a lack of thought being put into the provision of play and community spaces. In every estate that I seem to go to, the roads seem to get increasingly smaller, yet the number of cars that each house has seems to increase. Therefore, the area that people have to meet, congregate and socialise is greatly condensed into an ever decreasing area. A lot of that is also down to the value of the land, given that developers pay so much for it. I appreciate that the Deputy Minister in his response touched on various Welsh Assembly Government guidance and technical advice notes that go to planning authorities, but it still concerns me that housing density per acre in recent years has greatly increased, which therefore means that you are cutting down on the areas designated for recreation and play for young people.  

The 106 agreements, which are a tool that many local authorities are increasingly using to extract assets and money from developers, are a useful tool to try to create those community facilities. However, I would also like to see some legacy funding, because it is all well and good putting these recreational areas in place, but the maintenance of those areas is also of critical importance as we go forward. For example, I own a farm in the village of St Nicholas, and we have had instances of children coming up from Ely and going onto the land and into sheds, causing a few problems. When I have spoken to those children, they have told me that the areas where they would normally hang out are being wrecked by 'the big kids’. It is regrettable that communities give into social exclusion and do not fight harder for our community assets. There is scope, therefore, when section 106 agreements are developed, to acquire funding not just for the principal set-up costs for community spaces, but also the legacy costs and the maintenance, so that those places can be seen as attractive places for young people to go to and interact with each other.

I would also like to touch on the recommendations around public transport, and in particular recommendation 20. I speak again from personal experience to say that my daughter, who is 17, makes great use of the bus into Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, yet, virtually every time, she ends up having a discussion, shall we say, with a driver over her age. She offers photo identification—a provisional driving licence—but that is not deemed good enough for her to be classed as a child, so she ends up paying the adult rate. She was told that she has to make an application to the local authority to get the pass that the bus company will accept, which, I think, costs around £10 to £15. Surely, if you had an official form of identification, and a provisional licence is a form of photo identification, that would enhance the ability of young people to travel around. A greater understanding by our public transport network of the needs of young people when those facilities are in place for them to access, particularly in rural areas, would be greatly appreciated.

I wholeheartedly agree with the committee’s endorsement of the work on intergenerational understanding, in particular with regard to respect for older generations, but also with regard to older generations’ understanding of the positive role that so many young people play in our society. One of the key organisations that I have had the privilege and pleasure to have been associated with—the young farmers’ movement—encapsulates many of the great dynamics that we would wish to see in young people in our society.

I thank the committee for putting this report together. It encapsulates much good work. The onus is now on the Deputy Minister to implement these recommendations, and I am sure that the spirit with which the Deputy Minister has responded will see those recommendations going forward.

The Deputy Minister for Children (Huw Lewis): I have very much enjoyed this debate on an important area of work, and I thank Members for their contributions. I hope that the responses to the recommendations that have already been made show that the Assembly Government is working across all its policy areas to ensure that children and young people are afforded their rights according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I now turn to some of the specific points raised during the debate. Andrew is quite right to mention the importance of inter-generational work and Joyce is perfectly right to underscore the importance of the involvement of children and young people. We will keep that at the forefront of our work and our minds. Eleanor touched upon road safety, which is not only an area of concern because of the health and safety aspects of these issues, but as an issue of social justice—the deprivation link to road safety problems is clear and stark. Ann is quite right to talk about the central role of planning and how we move forward from here in terms of section 106 and so on. Ann is also correct, as always, to demand that we take notice of the central role of Rhyl in all these issues.

More specifically, points were raised about recommendations 10, 13 and 16 regarding lighting, risk and negative stereotypes. I will take another look at the specific points raised by Helen Mary regarding those recommendations, and I will try to make sure that we are doing all that we can on those points. I will undertake to speak to the Deputy First Minister concerning recommendations 19 and 21 about transport and transport costs. Regarding recommendation 24 on pricing, the new child poverty legislation that is now in force will demand of local authorities that they produce a child poverty strategy of their own. I would expect to see that consideration has been given, at local level, to pricing and what that means for young people in terms of accessibility to services.

I look forward to continuing this work with all our stakeholders in making our communities safer and more conducive to children’s opportunities to play and hang out. This report has certainly been a very worthwhile milestone along the road.

Helen Mary Jones: I thank all Members who have contributed to this debate. I only have time to touch on a few of the points raised. I can reassure Jonathan Morgan that there is photographic evidence of his basketball-playing skills, which has been published in the newsletter that our committee produces for children. You can take it home, Jonathan, and demonstrate that it is true that you shot that basket.

Jonathan is right to highlight the patchy nature of provision. We found some excellent practice, particularly in the voluntary sector, as he says, but I know that the Minister would agree that there are too many gaps and that the aim must be to drive all areas up to the highest standards. The points made by Jonathan Morgan, Ann Jones and Andrew R.T. Davies and others about the planning system are very well-made and we are glad that the Deputy Minister accepts our recommendations in full or in principle in that regard. I add my thanks to the point raised by Joyce Watson about the adults who supported the children and young people who participated in our inquiry. We owe them a great debt. It is not always easy as an adult to step aside and let the children speak for themselves. We were very grateful to all of those who did that. Joyce is also right to raise—as others did—the issue of participation in decision making. We saw how badly things can go wrong without it, with skate parks put in the wrong place, expensive facilities built that the children were never going to use or statutory youth clubs that were empty because they were open on the wrong nights while the voluntary sector ones were full. We must listen to children and young people’s voices, not only because it is right but because it makes things more effective.

3.50 p.m.

Eleanor Burnham is right to highlight how much has changed since many of our childhoods. Traffic is a major constraint in that regard, both in respect of where it is a genuine danger, as Ann Jones and others have said, but also in respect of the fear that it induces in adults. The best way of dealing with that is to deal with the traffic, and to ensure that our young people know how to cope in the changed environment.

I am grateful to Ann Jones for her participation in producing the report, as I am to Sandy Mewies and Angela Burns, who were also members of the committee during this long process. I am also grateful to Ann for her suggestions about who we might visit in Rhyl. The committee is indebted to the children and young people of Rhyl, and to the adults who supported them. They gave us excellent evidence. It was a committee road trip that we will never forget, and we all learned a great deal.

I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for his kind words about the process and the report itself. I should perhaps let him know that the number of recommendations and their sheer volume is deliberate. We on the Children and Young People Committee like to pin the Government down and give it a lot to respond to, so that was not accidental. I am very interested indeed in the point that he made about section 106 agreements and maintenance costs, and I hope that Ministers will have heard that and will look to act upon it.

As a committee, we very much welcome the Government’s commitment to these issues, and are pleased with the way in which it responded in a cross-departmental manner. This is not just a matter for Huw Lewis, as the Deputy Minister for Children; it is a matter for every Minister. We welcome the way in which the response makes that clear.

I am grateful to the Deputy Minister for the comments that he has made about looking again at some of the specifics raised, particularly with regard to those recommendations that he has accepted in principle. We as a committee are very pleased about the sufficient play opportunities duties, and feel that that will make a great deal of difference.

The strength of cross-party consensus in the Assembly on issues relating to children and young people has been demonstrated once again today, and that reflects the values of the community that we represent. As our Assembly draws to a close, the Children and Young People Committee is now working on its legacy report, and we will recommend to a future children’s committee—in the fervent hope that the next Assembly will decide to have one—that it scrutinises the Government’s delivery of its play commitments closely. I am sure that the next Assembly Government will welcome that scrutiny, and that it will agree with us as a committee that our children deserve no less. Diolch yn fawr.

The Record

Y Llywydd: Y cwestiwn yw bod y Cynulliad yn nodi adroddiad y pwyllgor. Yr wyf yn sicr nad oes neb yn gwrthwynebu. Felly, yr wyf yn datgan bod y cynnig wedi’i basio, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog Rhif 7.35.

The Presiding Officer: The question is that the Assembly notes the committee report. I am sure that there is no objection. Therefore, I declare that the motion is agreed, in accordance with Standing Order No. 7.35.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Motion agreed.

Daeth y Dirprwy Lywydd (Rosemary Butler) i’r Gadair am 3.52 p.m.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler) took the Chair at 3.52 p.m.

Dadl y Ceidwadwyr Cymreig Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus
Welsh Conservatives Debate Public Services

The Record

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I have selected amendment 1 in the name of Jane Hutt and amendment 2 in the name of Peter Black.

The Record

Cynnig NDM4651 Nick Ramsay

Motion NDM4651 Nick Ramsay

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru:

The National Assembly for Wales:

Yn galw ar Lywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i roi dinasyddion wrth galon llywodraeth leol drwy gynnwys cymunedau yn fwy wrth ddarparu gwasanaethau cyhoeddus.

Calls on the Welsh Assembly Government to put citizens at the centre of local government by creating greater community involvement in the delivery of public services.

The Record

Jonathan Morgan: I move the motion.

I am delighted to open the debate. To me, the principle of localism and the need for the Government to engage the people of Wales in how their communities function and how their services are provided is vital. I do not know where the governing parties sit on the issue of localism, but we as a party believe strongly in it. We believe it because we know that there is an imbalance of power and responsibility. In recent years, men and women in communities across Wales and the UK have felt anger, frustration and disenchantment with a system of government that they believe has ignored their concerns and stifled their voice. In Wales specifically, over the past 13 years of Labour rule, we have seen Governments resolved on creating not an empowering state, where Welsh citizens have a real say and a greater voice on how they would like the Government to operate and their services run, but an overpowering state, where blind political dogma is the ideology and command and control is the ethos, across policy areas, from those of health to local government.

Under successive Labour Governments, we have seen the rise of top-down central Government control, which has undermined local councils and allowed people too little say over decisions that affect them locally. The lack of real local democracy in Wales has made communities weaker, while social responsibility has deteriorated, civic involvement has declined, and the inclusion of vulnerable people in social life has been inhibited.

In England, under the new coalition Government, a transformation has begun whereby individuals, families and communities are having the reins of power and accountability restored to them, house by house and street by street. The UK Government is doing that because it believes that localism holds the key to economic, social and political success in the future. The Localism Bill is the first major attempt to empower citizens—to give them more say and more opportunity to be involved. I do not know whether the Minister is a fan of localism, and I do not know whether the Minister feels that the Localism Bill should extend its provisions to Wales. However, I would like to see the people of Wales enjoying the same rights and opportunities as people across the border.

Our vision is to see a radical shift of control, by taking power from the national Government and returning it to local communities. Only by achieving this vision will we see services improve and evolve, and choice and accountability expand. Only by giving power and financial incentives for local authorities to foster growth will we start to move towards a Welsh economy that is built on strong, vibrant, local economies, and an economy that is far less vulnerable to the failures of a few dominant industries. Only by giving people more power and control over the services that are delivered in their areas will we start to inspire a new spirit of civic pride in those communities. Only by making local government more accountable, and by bringing people closer to the levers of power, will we start to restore the trust that has been lost in our political system.

With the time allocated this afternoon, I will take the opportunity to outline some of the areas where we feel that political decentralisation could occur and could revitalise democracy and strengthen community life—a five-pillar strategy to shift power away from the central state and back to local people. The first pillar is the concept of directly elected mayors. Most people in the Chamber know where this party stands, and where I stand personally, on this issue. I would like to see our main cities and towns developing the system of directly elected mayors. I believe that they could transform many localities in Wales. Providing the opportunity for citizens in our largest cities, like Wrexham, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, to vote for a directly elected mayor, offers such potential for these cities and areas. The case, of course, will have to be made. However, I believe that adopting this governance model will ensure improved accountability and transparency, public re-engagement, the reinvigoration of local politics and a greater degree of strategic and innovative thinking. This is exactly what the principal areas of Wales need to expand in the decade to come.

The second pillar is to enable greater public scrutiny of Assembly Government and public sector spending. Increasing non-transparency in terms of how public money is spent is one of the greatest frustrations of taxpayers. We want to reverse that trend. We believe that we should unleash an army of armchair auditors to scrutinise Assembly and local government accounts, in a bid to make it easier for people to hold public bodies, Ministers, executive leaders and their departments to account. We want to ensure that there is no easy way out for those spending public money to cut services, when all the options and priorities have not been fully explored. The only way that individuals, opposition parties and the media have been able to scrutinise what the Government spends is through the freedom of information process. A lot of waste and flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ money has been exposed in this way, but it is certainly not the easiest tool to use to ensure transparency in spending. That is why we would like to see all public bodies in Wales publish all expenditure over £500 online, so that all Welsh taxpayers can see whether government is delivering value for money. Rather than creating a new financial burden, this greater transparency and accountability will help reduce wasteful expenditure and allow the Assembly Government and local authorities to become more aware of best practice in other areas.

The third pillar is cutting the use of hypothecated grants for local government. This is about getting rid of the administration process and ensuring the delivery of outcomes. In the final local government revenue and capital settlement for 2010-11, there were 61 direct grants, some of which amount to a council receiving as little as £10,000 or even less. When the costs of administrating and distributing the grant are taken into account, in some instances, the council will lose money by receiving the grant. This cannot be right. Local authorities must be given the flexibility to make decisions on what their local priorities are, and must be allowed the budget for those priorities accordingly. Getting rid of this additional bureaucratic burden would help save around £60 million a year—vital money that could be reinvested in front-line services.

The fourth pillar is enhancing the power of town and community councils. These 735 bodies in Wales are the true voice of the Welsh citizen. They are the conduit for public engagement and consultation, and the tier of government closest to the people.

4.00 p.m.

They do so much to improve the environment and wellbeing of local communities, but they could be allowed to do so much more. The Beecham review was clear. In the final report, he said:

'It is…important for local organisations to demonstrate accountability for their stewardship of the total local budget, and to encourage citizens to share ownership of the choices which have to be made’.

The report recommended that the Assembly Government take the lead in encouraging greater citizen engagement, working with the third sector, community health councils and other citizen advocates. This simply has not happened. In fact we have seen the reverse, as 17 of the 19 community health councils, as they were, have been abolished, and the new boards made smaller, all hampering the representation and scrutiny functions they were designed to discharge. We believe that the role of town and community councils should be expanded and that they should have the ability to take on certain functions like planning at their own request, which would offer local people a greater say and greater control.

The final pillar is that we believe that communities should have a greater say on things that affect them. This is essentially about putting more power in the hands of local people and making councillors more accountable to their citizens. This level of accountability could be direct and it should be as visible as possible, so that citizens have the ability to see clearly and exercise real influence over what their elected representatives are doing with the power they have. It is about giving people the power and the tools to lead the political and economic agendas locally. For example, if voters are unhappy that something is not being done in their area, then I would like to see them have the ability to force it onto the agenda. If people want to challenge a significant policy and widen the debate, then I would like to see it made easier for them to instigate local referenda to help guide decisions. If people are unhappy about council tax or business rate increases, then they should be able to unite together to vote them down.

