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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. The National Assembly is in session.
 
13:30
1. Questions to the First Minister
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 1, questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
 
The Proposed St David’s Day Agreement
 
13:30
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Thank you, esteemed Deputy Presiding Officer.
 
1. What discussions has the First Minister had with the Secretary of State for Wales on the proposed St David’s Day agreement? OAQ(4)2112(FM)W
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’ve had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State, and another discussion will take place later on today.
 
13:30
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Given what has already been published by the UK Government in the command paper ‘Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement’, is it the First Minister’s intention to secure similar draft clauses for the Welsh parliament and Government, as is proposed to the Scottish Parliament and Government—and I quote from the draft clauses—as a ‘permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements’?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I don’t believe that an enduring settlement has been offered to Wales to date. Equality is a very important thing, so that what is being offered to Scotland should be offered to Wales. It is then a matter for us to decide what would be in the interests of Wales to accept, but we are a long way off that position. Of course, we will continue to play a role in the process that was established by the Secretary of State, but there’s quite some way to go again to get any kind of agreement.
 
13:31
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, I am sure that you will have discussed the Barnett formula with the Secretary of State in a number of meetings that you have had with him. In light of these discussions, how do you intend to secure fair funding for Wales in the context of retaining the Barnett formula?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the Barnett floor is a way of doing just that, in order to ensure that Wales is safeguarded in future. To date, the United Kingdom Government has not been supportive of any kind of resolution to the underfunding that Wales suffers at the moment, but we hope, of course, to see some way forward over the next few weeks.
 
13:32
Mike HedgesBiography
After the decision yesterday, the case for a reserved powers model of devolution becomes even stronger. Will the First Minister set out the red lines he would expect from a successful St David’s Day process?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I fear I may not have much time to go through every red line, but perhaps I could inform Members of some of them: a reserved powers model, with the proper division between reserved powers and those powers that would remain at Westminster; and Wales’s funding—underfunding—being addressed: that much is important; further fiscal devolution in some fields; and, of course, the Assembly to control its own electoral system, including, of course, the entrenchment of the distance of the Assembly, so that it could not be abolished at the whim of Westminster.
 
13:33
Mick AntoniwBiography
First Minister, you’ll be aware of the decision yesterday—although you may not have had time to digest its detail: good for the insurance industry, bad for asbestos victims, and confusing for devolution. On the assumption that most people consider that we should have the power to do the sort of things that the Bill intended, which is help asbestos victims in Wales, how are you going to approach negotiations with the UK Government to ensure that we actually do have the powers clearly, without confusion, in order to be able to do these sorts of things, which most people out in the public actually think are sensible things that we should be able to do?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That, I’m afraid, shows the fact that the current devolution settlement is not fit for purpose. It is unclear in so many areas, and that’s why, of course, all parties—I think I’m correct in saying—wish to see a move to a model that is far clearer and far more appropriate for twenty-first century Wales. Yesterday, of course, was a disappointment; it now needs to be rectified as quickly as possible.
 
Patient Waiting Times
 
13:34
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on patient waiting times for operations within Hywel Dda University Health Board? OAQ(4)2105(FM)
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I expect all patients to be seen at the earliest opportunity, and in accordance with their clinical priority, as well as being seen within the Welsh maximum waiting times.
 
13:34
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
A constituent of mine came to see me recently, having been to his GP two years ago with a hernia, and, having then heard nothing, he sought information from the surgeon and the hospital as to when he would be seen. He was told that, although he had been to see his GP in April 2013, he hadn’t been referred to hospital until April of last year, and that he wouldn’t be seen until June of this year. What can you as a Government do to ensure that these delays don’t happen between GPs and the surgeons and then within the hospitals?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is very difficult to give a view on an individual case, but it sounds to me, from what the Member has said, that some problem in communication had arisen between the GP and the hospital. I would be very happy to consider this particular case on behalf of the individual and the Member, if he could send me the details.
 
13:36
Angela BurnsBiography
I do appreciate that it’s difficult to comment on individual cases, but Hywel Dda have such a track record in this area—95% of patients should be waiting less than 26 weeks for treatment, and when my colleague, Rhodri Glyn Thomas brought this question forward, I literally had to choose between the raft of constituents in front of me. I’m going to just pick one case of a woman who’s waiting, First Minister, for 27 months for a follow-up pain relief injection and has just been told that she has to wait another 10 months. As we all know, pain is utterly debilitating. What can you as First Minister do with your Minister for health to ensure that this health board does step up to the mark and start giving people adequate treatment in a timely and kind manner.
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s very difficult, of course, as the Member recognises to comment on an individual issue. I can say that the median waiting time in Hywel Dda in November of last year was up to nine weeks. That is what most people will wait, but, of course, there are some people who wait longer, and the Member’s given an example there—and I have no reason to doubt what she said to me—
 
13:37
Angela BurnsBiography
I’ll write to you on it.
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
[Continues.]—that goes well beyond that. Again, I make the same offer to her as I did to the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr: if she wishes to pass on the details, I’d be more than happy, of course, to investigate.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:37
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I will now call on the party leaders. First this week is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:37
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch yn fawr. I read with interest your comments in the press this morning offering advice to your party leader ahead of the coming election. You said that,
 
‘We can’t go into the election saying we will be a little less tough than the Tories’.
 
As a Government, what calculations have you made as to the effect on the Welsh budget of a Labour Prime Minister as opposed to a Tory Prime Minister?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m very glad indeed that the leader of Plaid Cymru takes so much notice of what I say in the press, and I thank her for that. We know that, roughly, the difference, in terms of the budget, will be that the budgets of the UK Government will be cut by 23% more under a Tory Government than would be the case under a Labour Government—a significant difference.
 
13:38
Leanne WoodBiography
According to analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, First Minister—they looked at your party’s spending plans too over the next Parliament—and there is to be a cut of around 2.2% to devolved Governments’ budgets over the next Parliament under a Labour Government. Isn’t that just a little less tough than the Tories, First Minister?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, the Tory equivalent is 26%, if I remember rightly, for the cuts that they would make, so there’s a significant difference for the people of Wales between voting in a Labour Government, which will look to protect those areas that are most important for the people of Wales, and the vast cuts that would be imposed by a Tory or indeed a Tory-led Government. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has illustrated the significant gulf that exists between those of us who are committed to spending on those who are most in need and those who would cut budgets at a ruthless rate.
 
13:39
Leanne WoodBiography
I’m not clear, First Minister, whether you’re disputing the IFS figures or whether you’re disputing your own party’s spending plans. Based on current spending, a 2.2% cut from Labour equates to £335 million less for the Welsh budget for the expenditure on Welsh public services. That is more austerity, isn’t it? How can people have hope when your promise to the people of Wales is more cuts, more austerity, more of the same?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Not at all. We know that the situation as far as the Tories is concerned—and this is what the Institute for Fiscal Studies said—was a 26% cut in public budgets, and that is an enormous cut that would take us back many many decades in terms of what the state would look like. We want to address that issue. We want to make sure, of course, that we get a Barnett floor to address Wales’s underfunding, which I’m sure she will support, and we have shown in the past four years, despite the tough budget settlements—the cut of 10% that we’ve received from a Tory Government—that we can prioritise spending for the people of Wales. We will continue to do that in Wales, and I’m absolutely sure that we will continue to see that happening in May, as long as the Tories don’t win.
 
13:40
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:40
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, the news at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd today is very troubling, to say the least. This Chamber spent a lot of time—and I know you took personal responsibility for maternity services in north Wales. What is your assessment of the current situation around maternity services at that particular hospital in north Wales?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The first thing I need to say is: this does not in any way interfere with the decision on the sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre That’s important to state. My view always was that the SuRNICC would be a new operation; it wouldn’t be something that would simply be grafted onto the existing department. So, I want to make that absolutely clear and to give that assurance to people in the area around Glan Clwyd. The local health board must take responsibility. It must discharge its duties, that much is true, and I expect it to do that in the course of this afternoon. I expect them then to take steps to ensure that any announcement that they may make is temporary and that there’s a reinstatement of the full service as quickly as possible at the hospital. They must take responsibility, and so must the senior medical staff. Many reports have illustrated the dysfunctional nature of the relationships between the senior medical staff at the hospital, and that must be dealt with. Whatever decision they take, it must be taken on a temporary basis, but the SuRNICC remains on track, in my mind, for the site at Glan Clwyd.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Well, I have to say that I can hear Members saying that they’ve made little or no progress on that particular aspect of maternity services in north Wales, First Minister. So, I think, maybe, you need to assess how much progress has been made, despite the assurances that you have given. What is of huge concern to many people around the potential for this announcement will be the downgrading of maternity services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Ultimately, you talk of it being a temporary measure. What does the word ‘temporary’ mean in this context? You’re the Government. How are you going to hold the health board to account if they do have to suspend services temporarily at this particular hospital? What is your interpretation?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I would expect them to look to reinstate the service in the summer of next year. It’s important, of course, to make sure that all steps are taken to do that. It is simply not possible to carry on with the existing relationship between the senior medical staff in that department. Many reports have illustrated that it is dysfunctional, and those medical staff need to look to themselves in terms of the way they have worked with each other. The local health board, as well, have to make sure that they are able to discharge the responsibilities that they have, and I would expect them to look to reinstate this service in the summer of next year. That is the aim that they must have.
 