This is direct democracy in action. To coin a phrase from Robert Lindsay, this is giving real 'power to the people’. As we look forward to the crucial referendum on 3 March, I believe that we should be talking less about powers for the Assembly and more about powers for local people and their communities. Is there any wonder that there is such disengagement and such a lack of enthusiasm out there for how we want to see Wales developing if there is a 'yes’ vote on 3 March? I am terrified that we will see a record low turnout. We do not want to see that. We want people engaged in the process. We want them to have ownership, we want them to be at the centre of decisions and for them to be the individuals who benefit as a result of a 'yes’ vote. We have to convince them by telling them how they will be empowered, not by lecturing them as to what it means to us as politicians. Our plans for decentralising responsibility and power will trust people to manage their affairs in a way that responds to local needs. Our vision of a more decentralised country, economy, society and politics is an essential part of our progressive vision for the good life and the good society that we all wish to see.

The Record

Gwelliant 1 Jane Hutt

Amendment 1 Jane Hutt

Dileu popeth a rhoi yn ei le:

Delete all and replace with:

Mae Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru:

The National Assembly for Wales:

Yn croesawu’r camau sy’n cael eu cymryd ar draws Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i roi dinasyddion yn y canol wrth gyflenwi gwasanaethau cyhoeddus.

Welcomes the steps being taken across the Welsh Assembly Government to put citizens at the centre of public service delivery.

The Record

The Minister for Social Justice and Local Government (Carl Sargeant): I move amendment 1.

The Record

Gwelliant 2 Peter Black

Amendment 2 Peter Black

Ychwanegu pwynt newydd ar ddiwedd y cynnig:

Add as new point at end of motion:

Yn credu, yn ogystal â chael eu cynnwys yn fwy wrth ddarparu gwasanaethau cyhoeddus, y dylid ymgynghori â dinasyddion, a dylid eu cynnwys mewn unrhyw benderfyniadau posibl i uno awdurdodau lleol, oherwydd gallai hyn gael effaith ddramatig ar ddarparu gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yn eu hardal.

Believes that, as well as having greater involvement in the delivery of public services, citizens should be involved in, and consulted on, any potential amalgamation of local authorities, as this could have a dramatic effect on the delivery of public services in their area.

The Record

Veronica German: I move amendment 2.

What is local government if it is not about putting citizens at the centre of everything that it does, be it in ensuring that there are simple and straightforward ways for people to have their voices heard, or in ensuring that their local communities can shape and even deliver the services that they require themselves? I do not think that anyone disagrees with citizen-centred services, but perhaps we do not all agree exactly on how that should be done. I am glad to see the conversion of the Conservatives to localism over the years, because it is something that we have believed in as a party for a long time. We may not agree completely with everything that Jonathan has just said, but we do believe—particularly with regard to elected mayors—in bringing more transparency to spending. We have called in the past in the Chamber for the publication of spending in Wales on a website, as happens in England and Scotland. In particular, specific grants should be cut, as they are a huge waste of money and they do not allow local government to be local.

It is about local people working together with local elected members, voluntary organisations and community groups—the people who really understand the needs of their communities. They are the people who should be able to deliver for their communities. The Proposed Local Government (Wales) Measure aims to enhance engagement between councils and their citizens, and those particular parts of the proposed Measure are very welcome. The aims and principles of the proposed Measure have been widely welcomed. We do not always agree exactly on how it is being done, but there has been general agreement on the thinking behind it. We want to strengthen local democracy, we want to empower councils, and we want to empower communities. So, we felt total amazement when we heard that, last week, last-minute amendments had been tabled to give Ministers absolutely sweeping powers to merge—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. This is not a debate about the Proposed Local Government (Wales) Measure. Detailed discussion of any amendments is a matter for the appropriate legislation committee.

Veronica German: The amendments have been tabled.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Excuse me. You are to talk to your amendment. Stick to your amendment, thank you.

Veronica German: Right, okay. I thought that I was sticking to my amendment. It is about giving local people a say in whether councils can be amalgamated. We believe that it would be an absolute disgrace if Ministers were to take sweeping powers to amalgamate councils without full consultation and scrutiny with regard to how it is done. We have had six months of consultation and scrutiny on other parts of the legislation that would allow local people to have their say, and now we have come to a point where this is not allowed to happen because of the way that proposals have been put forward. We believe that there should be full consultation with communities, and we believe that this Assembly should be able to fully scrutinise on behalf of our citizens and communities. So, we believe that this demonstrates breathtaking arrogance on the part of this Government. We find it completely unacceptable that these proposals could be railroaded through in this way with no suggestion in anybody’s manifesto or in the coalition agreement that this is what they proposed to do.

So, these proposals make a mockery of the Government’s commitment to local government and the original proposed Measure, because they do not allow local people to have a say. We are not talking about what you intend to do; we are talking about the process and letting local people have a say. We believe that this is a dreadful advert for devolution—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Can you wind up, please?

Veronica German: It plays into the hands of the 'no’ campaigners. If these proposals are for certain authorities only, as has been suggested, why not consult those particular people in those local authorities—if you are talking about Anglesey and Gwynedd?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. I am sorry, but you really are wandering away from your amendment and your time is coming to an end. Please come to a conclusion on the amendment that you moved.

Veronica German: We believe that this is completely unacceptable. It is not the way to make legislation or to consult with our communities, because communities here in Wales deserve better.

Mark Isherwood: We must empower rather than overpower local people, giving them a say in the running of public services. This socialist Welsh Government presumes that the public sector is the only option for delivering services. We must ask why it imagines that it must do the same thing with less money, when the same thing is not working.

4.10 p.m.

The public sector sometimes has a tendency to distort the aims of voluntary sector groups and foster a dependency that stifles initiatives. The voluntary sector has greater reach, more flexibility and is generally better at more intensive, personalised support. Our big Welsh society holds many opportunities for independent, voluntary and charitable sector organisations and the more diverse providers of public services, and greater power for communities to make local decisions. However, there are too many barriers to these types of organisations doing Government business, which is why the UK coalition Government is seeking to create a level playing field for charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises that want to bid for public service contracts.

The devolution dividend and European billions would have allowed an effective Welsh Government to drive sustainable growth and prosperity in Wales. However, 12 years of socialist Welsh Government has blown this, subsidising rather than tackling the deep-rooted causes of the problems in Wales today, leaving Wales at the bottom of every social and economic league table that matters.

The Communities First programme is the Welsh Government’s multi-million pound flagship programme in disadvantaged communities. However, as we know, the Wales Audit Office found that the programme was blighted from the start by an absence of basic human resource and financial planning—in other words, by ministerial dereliction of duty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that Communities First had led to marginal improvements only, while positive changes were mainly down to a mix of housing tenures and younger populations with higher skills moving in. The Wales Council for Voluntary Action found that the initial enthusiasm of local people for the programme was hampered by design flaws, stating that the missing link in achieving significant community ownership is the lack of a longer-term vision in the programme, which enables communities to move beyond programmes to establish their own independent institutions, which can then, in turn, work as equal partners in delivering real outcomes, which the community values, owns and is willing to mobilise around.

The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Act 2010 recognises that local people know best what needs to be done to promote the sustainability of their area, but Labour and Plaid Cymru have refused to implement this in Wales.

Participatory budgeting directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending and priorities for a defined public budget, increasing transparency, accountability, understanding and social inclusion in local government affairs. We must recognise that, if you give people more power, they will behave more responsibly, and that Government, at all levels, cannot solve all of our problems on its own. I therefore welcome the participatory budget projects delivered in north Wales by Together Creating Communities. We must now support the Wales participatory budgeting unit, recently incorporated as a social enterprise.

Directly elected mayors accountable to the public could improve the performance and delivery of local public services. If Mansfield and Bedford can have them, then why not Wrexham and Bangor, to deliver real local change? Citizens must be consulted on any potential amalgamation of local authorities. The Welsh Government must not be allowed to bury the problems of failing councils by exporting them rather than dealing with them. The Welsh Government must not be allowed either to use the excuse of failing councils as a Trojan horse for the further centralisation of ministerial power.

At UK level, the localism Bill will herald a groundbreaking shift in power to councils and communities, overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre, and look where it has got us. We must allow community enterprises to ask the public sector how they can help it to save money, delivering more for less. By getting out of the way and letting citizens and communities run their own affairs, we can restore civic pride, democratic accountability and economic growth, and build a stronger, fairer Wales in a stronger, fairer Britain. Let this be the end of big Government laying the foundations of the big Welsh society. After all, it does not matter who delivers the services; what matters is how well they are delivered.

David Lloyd: I am pleased to contribute to this debate on community involvement in local government. I was going to concentrate on that aspect of community involvement and that particular interface between individual residents, householders, council tax payers and local government, deriving from my experiences over the years as a community campaigner, county councillor and Assembly Member in trying to develop a philosophy about how we can improve communication between local government and individual citizens. There is a lot of talk about organisations being person-centred, but we need to find ways of improving that because it is certainly, sadly, lacking at times.

I was going to try to illustrate this with my experiences over the last three years of passing legislation in my name in the Assembly, namely the Playing Fields (Community Involvement in Disposal Decisions) (Wales) Measure 2010 that Jonathan Morgan kindly alluded to in an earlier debate. This involved a new concept of pre-sale consultation, which is a unique feature—it does not happen anywhere else in these islands. I am grateful to the Minister and to the previous Minister, Brian Gibbons, for agreeing the passage of the Measure. However, they and other Members will know that a fair amount of compromise had to be reached along the way, and after hours of consultation and discussions—much of it involving the Welsh Local Government Association and local authorities—it became obvious that local authorities were not keen on what was seen as the intensive community involvement of individual residents in the potential community disposal decisions regarding their playing fields that I wanted to see happen.

 

Members will recall that I originally wanted to write to every householder who would be affected by the disposal decision. I compromised by agreeing to insert a paragraph or an advertisement in free council newspapers. The local householders that we consulted liked the idea of direct community involvement by their local authority in a decision that directly affected them. That was felt to be disproportionate by local government, and the advice to Welsh Assembly Government Ministers reflected that. However, our people liked that idea, but as discussions went along, we needed to tighten up and move on, otherwise the Measure would have fallen.

   

It might be a moot point, but, before the playing fields Measure received Royal Assent on 15 December 2010, public consultation in relation to the disposal of a playing field could only happen as part of the planning process after a decision had been made to dispose of that playing field. In other words, the decision about what to do with a playing field had already been taken without open consultation with local residents. Consultation would happen as part of planning law when the decision to dispose had already been taken. As I and others have said in our debates on the Measure, such consultation was frequently viewed as a sham or a stitch-up by local residents. That is why I felt that involving individual householders before the decision was made about whether or not to dispose of a playing field was a significant way forward in the two-way consultation between the relevant local authority and local citizens, and could potentially open the way for a new respect between residents and local authorities. We compromised, and I am pleased that the unique feature of pre-sale consultation remains. Residents will now be informed that their local authority is considering disposing of a playing field in their ward. That exercise over the last three years demonstrated how we had to move, discuss, cajole some people and compromise to make sure that we got this unique piece of legislation through in time.   

In conclusion, the lesson is that we can talk a lot about public engagement and making sure that the householder is at the centre of everything, but trying to plan that out is difficult in practice.

4.20 p.m.

Mohammad Asghar: Local people must be given a say in the running of the public services that are in place to serve them. In Wales, we should be looking to ensure that we have a situation that empowers people, giving them a real say in the way in which their local services are run and developed. On this side of the Chamber, we have a number of proposals that would ensure that that happens, delivering real devolution to the people of Wales and giving communities the voice that they deserve.

First, I would like to talk about directly-elected mayors, who would be the single, democratically elected face of a particular town or city. They would act as recognisable ambassadors for their vicinity and would be under pressure to perform and deliver improvements in their area, or face losing their position at the next election. Elected mayors have proved to be popular and highly visible figures in many parts of the world, such as in New York, some European countries and in Australia. For example, the independent candidate Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough—who was been nicknamed 'Robocop’-won plaudits from the public by exchanging the mayoral limousine for a two-seater Smart car because of financial constraints. In Mansfield, the mayor has been praised for orchestrating and co-ordinating effective partnership working. With their mandate, directly-elected mayors are ideally placed to break down institutional barriers to successfully facilitate change and development.

With regard to armchair auditors, it is also essential we empower local people to seize opportunities to monitor the performance of their local services. The Beecham review emphasised the importance of citizen-centred scrutiny, noting that the public should be able to track the performance of local service providers over time. Members on this side of the Chamber want to see public bodies publishing all expenditure above and beyond £500 online, which would be acceptable to the public at large. It would give citizens the chance to scrutinise whether taxpayers’ money is being spent effectively. Such openness and accountability could save money. Local authorities already deal with many freedom of information requests for such information, so making it all publicly available could help to reduce costs. Quotes from the Greater London Authority highlight how data release can reduce fraud and curb unnecessary spending.

I also want to highlight the importance of removing ring-fenced grants to local authorities. The Assembly Government seems to have ignored Beecham’s advice and, in 2009-10, distributed almost £679 million of hypothecated grants to local authorities. Estimates from the Welsh Local Government Association suggest that 10 per cent of costs associated with these grants are swallowed up by administrative costs. Removing hypothecation would mean that local authorities could have more funds, while over £60 million could be freed up each year to help to protect front-line services. The TaxPayers’ Alliance, for example, notes that by giving local authorities greater flexibility to shape their budgets, they will have the chance to use their local knowledge and expertise to make sure that every penny is properly prioritised.

Finally, I wanted to touch on the role that the 735 community and town councils in Wales play. These councils are ideally placed to provide an invaluable view and expertise on local issues, and opportunities should be in place to utilise that fully. By giving community councils the opportunity to take on additional functions at their own request—as  we propose—there is potential to increase community activity and the representation of truly local interests. In conclusion, it is time that we put citizens at the heart of local government and encourage, where possible, community involvement in public service delivery, and I urge Members to support this motion.

Nick Ramsay: The reasoning behind this motion is simple: it is about creating greater community involvement in local service delivery and truly putting the citizen at the centre of public services. We hear that phrase too often without thinking about what it means in practice. That is not just a party political point; it is too easy to use the phrase in that way, so I am grateful for the opportunity this afternoon to give my views on what it really means.

This issue came to prominence with the Beecham review of 2005. That identified many of the problems that we face with regard to local engagement. It said that there was too much of a culture of compliance in public services, and, too often, they were waiting for instruction from the Government. This provides an example of non-performance, when what is needed is political leadership based on community engagement. That does not necessarily mean community engagement coming from above or from the centre, but political leadership coming from the grass roots and from communities. The question is: how do you do this on the ground? As many speakers have said this afternoon, the Welsh Conservatives have called for directly elected mayors. We believe that this would energise local democracy and provide the sort of tangible leadership that would enable citizens to feel at the centre of local processes.

The mayoral idea is not new. In fact, it was the Local Government Act 2000 that provided the means for people to have a directly elected mayor through a referendum process. This is about mayors with power. If they do not have the necessary power, then there is no point. It is not about window dressing, but about people feeling that they can elect and engage with an individual who truly represents them and has a mandate. As Jon Morgan said in his opening remarks, different powers could be given to mayors, but areas such as planning, regeneration, highways, and even policing, to an extent, might all be appropriate. We believe that mayors have the potential to provide greater visibility, engagement and accountability.

'Partnership working’ is another term that is often used in local government, and by the Assembly Government in telling local authorities how they should act. However, if that is to happen, mayors could have a role in energising the process. It is about better performance and delivery, and at the end of the day, that is what local democracy and local government is about. There is also a chance that mayors can break the old political stalemates that we see in too many areas. I remind people that the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was first elected as an independent. That goes to show that you do not always have the old party boundaries operating in mayoral elections; they provide an opportunity for something beyond what has gone before, and maybe a new way of working in the future. Beecham said that it is essential that citizens contract performance from local service providers, and this is how they can see that things are improving, and can have confidence in the system to which they are electing people.

I am afraid to say that I will mention Communities First, because although I think that it had many good aspects, and there are many good schemes within it, the Public Accounts Committee review of Communities First shows what can go wrong with individual schemes despite the good intentions of many of the people involved. If there is no sense of local ownership of those schemes, then they can go awry. As that review found, there was a substantial amount of wasted resource in Communities First, so localism is not just about local democracy, but about value for money for the taxpayer.

Before I finish, I will just say a little on the issue of ring fencing, which was mentioned by Mohammad Asghar and comes up in different debates in this Chamber. On this side of the Chamber, we think that the process by which ring fencing is currently happening in terms of this year’s final local government revenue and capital settlement is not an ideal way of doing things. There are 61 direct grants, and some of them involve sums as small as £10,000.

4.30 p.m.

A tenth of grants are absorbed by administration, and that was an estimate by the Welsh Local Government Association. Removing hypothecation is not a way of getting rid of all the problems; no-one is pretending that it is. However, we ask that the Minister and the Government consider hypothecation and the issue of how money is allocated to local authorities.

Finally, localism and decentralisation is the only way to go. You can only go forward with localising; if you stop, then you go backwards. As with devolution, you cannot stand still. I am grateful to have had a chance to contribute to this debate. Many important issues have been raised, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government has to say on many of those important issues.

The Minister for Social Justice and Local Government (Carl Sargeant): I am very surprised that the Conservatives still feel that there is a need and any mileage in laying down a motion calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to put citizens at the centre of local government through greater community involvement. Building on a strong, proud Welsh tradition of community identity and self-help, we have achieved significant community involvement and continue to work to improve and develop the ways in which people and communities are involved in public services.

Putting people and communities at the heart of public services is at the core of our programme for public service improvement, and it always has been. Community engagement and involvement has never been in doubt in Wales. We do not need to reinvent it as the 'big society’ or 'localism’. We have a long and proud history of mutuals, co-operatives, social enterprises and of the public sector joining forces with the third sector to ensure that people are the focus of services, not the needs of providers.

I am interested in the big society debate that one of the opposition parties has drawn to the Assembly’s attention today. Let us take a look at what the big society means. We have people protesting on the streets on student fees, education maintenance allowance payments, VAT and fuel tax. The Government is trying to introduce police and crime commissioners here in Wales and in the rest of the UK. It is said that that is about localism, and Nick Ramsay rightly says that localism is about democracy and good value. The cost of an election for a PCC is around £6 million, when we are to lose 2,000 police officers. Therefore, that is not localism; it is actually taking police off the streets of Wales. That is not a good place to be.

Some of our housing associations, such as RCT Homes, are organising themselves as community mutuals and demonstrating what can be done to stimulate local regeneration. From Dŵr Cymru to local development trusts and co-operatives, we are proud of our different forms of social enterprises. These approaches understand the value of putting communities, not bureaucracies, at the heart of service delivery. Co-operatives, as I said, are not new to Wales. For example, two years ago, we marked the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of Robert Owen, the grandfather of the co-operative movement, and we also marked the sixtieth anniversary of Aneurin Bevan’s NHS, which was modelled on the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society. Nearly 10 years ago, Glas Cymru was formed, which is a company with no shareholders that reinvests its profits for the benefit of its customers or to support charitable activities. Far from being new to Wales, our research has shown that social enterprises account for over 28,000 full time jobs, over 20,000 part-time jobs and over 100,000 volunteering opportunities in Wales. I am not quite sure where the opposition parties have been for the past few years; they just do not recognise a good place when they see one.

The Assembly Government believes strongly in putting people and communities at the centre of service design and delivery, for example, through Funky Dragon, patient involvement and tenant participation schemes. Involvement also takes place through the democratic process in relation to scrutiny, through Estyn, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, which all place great value on the views of service users.

Local authorities and their partners across the public services are also fully engaged with people and communities, to ensure that they are involved in their planning and design and to use the enormous talent that we have in our communities to support delivery. I rarely support what Mark Isherwood says, but I agree that importance is put on the voluntary sector in Wales. We embrace the voluntary sector, and work with it, not against it. That is something that I am keen to promote.

The Proposed Local Government (Wales) Measure, which is currently going through the Assembly, will provide opportunities for more people to get engaged in the democratic process through co-option to scrutiny committees. I know that, while it is not directly in the same vein as what you are asking for in your five-point plan, we are supporting more opportunities for people to be involved in the scrutiny process through the co-option of members to scrutiny committees, by making provision for youth representatives on community councils and making it easier for a more diverse range of people to come forward and stand for election to local councils.

Communities First engages and empowers communities to find long-term solutions. This is a prime example of how Wales has harnessed the powers of its own big society. It is interesting to note that, while the Tories claim to support the community ownership and involvement programme, the fact is that they plan to scrap the programme. We have invested significantly in our community development workforce, our volunteers and our programmes.

Darren Millar: We have made no such commitment to scrap the Communities First programme, and I would appreciate it if you could correct that remark.

Carl Sargeant: Nick Bourne has been on television making reference to the Communities First programme. When he was asked from where in his budget he would save money, his answer was from the Communities First programme. That is on the record. We had a similar exchange last week with Leighton Andrews on the education element. If you would like to explore that further, I am more than happy to do so.

To conclude, we are not complacent, and we continue to look at ways of improving quality and extending the involvement of our communities. There is compelling evidence that the Welsh Assembly Government is putting people at the heart of public service planning, design and delivery. This would include any proposals to amalgamate local authorities, through external consultation and discussions here at the Assembly. Again, Veronica seems to have read the amendments, but it appears that she does not fully understand them.

As the First Minister said last year, the big society is no big deal. We do not have to rediscover society in Wales. We have always been there, we always will be a real community, and we always will put the public at the heart of public service delivery in Wales.

Nick Bourne: It is a great privilege to reply to the debate. There was—at least until the Minister got up—broad support for the notion that we need to involve people much more in service delivery and in decisions that affect their lives, and that people rise to the responsibility of power. That point was made by Mark Isherwood and Veronica German, and we had good contributions on the same lines from Oscar and Nick Ramsay. We also had a thoughtful contribution from Dai Lloyd, who used the specific point about the disposal of playing fields and some of the difficulties of people-centred politics, which is absolutely right.

The Minister then got up to respond the debate—or nominally in response to the debate—with a speech that had obviously been written for a completely different debate. It was a very entertaining and diverting tour d’horizon about Robert Owen, co-ops, mutuals and social enterprises. I can assure him that we are in favour of all of those. We are so much in favour of the NHS, which he also mentioned, that we would put more money into it than the Labour Party would—a £1 billion over three years. Let me make that absolutely clear.

Carl Sargeant: On the money that you would put into the NHS, are you still committed to taking 20 per cent out of the education budget?

Nick Bourne: I am grateful for the opportunity to say that I have never said that we would take 20 per cent out of the education budget. Let it also be said that we published our figures, unlike the leader of the opposition at Westminster, Mr Ed Miliband, who has published no figures on an alternative budget. We have been clear: you would cut 8 per cent out of education, we would cut 12 per cent, with the difference made up by the fact that we trust people and that money would go directly to schools. That is what this debate is about: trusting people.

Brian Gibbons rose

Nick Bourne: I will give way in a minute. I expected that you would be next, Brian. The Minister has paid lip service to localism, but other than mentioning that there were five things that we were putting forward, we did not hear anything about what you would do on directly elected mayors, which was brought in by a Labour Government. Do you think that that is a good thing?

David Lloyd rose

Nick Bourne: Wait a minute; you are in the queue, Dai. Would you extend it? On armchair auditors, do you think that it is a good idea that invoices are there for people to see, whether they vote Labour or Conservative, so that they can see how their money is being spent? I think that it is a good idea. Let us hear from Brian Gibbons.

4.40 p.m.

Brian Gibbons: Thanks, Nick. I wonder whether you remember saying on the Politics Show a couple of months ago that the Assembly Government would have to make some difficult decisions on how the cuts are interpreted in Wales. You said that you would have to look at some of the big programmes to make savings, and that Communities First was an obvious one. Did you make that statement?

Nick Bourne: As you have said, I made no statement about abolishing Communities First. The only reference that our party has made to it in this debate was when Nick Ramsay mentioned that it has good features. We know that there are also bad features; we have heard the Minister say so himself. Therefore, yes, we would look at how the money is spent on Communities First, but that is very different from abolishing it, which we would not do—any more than you would abolish the health service, although you are cutting the spending on it.

David Lloyd rose

Nick Bourne: I will give way in a minute, Dai. Let me continue first, and then you can come in.

I want to go through the other three points that have not been dealt with by the Minister. The first is the importance of abolishing hypothecation, or cutting back on hypothecated grants, so that the money can go to local authorities, whom we trust to make the decisions that affect them. Secondly, on community and town councils, of which we have 735 in Wales, let us trust them more and give them some more power—again, you did not mention that, Minister. You are the Minister for local government, so why did you not respond to the debate and the points that were put? The third is the importance of local referenda, whereby people can decide how the money is spent in their own area.

David Lloyd: My point is on elected mayors. Are you perchance related to Nick Bourne, the Assembly Member, who, in 2004, while campaigning against having an elected mayor in Ceredigion, said that there was a danger in concentrating powers in the hands of one elected mayor?

Nick Bourne: That was an isolated quote. In that particular election, along with representatives of all the political parties—Plaid Cymru, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—I thought, in the context of that election, that having a mayor was wrong for Ceredigion. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. I am very interested in what Nick Bourne is saying, but I cannot hear. Therefore, could you please be a little quieter?

Nick Bourne: In answer to David Lloyd’s point, we are talking about a referendum, and people do not have to support the existence of a mayor. It gives people the opportunity to say 'yea’ or 'nay’, as they did in Ceredigion, where I stood alongside representatives of the other parties here. We did not think that it was right in that context. We had the ability to say 'yea’ or 'nay’—what is wrong with that?

It is difficult to say something in response to the Minister because he seemed to be in a completely different debate about co-ops and mutuals and so on, all of which are very good ideas. However, he said, in a very telling phrase, 'We are not being complacent’. I am afraid that that is exactly how it came across. He did not deal with a single substantive point that was put to him about how we could extend people power and give all people in Wales the right to decide about local services and decisions that affect them. That is the way that we need to go. We do not want centralised power, whether it lies with you or any other Minister; we need to see how we get the power out there. You said nothing constructive about how you thought that that could be done. I urge Members, therefore, to vote in support of the motion. All the contributions, other than that of the Minister, supported giving more power to individuals throughout Wales, and that is what we want to see.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? I see that there are objections. Therefore, I will defer voting on this item until voting time.

Gohiriwyd y pleidleisiau tan y cyfnod pleidleisio.

Voting deferred until voting time.

Dadl Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru Addysg
Welsh Liberal Democrats Debate Education

The Record

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I have selected amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Nick Ramsay.

The Record

Cynnig NDM4653 Peter Black

Motion NDM4653 Peter Black

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru:

The National Assembly for Wales:

1. Yn gresynu nad yw Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru wedi neilltuo amser yn ystod busnes y llywodraeth i ymateb i’r materion y tynnwyd sylw atynt yn yr adroddiad PISA, ac yn y cyhoeddiad bod y bwlch gwariant rhwng Cymru a Lloegr yn cynyddu.

1. Regrets that the Welsh Assembly Government has not made time during Government business to respond to the issues highlighted by the PISA report, and the publication of the increased spending gap between England and Wales.

2. Yn galw ar Lywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i gyflwyno Premiwm Disgybl i helpu disgyblion o gefndiroedd difreintiedig.

2. Calls on the Welsh Assembly Government to introduce a Pupil Premium to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Record

Jenny Randerson I move the motion.

From GCSEs, A-levels, the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment to the Estyn report: it never rains but it pours, does it not, Minister? We have had a positive deluge of bad news about poor education standards in Wales in the past few months. Yesterday, the Minister tried to shield himself with an umbrella in a debate in the Chamber, blaming everyone from teachers and pupils to parents and governors—I am surprised that he did not include the dinner ladies. All that in an attempt to deflect criticism from the Welsh Assembly Government. Today, to be fair, Minister, you put on your wellies, waded out into the storm, and gave a speech about your proposals for reform to representatives of the education sector. Leaving aside the fact that a speech about such a major set of proposals should be made here in the Chamber—although I accept that that smacks of too much accountability for the Government—my point is that yesterday’s debate was the perfect opportunity for the Minister to explain himself here, and yet he ducked the issue. I am sure that the Welsh Liberal Democrats, by tabling this debate today, have now provided a perfect second chance for the Minister to explain his proposals to other Assembly Members. I give way to the Minister.

Leighton Andrews: This morning, I delivered a 40-minute speech that provided a comprehensive analysis of the challenges before us. I would be delighted to have the opportunity to make a 40-minute speech in the Chamber to outline these challenges, but, unfortunately, our procedures do not allow us to do that. I will happily debate the issues with Jenny anywhere in Wales. The reality is: we have answers but they can only whinge.