13:42
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
What I’m troubled by in your answer, First Minister, is that you seem to be apportioning blame to the medical staff here in this particular equation, which, I have to say, I find surprising, and, maybe, in response to this third question, you could enlarge on that. One of the key problems does seem to be the ability to attract and retain staff, and, ultimately, we know that the Welsh Government have had successive campaigns to attract staff here in Wales. Two years ago, the Welsh Government, under the previous health Minister, Lesley Griffiths, launched the campaign. It just doesn’t seem to be working, First Minister. When you made your announcement, you did highlight the ability of the health board to attract staff as being a key requirement to the retention of the service. Now, what interaction has the Welsh Government been having with the health board to make sure that they have been trying their darndest to attract staff to fill these posts, which wouldn’t rely on the service being withdrawn, and can you enlarge on what you have just said in your previous answer to me about clinical staff and medical staff needing to look to themselves to resolve this problem?
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have actually said this. For example, the Steel report showed in May 2013—well, they went further than me—and described unprofessional behaviour between consultants with public disagreements, bullying and intimidating behaviour, poor adherence to requirements for adequate notice to book and co-ordinate leave, leading to difficulties covering rotas and cancellation of clinics. Those are not my words; those are the words of the Steel report. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’s report in 2014 also talked about problems with team dynamics, a lack of engagement with governance arrangements and supervision arrangements for junior staff.
 
So, yes, there is a need among other—I mean, this is not entirely for medical staff, but they need to look at the way they’ve operated. There’s no question about that, and these are not my words. These are the words stated in two reports. But, the local health board also have a responsibility to make sure that they take steps, firstly, to ensure that patients are safe—that’s the first thing—secondly, to make sure that these arrangements are temporary, and thirdly, of course, to make sure that people are reassured, as these arrangements move forward, that they will be able to move smoothly to give birth in the other hospitals in Betsi Cadwaladr. That is what the local health board have responsibility to do and we will expect them to do that.
 
13:45
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:45
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer.
 
First Minister, you took personal responsibility, in May of last year, to oversee the establishment of a special care baby unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. You told us then that you would be working with the health board to produce a business case and you would keep Assembly Members updated. We have yet to see that business case, nor have you kept us updated. Now, today, as we've heard, we've discovered that Ysbyty Glan Clwyd cannot provide consultant-led services because of recruitment difficulties. It is simply not credible for you to stand there, First Minister, and say that the plans for the special care baby unit will go ahead at Glan Clwyd if that hospital can't provide consultant-led services. The most vulnerable babies will be being born in Bangor and in Wrexham, and now you're expecting them to be transferred to a special care baby unit in Glan Clwyd. It is simply not credible. Why has the business plan that you promised in May of last year not been produced?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is for the local health board to produce that plan. I say it once again: there is no difficulty with the sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre on the Glan Clwyd site. I expect that plan to move forward. I expect the local health board to move that plan forward. I expect the SuRNICC to be set up at Glan Clwyd. It was never the intention that the SuRNICC was something to be grafted on to the existing department, for the reasons that we've seen, in part, today. That SuRNICC has to be taken forward by the LHB. I will certainly be—. As the Member has already said, I took responsibility for maternity services, not for Glan Clwyd’s current maternity unit, but certainly for the SuRNICC, and I want to see that SuRNICC move forward, with a business plan, and set up.
 
13:47
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, are you really saying that you expect consultant-led obstetrics to be delivered in Bangor and Wrexham, but the special care baby unit to be in Glan Clwyd? If you are, I do not know who you're getting medical advice from. Let's be honest, this isn't the only service that is currently under threat because of a difficulty that your Government has had in the recruitment and the retention of staff. How confident are you, First Minister, that health boards will be able to maintain paediatric rotas later this year, and that paediatric services currently being delivered at the Royal Gwent Hospital and at Nevill Hall Hospital, and paediatric services being delivered at your own district general hospital in Bridgend and at Morriston Hospital will be able to be maintained?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are confident they will be able to be maintained. We expect the local health boards to do just that. The leader of the Liberal Democrats misunderstands the situation at Glan Clwyd. As I said earlier on, my understanding is that the local health board wish this to be a temporary situation. We would expect them to resolve this issue in the course of this year and the SuRNICC to be placed at Glan Clwyd. That is still the plan.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Well, I'll believe your plan when I see a business case, which you promised that you would be working with health boards to deliver all of nine months ago. The plan hasn't even started and I would ask you: what have you been doing in the last nine months to see that plan being developed? First Minister, how many other services and announcements like the one we’ve seen at Glan Clwyd today, are the Welsh public going to have to endure because of a failure to recruit and retain vital staff? You said your health organisations had to go ahead to prevent the very scenario that we have seen today. How many other services will have to endure an emergency transfer or closure under your leadership?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There are no services that fall into that category. Bear in mind it’s for the local health boards to resolve this issue and, thirdly, of course, there are specific reasons at Glan Clwyd why this has happened—specific reasons. The deanery did not see training as adequate. There have been problems in the relations between the medical staff there. Those are not my words. Those are the words of two different reports that have taken place, and I say, once again: I expect the SuRNICC to be taken forward by the local health board. We will support them where we can and we will make sure that the SuRNICC is placed at Glan Clwyd. That remains the situation. I've said it many, many times and that is something that I expect the local health board to take forward.
 
13:49
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Question 3, OAQ(4)2115(FM), has been withdrawn. Question 4, Bethan Jenkins.
 
Opencast Mining
 
13:49
Bethan JenkinsBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on opencast mining in Wales? OAQ(4)2111(FM)
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘Minerals Planning Policy Wales’ sets out planning policy for minerals extraction and related development. It’s supported by comprehensive advice contained in MTAN2, which sets out the policies for opencast and deep-mine coal development, including issues such as buffer zones and restoration.
 
13:50
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Thank you, First Minister. You will know, as a constituency AM, that concern is building up with regard to opencasting. We have a report that says MTAN 2 need re-purposing, something your Minister said recently he was looking at. Your Government has been sat on a request from me to call in East Pit for two years, something that I believe Gwenda Thomas has also requested, and we have a judgment that states clearly that responsibility for restoring Oak Regeneration’s own sites remains with Celtic Energy. In light of all of this, would you support the calls by Lynne Neagle, Assembly Member, for a moratorium on opencast sites, and for a stop to current provisions, so that we can have a similar moratorium as we took with regard to fracking last week?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Bear in mind a moratorium wouldn’t help the situation in East Pit or in Parc Slip: the damage was done many, many years ago. At the root of the problem is the fact that not enough money was set aside to restore the site when British Coal was privatised. It was a sweetener that was put there by the then UK Government to privatise opencast and not make it too expensive for the opencast operators. We now find ourselves in the situation where there is a substantial gap between the money that was set aside and the money that would be required to restore the site. My view is, this is the UK Government’s creation, and the UK Government have a responsibility to provide the funds for the people of those areas in order for those sites to be restored. It’s not god enough for them simply to say, ‘Well, sorry, this is all devolved now. It’s all a matter for you. You can clear up the mess that we created’. So we will seek to engage with the UK Government, as my parliamentary colleague, Madeleine Moon MP, has done, to make sure that they realise they have a responsibility to the people who live around those sites in order to see them restored.
 
13:51
Lynne NeagleBiography
First Minister, as your personal intervention into the Celtic Energy situation helped underline, there are currently huge question marks hanging over the opencast industry in Wales. A moratorium would help my constituents in Varteg, who yet again are left fighting an application that is in clear breach of MTAN 2 planning guidance. Will you listen to the growing calls now for a moratorium so that your Government has the breathing space it needs to undertake the strategic review of the opencast industry in Wales that I, and others, feel is absolutely vital?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I say to the Member that what has happened with regard to East Pit and with Parc Slip adds weight to her argument. I’ll take it no further than that at this stage. What I will ask the Minister to do—or he and I will discuss this to see what can be done in the meantime to restore confidence in the issue of opencast mining, given the current situation with regard to some sites across south Wales in particular. It is not unique to Wales, but is an issue that has arisen across the whole of UK. We cannot have a situation, clearly, where we have a number of opencast sites in the future that cannot be restored because there is no money to restore them.
 
13:53
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Well, Minister, given that, will you put all your correspondence in the public domain for the last five years with the UK Government, seeking to establish a resolution to this matter, so that we can all see exactly what steps have been taken by you personally, or your Ministers?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The responsibility lies ultimately of course with Oak Regeneration and with Celtic Energy, and with Neath Port Talbot Council in the case of Parc Slip and East Pit. It is clear now that the issue is a failure in the early 1990s to secure enough money being set aside for the restoration of those sites. Either she recognises that failure or is happy to see communities live with the consequences of the failure of her party. She says 18 years of hanging about, but I haven’t been First Minister for 18 years; the Assembly hasn’t been in existence for 18 years. All this happened in the early 1990s. She cannot escape—well, not her, but her party cannot escape responsibility for the creation of this mess. What they did was ensure that the operators did not have to put aside sufficient money for restoration in order for them to sweeten the deal for opencast mining and its privatisation. We are now dealing with those consequences, and the UK Government cannot escape the consequences of the actions taken forward by their own party some 20 years ago.
 
13:54
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Will you join with me, First Minister, in congratulating Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for your constituency, for securing a Westminster debate on 29 January on the subject of restoration of opencast coal sites? In view of the response from the Minister of State—and I take it the party opposite would want to read that; it’s well worth doing—for Business and Enterprise to that debate, will you ask our Minister for Natural Resources to engage in any future discussions and to seek to ensure the paramount importance of the wellbeing of opencast communities in Wales and their right to have their expectations realised with regard to the restoration of opencast sites, alongside which they lived as neighbours, sometimes since as far back as 1948?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Indeed, I know the Minister is fully sighted on this issue. In view of what I thought was, in the circumstances, a helpful response from the Minister in Westminster—much more helpful than what we’ve heard from the benches opposite in the course of these questions in this Chamber this afternoon—I think there is scope there now for us to discuss the issue with the UK Government to come to a solution. What people want to see with these opencast sites is a remedy being applied, restoration taking place, and certainly that is our intention as a Government to discuss this issue now with the UK Government and to make sure that a problem that was created in Whitehall is resolved in Whitehall.
 
13:56
William PowellBiography
First Minister, members of the United Valleys Action Group have raised with me concerns that the developments of national significance that are envisaged in the current Planning (Wales) Bill may serve to undermine the voice of communities faced with applications for opencast and similar development. In the context of this and also given that your Government has set its face against the possibility of any form of third party right of appeal in such cases, what reassurance can you offer to communities, particularly coalfield communities, in this regard?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
They need not fear the developments of national significance. The intention is, of course, to make sure that such developments are taken forward properly, to make sure that the resources are devoted to dealing with such applications and then, of course, for the proper decision to be made. They need not fear that this in some way interferes with their ability to put their case, whether it be to a local authority in the current circumstances, or indeed to a Minister in circumstances once the Planning (Wales) Bill has been passed.
 
Cutting Smoking Rates
 
13:57
Sandy MewiesBiography
5. Will the First Minister provide and update on what the Welsh Government is doing to cut smoking rates in Wales? OAQ(4)2110(FM)
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’ve prioritised smoking cessation as part of our commitment to reduce the number of adult smokers in Wales to 16% by 2020. Services include the national Stop Smoking Wales service, run by Public Health Wales, and local pharmacy, GP and hospital services.
 
13:57
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you for that. Smoking rates in Wales have come down, and that’s the good news, but the recent report showing increased levels of lung cancer amongst women reinforces the message that more does need to be done. The introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes would help and so will the ban on smoking in cars carrying children. First Minister, consultation on that proposal is now closed. Can I ask when we can expect the ban to be implemented so that young people will be protected from the dangers of second-hand smoke?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can say to the Member that the Minister will be making an announcement on this matter on Thursday.
 
13:58
Darren MillarBiography
I’m very pleased to hear that the Minister will be making an announcement on this later this week. It’s something that I very much support. But one of the things that your Government has said that it wants to do in order to reduce harm from tobacco is to introduce a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in private and enclosed spaces. I’m very concerned about this, because I do think that it is very clear from the evidence that the use of e-cigarettes has helped many people quit smoking altogether and therefore reduced harm from tobacco. Will your Government relook at its proposals in order to ensure that the harmful effects from tobacco smoking can be reduced and that there is still the opportunity for e-cigarettes to be used in the widespread places they currently are?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, and the reason is we can’t recommend e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid until they’ve been proven to be effective as such, and they are a long way from being in that situation. So, certainly the current situation is that that is not something we will be looking to consider in the absence of such evidence.
 
The Welsh Economy
 
13:59
Keith DaviesBiography
6. Will the Minister provide an update on Welsh Government support for the Welsh economy? OAQ(4)2114(FM)
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are taking a variety of actions to support the Welsh economy, including actions to support business to start and grow, and to make it easier for them to access finance, and ensure that we review business rates policy in Wales, that we support international trade and investment, and, of course, ensure that we promote Wales as a tourism destination and to those who would invest in our country.
 
13:59
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you, First Minister. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that 29.4% of families in Wales are living on less than the living wage. Do you agree with me that it’s important to tax mansions in the UK so that we can improve the Welsh economy to provide opportunities for our poorest families?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That’s right and, of course, what’s important for us to bear in mind is that without more equality, an improvement in the economy isn’t going to be effective. That is what we see at the moment: they say that the economy is improving, but what we aren’t seeing is that ordinary people are getting any kind of boost in their income, and that’s why it’s extremely important to ensure that if things are to improve that everybody feels that that improvement is relevant to them. For us, of course, we have the scheme to tackle poverty, and that is something that is being reviewed very regularly in order to ensure that it’s as effective as possible.
 
14:00
William GrahamBiography
Last week, the Federation of Master Builders highlighted, following the publication of their state of trade survey for the last quarter of 2014, the increasing skills shortages across building trades. Will the First Minister outline what measures he intends to use to address the shortage of skills?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We expect, of course, to work with them and also with the Construction Skills Network to make sure that the skills are there. We know that construction is expected to grow in Wales at a rate higher than the UK average, which, of course, is a testament to the policies that we have put in place as a Government. And, of course, more work has been done in terms of apprenticeships to make sure that we have the skills that are required. But we will, of course, work with the companies involved in construction and, indeed, with those involved in identifying the need for skills to make sure that the skills are there in order to fuel the increase in construction that we expect to see.
 
14:01
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
To follow up on Keith Davies’s question, isn’t the truth that one significantly important step to respond to poverty, particularly in-work poverty, which continues to exist, would be to follow Plaid Cymru’s policy of insisting on the introduction of a statutory living wage, rather than a minimum wage, and that that would have the impact of assisting the Welsh economy ultimately also?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, of course, we’re very supportive of ensuring that that happens in the public sector; we have no powers at all in the Assembly currently to do that in the private sector. But, the message that I would give to companies—and this is a message that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has given—is that it’s very important that they ensure that people see a growth in their income if they are to feel that things are improving.
 
14:02
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, last year the UK Government announced a £1.1 billion city deal for Glasgow and the Clyde valley, and, clearly, a similar level of investment and a similar package could have a transformative effect on Wales’s city regions too. What bids has the Welsh Government made to the UK Government for a city deal for, for example, the Cardiff city region?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s a matter ultimately for the city region to decide what it wishes to do in terms of such a bid, but we would be more than happy to support them if they wish to make such a bid in order to bring that money into Wales.
 
The Ban on Smoking in Cars Carrying Children
 
14:03
Lindsay WhittleBiography
7. When is the ban on smoking in cars carrying children going to be implemented? OAQ(4)2100(FM)
 
In view of your answers to previous questions, First Minister, I will emphasise the first word of my question: ‘when’ is the ban on smoking in cars carrying children going to be implemented?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I refer the Member to the answer I gave some moments ago: there will be an announcement on Thursday.
 
14:03
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Well, it wasn’t really clear; you merely indicated that the statement will be made later, so I can only assume that at least you obviously have the rights of children at heart. Maintaining that positive short, when will you end the legalised violence against children in Wales by removing the defence of reasonable punishment?
 
14:03
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. That is not relevant to this question. Christine Chapman.
 
14:04
Christine ChapmanBiography
Thank you. First Minister, a recent study has found that smoking remains a major risk factor in unexplained child deaths in Wales. Examining 45 cases across Wales, the study found that 25 children who died lived in smoking households. The report found that premature birth, low birth weight and poor sleeping could also be important contributory factors. However, the rate of smoking amongst parents was extremely high. I welcome the ban on smoking on cars with children, but what further steps will the Welsh Government take to reduce smoking in Wales, particularly during pregnancy and afterwards?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I can say that four local health boards have worked together to improve the uptake of smoking cessation services by pregnant women in their areas. They tested different models. The interim results were encouraging. A final report on that work will be in place shortly. I understand that Cwm Taf Local Health Board has already decided to invest additional resources from their Flying Start budget over the next two years in their service delivery model. Before the full results become available, they’ve recruited two additional maternity support workers and a midwife to take that work forward, and that will enable their current project in the Rhondda pilot area to also include the whole of the Cynon valley and Taff Ely.
 
14:05
Mohammad AsgharBiography
First Minister, recent figures reveal that Wales has the third highest rate of lung cancer in women among the 40 countries in the European Union. Does the First Minister agree that banning smoking in cars carrying children must be part of a series of measures designed to tackle smoking in Wales, such as banning smoking in hospital grounds, and at the doors for entrance and exit on the ground floor of the hospital, where they are always welcoming people and they’re smoking when you enter the hospital all the time in Wales? Thank you.
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, without prejudice to the announcement that’ll be made on Thursday, the idea of banning smoking in cars when children are present has much to commend it.
 
Welsh-medium Primary Education
 
14:06
Llyr GruffyddBiography
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of Welsh-medium primary education? OAQ(4)2116(FM)
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Increasing access to Welsh-medium education is a priority for Welsh Government. And, of course, local authorities are duty bound to ensure that they have Welsh-in-education strategic plans in place.
 
14:06
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you for that response. The ‘Welsh-medium Education Strategy’ of your Government also says that there is an expectation that local authorities will plan comprehensively for Welsh-medium education, that they must ensure the sustainability of Welsh-medium education, and safeguard the provision of Welsh-medium education, and must take that into account when making statutory proposals to change provision within schools. Do you believe any suggestion that the closure of a Welsh-medium category 1 school, forcing those children into a category 2 school with two streams, Welsh and English, in the same class, would be in keeping with that policy?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, first of all, this is a matter for the local education authority in the first place. I know the Member is talking about the situation at Ysgol Pentrecelyn and Ysgol Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd. The statutory consultation is ongoing, I understand, and it remains open. It’s extremely important that parents give their views to that consultation. Bearing in mind any kind of intervention that may be made by the Minister for education in future, I cannot say any more than that, but it’s extremely important that no authority does anything that weakens the language in their areas.
 
14:07
Angela BurnsBiography
First Minister, the interim report evaluating the ‘Welsh-medium Education Strategy’ says that:
 
‘While the Strategy has led to a wide range of activities that support schools and the development of the education infrastructure, evidence suggests that the Strategy is not as much of a priority to organisations as some other “policy drivers”.’
 
How will you, First Minister, ensure that the strategy does gain more traction with organisations, given that bilingualism is such an asset as well as a right?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, bear in mind, of course, that local authorities are required to produce Welsh-in-education strategic plans and they are required to set ambitious targets to boost the percentage of seven-year-old children who experience Welsh-medium education. I can say that all 22 authorities have their plans in place. They’ve submitted their revised plans and an update on progress for us to approve or otherwise. So, it is the case that they must submit their plans in order for Ministers to be satisfied that the plans are robust. Then, of course, all local authorities will be expected to deliver on those plans.
 