Jenny Randerson: Funny that you should say that, Minister. I was planning to go on to say that I was pleased to see many of the proposals in your speech this morning. Indeed, they seemed very familiar to me. I fear, Minister, that you are in danger of having read some Welsh Liberal Democrat policy documents. I will give you some examples. On Monday, Kirsty Williams announced our proposals to reform teacher training; this morning, the Minister followed suit. Yesterday, my colleague Eleanor Burnham addressed the need to pay attention to teachers’ literacy, as well as that of pupils. I was pleased to see that, within the proposals outlined this morning, there were proposals for INSET days for teachers to deal with exactly that problem, in the way that Eleanor had raised the issue.

I want to address two specific issues. First, I wish to establish in the minds of all Assembly Members—including Alun Davies—the fact that PISA is an accepted way of measuring standards. It is designed to take account of international differences of culture and cannot be dismissed as a bad report. In any event, even if PISA is dismissed, other measures, such as A-levels, GCSEs and the detailed Estyn report, have all underlined the need for dramatic improvement. I give way to Alun Davies.

 

Alun Davies: Really, Jenny. For the avoidance of doubt, as I pointed out to the leader of your party when we had this debate some weeks ago, the document that I referred to as a bad document was the statistical bulletin that was being waved about in the Chamber at the time. I referred to it as a bad document because it allowed people like you to misrepresent the real position.

Jenny Randerson: I know that it is national storytelling week, Alun, but you really are stretching the possibilities of reality there.

Secondly, I wish to deal with funding issues. This is where I depart from the Minister’s prescription. The Minister has said that the £604 funding gap bears no responsibility for the problems that the Welsh education sector faces. He is in a pretty lonely place in saying that. First of all, 43 per cent of the Welsh teachers who responded to the PISA survey complained about a lack of equipment. Equipment costs money. PISA estimated that 6 to 9 per cent of the differences in attainment were explained by funding differences across countries. The Minister always tells me, when I say this, that other countries spend less and achieve more. I fully accept that. International comparisons of education spending are difficult, because different countries include different things. However, you can make comparisons within the UK; we count roughly the same things, from one UK country to another. We are lagging behind, within the UK, in terms of spending and standards. I give way again to the Minister.

Leighton Andrews: Does the Member accept that two councils in Wales spend more than the average figure in England that she likes to quote? One is Ceredigion and the other is Blaenau Gwent. Ceredigion comes tenth when you look at the number of pupils scoring five GCSEs, including English or Welsh and mathematics, and Blaenau Gwent comes twenty-first out of 22 on that score. Yet, education in both of these authorities is funded above the English average. So, where is your evidence that funding dictates performance?

4.50 p.m.

Jenny Randerson: Funding does not dictate performance; funding affects performance. There is a big difference between those two, Minister. In those two specific examples, you are also looking at very different counties sociologically. Indeed, in the case of Ceredigion, you are looking at a county that spends a phenomenal amount of money on school transport. The impact of rurality is considerable in that case.

As I was saying, the comparison works across the UK countries. Teachers’ unions believe that the funding gap bears some responsibility for poorer achievement. Dai Havard MP was featured in the Western Mail yesterday as saying that high unemployment in his constituency was due to low skills and that low skills were due to poor funding.

Finally, the Minister and his colleagues are positively queuing up here, week after week, to blame any problem in Wales on low funding from the UK Government. Indeed, the First Minister himself pledged a 1 per cent increase over and above the block grant as part of his leadership campaign—saying that education spending counts and that it does have effect. I thought that Leighton Andrews orchestrated the First Minister’s leadership campaign. So, Minister, you cannot have it both ways. You are saying one day that funding counts, but another day that it does not count.

Jeff Cuthbert rose—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. I do not think that the Member is giving way.

Jenny Randerson: No, I cannot give way anymore. I have been generous in giving way three times already. I am sorry, Jeff.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that a pupil premium—the details of which we gave, complete with costings, in our draft budget proposals—would address the problems. It would not solve all the problems at once, but it would address them. That pupil premium would be directly aimed at the poorest pupils—those most likely to struggle in school. It would be directly sent to schools to spend in the way that they thought was most effective for the pupils concerned. You well know that, if we deal with those pupils who are finding it most difficult, that has a knock-on effect on those other pupils in the class who are affected by that issue. So, a pupil premium alone would not solve the problems, but it would start to address them. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that it is time that the Minister accepted this and included a commitment to improve funding to start to close the funding gap, as well as the other measures that he put forward this morning.

The Record

Gwelliant 1 Nick Ramsay

Amendment 1 Nick Ramsay

Ychwanegu pwynt newydd ar ddiwedd y cynnig:

Add as new point at end of motion:

Yn credu y byddai cyllido ysgolion yn uniongyrchol yn ailgyfeirio adnoddau i wasanaethau addysg rheng flaen ac yn dechrau cau’r bwlch cyllido cynyddol rhwng Cymru a Lloegr.

Believes that directly funding schools would redirect resources to frontline education services and start closing the widening funding gap between England and Wales.

Gwelliant 2 Nick Ramsay

Amendment 2 Nick Ramsay

Ychwanegu pwynt newydd ar ddiwedd y cynnig:

Add as new point at end of motion:

Yn credu y byddai datganoli pwerau i ysgolion yn arwain at wella safonau addysg.

Believes that devolving powers to schools will lead to an improvement in educational standards.

The Record

Paul Davies: I move amendments 1 and 2.

I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate. As I have said before, there is no doubt that we were all extremely concerned and disappointed by the PISA figures for Wales in December. It is disappointing that Wales remains the worst performing nation of the United Kingdom. In the wake of your statement earlier today, Minister, I welcome some of the steps that you are planning to take to drive up educational standards in Wales. For example, I very much agree with your plans not to approve any new initiatives unless they add value to our demand for higher performance. We must look at all aspects of our system, from teaching standards to school autonomy, leadership and management issues. I am pleased that your statement today shows a number of steps that you will be implementing in some of these areas.

However, I would like to raise one point in relation to your statement. You made no specific reference to the national curriculum and I would be interested to know whether there will be any changes or a review of the curriculum in the near future. We must ensure that the curriculum is fit for purpose by placing sufficient focus on essential life skills, such as modern foreign languages, financial management and entrepreneurship.

As I have acknowledged here in recent weeks, it is clear from the PISA report that underfunding alone is not the sole contributing factor to these poor results, which the Minister refers to in his speech. OECD analysts have made it clear that there are other areas that need to be further examined as far as the PISA report is concerned. I am pleased that the Minister’s statement says that the Welsh Assembly Government is taking steps to address some of these issues.

Jeff Cuthbert: I am grateful to Paul for giving way. With regard to funding, how would you seek to fund Welsh schools? I have in front of me the quotation from Nick Bourne, which he says he did not say. However, on BBC Wales Today on 17 March, in answer to a question from Betsan Powys, he said:

'It’s about 20 per cent, of course, because that’s our priority’.

So, that was said. If that were to be implemented, how would you be able to say what you are saying now?

Paul Davies: I am pleased that you intervened, Jeff, because I am just coming to some of the points that I want to make regarding funding. You will see from the agenda that amendment 1, which we tabled, refers to our direct funding policy—a policy that we believe would take steps to address the funding gap and, in turn, drive up standards. Directly funding schools from the Welsh Assembly Government would also help to alleviate the cost of administering education and drive up educational standards—something that, incidentally, the Minister has not yet ruled out.

We saw evidence in the National Audit Office report on academies that schools that are directly funded provide high educational standards. I acknowledge that the report refers specifically to academies, but I think that this success provides good evidence for the direct funding of schools. I believe that it would push power down to the grass roots, to professionals with an intricate knowledge of pupils’ needs.

Amendment 2 refers to devolving powers to schools. I believe very much that devolving powers to schools would lead to an improvement in educational standards. As I have said before, freedom and flexibility for schools will generate an improvement in educational standards. Schools that are left on their own and not subjected to too much interference tend to perform better. Everyone involved in a school, including parents, teachers and children, should have more of a say in how the school is run. Giving schools greater autonomy will drive up educational standards.

As I said when the PISA results first came out, teaching quality is also a major factor in analysing the PISA results. I have also said before that Finland, which the Minister mentioned in his speech, South Korea and Singapore have all made teaching a high-status, tough-to-enter profession, with a strong emphasis on continuing professional development. Given the circumstances in which we find our educational standards, it is essential that teaching standards are reviewed comprehensively. I welcome the steps that you are taking, Minister, in relation to teaching, particularly the review of teacher induction and teacher training. I look forward to seeing the steps being implemented in the very near future.

Finally, I acknowledge that the Minister is, I think, trying to address the issue of management by referring to federating schools in his statement. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could expand on this point in his response by detailing how federation will deliver and ensure better management in our schools.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Could you wind up, please?

Paul Davies: Yesterday, we all acknowledged that a sound grasp of basic numeracy and literacy is critical to furthering a young person’s ambition and allowing them to gain the knowledge necessary to make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy. Therefore, I hope that the steps that the Welsh Assembly Government is planning to take in relation to educational standards will address these issues so that we do not see a repeat of these circumstances in future.

Peter Black: I notice that both the Minister and now the Conservatives are saying that underfunding is not the cause of the poor performance. I think that we accept that underfunding is one factor causing this problem, but I do not think that it is any surprise that both parties are saying that this is the case when, under Labour and Plaid Cymru, underfunding has increased to £604 per pupil and given that, if the Conservatives had their way, it would rise to £881 per pupil. Even with the dividend that Paul Davies referred to—assuming that it existed—as a result of directly funding schools from Cardiff bay, we would still be talking about a rise to £760 or £770 per pupil under the Conservative Party’s budget proposals. Personally, I do not want schools in Swansea, Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot run from Cardiff. People want their schools to be run locally, and they want them to be funded locally, so that local politicians can be held accountable for how those schools are run. It is important for that principle to be maintained.

5.00 p.m.

In terms of the funding debate, the £604 spending gap has had a significant impact, not just on the underperformance, but in terms of how we can put this right. I welcomed the First Minister’s commitment, which is in next year’s budget, to add the 1 per cent extra into education over and above the Welsh block, albeit still a negative. I welcome that because it is important to show that the First Minister himself acknowledges the importance of funding in terms of this debate, and the importance of having the money to fund teachers to target those pupils who are underperforming, to help those pupils who come from deprived areas and are having problems and, in particular, to take up a number of initiatives around literacy and numeracy, some of which the Minister for education announced in his written statement this morning.

I also noted that the Minister said that he would debate this issue anywhere in Wales. It seems that the Chamber is one of the few places that he is not prepared to initiate a debate. Both of the debates so far—on the PISA report, and on Estyn and the funding gap—have been initiated by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who seem more concerned about the democratic accountability of this Government than the Minister, who is not prepared to make an oral statement to this Chamber, or to initiate a debate of his own.

Leighton Andrews: I initiated a debate yesterday on literacy, which went into a number of these issues and outlined some of the things that I actually said in the speech this morning. We also have a formal process, as he should be aware, for the debates on the Estyn inspectors report, to which we will turn in due course. I look forward to engaging in that at the appropriate moment. We are not running away from anything; we have contributed to this debate and, today, we have announced a comprehensive series of measures.

Peter Black: That is the problem, Minister. You initiated a debate yesterday in this Chamber, and then brought your announcement outside the Chamber this morning to a press conference. Wherever you made that speech, it certainly was not here; and the debate was not here on those measures. We have not had a chance to properly scrutinise what you put forward, although I personally welcome many of the issues in that statement. You have not initiated a debate on what you are proposing today, nor have you initiated a debate on the PISA report. We are also still waiting to hear about what is happening with Estyn. All of that is part of a big picture about what has gone wrong with our education system over the last three or four years and beyond that, under Labour, and under Labour and Plaid Cymru. You might be trying to put things right now, but it appears to be too little too late. The imminence of an Assembly election and a raft of announcements from Plaid Cymru on its education policies, all of which defy its record over the last three or four years, seems to indicate that it is more concerned about the electoral considerations than about the education of this country.

The school inspections body has stated that nearly one third of schools in Wales are not good enough; we have had the PISA report, which states that our children are lagging far behind the rest of the United Kingdom; and 40 per cent of children entering secondary school had a reading age below their chronological age. The case stacks up. You might say that you have come up with the initiative, but as Jenny Randerson has pointed out, we are not just talking about funding; we have talked about many of these initiatives in the past. The reading test is very welcome, but we have talked in the past about the fact that the current assessment system is not good enough. The teacher assessments are now being addressed in your statement but, again, that is something that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have addressed.

I very much welcome a national system of grading schools because that, in particular, will help parents to assess which schools are performing and which schools are not. The fact is, Minister, that the record of your Government—the record of Labour and Plaid Cymru—on this system has been absolutely woeful. At every opportunity, you have tried to avoid accountability for that record.

Brian Gibbons: Much of the debate that has taken place around the PISA and Estyn reports has focused on national performance. Insofar as various individual jurisdictions have responsibility for education delivery, that is entirely fair enough. However, I do not think that it should obscure one of the key drivers, which was identified by the PISA report in terms of unequal education performance; that is, how we respond to the challenge of socioeconomic disadvantage. The PISA report did point out that there is educational failure and that there are poor educational outcomes for many. According to the PISA study, the people who suffer from educational disadvantage were not a random group; they could be identified because of their social and economic disadvantage. In fact, the PISA report points out that, within the United Kingdom, inequality of educational attainment can be accounted for by socioeconomic variables to the tune of 75 per cent and more, with the United Kingdom having the second highest level of socioeconomic-driven variation in the OECD report. However, we are also told by the PISA report that the United Kingdom is well up to international averages in terms of its educational spend and the equality of the spend distribution. So, the PISA report says that we are failing our disadvantaged pupils not by the quantity of spend in education, but by the quality of what we get for that spend. So, the issue of inequity is not inequity of provision in terms of quantity—it is inequity of provision in terms of quality.

PISA also points out that while socioeconomic disadvantage is a strong driver of educational outcomes, such poor outcomes are not inevitable and can be overcome by appropriate means. This must be our challenge. Statistics published by the statistics unit in March of last year showed that leadership is being given; indeed, in my local authority of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, which has a relatively high level of educational disadvantage, schools are providing real added value for their pupils, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. Comprehensive schools such as Sandfields Comprehensive School and Cymer Afan Comprehensive School in my constituency have demonstrated their ability to produce better results than their socioeconomic intake would suggest. So, we can do better despite socioeconomic disadvantage.