14:08
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, a proposal has been approved in Wrexham that includes no targets and no provision to meet demand. There will be a growth of some 50% within the secondary sector over the next three or four years, and you have said that there is a review, or some kind of inspection, being carried out at present. I understand that the Minister is to respond by mid February. What will happen if those plans demonstrate that there isn’t sufficient planning by local authorities? What will you do, as a Government?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
‘Go back and do it again’, would be the reply. It’s extremely important that the plans are robust and strong, and if any plan doesn’t come up to the standards that we expect of the local authorities, then that plan will not be approved. Without speaking specifically about any particular plan, that is the general situation and the general principles that we will adopt.
 
Support for Ex-forces Personnel
 
14:09
Mark IsherwoodBiography
9. What support does the Welsh Government provide to ex-forces personnel? OAQ(4)2103(FM)
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are committed to ensuring our ex-forces personnel are supported and not disadvantaged due to their service. The range of support and services available is detailed in our package of support for the armed forces community in Wales.
 
14:10
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you. Well, Welsh Government guidance only calls for local authorities to disregard the first £10 of a war pension payment when deciding how much injured veterans should pay for their social care, placing certain veterans at a disadvantage due to the timing of their injury, where those injured prior to 5 April 2005 only have the first £10 of their compensation protected, but those injured after 5 April 2005 are able to keep their compensation in its entirety. Last week, the finance and business Minister stated that it was unclear to her whose responsibility this would be, in terms of Welsh Government powers, local government and the UK Government, but this does result from Welsh Government guidance and two local authorities in Wales at least are treating people fairly. What action will you therefore take as First Minister to ensure that this discrepancy is looked at as a matter of urgency?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I think the Member raises an important issue. It deserves a full answer, and I will write to him with a full answer to his concerns.
 
14:11
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Young men and women who join the army and the military have suffered because of the enthusiasm of Westminster Governments to go to war, including the illegal Iraq war, of course. We’ve seen the loss of life, terrible disabilities and, of course, mental illnesses amongst former members of the military. Have you any data as a Government as regards the percentage of people suffering from mental health problems in Wales who are ex-military?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I don’t have those figures to hand, but I will write to the Member with that figure if it is available. But, of course, we are proud of what we provide—the services that we provide—to those who do have mental health issues. And, of course, what we do is work with the organisations representing veterans in order to ensure that those services are available. For example, there is a therapist available for those who have been in the military or the armed forces in all health boards in Wales, and that is the only national service for veterans in the nations of the UK.
 
Volunteering
 
14:12
Jeff CuthbertBiography
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of volunteering in Wales? OAQ(4)2108(FM)
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we greatly value those who freely contribute their time and expertise to help others. It’s an important expression of citizenship—volunteering. Our new third sector scheme renews our commitment to support volunteers, and this year we’ve provided over £3 million to demonstrate this through volunteering grants and funding for volunteer centres.
 
14:12
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. In a few weeks, we will be celebrating our own national St David’s Day awards. Meanwhile, in my constituency, the Aber Valley Heritage Group put in a tremendous amount of fundraising and hard work to ensure that the Welsh national mining memorial in Senghenydd was opened in time for the centenary of the 1913 Universal colliery disaster, and I know that you attended. Meanwhile, the volunteers of the Caerphilly Miners Centre for the Community have done an exemplary job raising funds to preserve and convert the town’s former general hospital into a multi-use facility for local people, and the Welsh Government supported both projects. So, First Minister, do you agree with me that these are just two examples of the excellent and committed work done by selfless volunteers across Wales and that it’s important that their contribution is recognised?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I entirely agree that they’re two good examples that demonstrate the vital contribution that volunteers make to community life in Wales. They’re projects I’m familiar with, particularly the Welsh national mining memorial. We know that without that army of volunteers, there are many people who would not receive the help that they want; there are many community projects that would not be taken forward. There’s the example that the Member has given there of what robust volunteering and determined volunteering can achieve.
 
Disadvantaged Learners
 
14:14
Peter BlackBiography
11. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is raising educational standards for disadvantaged learners? OAQ(4)2101(FM)
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We’re committed to ensuring that all children in Wales reach their full educational potential. Children who are disadvantaged often require additional support, and of course we have strategies in place to do just that—the pupil deprivation grant being one of them.
 
14:14
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You’ll know, of course, that as local authorities are setting their budgets, a number of them are aiming to cut the amount of money available to schools. Can you confirm therefore that your commitment to increase funding for education in schools by 1% above the block grant remains and will be delivered next year, and also that local authorities will not be able to hide behind the pupil deprivation grant in delivering that commitment?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. The pupil deprivation grant is extra. We expect the—. Or rather the pupil deprivation grant is something that we should look on as something that is on top of the money that we already provide for education. We also have to make sure, of course, that the 1% increase, which we have already explained many, many times in this Chamber, is taken through. If any local authority feels that it cannot do that, it will have to explain why.
 
14:15
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:15
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 2 is the business statement and announcement and I call the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:15
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Dirprwy Lywydd, I have one change to announce to this week’s business. There will be an additional statement on referral of the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court made by the Counsel General, following the business statement.
 
Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:16
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
With your indulgence, Deputy Presiding Officer, could I just inform the Assembly of the rugby result on Friday? The Assembly beat the House of Commons 33-12. The Member for Anglesey joined me on the field, but we’re always open to taking other Members to play, as well, we are. So, I hope very much that other Members will consider it, and the Counsel General looks as if he would be a good prop.
 
Leader of the house, is it possible to have a statement from you as to how the Government sets out its business? During First Minister’s questions again we have heard that there’s going to be a substantial announcement made by the Government on Thursday of this week in relation to smoking in cars. The Assembly goes into recess next week, it does, and there will be no opportunity for Assembly Members to question the Government on this particular issue. There does seem to be a pattern developing with the Government business in respect of the way that announcements are made on the Thursday and Government time not used on the Tuesday, so that Members can fulfil their role of asking oral questions here in the Chamber. That is our role. A written statement on these major announcements will not do. So, I’d be grateful for a statement from you, as business manager, to outline how you work to lay business here in the Assembly and the importance you attach to the level of scrutiny that Members are able to put on the Government via oral questions in this Chamber.
 
14:17
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, I would’ve thought that you would’ve been pleased to hear that an announcement was going to be made during this week of business by the Minister for Health and Social Services on a matter that, actually, has been well-aired, not just this afternoon in relation to First Minister’s questions, but, of course, over some time in relation to the full consultation that’s been carried out. So, you know, I think what people want to hear is the outcome, and, of course, the Minister will be making that announcement. I certainly feel that, in terms of our programme for government and the delivery of it, perfectly adequate and robust scrutiny at all times is available to this Assembly through both questions and, indeed, through committee and full consultation.
 
14:18
Ann JonesBiography
Business Minister, can I ask that you make time in Government time, after the recess, to allow the Minister for health, Mark Drakeford, to come to the Chamber and tell us what discussions he will have had with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board? Despite their very good promises to this Assembly that they have learnt the lessons previously and that they would not hide reports and they would make sure that papers were on the website for everyone to read, in fact, that wasn’t the case and a serious situation has arisen, whereby stakeholders such as myself and other Members were informed as late as 8 o’clock last night about what decision the health board would take today. It has serious consequences for many of my constituents and I’m not going to rehearse the campaign that I fought alongside Darren Millar in 2010, but, rest assured, I will be fighting.
 
14:19
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I thank Ann Jones for her question. Ann, as the Member for the Vale of Clwyd, of course, is clearly concerned on behalf of her constituents. Of course, this has been aired already in terms of questions to the First Minister, and, of course, as the First Minister has said in answer to questions today, we’re aware of ongoing concerns and pressures in obstetric services in north Wales, particularly in respect of reliance on locum and agency staff that are supporting vacancies across services. But it is the responsibility of our health boards and Betsi Cadwaladr to keep those services under constant review to ensure they’re safe and sustainable and they meet national standards and requirements. The Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board is meeting today to consider proposals to respond to these issues and focusing on ensuring that safe services are in place on behalf of the community that you represent.
 
14:20
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, I’m sure we’d all agree that school governors do an amazing job in making sure that the management of our schools is both accountable but also involves the involvement of the local community. However, it has brought to my attention that there are some governing bodies whose memberships are not listed on the school’s website and not on the relevant local authority’s website either. That makes it difficult, obviously, then for parents to find out who they are and to hold them appropriately to account. Could I, therefore, request a written statement from the Minister for Education and Skills outlining his expectations for the publication of school governing body details?
 
14:21
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Eluned Parrott for that question. Of course, there is clear guidance already in terms of responsibilities and expectations, as you rightly say, for parents and the community. I would be grateful if you could draw attention to where there are failures, because I know the Minister would want to address this. Of course, it is the responsibility of the local education authority to monitor this as well.
 
14:21
Julie MorganBiography
When can we have a statement or a debate about harnessing the talents of local community groups? On Saturday, a group of local artists came out onto the street in Whitchurch with cartoons and drawings that they’d produced in support of the local library. Although, obviously, the saving of the local libraries is a hugely important issue—and I hope it will be resolved satisfactory in Cardiff—this did give the opportunity for these groups to show the huge talents that they have. What could we do here in the Assembly to look at what we can do to encourage more of these types of groups to come forward?
 
14:22
Jane HuttBiography
It sounds as though, particularly in Cardiff North, there is a huge amount of talent of that kind, but I think that that would be reflected across the whole of Wales. It is those local community groups that are so important in terms of their engagement, particularly in consultations and concerns about delivery of local services. So, I think we very much welcome your examples today. We will be monitoring proposals for changes in terms of particularly library services but look at this as an opportunity, perhaps, for a debate about community engagement.
 
14:22
William GrahamBiography
Leader of the house, it is almost exactly a year since the untimely death of a young lady in my electoral region. May I ask whether the relevant Minister could bring forward a statement on whether toxic shock syndrome will be included in the curriculum for sex education?
 
14:23
Jane HuttBiography
I certainly will take that back to the education Minister.
 
14:23
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Minister, I commend the prompt response from the Minister for Health and Social Services to the Home Secretary’s announcement last week of a new statutory inquiry into historical child sex abuse. In a press release issued on Thursday, the Minister said that in his letter to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, he had:
 
‘reaffirmed in the strongest possible terms, the view of both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales that the appointment of panel members should include distinct representation from Wales.’
 
Bearing in mind that the calls for a specific Welsh voice on the erstwhile inquiry received all-party support from Members of this Assembly, will you ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to issue a statement to this Assembly detailing the response that he receives to his correspondence?
 
14:24
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Gwenda Thomas for that question and for her vigilance in taking this forward and acknowledgment, of course, that there is a new opportunity now in terms of the appointment of Justice Lowell Goddard, who has been appointed, of course, as the new chair of the inquiry. Of course, the Minister is committed to updating Assembly Members on the UK Government’s position in response to your call and the call that has been made by the health Minister, who, of course, met with Baroness Randerson earlier this month on this issue. Of course, it is quite clear that the objectives of the inquiry will be clarified and established, and the importance of the appointment of suitable people, with that Welsh representation, must be considered.
 
14:25
Antoinette SandbachBiography
Leader of the house, I call for two statements. Firstly, I echo the concerns raised by Ann Jones. I do think there are grounds for the Minister for health to make a statement. The First Minister, in his answers today, said he expected the new neonatal unit to be open by 2016. The board today, quite clearly and publicly, have stated that they don’t expect that to open until 2017 or 2018. The report that was placed in front of the board relating to obstetric care dated back to 2013 and is not, by any means, an up-to-date report and fails to take into account the subsequent report that was commissioned by the First Minister looking into neonatal care. It is quite clear that there are extensive roadworks on the A55 affecting access both to Ysbyty Gwynedd and to Wrexham Maelor that will have considerable knock-on effects on patients’ ability to access services. It is quite clear that the Glan Clwyd site was chosen because 17,500 of the most vulnerable women would have better access at Glan Clwyd to maternity and medical services there than at the other sites. So, I do think that, despite the fact that the First Minister answered questions on it today, there are further questions that need to be answered.
 
Secondly, could I call for a statement on the announcement by Donington Park that they have pulled out of the Circuit of Wales project, that they have not been paid by the Circuit of Wales to run the 2015 race that was promised and that this has put the entire 2015 MotoGP race in doubt and put any further developments in doubt? I do hope that the Minister for Natural Resources will be ensuring that there isn’t damage to this valuable and important environmental site whilst the uncertainty over this project remains.
 
14:27
Jane HuttBiography
I think both the comments and the questions raised by Antoinette Sandbach will be on the record today in terms of this business statement in relation to obstetric services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and, of course, the situation that has arisen in terms of the Circuit of Wales.
 
14:27
William PowellBiography
Leader of the house, further to my question to the First Minister last week regarding young farmers’ clubs funding, I understand that there were some fruitful initial discussions with senior Welsh Government officials and the leadership of the Wales YFC late last week. Would it be possible, please, for a statement to be brought forward at an early future time from the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food to apprise Assembly Members of progress in this important matter?
 
14:28
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I can assure the Member, William Powell, that we will, of course, come forward as a result of discussions that have been held to report on progress.
 
14:28
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, can I too echo the calls from Ann Jones and Antoinette Sandbach on the need for an urgent statement on the future of maternity services in north Wales? I think all Assembly Members in this Chamber have a sense of déjà vu in north Wales over the proposals that have been put forward with less than 24 hours’ notice to Assembly Members. There’s been a clear lack of engagement with key stakeholders and a lack of engagement with, even, members of staff in the hospital that is likely to be affected, and, of course, the Wales Audit Office, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and this Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee have been highly critical of the decision-making processes at the board, particularly in terms of hiding board papers and not releasing them up until the day that they are going to be discussed. So, I am frankly outraged that the health board is behaving like a dog returning to its vomit in respect of this proposal, and I want to see the Minister responsible for the national health service in Wales up in this Chamber on his feet taking questions about the Welsh Government’s endorsement, or otherwise, of the proposals that have been put forward.
 
Can I also ask, Minister, for a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport on the rail infrastructure in north Wales? The Welsh Government’s draft transport plan has many proposals for new stations on the rail network in south Wales, but very few in the north. My constituents in the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area, and the many people who visit that area each year, would receive massive benefits—both to the economy, and in terms of the sustainability agenda—from the reopening of a station in that locality, even if it were on a seasonal basis. I’d like the opportunity to ask the Minister about the rationale behind the exclusion of that from the draft transport plan.
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I would say, Darren Millar, that I think you might regret the comments that you’ve made this afternoon—regret the comments you’ve made this afternoon. It’s on your own head, of course, Darren Millar, that you make these comments, because this is a very serious issue for the people you represent. And I think it is very important that we await the decisions and actions that will be approved by the board today. The fact that this will not affect the long-term plans for the sub regional neonatal intensive care centre at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, and its support services, is very important. This is a serious issue, and we must allow and enable the health board to take responsibility, which is quite right, in terms of what you’re calling for today.
 
I would say, on your second point, of course, it is a draft national transport plan for Wales, and I’m sure you will give your views in response to the consultation.
 
14:31
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, I think, across this Chamber, there is need for the Welsh Government to take a lead as far as this decision today is concerned, given all the criticism with regard to governance at Betsi Cadwaladr. The report of the royal college last year made it clear that there was a failure for them to negotiate and discuss and consult with stakeholders, and with elected representatives, and for elected representatives to be told an afternoon, or evening, before the decision today regarding the way forward is not acceptable. Can I also suggest to you that, if you actually read the royal college report, the assurance given by the First Minister today doesn’t actually tally with recommendations within that report, which said that their recommendation was based on the current configuration of maternity services in north Wales? It’s all very well for the Government to absolve itself of responsibility, but the people of north Wales deserve better.
 
14:32
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I certainly thank Aled Roberts for his representations and concerns raised this afternoon, alongside all of those from Members serving and representing north Wales. This is the time and the opportunity that you have in business statement to raise these issues, as you did also with the First Minister this afternoon. It is quite clear that this is being kept under close scrutiny and monitoring, in terms of not just awaiting the actions of the health board, but also acknowledging—as the First Minister did—the severity of the situation, which, of course, was quite clear in the report from the royal colleges. But it does go back to the fact that it is the NHS organisations, the health boards, that do have that duty to ensure safe, high-quality services for their patients, and that they are, of course, then held to account in terms of the way they act to deliver those services.
 
14:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Point of order. Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
 
14:33
Yr Arglwydd / Lord Elis-ThomasBiography
Thank you, esteemed Deputy Presiding Officer. May I ask for your guidance? Is it appropriate for an Assembly Member to refer to a public body in Wales in the way that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was referred to by Darren Millar a little earlier?
 
14:34
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Last week, I did say that it’s not the position of the Chair to limit the pungency of debate. However, I will say this: I would never have myself used that phrase in a public place.
 
14:34
3. Statement on the Referral of the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 3 is a statement by the Counsel General on the referral of the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court. I call the Counsel General, Theodore Huckle.
 
14:34
Theodore HuckleThe Counsel General
Good afternoon, everyone. Firstly, perhaps I can just say: not a prop since the age of 11.
 
The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill was a private Member’s Bill, introduced into the National Assembly for Wales by Mick Antoniw, Assembly Member, on 3 December 2012. The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill was passed by the Assembly on 20 November 2013. On 11 December 2013, I published a written statement in the Assembly to announce my decision to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. I took the view that the Bill was within the legislative competence of this Assembly. I considered, however, that it was appropriate in this case to have the issue of the competence of this Bill clearly resolved before it came into force, given that bodies representing the insurance industry had consistently disputed the Assembly’s competence to pass this Bill. The alternative option of allowing the Bill to proceed to Royal Assent would have resulted in an inevitable challenge in potentially far more expensive court proceedings, perhaps when substantial amounts of money had been recouped under the Bill’s provisions.
 
Before the Supreme Court I argued strongly that the Bill was within the Assembly’s legislative competence. Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment. The court ruled that the Bill is outside the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales.
 
Whilst the court is unanimous in its conclusion, it was divided in its analysis of the extent of the Assembly’s legislative competence. Lord Mance delivers the majority judgment, with which Lord Neuberger and Lord Hodge agree. The Supreme Court ruled that the Bill falls outside the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly as it is not within section 108(4) or 108(5) of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Lord Mance further concludes that the Bill infringes Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is outside competence on that ground also.
 
Lord Thomas delivers a separate judgment with which Lady Hale agrees. Whilst Lord Thomas agrees that section 14 of the Bill—the retroactive provision providing for liability of insurers, which was the single provision I referred to the court—is outside competence, he/they support the primary submissions made about the legislative competence basis for the Bill, and the two justices in the minority of the court would not have found the Bill as a whole was outside competence.
 
Whilst I am disappointed, I of course accept the decision of the Supreme Court. The Government will give careful consideration to the judgment.
 