  

Paul Davies mentioned the importance of greater school autonomy, which is referred to in the PISA report. However, there are two important caveats to school autonomy, contrary to what Paul suggested. One is that there must be strong accountability for performance, which I am glad to see the Minister has addressed in his statement. There must also be high standards in assessing and responding to need. School autonomy without these two caveats will not deliver the type of change that we need.

The Estyn report highlighted the weakness in the assessment process in Wales, which is a fundamental problem. I am pleased to see that the Minister highlighted in his statement that this is an area that needs work. The PISA report also highlighted areas where there is a concentration of socioeconomic disadvantage, which are likely to have poor educational outcomes. In addressing this, schools need to have a clear sense of faith in and ambition for their pupils. Those schools that lack faith in and ambition for their pupils are also likely to be the schools with poor educational outcomes.

In the light of that, we must ask ourselves whether or not the motion put forward by the Lib Dems on the pupil voucher system would address that. Disadvantaged areas need resources to provide the quality of education that we need, but we do not want entrepreneurial schools going into disadvantaged areas plucking individual pupils out to boost their economic interest. We need to target our resources at all the pupils in disadvantaged areas to improve the quality of outcome that can be achieved with a real sense of direction and purpose, which I know the Minister has.

 

Eleanor Burnham: We know that it is not just about the funding gap, but we have been highlighting this for some time. Since devolution, the funding gap has grown each year from £0 to £604 this year. Chris Keats of the NASUWT stated that 30 per cent of schools face an uphill task unless the scandalous pupil funding gap between schools in England and Wales is closed. He goes on to say that despite this, the Government continues to fund excessive waste in the NHS but fails to close the funding gap, which has become larger over the last year. So, it is not just we who are asking these questions.

5.10 p.m.

Back in 2009, Estyn highlighted deep concern over the underperformance of pupils from deprived backgrounds, and the figures are quite stark; as Peter said, 40 per cent of pupils entering secondary school have a reading age lower than their chronological age. The various reports give us food for thought. Frankly, if I was a parent with children in some of these schools, I would be alarmed. We all see the best of schools, and we all see the worst of them. The issue that I raised yesterday was something simple that struck me when I went to a school a couple of weeks ago: teacher training seems flawed, and needs to be put right so that we can improve the literacy and numeracy of our young people.

We have set out clear priorities for education in our draft budget, and we costed our proposals. We want to introduce a pupil premium, which would give money to pupils from poorer backgrounds, with funding following the child throughout their school years. It would enable the school to fund an additional teacher or classroom assistant, and after-school catch-up classes or extra-curricular activities. We are concerned about this. We do not want knee-jerk reactions from the parties in coalition here. We have to show some grown-up leadership, and put the money where it is needed, because people’s lives are being wasted. I am concerned that pupils who perhaps need correcting are not being corrected; people say that it is their human right not to be corrected, but I believe it is their human right to have the necessary education to allow them to leave school with a modicum of literacy and numeracy. It is disappointing that the Government is not considering implementing the pupil premium, and the final budget laid yesterday has not made much provision for it. Let us get on with it and put right some of these wrongs, because I do not think that we are serving our future citizens unless we allow them to become numerate and literate by the time they leave school.

Mark Isherwood: As a parent, grandparent, teacher, son, and student teacher’s father, and as one whose children all benefited from a state education in Wales, I despair at the series of grim reports confirming the systemic failure of educational policy in Wales. Around the start of the third Assembly, research undertaken by The Times Educational Supplement identified significant variation in the overall performance of free-school-meal pupils in Wales compared with England. Wales was falling behind mainly due to improvements in England, with Wales showing little or no improvement. In 2003, the 'Lost Children of Wales’ report found that young people and Welsh business were looking for transformation in education, with a focus on the development of leadership, teamwork, communication and creativity. However, instead of acting on the report’s evidence, the Welsh Government of the time buried it, with dire consequences for the most vulnerable young people in Wales.

In 2006, the Programme for International Student Assessment report on achievement at 15 years found that the proportion of students in Wales at the highest level of achievement was below the average for OECD counties. In 2008, only 46 per cent of pupils achieved the level 2 threshold—that is, the replacement for the 5 GCSE measure, which includes passes in English or Welsh as a first language along with maths. That means that over half the pupils in Wales in 2008 were failing to achieve that level of qualification. Last week, the school inspection body, Estyn, reported that standards in nearly a third of schools in Wales are not good enough, and that four in 10 pupils in Wales have reading skills below the expectation for their age. The chief inspector said that the issue is not that literacy and numeracy is the province of maths, English or Welsh lessons, but that it should be the basis for how teachers teach all subjects in the curriculum. She added that we are still in a situation where, when pupils transfer from primary to secondary education, around 40 per cent have a reading age lower than their actual age. Standards of writing are not good enough at any key stage, and it is time to face the facts and raise standards relative to other countries.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment report, as we have heard, revealed that, out of 67 countries taking part, Wales is below average in science, mathematics and reading, and scored worse than it had previously in every category. We ranked the lowest in the UK, while all other UK countries were average or were above average. The test measured how prepared children were to succeed in the real world, but Wales’s performance is falling further behind the rest. According to Professor David Reynolds, this is not simply because of money, or because we do not know how to educate children, but because we do not do it reliably across the system.

The Minister described the results as unacceptable and said that everyone involved should be alarmed, and today he has issued a written statement and a speech responding to these PISA results. He says that he is setting some clear targets, and that he aims to improve our results in the next PISA assessment in 2012. This is 'year zero’ and 'not-me-guv politics’. However, in reality, this is year 12 of wasted opportunities and failure by a Labour-led Welsh Government. Almost half of the Labour Ministers in Carwyn Jones’s current Cabinet/Politburo—[Interruption.]—have previously held ministerial or deputy ministerial positions in education, and they share a collective responsibility for the betrayal of a generation of lost children. As the BBC has stated, they have no alibis and no excuses.

We support calls on the Welsh Government to reform pupil funding by introducing a pupil premium to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, thereby putting pupils before the current postcode lottery. We know that there is a £604 gap between pupil funding in England and Wales, which is up from £58 at the time of devolution 12 years ago. That cannot, therefore, simply be blamed on current funding cuts. It has taken 12 years to reach this point, and as a headteacher in Connah’s Quay in Flintshire told me, the effects of a growing funding gap have been felt for years. I was told that it was a shame that they could not give their pupils that extra bit when more is being spent on children at schools less than 10 miles away across the border.

Wales suffers a double whammy—in addition to the funding gap with England, the gap in per-pupil budgets delegated to schools in Wales by local authority areas is £824, again with Flintshire at the bottom. That is unsustainable; we must break the link between educational underachievement and poverty. We must apply target measures to underachievement wherever we find it, championing the many headteachers who argue that the life chances of pupils should not be written off because of their geographical location.

Jeff Cuthbert: Like Mark, I am a parent, although, unfortunately, my children left school some time ago. I am a grandparent to children who are now entering the school system and also a governor of a school and a college in my consistency. I therefore take a deep interest in these matters. However, I fail to see what the Liberal Democrats are trying to achieve with this debate that was not already covered in the Plenary debate of 12 January. Like all other Members, I was very disappointed with Wales’s performance in the most recent PISA results. However, I am convinced that the Politburo—I am sorry, the Welsh Assembly Government—is putting the right mechanisms in place so that our performance in these areas improves and we will not have to sit through a similar debate in a few years’ time.

The issues of funding levels have been dealt with adequately and it has been shown, within reason, that they are not the major cause, but, in fact, that socioeconomic issues are probably the main issues that affect pupil achievement. I am also aware that the PISA results do not take sufficient account of the role of the Welsh baccalaureate in Wales, and I am referring in particular to the foundation phase of the baccalaureate, which can be accessed from the age of 14. Bearing in mind that PISA sought to assess the application of knowledge of 15-year-olds—

Jenny Randerson: You have said this before; I do not think that you understand how PISA works. It is not an assessment of student achievement in public exams; it is a standardised test.

Jeff Cuthbert: It is about the application of knowledge.

Jenny Randerson: No, it is a standardised test, Jeff. Therefore, whether students are taking examinations through the Welsh baccalaureate or through A-levels or GCSEs is completely irrelevant.

5.20 p.m.

Jeff Cuthbert: I am not making an irrelevant point; the standardised test is on the application of knowledge, which is what the Welsh baccalaureate is based on. The point that I am trying to make is that, in Wales, we have been trying to introduce innovative schemes that will produce long-term benefits, and the baccalaureate is one of those. That is the point that I am making. It would be interesting to see what type of different responses we might get if the PISA criteria were applied to the baccalaureate. Indeed, these were the central issues that I raised with the Minister three weeks ago, and I am grateful that he took time to address those concerns.

Welsh pupils’ performance in the PISA assessment of reading skills was particularly disappointing. We all acknowledge that. However, numerous policies are now in place to rectify this. I am pleased that, only yesterday, the Welsh Government announced that funding for four basic skills programmes will continue as part of our four-year national literacy plan. These will encourage reading as a family activity from infants through to parents, thereby boosting confidence and literacy skills along the way. These are genuinely progressive policies and should go some distance to ensuring that our future PISA performance improves.

Lest we forget, before Christmas, the UK coalition Government announced that it was cutting its financial support for Bookstart in England, before much high-profile pressure forced at least a partial U-turn. I was also pleased to see the Minister’s written statement this morning, in which he provided a further update on the Welsh Government’s response to those PISA results. I welcome the reforms to teacher training and continuous professional development as well as the proposals to integrate the teaching of literacy and numeracy into these. I also welcome his declaration that the roll-out of the foundation phase will not detract from this. Indeed, effective early-years intervention is crucial in ensuring that children are better learners later in life. Long-standing problems with education in Wales cannot be reversed overnight. Most importantly, I am pleased to see the introduction of national reading tests which should give us a better idea of where and why pupils are falling behind their designated reading age.

Let us be in no doubt that those results were disappointing for Wales and we cannot bury our heads in the sand. The Minister has acknowledged this. He has shared our disappointment and said that he is determined to lead a drive to better performances in the future. We need to do better in science and especially in reading and mathematics relative to other countries in the UK and to other OECD countries. Improving literacy and numeracy, both among pupils and in the way in which they are taught, is also likely to lead to better scores in science—something that we need in Wales if we are to train more of our youngsters for highly skilled vocational jobs, including the engineering profession.

I know that the Welsh Government is committed to turning this around. We have a lot to be proud of in terms of our education record in Wales, but there is still room for improvement, as we have acknowledged. I believe that the steps laid out by the Minister in the last few days demonstrate that we are serious about tackling this problem. It is a long-term project, but one that cannot be sacrificed to score short-term political points which, I fear, is what the Liberal Democrats are doing once again today. I will be voting against this motion.

The Record

Nerys Evans: Mae’r ddadl hon yn un amserol, gan fod llawer o sylw wedi ei roi i ganlyniadau PISA cyn y Nadolig, adroddiad Estyn yr wythnos diwethaf a datganiad y Gweinidog heddiw. Yr wyf yn croesawu cyhoeddiadau’r Gweinidog y bore yma ac yn croesawu’r ffaith bod y Gweinidog yn derbyn diffygion sylfaenol y system addysg bresennol. Mae’r camau sydd wedi eu hamlinellu i ddelio gyda gwella hyfforddiant athrawon, monitro safonau ac ymddygiad yn y dosbarth yn rhai adeiladol ac yr wyf yn eu cefnogi 100 y cant.

Nerys Evans: This debate is timely, because much attention has been given to the PISA results that were published before Christmas, the Estyn report published last week and the Minister’s statement today. I welcome the Minister’s announcements this morning and welcome the fact that the Minister accepts the fundamental shortcomings of the current education system. The steps that have been outlined to deal with improving the training of teachers, monitoring standards and classroom behaviour are constructive and I support them 100 per cent.

Mae angen bod yn uchelgeisiol a radical er mwyn cyrraedd nod Plaid Cymru o haneru cyfradd anllythrennedd erbyn 2015 a dileu anllythrennedd i blant sy’n gadael yr ysgol gynradd erbyn 2020. Yr ydym eisoes wedi amlinellu rhai o’n syniadau yn ystod yr wythnosau diwethaf ac mae’n dda clywed bod Aelodau wedi cymryd sylw ohonynt. Un o’r pethau yr ydym wedi eu hamlinellu yw ein bod eisiau edrych eto ar dymhorau’r ysgol. Mae angen trafod gydag athrawon, penaethiaid, llywodraethwyr, rhieni a phlant i weld pa system o dymhorau fyddai orau i wella cyraeddiad addysgol, oherwydd dyna sydd wrth wraidd pob un o’n polisïau a’n dyheadau. Mae’r tymhorau presennol yn seiliedig ar haf hir er mwyn i blant fynd adref i weithio ar y gwair. Mae digon o dystiolaeth i ddangos bod chwe wythnos i ffwrdd o’r ysgol yn effeithio’n negyddol iawn ar rai plant a’u bod yn gorfod dechrau o’r dechrau ar ôl dychwelyd i’r ysgol ym mis Medi, yn enwedig y rhai sy’n dod o gefndiroedd tlawd a difreintiedig.

We need to be ambitious and radical in order to reach Plaid Cymru’s goal of halving the rate of illiteracy by 2015 and eliminating illiteracy among children leaving primary school by 2020. We have already outlined some of our ideas over the past few weeks and it is good to hear that Members have taken notice of them. One of the things that we have outlined is that we want to look again at school terms. There is a need to discuss with teachers, headteachers, governors, parents and children which system of school terms would be the best in order to improve educational achievement, because that is what is at the heart of all of our policies and our aspirations. The current terms are based on a long summer holiday in order for children to return home to work on the hay. There is ample evidence to show that six weeks away from school has a very negative impact on some children and that they have to start from scratch after returning to school in September, especially those who come from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yr ydym hefyd wedi datgan ein bod eisiau datblygu e-lythrennedd a sgiliau technoleg gwybodaeth fel sgiliau craidd, er mwyn datblygu gweithle lle mae gan bobl y sgiliau perthnasol ar gyfer yr unfed ganrif ar hugain. Yn ogystal ag edrych ar hyfforddiant athrawon a monitro safonau, yr ydym yn credu bod angen edrych hefyd ar sut yr ydym yn dysgu sgiliau sylfaenol i’n plant a’n pobl ifanc. Yn lle gofyn pam mae’r plentyn yn methu, mae’n rhaid inni ofyn pam mae’r ffordd hon o ddysgu yn methu. Mae angen inni edrych eto ar y ffordd yr ydym yn dysgu sgiliau sylfaenol, ac ymestyn y system ffoneg fel ei bod yn cael ei defnyddio ar gyfer ein disgyblion ifancaf.