14:37
Mick AntoniwBiography
I thank the Counsel General for the statement, and, of course, just to confirm that when the original decision to refer was made, it was one I fully agreed with and it was right that there had to be that level of clarity.
 
It is undoubtedly a disappointment, not just to me, but I think to all those who have acted over the years, and represented and campaigned on the terrible industrial legacy of asbestos. It’s perhaps also equally disappointing that, certainly, the majority took such a narrow interpretation of fiscal powers and adopted such a narrow approach to the issues of retrospectivity, and that, ultimately, the whole of the Bill was outside competence.
 
It is also disappointing that, having had the stable door perhaps opened in respect of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014, the Supreme Court appears to be attempting to partly shut the door and confine, perhaps, the scope of action of the Welsh Government. The net effect of this, Counsel General, of course would appear to be that there is increasing confusion and uncertainty about precisely what we can and can’t do. From a simplistic point of view, people will say, ‘Well, why hasn’t the Assembly got the powers to be able to do something like this to help asbestos victims?’ If we haven’t got the powers, then certainly, we should have those powers, because they are the sort of thing that people do expect the Assembly to be able to do.
 
So the question I put to you in respect of your statement now, Counsel General, is this: in order to deal with the issue of complexity, uncertainty and confusion that may exist, what steps will the Welsh Government be taking in order to review the decision, but also to consider what options may be available with regard to the sort of powers the Assembly potentially does need in order to ensure that it can pass this type of legislation in the future, and to ensure that, as a legislature, we have that degree of clarity and certainty as to the sort of legislation that we can, and that we should be able to, pass?
 
14:39
Theodore Huckle
There is a limit to what I would wish, or thought would be appropriate for me, to say about some of the matters to which you advert. They operate mainly at the political sphere, it seems to me. Obviously, the Government will take careful stock of the judgment and its implications. Can I put it in this way, as I think the First Minister said in answer to the question earlier? This judgment lends support to those who say that there is lack of clarity in the settlement for Wales, as it currently stands, and there would be less lack of clarity—more clarity—in a reserved-powers model.
 
14:40
Darren MillarBiography
Can I ask the Counsel General, in terms of the process by which we have taken this forward, whether there might be an opportunity to, perhaps, have an earlier discussion about the competency of the National Assembly in some way, or get an earlier ruling, before we actually, as a legislature, go to the huge effort, and the Member in charge goes to a huge effort, of taking through a piece of legislation all the way through to its conclusion, in terms of the four-stage process that we have? I wonder, Counsel General—I appreciate that you would have formed a view on the competency of this piece of legislation at the outset, when the Bill was published, and I know also that the Presiding Officer would have taken advice on the competency of the National Assembly in relation to the Bill—if there’s some way of having some sort of discussion, a pre-emptive discussion, if you like, with the Supreme Court, or officials within the Supreme Court, to get an outsider’s independent view. Clearly, what the National Assembly does not want to do in the future is to expend significant resource looking at legislation that is subsequently kicked into the long grass as result of these sorts of rulings.
 
I've talked, obviously, in the past about my party’s support for the principles behind this Bill. Indeed, we’d like to see the principles extended to many other diseases—we’ve made that quite clear—but I do think that there is a flaw in our process that we couldn't identify the potential for what appears to be quite a clear legislative competency issue much earlier in the day, and that it took us this length of time to get a judgment on it. So, perhaps, you could just explain to us how you might be able to prevent the Assembly—I appreciate you give advice to the Government—or help to prevent, through working with the National Assembly, perhaps, these sorts of things happening again in the future?
 
14:42
Theodore Huckle
Can I firstly say, as a matter of historical accuracy, I first considered the competence issues arising from this Bill overall at the conclusion of the legislative process, as I was bound to under section 112 of the Act. However, that doesn't detract from the main point of the question.
 
There are significant difficulties in seeking a ruling, in principle, on what the legislature might legislate. Until that whole process of legislative introduction, scrutiny and passage has been completed, it is not clear what the Bill is going to look like at the end of that process, and I think it very unlikely that there is any scope to invite the Supreme Court, or any other authoritative body—and it's difficult to imagine what other authoritative body there could be—to give any kind of definitive ruling, because any such attempt would be couched with the sorts of caveats that lawyers are often criticised for, if I can put it that way.
 
Again, as a matter of historical record, I think precisely these issues were considered in America in the 1930s—and I'm grateful to the Minister for health for the book reference—in relation to the New Deal and it was said, ‘Why can't we go to the Supreme Court and get preliminary rulings?’ Well, when one goes down into the practicalities of it, it becomes very difficult to do that. To have a ruling, you have to have a clear proposition, and until the Assembly has gone through its processes to determine what its clear propositions are, it’s very difficult to ask somebody else to rule on what may be done at the end of that process.
 
14:44
Simon ThomasBiography
I’ve been consistently asking over a period of a year about the passage of this Bill, and it’s very disappointing to see that it has been found to be out of competence by the Supreme Court. Any situation where a Bill takes over a year for decisions to be made is a situation that reflects a deficient constitutional settlement, in my view, and it’s also deficient from the point of view of individual Members in this place. Each and every one of us wants to be in the same position as Mick Antoniw, and have the opportunity to bring a Bill forward and seek the Assembly’s support for such a Bill, so I sympathise with the Member for Pontypridd that this has now happened with a Bill that had garnered support on a cross-party basis in this place and support from Government, to all intents and purposes, also.
 
But it’s not clear to me, Counsel General, that the decision of the Supreme Court assists us a great deal in this argument about the reserved powers model or otherwise. The majority judgment of the three judges that you have referred to in the decision suggests to me that this Bill is outwith the competence of any reserved powers model settlement, never mind being outside the current settlement. The fact that one found the Bill to be in contravention of the convention on human rights adds to my concern in that regard. Have you, therefore, as a Government had an opportunity yet to come to any decision or stance on the majority judgement within the Supreme Court on its risk to the current constitutional settlement, because we have seen, as Mick Antoniw said, a couple of decisions going in favour of the Assembly, as it were, and we now have this decision? Do you believe that there is any way of re-introducing a Bill such as this one, if we have a reserved powers model after the next general election?
 
The third point I want to question you on—and I admit that this perhaps is not a question for you but a question for the Assembly as a whole, but this is the only chance I’ll have to raise the issue: this is a private Bill; a Bill that received the support of Government and many members of many parties, it was given sufferance by Government, and it aimed to deal with important public objectives. Would it be possible, therefore, as an Assembly, and you as Counsel General, to look again at the process for private Bills, and to look at how we approve competence for these Bills? As you have just mentioned, the Presiding Officer states at the beginning of the process that a Bill is within competence or otherwise, but you decide only at the end of the process, as a Government, as to whether you believe that the Bill is within competence and whether you are then to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. Whilst I accept entirely what you said to Darren Millar about the process in the Supreme Court, it appears to me that there is a means for us to improve the way we deal with these Bills, taking advantage of the skills and experience that the Government has in these areas.
 
My final point is a specific question on section 14 of the Bill, which is the section that you referred specifically to the Supreme Court. If the minority decision had been the majority decision in relation to section 14, my understanding is that the Bill could be re-introduced and reconsidered without the section that the Supreme Court found to be deficient, and then we perhaps could have progressed with a slightly different Bill and could have been content with it. The fact that the majority found that the whole of the Bill was outside competence, although I accept that you didn’t refer the whole Bill in that context, leaves us in a difficult position. If this were a Government Bill, the Government could perhaps reconsider and re-introduce the Bill in a different form. So, what are the steps available to a private Member, in your view, so that the Assembly, in one way or another, can implement the legislative will of the entire Assembly?
 
14:48
Theodore Huckle
First, and briefly if I may, in relation to the delay, I think I’ve dealt with this on a couple of occasions before. There are particular aspects of this Bill and the history that gave rise to a delay beyond that which we had previously experienced, and which we anticipated, to do with the linkage the Supreme Court made between the discussions and deliberations in relation to this reference and the previous reference. I think it would be fair to say also that Members will know that there was an additional procedure in this case where further submissions were admitted by the Supreme Court. That was the first time that had been done, as far as I know, and all of that perhaps indicates that, whilst the issues raised by this Bill may in some ways be characterised as fairly straightforward, in fact, legally, they were extremely complex. The demonstration of that is a majority judgment in the Supreme Court that this Supreme Court has striven to avoid. Most of the judgments it gives are unanimous judgments. That’s the delay point. I don’t think I can deal with that any further.
 
On the position of private Members’ Bills, again, I have made my position, I hope, reasonably clear on that. Private Members’ Bills are a necessary part of the democratic process, and I don’t think anybody dissents from that proposition. They do give rise to difficulties of some kinds, and this is just one of them. The private Member has to have the ability to consider and formulate provisions in a way that meets the competency tests. This wasn’t a Government Bill. Quite a lot of assistance was given, but by the time the assistance was given, the—if I can put it this way—policy drivers for the Bill had already been determined. I make no criticism of that, but it is part of the process of legislating in the Assembly that causes complexity—shall I use that word—and it’s something that, I’m sure, ongoing review of the processes of the Assembly will take into account, but it’s certainly not for me to suggest how the difficulties that may be created ought to be overcome.
 
Can I say a limited amount about the minority judgment? It’s very tempting to rely on a minority judgment; I’m afraid that’s not the judgment of the Supreme Court. But, you asked whether, had the minority judgment been the majority judgment—. I won’t repeat the story of Lord Oaksey’s pig, which was told to me when I was a law student, about how a House of Lords case went one way 3-2, and if Lord Oaksey’s pig had been okay and he hadn’t had to look after it for the day, it might well have gone the other way. We could be in that situation, let’s put it that way. Composition of panels is something that a lawyer can’t complain about, but, had the minority judgment been the majority judgment, the result would have been very different, I think, because the minority did not consider that the Bill as a whole was incompetent, did not consider, actually, that even the imposition of the liability on the insurer under section 14 was irremediably incompetent, and considered that, had the provisions included restriction of the recovery from the insurer to what the insurer would be liable to pay under the terms of its policy—so, included things like excesses, and so on—that they would have been prepared to uphold that provision as it stood.
 