We have also stated that we want to develop e-literacy and information technology skills as core skills, in order to develop a workplace where people have the relevant skills for the twenty-first century. In addition to looking at teacher training and monitoring standards, we believe that it is also necessary to look at how we are teaching basic skills to our children and young people. Instead of asking why the child is failing, we must ask why this method of teaching is failing. We need to look again at the way in which we teach basic skills, and extend the phonics system so that it is used for our youngest pupils.

Mae elfen o ddatganiad y Gweinidog y bore yma yn peri gofid, sef y dylid cau ysgol os yw’n methu. Mae’r egwyddor na ellir achub rhai ysgolion yn beryglus. Bydd cau ysgolion yn hytrach na delio â’r materion a’r problemau sydd wedi dod i’r amlwg yn gam tymor byr. Nid ydym eisiau cerdded i ffwrdd na thynnu’n cefnogaeth yn ôl o’r disgyblion, rhieni, athrawon a chymunedau hynny, gan mai nhw sydd â’r anghenion mwyaf. Mae derbyn nad oes modd i bethau wella yn gam peryglus.

One element of the Minister’s statement this morning is a cause for concern, namely that a school should close if it fails. The principle that some schools cannot be rescued is dangerous. The closure of schools rather than dealing with the issues and problems that have emerged is a short-term step. We do not want to walk away nor withdraw support from those pupils, parents, teachers and communities, as they have the greatest need. Accepting that it is not possible for things to improve in a dangerous step.

Gwelsom o adroddiad Estyn fod un o bob tair ysgol yn methu y llynedd, ac mae digon o dystiolaeth sy’n dangos bod ysgolion yn gallu gwella os cânt arweiniad a chefnogaeth bwrpasol ac amserol.

We saw from the Estyn report that one in every three schools was failing last year, and there is ample evidence that schools can improve if they receive purposeful and timely guidance and support.

Yr ydym yn falch iawn bod Cymru yn arwain y ffordd o ran dileu tablau cynghrair, a hoffwn weld mwy o fanylion am gynllun y Gweinidog ar gyfer cyflwyno system raddio i ysgolion Cymru. Nid ydym am weld camau’n cael eu cymryd tuag at ail-gyflwyno tablau cynghrair neu unrhyw system debyg.

We are delighted that Wales is leading the way in abolishing league tables, and I would like to see more details about the plans of the Minister for introducing a grading system for schools in Wales. We do not want to see steps being taken towards re-introducing league tables or a similar system.

Hoffwn orffen gan gyfeirio at bwyntiau penodol y cynnig a’r gwelliant. Mae’r Ceidwadwyr yn sôn eto am gyllido ysgolion yn uniongyrchol, heb roi manylion ynglŷn â chost darparu gwasanaethau sy’n cael eu darparu ar hyn o bryd gan awdurdodau lleol, a heb sôn ychwaith am y ffaith y byddent yn torri cyllideb addysg Cymru o 12 y cant—neu 20 y cant, fel y dywedais, yn dibynnu ar gyda phwy yn y blaid yr ydych yn siarad.

I wish to conclude by referring to specific points in the motion and the amendment. The Conservatives have talked again about funding schools directly, without giving details about the cost of providing the services that are currently provided by local authorities, nor do they mention that they would cut Wales’s education budget by 12 per cent—or 20 per cent, as I said, depending on who in the party you are speaking to.

Yr ydym yn gwrthod yn llwyr gynlluniau Llywodraeth y Ceidwadwyr a’r Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol yn San Steffan ynglŷn ag ysgolion rhydd ac ysgolion sylfaen, a fyddai’n golygu y byddai ysgolion sydd y tu allan i’r sector cyhoeddus, ac y gallem weld cwmnïau preifat rhyngwladol yn eu rhedeg, yn ogystal ag amodau gwaeth i athrawon. Yr ydym hefyd wedi gweld Llywodraeth San Steffan yn lleihau’r cyllid ar gyfer hyfforddiant athrawon yn sylweddol.

We reject completely the plans of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government in Westminster regarding free schools and foundation schools, which would mean that there would be schools that are outside the public sector, which could be run by private international companies, as well as worse conditions for teachers. We have also seen the Westminster Government reducing significantly the funding for teacher training.

Mae cynnig y Rhyddfrydwyr yn sôn am bremiwm y disgybl. Yr ydym ni ym Mhlaid Cymru yn bwriadu edrych o’r newydd ar y fformiwla ar gyfer cyllido ysgolion. Felly, ni allwn gefnogi’r cynnig. Ni chredwn y bydd cyflwyno system o gael premiwm yn mynd i’r afael â’r problemau sylfaenol sydd wedi dod i’r amlwg yn ein system. Er hynny, yr wyf yn diolch iddynt am roi’r cyfle i drafod y materion pwysig hyn drwy gynnig y ddadl, ac edrychaf ymlaen at gael trafodaethau mwy manwl ynghylch cynnwys cynlluniau’r Llywodraeth yn yr wythnosau nesaf.

The Liberals’ motion mentions the pupil premium. We in Plaid Cymru propose a fresh look at the formula for funding schools. Therefore, we cannot support the motion. We do not believe that introducing a premium will address the underlying problems that we appear to have in our system. Nevertheless, I thank them for providing the opportunity to discuss these important issues by tabling the debate and I look forward to having more detailed discussions about the content of the Government’s plans in the coming weeks.

The Record

Rhodri Morgan: I would like to compliment the Minister on his 40-minute Sputnik-moment speech this morning. Those of us who are old enough to remember Sputnik going up all remember why the phrase 'Sputnik moment’ came into being. It happened when American educators panicked to some degree at the thought that the Russians were ahead of them, and the American press was full of articles that were broadly entitled 'What little Ivan knows that little Johnny doesn’t’.

In reacting to the PISA report, today’s debate would, in ideal circumstances, be taking place with representatives or chief-honchos present from education systems that have done extremely well in the recent PISA assessment. Those people from New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Singapore would be taking part in the debate to tell us what they think that they are doing that has given rise to their PISA performance being above average; the things that they are doing that we are not doing that might help to illustrate why our performance was distinctly sub-par; what we should not be doing any longer that we have been doing; or what we should be changing that people from New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Singapore and the other successful countries have been doing.

5.30 p.m.

What do we know so far about the feedback from headteachers on the PISA report? Many of the headteachers said, 'Well, we are very confused about what is happening. What we are teaching is not what PISA is testing.’ This comes back to something that Jeff Cuthbert was saying about how you teach through until the age of 15: it is about having a balance between imparting knowledge and fostering an understanding of that knowledge, and how that can be applied to real-life situations. We have heard that PISA is testing things like whether people can decide whether it is better to use the bus to get to a destination, due to what it says on the bus timetable, rather than a train, based on what it says on the railway timetable. That is how you test your maths and understanding skills. Likewise, if you were changing currency, you would need to decide whether you would change from yen to euros, to dollars and to pounds, compared to doing things the other way around. That seems to have thrown Welsh pupils to a degree that is bewildering, unless you consider that the balance is wrong in our schools between knowledge and the application of that knowledge. There has been a chase to get the percentage of kids in schools getting five good GCSEs, especially those in schools that were not doing very well before, up from the 20 per cent seen 10 years ago to the 40 per cent that most schools see now. That has been achieved by repeating exam papers all of the time, which helps pupils to get through the exams, but leaves their knowledge of how to pass the exams well in advance of their understanding of the curriculum.

Jenny Randerson: I am not sure what you are arguing, Rhodri. I agreed with you for the first few paragraphs. Are you saying that our pupils did worse in terms of the PISA results this time than they did last time because we teach them less about bread-and-butter issues? Your example—the use of bus and train timetables—is something that was taught to us in school 30 or 40 years ago. It is a bread-and-butter issue that everyone needs to get by in life, is it not?

Rhodri Morgan: This is the argument that you had with Jeff Cuthbert five minutes ago. I support Jeff’s view very strongly over yours, Jenny. The point is that the Welsh baccalaureate is emphasising life skills, but those life skills do not necessarily entail the application of English, science and mathematics to life problems.

I remember taking a mental arithmetic test in the 11-plus and being asked the following question, which you would not be asked now: 'You have 49 cigarette butts. It takes seven cigarette butts to give you a smokable cigarette. How many cigarettes would you get from 49 butts?’ Of course, the answer for those who failed the 11-plus was seven, and the answer for those who could think ahead to what the teacher was looking for was eight. That is because you could reuse the seven butts that you got the second time around to give you a second extra cigarette. You would not be asked that these days. That is the application of a life skill to a mathematical problem that would not be usable today. This is about having a balance between pupils doing repeat exam papers and understanding the curriculum that they are being taught.

It seems to me that this should be the most exciting part of the school curriculum: what is all the knowledge that we are being taught for? How do we use it in real life? Somewhere, we have missed out on that. This is about the points that Leighton made in his speech this morning. Everybody has to get together to address the following questions: how do we teach the teachers to teach? What do we do in terms of continuous professional development after teachers have started their teaching careers? How do we run the education service, and I refer here to the Assembly, the Government, Estyn and the 22 local authorities? How do we pull together at this Sputnik moment that we are all facing to ensure that we never have to go through that awful experience again of seeing Wales in that position in the league table when the PISA report comes out?

Alun Davies: I will try to follow that. A number of different issues arise from what the PISA results demonstrated. These are issues relating to the results themselves, and also to the way in which the different political parties and the Government responded to them. I was very pleased that when the Minister responded to the results, there were no weasel words, there was no avoidance of responsibility and there was no running away from the key issues; there was recognition of the challenge facing schools in Wales, and a response to that challenge.

As has been said already, the PISA is a robust measurement of employability skills and it is a key way of measuring how well the education system is delivering skills to pupils. It is a key measurement. I welcome the new focus that there will be on standards. I understand why there is a widespread focus on the funding issues, as there has been throughout the debate over the last two months. I think that there is an honest difference of opinion in the Chamber on this issue. The funding is an important and significant issue; that is why we oppose the Conservatives’ proposed cuts to education funding and why we seek to ensure that education funding is increased at a higher level of spend than other parts of the budget. However—and this is where the disagreement takes place—funding is not the silver bullet; funding is not the only issue here. By focusing so much on the funding issue, people are not recognising the systemic failure that the PISA results show.

Nick Ramsay: I am grateful to Alun Davies for giving way. Listening to your argument, you seem to be talking yourself around in a circle. You are saying on the one hand that extra funding for the health service would not benefit the health service in Wales. At the same time, you say that increased spending on education will improve results. You cannot have it both ways. What are you trying to say?

Alun Davies: I do not think that I said that, Nick. I tried to say that Conservative cuts in public services will have a detrimental impact on the delivery of those services and on the people receiving them.

In terms of today’s motion, we have become quite used to the Lib Dems adopting rather curious positions on different policy challenges, but we have not seen any clear explanation of how they would address some of the fundamental issues that PISA has presented to us. There is no clear understanding of the significant issues that are failing our children in schools in Wales, and there is no clear alternative to that. That is what is disappointing about this debate this afternoon. I listen to the Liberal Democrats sometimes talking about the pupil premium. I remember back to sitting on the Finance Committee with the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, when we all agreed a report—you as well, Kirsty—that noted that the hypothecation of grants in education was not the best way of delivering funding into the education system. We had a number of teachers, unions, education professionals and local government representatives telling us that that was not the way to deliver additional funding for areas that need it. So, it is somewhat surprising now to see them basing the whole of their policy on it.

Jenny Randerson: The hypothecation of grants is so expensive to deliver and so heavily bureaucratic, because it goes via local authorities. The whole point about the pupil premium is that it goes straight to the schools.

Alun Davies: Perhaps you need to discuss this with Kirsty. She will remember the evidence that we took; it was the teachers and headteachers that told us that it was extraordinarily difficult to administer. They were the people who opposed it most strongly.

I prefer the approach that has been taken by the Welsh Assembly Government. I hope that standards and performance will drive policy. I hope that the Minister will tell us that effective leadership, empowerment of teachers, investment in teacher training and skills and managing classroom performance will all form a part of his response to the PISA results. I hope that what we heard yesterday about a new emphasis on literacy and numeracy will be a part of his response to it. I want to see the integration of PISA assessments into wider school assessments. We have already strengthened the Estyn inspection system and I hope that the Minister will look towards streamlining the administration of the education system. That is an agenda that seeks to address the systemic failures that we have seen; it seeks to put standards and performance at the heart of policy and it seeks to ensure that pupils in Welsh schools will have the education that they need and deserve.

The Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning (Leighton Andrews): In the debate on school standards, it is important that we do not talk down the achievements that we have had in the Welsh education system during the period of devolution. We have had significant improvements in GCSE and A-level results, we have fewer young people leaving school without qualifications and we have made significant achievements in introducing initiatives such as the foundation phase and the Welsh baccalaureate. We have also seen a doubling of the number of vocational courses on offer as well. We need to put those achievements at the heart of our response to the difficulties that we recognise and accept we must address in the context of the PISA and Estyn reports.

5.40 p.m.

This morning, I expanded on what I have previously begun to set out with regard to how the Assembly Government will address the PISA results and other issues. I want Wales to be in the top 20 school systems measured in the PISA scores in 2015—the PISA scores after next.  The work needs to begin right away. We are taking a number of actions immediately.

There will be a new school standards unit to lead performance and provide challenge on a national basis. No new initiatives will be approved unless they add value to our demand for higher performance. The foundation phase will be the starting point for improved basic skills, with baseline assessment and continuous assessment. There will be a national reading test that will be consistent across Wales, designed to ensure that far fewer pupils fall behind their designated reading age. By the 2012-13 academic year, there will be similar arrangements for numeracy. Key stage 2 assessments will be effectively moderated in future. As Alun Davies said, we will look to integrate PISA assessments into school assessment at 15. We will ensure that all teachers and headteachers have a basic skills assessment as part of their professional accreditation. One inset day per year will be focused on basic skills issues for all teachers.

We will examine whether we can revise initial teacher training so that it can become a two-year Masters course, with more classroom practice, so that teachers are familiar with more advanced teaching skills. We will introduce a national system for the annual grading of schools. Let me say that this is not a return to league tables. Schools will be expected to reach certain floor targets—an absolute standard below which no school in Wales will fall. Brian Gibbons rightly mentioned the way in which good local authorities, such as Neath Port Talbot, have been able to achieve higher performance. If Estyn says a school is failing and I find the situation to be irredeemable, I will close it. I disagree with those who say that there are never any circumstances in which you should close a failing school.