You’re right, of course, that had the minority judgment, even on the basis it was given, been the majority judgment, the rest of the Bill could have been left standing and the process would have required reconsideration by the Assembly. That, of course, itself was not the policy basis of the Bill as a whole, for practical reasons. What steps can a private Member—Mr Antoniw or another private Member—take to reintroduce the Bill? We’re back to square one, I’m afraid, probably. I don’t give any definitive advice on this to anyone at this stage, certainly not to the Assembly, but it would appear to be relatively difficult to resurrect this Bill.
 
I will add as a rider that—and this goes back to the question that Darren Millar was asking me about getting prior approval of some kind—in this judgment, it was firstly the view of the majority, or not disputed anyway in the view of the majority, that had the mechanism for recovery as we put it—and, by the way, that concept wasn’t accepted by the majority at all in terms of what was being done; they saw it simply as setting up charges—been the conventional tort law recovery, which is that you impose a charge on the patient and then the patient reclaims it from the wrongdoer, the tortfeasor, the employer, then that would firstly have not been in breach of competence in relation to the Bill as a whole, and secondly it was conceded on behalf of the insurer that that all would have operated under the normal terms of their pre-existing insurance policies and that also would not have been in breach of article 1 of protocol 1. But, as Lord Mance made very clear on a number of occasions, it was not the role of the Supreme Court to rule on what the Assembly might have done, but rather what it did do.
 
Now, of course, all of that was in the mix in the consideration of the Bill going through the Assembly, and policy reasons were given and policy decisions were taken as to why it would not be appropriate to use that mechanism. I hate to say this, but it is what it is.
 
14:55
Aled RobertsBiography
I think that a number of us are disappointed with yesterday’s judgment and disappointed for Mick Antoniw, but, more than that, disappointed for those who have suffered and for their families. I believe that the natural response was that we are moving towards a reserved powers model, as Simon Thomas said, but, of course, there are parts of the judgment that make it perfectly clear that this is not just a constitutional issue between this place and Westminster, but one that relates to the convention on human rights. Given what you have just said, which is that it is not possible for us to have any kind of prejudgment of the position—and you’ve made it clear that it is after the Bill is passed that you can see whether you are happy with the legislation—where in the process, therefore, can consideration be given to whether an Act, where there would be a level higher than Westminster even where we would encounter problems?
 
In thinking about what you have just said, which is that it is very difficult to see a way forward with this particular Bill, and given that your statement closes by saying that the Government will give careful consideration to the judgment, what will that consideration entail and what is the timetable for that?
 
14:56
Theodore Huckle
To deal with the last point first, there’s no timetable as such. Everyone who’s interested is poring over the judgement almost as we speak, if I can put it that way. Obviously, the analysis of the judgment and its comparison with previous judgments will inform consideration of other provisions that are brought forward.
 
As far as the possibility of, as it were, testing human rights issues, I’m afraid I think the same practical difficulties arise in relation to that, as to any other issue of competence. The human rights issues are part of the sub-issues that arise in relation to competence under section 108. So, I don’t see any basis for drawing a distinction. All of these are legal issues, and, as Members will know and as I have said in this Assembly, and as is again apparent from the 3-2 judgment in the Supreme Court, lawyers can take different views about the correct answer to those issues, and no doubt will always do so.
 
14:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Counsel General.
 
14:58
4. Statement: Introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 4 is a statement by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty on the introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill. I call the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
 
14:58
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Yesterday, I laid the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, together with the explanatory memorandum, before the National Assembly for Wales. This is a significant Bill. It is one of the largest Bills to be introduced during the life of the Assembly and will directly affect the lives of over 1 million people in Wales who rent their home. There have been many calls to reform this complex area of housing law, which has been likened to an impenetrable forest. The law applying to renting has become complicated for two reasons. Firstly, there are many separate pieces of legislation applying to renting, and, secondly, there is also a large amount of common law, some of which dates back to feudal times.
 
I know many Assembly Members have encountered the problems this causes their own constituents, whether they rent from local authorities, housing associations or private landlords. This is why the whole system needs reforming. In addition, there is considerable inequality and unfairness within the current arrangements. It cannot be right, for example, for a victim of domestic abuse to risk homelessness in order for the perpetrator to be evicted, or, where two or more people are renting a home under a joint contract, it cannot be right for one person to be able to end the contract for everyone, causing unintentional, or possibly intentional, homelessness for those remaining. There is also inconsistency and unfairness in the current arrangements for succeeding to a contract following the death of a tenant. Furthermore, it’s currently impossible for a 16 or 17-year-old to rent on the same basis as someone over 18. This Bill addresses these and many other problems.
 
Our proposals have a solid evidence base. They are based on recommendations from a five-year work programme undertaken by the Law Commission. We have worked closely with the Law Commission in developing our proposals, and I am grateful for its support. The commission’s original recommendations have been modified in some areas, though the overall approach is very similar. Reflecting the two main types of renting taking place—long-term renting in the social rented sector, and shorter-term renting, mainly in the private rented sector—the Bill is based around two types of contract.
 
The secure contract is very similar to the current secure tenancy and will be the default contract issued by ‘community landlords’, the term used for local authorities and registered social landlords in the Bill. This also means the secure contract will not include the equivalent of ground 8, under which housing association tenants can currently be evicted on a mandatory basis if rent arrears of more than eight weeks build up. Unfortunately, the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reform programme, in particular the bedroom tax, means arrears have been increasing. However, I do not accept housing association tenants should be subject to a mandatory rent arrears ground that does not apply currently to local authority tenants. Since ground 8 is used in very few cases, I also do not accept excluding from the secure contract need significantly affect the finances of those associations that currently use it.
 
The standard contract is similar to the current assured shorthold tenancy. It will be the default contract used by private landlords and also used by community landlords for introductory arrangements and other purposes. I am aware of some concern the standard contract will not include the so-called six-month moratorium, which currently limits a landlord’s ability to gain possession within the first six months of an assured shorthold tenancy. Private landlords tell us the moratorium makes them less likely to rent to individuals they see as higher risk, such as those on housing benefit or those who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. This is reducing the options for many and potentially driving them towards poorer housing and rogue landlords. Removing the moratorium will also encourage landlords to rent for the shorter-term periods people sometimes need, for example when moving to an area for work or education. Whilst I do recognise the concern of some, it is important this aspect of the Bill is carefully considered.
 
As well as making the law clearer and more consistent, we also want landlords and ‘contract-holders’, the term used for tenants and licensees in the Bill, to be clear on their rights and responsibilities. Currently, some private landlords do not issue written contracts at all, relying on a verbal contract instead. Others issue contracts including unfair or illegal terms. The Bill requires every landlord to issue a written statement of the contract, which must include all relevant rights and responsibilities.
 
One responsibility some landlords try to avoid is their duty to repair and maintain the property. The Bill requires this duty to be included in every contract. However, it goes further, requiring landlords to ensure the property is fit for human habitation. There are instances where landlords have evicted tenants who asked for repairs to be carried out. Such retaliatory evictions are unacceptable, and the Bill enables a court to refuse to grant possession in such cases.
 
However, balance is important. Tenants can sometimes be at fault, too, for example disappearing from the property whilst owing rent to the landlord. The Bill enables the landlord to repossess an abandoned property without needing a court order, enabling the property to be re-let more quickly, which is in everyone’s interests.
 
The Bill will also establish, for the first time, a legal framework for supported accommodation, which plays such an important role in housing vulnerable people.
 
This Bill will make a difference to people’s lives. It addresses, in a balanced way, long-standing problems experienced by those who rent their home, as well as by landlords. I commend it to the Chamber and look forward to participating in its scrutiny.
 
15:04
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Diolch. Thanks for your statement. We welcome inclusion in the renting homes Bill of what’s in fact been our call for a decade now: for a single tenure in social housing. I look forward to hearing evidence from social landlords about that.
 
When I was studying my housing law exams and looking at the Housing Act 1988, which introduced assured and assured shorthold tenancies, we learned that that legislation had been developed very much with mortgage lenders, on whom both registered social landlords and private landlords are dependent to raise their finance to provide rented housing. What discussions, therefore, have you had with the Council of Mortgage Lenders regarding their essential ability and agreement to provide funding on the proposed changes in this legislation?
 
Similarly, in terms of joint contracts, I applaud the objective, but am conscious that, in mortgage provision, lenders and courts will not automatically allow a joint borrower to continue in residence unless ability to pay is proven, in which case both borrowers—in this case, it would be tenants—are held to the contract. What consideration will you give to such circumstances where the party remaining may not be able to afford the tenancy on their own?
 
Landlords’ representatives have told me that they applaud the stated aims of the Law Commission to simplify the housing law regime, and are in favour of simplifying and standardising rental contracts, provided there’s sufficient ability to tailor to individual circumstances. So, what flexibility do you intend, for example for rural locations, where landlords may need to add particular requirements regarding garden maintenance or access to the property or parking or, for example for older properties, where there would also need to be carefully tailored contracts to adequately protect those assets? The Bill aims to simplify legislation, as we've heard, but when you add the key matters document, model contract, contract summary and easy-read guide together, the total page count, I'm told, is over 60. How is this simplifying what currently exists, or will you look again at how the delivery can actually meet the goal of simplicity?
 