In the Proposed Education (Wales) Measure, we are taking powers to allow local authorities to federate boards of governors of schools. I expect to see more federations of schools, operating under single headteachers. The proposed Measure will also introduce statutory training for governors and on effective clerking. From next year, no school will pass an Estyn inspection unless it can demonstrate that its board of governors has discussed the family of schools data and set in place actions to improve its position. We will review the current provisions for headteacher performance management to ensure local authority involvement. We will review teacher induction, with a focus on firm foundations for the teaching of literacy and numeracy, using the powers we hope to gain from the new Education Bill going through Parliament in relation to the General Teaching Council for Wales. All newly qualified teachers will have to meet practising teacher standards.

In future, continuous professional development will be focused on system-wide needs, including literacy and numeracy, linked to the three priorities of the school effectiveness framework. We will produce statutory guidance for school improvement that sets out the best practice currently available in Wales and elsewhere. Rhodri Morgan—'Rhodri Butt’ as I should call him today—is right to draw attention to the availability of world-class performance. We are already taking guidance from experts such as Michael Fullan from Canada on the development of the school effectiveness framework.

We will expect local authorities to participate in consortia arrangements, including shared consortium services, or suffer financial penalties. Consortia will identify system leaders and determine the focus of professional learning communities. Paul Davies raised issues about the curriculum. I should point out to him that we introduced a skills-based curriculum only in 2008. I think that it would be wrong to introduce other factors to that at the moment. I want a clear focus on the three priorities of the school effectiveness framework: literacy, numeracy and tackling the link between disadvantage and poor attainment.

I am afraid that today’s motion still shows the thinking of those who are obsessed with the funding question. Michael Davidson of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pointed out that, when the PISA results were published, the UK and Wales were among the highest spenders in the OECD and that there is not a particularly strong relationship between levels of expenditure and performance. As others have said, the development of the funding is more important. Our response to PISA is not one single answer. The focus needs to be on whole-system reform. We will make investments where we can get reform and changes in performance.

The second part of the motion from the Liberal Democrats focuses on their pupil premium idea. I will not spend too much time on this, but I remind people that the Institute for Fiscal Studies stated, in the autumn, that the pupil premium could push resources to more affluent counties in England and could actually increase school funding inequalities.

Jenny Randerson: That is completely the reverse of what was proposed. The fear among some of the more affluent areas has been that they will be losing money to the poorer areas, because those poorer areas obviously have more pupils who come from poor homes. It is completely the reverse of the issue.

Leighton Andrews: No. I think that I would rather believe what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated than what Jenny Randerson says when she tries to justify it. I am quoting from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I think that she should look at what was said in the autumn by the IFS.

Yesterday, we debated literacy and I set out my plans. I do not intend to implement solitary changes, such as the English-style pupil premium. Instead, we intend to take comprehensive action to improve standards, which will include literacy and numeracy. We aim to increase the budget for early intervention in 2011-12 for one-to-one support for pupils who fall behind in their learning. Work is well advanced on the development and implementation of a new national plan for literacy. As even Peter Black acknowledged, we have put protection in the budget for schools and skills; we are putting in 1 per cent above the block grant that we get from the Westminster Government.

Therefore, we are investing, and we continue to invest in early years. Our youngest learners are benefiting from the investment that we have made in the foundation phase, and we are committed to further support for that in our budget.

We know that change is needed. Today, I have outlined a comprehensive response to turn things around.

Kirsty Williams: In the time that is left to me, I begin by thanking everyone around the Chamber for their contributions this afternoon. First, I turn to the Conservatives’ first amendment, which we reject. I believe, fundamentally, that there is a role for local education authorities, and I know that many people are filled with dread by the idea of a school system being dictated by Cardiff bay. To me, that seems the quickest way to an urbanised system of education imposed upon the rest of the country regardless of whether that was fit for purpose. I know many governors of small schools who value very much the role that local education authorities play in supporting them in their roles.

I thank the coalition’s outrider, Plaid Cymru’s Nerys Evans, for floating some of her party’s manifesto proposals in the debate today. I do not know about a politburo, Mark Isherwood, but I do not think that we would be too far wrong to describe the Minister for education as the Dick Cheney of Welsh politics at the moment. He said that he was willing to debate anytime, anywhere, his education policies—except, it seems, not in his time and not in this Chamber. The failure, Leighton, to come before the Chamber to make these significant announcements does nothing to enhance the standing of this institution at this very important time. More importantly, perhaps, it sadly deprives us of an opportunity to develop consensus around what needs to happen to change our education system.

Mark Isherwood rose

Kirsty Williams: I only have five minutes, Mark. I am sorry. As it happens, there is much in the Minister’s speech and written statement this afternoon that I think that we can all agree with. It is absolutely vital that we look again at initial teacher training. For too long, the Welsh Assembly Government has had a hands-off approach to how our teachers are trained. It is right to have an emphasis on robust, continuous professional development and the spreading of best practice. That is why Estyn noted that, to date, continuing professional development has not been properly aligned with developments in our schools, and that the headteachers qualification did not reflect current best practice. I welcome a relentless focus on literacy and rigorous continuous assessment, not just of our children in schools, but of the professionals that work in those schools as well, and, last but not least, an end to the initiative culture that has left many of our educational institutions reeling over recent years.

5.50 p.m.

Such a statement is, to all intents and purposes, an admission that much that has gone on in our schools over the last eight years has been wrong. It is heart-breaking, Minister, that it has taken the wake-up call of these reports at the fag end of this administration for you to get to grips with a new approach.

I disagree with your contention that we do not need to look at the curriculum. What we teach, how we teach it and what messages we give to schools about what they teach should be looked at again.

Your approach to the funding of our education system is, at best, inconsistent. We have heard you say over recent weeks that funding cannot be a shield for poor performance, with which I agree, although it seems that you have made something of an art of that as an administration over the last nine months. When it comes to funding from London, it is all about input and never about the output of the Welsh Assembly Government. However, if funding and inputs are not issues, why is the First Minister committed to raising spend on education above and beyond the spend on any other Welsh Assembly Government department? Why do you keep quoting, at every possible opportunity, what Nick Bourne might or might not have said about what the Tories would do with education funding? However, I agree that, whatever he said, he wants to spend less on our schools than you and I would wish to spend.

 

I will not apologise for raising again the issue of a pupil premium. The Minister quoted the IFS report, but the Welsh Liberal Democrats have identified additional money above and beyond the education spend in the budget proposals, for which we can focus—

 

Peter Black: Will you give way?

Kirsty Williams: No, I do not have time, sorry. We could focus this spend on our more disadvantaged pupils. Brian is right to say that it is those disadvantaged pupils who are in danger of doing less well in our education system. I make no apologies for wanting to find a mechanism—whether it is ring fencing or not, Alun Davies—that gives more money to the poorest children in our schools. That is what they deserve, that is what I am for, and I make no apology for it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? I see that there is an objection. I will, therefore, defer voting on this item until voting time.

 

Gohiriwyd y pleidleisiau tan y cyfnod pleidleisio.
Votes deferred until voting time.

Cyfnod Pleidleisio
Voting Time

Cynnig NDM4651: O blaid 17, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 30.
Motion NDM4651: For 17, Abstain 0, Against 30.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Gwrthodwyd y cynnig.
Motion not agreed.

 

Gwelliant 1 i NDM4651: O blaid 31, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 17.
Amendment 1 to NDM4651: For 31, Abstain 0, Against 17.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant.
Amendment agreed.

 

Gwelliant 2 i NDM4651: O blaid 17, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 29.
Amendment 2 to NDM4651: For 17, Abstain 0, Against 29.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant.
Amendment not agreed.

 

Cynnig NDM4651 fel y’i diwygiwyd:

Motion NDM4651 as amended:

Mae Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru:

The National Assembly for Wales:

Yn croesawu’r camau sy’n cael eu cymryd ar draws Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i roi dinasyddion yn y canol wrth gyflenwi gwasanaethau cyhoeddus.

Welcomes the steps being taken across the Welsh Assembly Government to put citizens at the centre of public service delivery.

Cynnig NDM4651 fel y’i diwygiwyd: O blaid 31, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 17.

Motion NDM4651 as amended: For 31, Abstain 0, Against 17.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Derbyniwyd cynnig NDM4651 fel y’i diwygiwyd.
Motion NDM4651 as amended agreed.

Cynnig NDM4653: O blaid 17, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 31.
Motion NDM4653: For 17, Abstain 0, Against 31.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Gwrthodwyd y cynnig.
Motion not agreed.

 

Gwelliant 1 i NDM4653: O blaid 12, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 36.
Amendment 1 to NDM4653: For 12, Abstain 0, Against 36.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Asghar, Mohammad
Bourne, Nick
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Jocelyn
Davies, Paul
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick

Barrett, Lorraine
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Burnham, Eleanor
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
German, Veronica
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Randerson, Jenny
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Williams, Kirsty
Wood, Leanne

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant.
Amendment not agreed.

 

Gwelliant 2 i NDM4653: O blaid 17, Ymatal 0, Yn erbyn 31.
Amendment 2 to NDM4653: For 17, Abstain 0, Against 31.

The Record

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol o blaid:
The following Members voted for:

Pleidleisiodd yr Aelodau canlynol yn erbyn:
The following Members voted against:

Asghar, Mohammad
Bates, Mick
Black, Peter
Bourne, Nick
Burnham, Eleanor
Burns, Angela
Davies, Andrew R.T.
Davies, Paul
German, Veronica
Graham, William
Isherwood, Mark
Melding, David
Millar, Darren
Morgan, Jonathan
Ramsay, Nick
Randerson, Jenny
Williams, Kirsty

Barrett, Lorraine
Chapman, Christine
Cuthbert, Jeff
Davidson, Jane
Davies, Alun
Davies, Andrew
Davies, Jocelyn
Evans, Nerys
Franks, Chris
Gibbons, Brian
Gregory, Janice
Griffiths, John
Hart, Edwina
Hutt, Jane
James, Irene
Jenkins, Bethan
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Ann
Jones, Elin
Lewis, Huw
Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Val
Mewies, Sandy
Morgan, Rhodri
Neagle, Lynne
Ryder, Janet
Sargeant, Carl
Thomas, Gwenda
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Watson, Joyce
Wood, Leanne

Gwrthodwyd y gwelliant.
Amendment not agreed.

 

Dadl Fer Achub yr Achubwyr—Dyfodol Darpariaeth Gwylwyr y Glannau yng Nghymru
Short Debate Rescuing the Rescuers—The Future of Coastguard Provision in Wales.

The Record

Joyce Watson: I would like to start by saying how encouraged I am that Members from each party have requested time to speak this afternoon. The UK Government’s proposals for the modernisation of the coastguard, if they go through, will leave Wales with just one coastguard station operating in daylight hours only, and that will affect people in every part of the country—which makes it a cross-party issue. I have agreed that Edwina Hart, Ann Jones, Eleanor Burnham, Paul Davies and Bethan Jenkins may all have one minute to make contributions.

My own region takes in the coast from Llanelli to Pembrokeshire, up Ceredigion and around the Llŷn peninsula, and every community on this stretch of coast is potentially put at risk by plans to withdraw search and rescue co-ordination centres from Milford Haven and Holyhead, and to downgrade the Mumbles coastguard centre to a daylight service. However, people living in inland communities, and the thousands of visitors who come to holiday on our coasts, will also be affected—yet the Maritime and Coastguard Agency chose to inform only those MPs with a coastal boundary to their constituency about the proposed changes.

The timing of this debate is important because, although it is a non-devolved matter, it is crucial that Wales’s voice is heard before the consultation on the future of the coastguard comes to an end on 24 March. When I raised the matter with the First Minster a few weeks ago, he confirmed that the Welsh Government was formulating a response to the consultation, and I will be submitting the transcript from today’s debate to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, so that the views expressed by Assembly Members this afternoon can also be considered as part of that consultation process.

Members of the public, in their thousands, are already making their views known through local campaigns. Nearly 500 people have signed a petition to save Milford Haven station and around 2,000 people have joined various campaigns on social networking sites to oppose the closure of the two Welsh stations. Nearly 10,000 people have signed the UK-wide petition so far.

The fundamental concern for everyone is that these cuts will lead to a delay in call-out times and that lives will be lost as a result. The figures bear out just how vital the service in Wales is—in the last five years, Milford Haven and Holyhead stations between them were involved in more than 8,500 call-outs. Lives are lost every year on the coast and the objective of any restructuring of the coastguard should be to improve performance and save lives—not simply save money. In drawing up plans to reduce costs by £120 million over 25 years, it is not clear to me that improvement is the Government’s primary focus.

The situation looks even more serious, and the Government’s motivation to modernise less certain, when we consider the Westminster Government’s plans to sell off search and rescue helicopters and reduce the services available from stations like RAF Chivenor and RAF Valley, which will mean that the rescue response along the Welsh coast could be even further compromised. I also have serious concerns about the premise upon which these proposals have been drawn up. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning, who is responsible for shipping, claims in the closure consultation document that the UK has a coastline of more than 10,500 miles, but a written reply from the Department for Communities and Local Government in June stated that the UK’s coastline was 26,035 miles long. This is a serious ambiguity, which calls into question the logistical assumptions that have been made.

6.00 p.m.

Some people claim that the coastguard centre is basically an operations centre that could be anywhere because the response could be organised by the local rescue people and the lifeboat, but having a coastguard operation close by engenders confidence and reassures people. The Government says that it is too expensive to equip all 18 centres, but in our increasingly congested seas, these savings could prove to be a very dangerous false economy. In two weeks’ time, we will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Sea Empress disaster, an accident that cost between £120 million and £154 million to clean up. Local co-ordination and clean-up was vital in minimising the environmental damage. Coastguards do more than co-ordinating search and rescue. They are vital to the inspection regime on ships and responding to pollution from shipping energy installations.

Former and current coastguard officers, such as Angie Smith of Spittal and Dennis O’Connor of Llansteffan, have also come out in opposition. They are professionals who are desperately worried that vital local knowledge will be lost, particularly where Welsh place names and nicknames can make navigation difficult for people from outside the community. Having spoken to people such as Carl Evans, who is the rescue and co-ordination manager at Milford Haven, I recognise that there is an opportunity to update the UK’s search and rescue infrastructure, to improve interoperable capacity and make better use of up-to-date telecommunication systems, electronic mapping and satellite data, as well as to look at the potential of long-range identification and tracking. However, technology cannot be a substitute for local knowledge.

The consultation does recognise the importance of local knowledge, but it puts the emphasis on the coastguard’s 3,500-strong volunteer support. Under the Government’s proposals, the system would be overly reliant on long-distance communications. These systems may crash, bringing down the whole emergency response across a massive geographical area. On one hand, the proposals say that communications make geographical coverage less important, but on the other they stress the imperative of retaining a full service at Dover, close to the busy English Channel, to ensure the safety of that crossing. That is another inconsistency.

The UK Government claims that response times will not be affected, but where is the evidence to support that claim? I wrote to the Secretary of State to request a copy of any impact assessment his department had carried out as part of the process of deciding which centres to close. I wanted to know how, logistically, the UK could lose more than half of its physical coastguard infrastructure without diminishing search and rescue capability. All I received was an unsubstantiated assurance that response times will not be affected. I am afraid that this really is a matter of life and death. Until we get a better answer, it will look to many people as though the Tory-led Government is more interested in making another 226 people redundant and reducing costs than modernising the coastguard. Its plans to sell off search and rescue helicopters and rely more heavily on volunteers only reinforces that view.

I will wrap up at this point because I want to allow other Members to speak and, of course, give the Minister time to respond. I conclude by saying that I hope that all Members will publicise this issue in their communities and encourage as many people as possible to respond to the public consultation, particularly those with particular maritime expertise. Wales needs to send a clear message to the UK Government that our coastguard is integral to our coast. A strong voice is needed to state that, and I note, as I am sure Pembrokeshire people will, that neither of Pembrokeshire’s MPs, Stephen Crabb or Simon Hart, were inclined to speak up for Wales in Westminster in the coastguard debate held today. That is a very sad state of affairs.

Eleanor Burnham: I do not have such in-depth knowledge as Joyce on this issue, but it is an issue that we are all taking up on behalf of our constituents. The north Wales coast is very important; the Holyhead issue is extremely important. It is obviously a complex issue. The consultation continues until 24 March and, like Joyce, I urge anyone—and I have already had a huge postbag on this issue—to take this matter up, because it is a very serious issue that we all need to address adequately on behalf of our constituents. Thank you, Joyce, for bringing this debate before us. I will be pursuing the matter.

Edwina Hart: A well-resourced coastguard is integral to the safety of mariners and coastal users. As the Member for Gower, which is a mecca for tourists, with its beautiful coastline, I am well aware of the key role played by the coastguard service, as are my constituents. It is an efficient and well-managed service, and the safety of the public and mariners should not be compromised by these ill-thought out proposals; therefore, I urge everyone in the Chamber to make the appropriate representations and encourage others to do so. This is an issue that goes across the nation. We have a long coastline that needs safeguarding. The people who use it also need to be safeguarded.

Nerys Evans: Thank you, Joyce, for bringing the debate to the Chamber this afternoon. I just wish to highlight a fact about the UK Minister with responsibility for shipping, who is pushing through these proposals. In 2005, when there were plans to centralise the fire service in his constituency of Hemel Hempstead, he lobbied and campaigned against that due to concerns regarding centralisation and the lack of local knowledge. That is nothing but hypocrisy from the Minister. Those issues of retaining local knowledge are as valid and as relevant now as they were in 2005. Thank you, Joyce, for bringing the debate this afternoon. I urge people to get involved and to reply to the consultation.

Paul Davies: I am grateful to Joyce for allowing me a minute of her time in this short debate. Naturally, as the Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, I am very concerned about these proposals under which, potentially, Milford Haven could lose 23 highly-skilled jobs. I am given to understand that the plans do not actually affect the provision of front-line rescue services through volunteer coastguards or search and rescue partners, such as the RNLI. Indeed, some of the plans, as I understand them, will include more investment in front-line services, with plans to improve the leadership, management and support that is given to volunteer coastguard rescue officers. Even though these proposals could lead to a more integrated national service, I am told that some of this new technology, which would support this new service, may not yet be available, and that causes great concern to me. I am also concerned that the closure of centres, such as the one at Milford Haven, will result, as Joyce said, in a lack of local knowledge to deal with some of the incidents in Pembrokeshire and west Wales. Given that local knowledge is essential in rescue operations, I am opposed to the closure of the Milford Haven centre, and I will be giving my full backing to keeping the Milford Haven station open in order to protect these highly-skilled jobs and to protect the local knowledge. I will be feeding into this consultation process in due course, and I would encourage everyone who is watching and listening to this debate to also feed into that consultation process.

Bethan Jenkins: Thank you, Joyce, for bringing this crucial debate to the National Assembly for Wales today. I wish to echo the concerns that colleagues, such as Nerys Evans, have raised. However, I find it difficult to take the crocodile tears of the Lib Dems and the Tories here today when their colleagues in Westminster could be making representations, but are not making those representations loud and clear.

I have had many concerns about the downgrading of the Swansea coastguard service. I have joined the Facebook campaign arranged by Lee Haigh, who works in that particular service. The service will be putting questions to the Transport Select Committee, which will be meeting to discuss this issue. The campaigners want to know, for example, how information will be disseminated on changes to the public; how many of the current staff will move to the maritime operations centre; and if there is a model for the staffing levels, how this is being tested. Maritime rescue control centres, such as Swansea, in my area, provide a 24/7 point of contact for the public who require immediate assistance when they are in grave and imminent danger on the coastline or at sea around the UK. I have also been contacted on Facebook by Chris Daw, who is part of a dog search rescue team. He said that the work that they currently carry out is difficult, and the changes will make it even more difficult.

I thank Joyce for taking this debate forward today, but I would also urge the people who are members of parties in Government in the UK Parliament to press their colleagues to make their voices much clearer than at present.

6.10 p.m.

Ann Jones: I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. Joyce has chosen to debate this timely issue and I will stand up for the coastguards with her. According to the Holyhead maritime rescue co-ordination centre, which is the one that affects me and my constituents, 4,286 incidents were reported between 2006 and 2010. That is a significant number, whatever economic circumstances we are in. Those 4,286 incidents affected people who have been saved. You will all know that I have worked in the emergency services and I have seen, first hand, the difference between a quick response and a slower response. It does not matter whether you are on land or at sea, a response has to be fast. That is the only way that you can save lives. I will work with the coastguards. I think that we should be looking at the RNLI. If the coastguard is to be disbanded as has been suggested, the RNLI’s volunteers will have more and more placed on their shoulders. I believe that this cut, if it does come, will have an impact on our tourist industry and we will see people losing their lives unnecessarily at sea.

The Minister for Social Justice and Local Government (Carl Sargeant): I thank Joyce Watson for bringing this important debate to the Chamber today. Wales has around 750 miles of coastline, which makes a significant contribution to the Welsh economy. Our coastline attracts thousands of tourists to our blue flag beaches and our ports have a major role to play in the UK economy, handling an array of cargo from coal to timber to gas; therefore, ensuring that the coast around Wales remains safe is essential to ensure that our waters are safe and that individuals and businesses are not compromised. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency offers a vital service to the Welsh economy by ensuring that it is able to respond to incidents in a timely and effective manner, which Ann Jones alluded to. The coastguard not only responds to emergency incidents, working to prevent the loss of life on the coast and at sea, it also has a significant role in preventing incidents, in inspecting and surveying ships to ensure that they meet UK and international safety standards and in responding to pollution from shipping and offshore installations.

The proposals contained within the current consultation document on the future of coastguard provision are extremely worrying and uncertain for Wales. There are a number of different issues that need to be considered in our response to this consultation, not just those specific questions set out in the consultation document. The First Minister and Welsh Assembly Government officials from across departments are working on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government to formulate a response to the UK consultation on the modernisation of the coastguard service. The consultation document encourages responses from all interested parties, and I would urge Members to respond directly to the consultation with their concerns to ensure that we offer the strongest voice possible for Wales.

I think that we all recognise the need to modernise the coastguard service, to keep up with changing demands and technologies. We understand that this service needs to be much more resilient and more capable of managing incidents. We also understand that the nature of the service and the jobs that it provides has evolved. The difficult economic climate continues and all Government organisations have been asked to look at the ways in which they do business, make improvements and find efficiency savings. These are difficult tasks regardless of the organisation. Like us, the MCA has been asked to consider how it can make the best possible arrangements for delivery within the context of a reduced budget.

The consultation claims that it is committed to deliver search and rescue duties of the highest standard and that maritime safety is always a priority. I would question, however, how it can retain the same high level of service at the expense of such a significant reduction in coastguard centres, putting people and the environment at risk. Echoing concerns made previously in this Chamber, we question whether the consultation is driven by cost. A reduction in budget should not mean a reduction in service. The Welsh Assembly Government will back a positive change—a change that would benefit the coastguard service, its staff and the people that it serves. However, the current proposals have the potential to leave our coastline exposed. We cannot support changes to the vital service that the coastguard provides that are detrimental for those who use Welsh waters for leisure, business or both. That message will be clear in our response to the UK Government.

While I would not dispute the analysis by the MCA of the typical peak demand, the suggestion that there should be no 24-hour station in Wales is of grave concern. The proposals suggest that Swansea becomes a day station, with out-of-hours calls transferred to Southampton. Staff receiving these calls will have no local geographical knowledge of Wales, and may have difficulties, as Joyce alluded to, with place names along the coast. This could possibly lead to confusing telephone conversations, which Members have experienced in other work beyond the Assembly, and delays in the deployment of resources to an incident could be devastating. It is obvious that this would reduce the response capability to incidents along the Welsh coast, particularly at night.  

The consultation paper suggests that there should be five sub-centres, which would be at Falmouth, Humber and Swansea. Another two are proposed at either Belfast or Liverpool, and Shetland or Stornoway. It is not clear where support would come from to cover the Welsh coast in the north, which Eleanor mentioned in her contribution. This is a huge area to cover with busy ports such as Liverpool and Milford Haven. There have been recent reports in the media that indicate that a decision has already been made—although I am not aware that that is the case—despite this consultation and that there are plans to shut Liverpool station and save Belfast station. If the Liverpool station closes, north Wales will be at an even greater disadvantage. When we consider the number of sailings from Holyhead, it is fair to say that north Wales will be a vulnerable area under either proposal. Milford Haven is Britain’s third largest port, and Britain’s major oil port as well as now being a major port for liquefied natural gas. It is vital to Britain’s energy supplies, as we know. Likewise, the Irish sea is a major shipping route. We would be reluctant to see any reduction in capacity that would put that role at risk.

Angela Burns: The other issue is that people think of coastguards as people who come out to rescue you when you are in trouble, but any practical and competent sailor, when leaving their port or marina—I sail most weekends in the summer—will always notify the coastguard that they have left their home stretch, and will notify them on the way back in. The disappearance of that kind of cover from around the shores of the United Kingdom and Wales will be detrimental for all leisure craft that go out, because coastguards have an important function to play in keeping tabs on crafts that seldom have the ability to use distress beacons if they get into trouble.

Carl Sargeant: I alluded not only to what people think are the general duties of the coastguard, but also their broad wide-ranging duty to keep business and leisure crafts safe as they travel.

There are issues to consider with the proposal to establish two superstations at Aberdeen, Portsmouth or Southampton. This will place too great a reliance on these stations in terms of business continuity and there is the potential that services could be lost should these stations encounter operational difficulties, which would be of concern to all of us. It would be more resilient for there to be a larger number of smaller stations sharing the workload and allowing more robust back-up arrangements to be put in place. There should be some presence in Wales on a 24-hour basis. With the proposal to have no round-the-clock presence in Wales, all out-of-hours calls will be transferred out of Wales, which, again, is of concern. To reiterate the First Minister’s comments during his questions, I do not think it is excessive to have three coastguard stations in Wales.

A number of concerns have been raised during the debate, and I urge all Members to respond to the consultation. We will ensure that we have a sound understanding of the impact that these proposed changes will have on Wales, and will ensure that the interests and needs of Wales are not forgotten. Our seas are becoming more congested, our ships are getting larger, our coastline is getting busier and weather conditions are becoming more extreme. It is clear that, under this proposal, Wales will be at a significant disadvantage, making our coastline vulnerable and putting people and the environment in unnecessary danger. I thank Joyce for bringing this debate to the floor of the Assembly, and I am sure that your comments and the consultation exercise will duly be noted by the UK Government.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That brings today’s proceedings to a close.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 6.20 p.m.
The meeting ended at 6.20 p.m.

Aelodau a’u Pleidiau
Members and their Parties

Andrews, Leighton (Llafur - Labour)
Asghar, Mohammad (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Barrett, Lorraine (Llafur - Labour)
Bates, Mick (Democrat Rhyddfrydol Annibynnol - Independent Liberal Democrat)
Black, Peter (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Bourne, Nick (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Burnham, Eleanor (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Burns, Angela (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Butler, Rosemary (Llafur - Labour)
Cairns, Alun (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Chapman, Christine (Llafur - Labour)
Cuthbert, Jeff (Llafur - Labour)
Davidson, Jane (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Alun (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Andrew (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Andrew R.T. (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Davies, Jocelyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Davies, Paul (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Elis-Thomas, Dafydd (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Evans, Nerys (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Franks, Chris (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
German, Veronica (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Graham, William (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Gregory, Janice (Llafur - Labour)
Griffiths, John (Llafur - Labour)
Griffiths, Lesley (Llafur - Labour)
Gibbons, Brian (Llafur - Labour)
Hart, Edwina (Llafur - Labour)
Hutt, Jane (Llafur - Labour)
Isherwood, Mark (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
James, Irene (Llafur - Labour)
Jenkins, Bethan (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Alun Ffred (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Ann (Llafur - Labour)
Jones, Carwyn (Llafur - Labour)
Jones, Elin (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Gareth (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Helen Mary (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Law, Trish (Annibynnol - Independent)
Lewis, Huw (Llafur - Labour)
Lloyd, David (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Lloyd, Val (Llafur - Labour)
Melding, David (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Mewies, Sandy (Llafur - Labour)
Millar, Darren (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Morgan, Jonathan (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Morgan, Rhodri (Llafur - Labour)
Neagle, Lynne (Llafur - Labour)
Ramsay, Nick (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Randerson, Jenny (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Ryder, Janet (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Sargeant, Carl (Llafur - Labour)
Sinclair, Karen (Llafur - Labour)
Thomas, Gwenda (Llafur - Labour)
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Watson, Joyce (Llafur - Labour)
Williams, Brynle (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Williams, Kirsty (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Wood, Leanne (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)

Partners & Help