Regarding the six-month moratorium, currently, as you know, a court can't issue a landlord with a possession order on the landlord’s no-fault ground within six months of a tenancy, and the Bill proposes to remove that bar to encourage more landlords to rent to individuals considered by landlords to be at high risk. Landlords have said that will help them provide more flexibility in providing housing for tenants, but Shelter have raised concerns that this will mean a more insecure form of private tenure, in fact the most insecure in western Europe, and Citizens Advice have said there’s a risk it could lead to an increase in evictions. Therefore, what broader consideration will you now give to the Communities and Culture Committee report at the end of the last Assembly on the private rented sector, which recognised the good practice established by three-sector working, to provide social letting agencies for the hardest to house tenants, which worked and kept people in housing and with support on a longer-term basis?
 
The Let Down in Wales campaign by private renters’ groups asked how tenants will be made aware of their right to complain and whether housing officers will ever inspect private properties aside from when the tenant has asked them to do so. Your explanatory memorandum talks about removing the reliance on local authority inspections, which of course are already very rare, and basing regulations on the housing health and safety rating system, as the Housing Act did, even though that’s very rarely enforced. Let Down in Wales’s report on fixing the private rented sector noted that, whilst most tenants feel their landlord is responsive, a minority find it very difficult to get their landlord to address urgent issues, and more than one in 10 tenants said, in the last year, they had not complained about conditions or challenged a rent increase because of fear of eviction. So, what consideration will you give to bringing in a framework to protect tenants and to give tenants a voice in such circumstances? You might refer to retaliatory eviction, but what assessment have you made of the Competition and Markets Authority guidance published last year for lettings professionals on consumer protection law, which said amongst other things that threatening a tenant with eviction to dissuade them from exercising rights that they have under a tenancy agreement or in law—if they want, for example, to make a complaint—is already a breach? So, that legislation technically does already exist. And of course consideration should be given similarly to concerns raised by Shelter that rogue landlords will simply go underground under the retaliatory proposals.
 
Finally, you refer to the fact that, rather than dealing with repairs that have been notified, a minority of landlords will evict a tenant, and Shelter advises clients may be making themselves vulnerable to eviction. You refer to, therefore, giving a court discretionary powers to make an order for possession in such circumstances, but, again, noting the call by tenants and by Let Down in Wales for either a housing ombudsman, as in England, or a housing tribunal, as in Scotland, to enable better information for tenants and giving rights to tenants in settling disputes, how will this Bill ensure that not only the needs of landlords but the rights of tenants are at the core of this? The current explanatory memorandum has failed to address these primary concerns.
 
15:10
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Mark Isherwood for a very long list of questions, which I will attempt to answer. In relation to your opening remarks about when you were studying, I think you mentioned the 1988 Act, and I think it’s really important that one of the main considerations of this Bill is that we do simplify things. I know it’s a very large Bill; I mean, you referred to that—one part of it being 60 pages—but I do think the outcome of the Bill, once it’s gone through its passage through the Assembly, is that it will simplify a very complex area of law.
 
You made reference to mortgage lenders, and I know that they were part of the White Paper that was published back in 2013, from which consultation we’ve now gone forward to bring forward this Bill. You referred to joint tenancies and joint contracts and what would happen if one person was left unable to continue to pay. I would say, obviously, that that remaining contract holder would obviously be liable for the whole of the rent. I think what the Bill requires is that a departing contract holder would give advance notice of his or her intention to withdraw from the contract, and that period will be set out in regulations, as we go forward. I would say it’d probably be about a month, but as I say, it will be part of the regulations. That would give the remaining contract holder the opportunity and the time either to find a replacement or to come forward with the difficulties that they were facing, so that they could be assessed by the landlord.
 
You referred to the question about rural landlords and the flexibility. Again, I think this is something that the Bill will be able to address as we go forward on it. I am very aware, as I said in my opening remarks, of the six-month moratorium, and I’ve met Shelter on a couple of occasions to discuss this. I do understand their concerns and I hope I’ve been able to reassure them.
 
The vast majority of landlords require initial fixed-term contracts of at least six to 12 months. So, the six-month moratorium is then irrelevant; it doesn’t apply. By removing the moratorium, I think it will give greater flexibility for landlords to be able to rent for less than six months for the reasons I stated in my opening remarks: if somebody wants to move to an area for education or work. I think, also, they may then be happy to look at people who they may have deemed to be high risk before. Certainly, in the discussions I’ve had leading up to the introduction of the Bill, I’ve met many people who’ve said that as soon as they mention they’re on housing benefit, private landlords aren’t interested. So, I hope that that would enable private rented sectors to look at people more favourably who they’d previously deemed as being high risk.
 
You talked about Shelter saying this would be the lowest security in Europe. I think we need to be very cautious about comparing Wales, or even the UK overall, with Europe. The size and the characteristics of the private rented sector vary very much between different countries, and, unlike most of Europe, the private rented sector in Wales is growing, and many countries don’t necessarily have a significant social rented sector, which, again, we have in Wales. I think there is a significant risk of unintended consequences if we base our change on the position in other countries without having a very thorough impact assessment.
 
You also asked whether the Bill would drive rogue landlords underground. This Bill will complement the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and that Act requires all private landlords to register, if they wish to manage their own properties themselves, they have to be licensed. Also, they have to abide by a code of practice. The housing Act deals with the practices of landlords. This Bill will deal with the core of the landlord-tenant relationship, improving the contractual arrangement, which, as you know, is the source of many problems. However, I think it is right: this Bill has to balance both the roles and the responsibilities of landlords and tenants.
 
15:15
Jenny RathboneBiography
Minister, I very much welcome the introduction of this Bill as the second suite of Bills following on from the housing Act and the compulsory registration of landlords. My constituency attracts a lot of the wrong sorts of landlords, unfortunately, because we have a large number of students, a large number of asylum seekers, as well as large numbers of vulnerable families.
 
I welcome the fact that the new standard contract will be what it says, a contract, as some landlords issue contracts and require people to sign up for contracts before the house is ready for occupation. They say, ‘You’re only being obliged to pay half rent’, but if it’s not ready for occupation, I can’t see how they have any justification for charging any rent. Many students fail to read the contract before they sign it and are not given the option to take it away and study the terms and conditions before they do so. Even when the contract promises all sorts of exemplary provisions, like getting structural repairs done properly, they don’t actually happen. So, I very much welcome the duty to include in every contract the duty to repair and maintain the property and to ensure that it is fit for human habitation. I’ve been chasing a landlord to get them to put a lock on the front door—a front door that actually closes, and a lock—and to get them to repair leaks that are coming from an upstairs flat, which are making life a misery for the people living downstairs. These are the sorts of basic things that I hope that this law will tackle, and I very much welcome it.
 
15:17
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Jenny Rathbone for her welcome of the Bill. I think the issue of contracts is absolutely at the heart of this Bill. You’re quite right to highlight difficulties that you’ve faced within your own constituency. The proposal to include the requirement of a landlord to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation will again ensure that we’re not faced with those sorts of situations where people are accepting the property before it is ready. The requirement for landlords to have to carry out repairs, again, that’s part of the retaliatory evictions, where we know people who have asked their landlords to carry out repairs, sometimes landlords have felt that it’s easier to evict a tenant rather than carry out those repairs. Again, that’s something that this Bill will ensure does not occur.
 
15:18
Jocelyn DaviesBiography
I very much welcome this statement today and the introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, which will, of course, transform the approach to renting in Wales and bring together that plethora of law in this area. I’m very pleased that the Law Commission’s work on this has resulted in the reforms that we see here now, including the creation of a single social housing tenancy. Minister, I wonder if you’ll tell us if you’ve considered rent control methods in the lead up to this Bill and, if so, why it doesn’t appear to be included.
 
I think you’d acknowledge that there’s been a great deal of change in the housing sector in the last few years, starting, of course, with the housing Act and now the renting homes Bill. So, this area of law has changed quite a lot. I think we ought to acknowledge the need to strike a balance between doing right by the tenant and also doing right by the industry, because, of course, the last thing we want is to drive away good landlords out of the sector. So, it will be important to listen to their concerns as we move forward with the Bill.
 
I very much welcome the provisions included that will simplify all the law surrounding tenancies, because I think having one piece of legislation will make everybody’s life easier. I’m particularly pleased about the changes on joint tenancies that you mentioned earlier.
 
I’m sure all of us in this Chamber have had cases of very poor standards in the private rented sector, because, as AMs, nobody ever sends for us to say, ‘Come and see my lovely kitchen’. It’s always the damp bathroom that we get to look at. So, I don’t think these proposals go far enough, just by giving landlords a legal duty to ensure there are no serious category 1 health and safety hazards, and I wonder if the Government would consider putting a duty on landlords to maintain their properties to a decent standard on the face of the Bill. Sadly, those in the private rented sector are at far greater risk of fire and electric shock caused by electrical appliances in their homes. I wonder if you would consider provisions to improve the electrical safety in all rented homes, in the same way as there are obligations about gas appliances, and if not, why not.
 
On reclaiming homes by the landlord, I mean, obviously, abandoned properties—it’s important that landlords are able to secure those as soon as possible—but I wonder if there’s some protection against accidental eviction. What’s going to be offered to tenants who are away for quite a legitimate reason? Perhaps they’ve been hospitalised, they’re briefly imprisoned or they’re away for another reason.
 
Along with the ending of ground 8, which you mentioned earlier, I am pleased to see that the Bill will take action to end the retaliatory evictions where tenants are often forced out. One method that’s sometimes used, of course, is pushing up the rent to an unaffordable level. So, how will you ensure that you cover all the bases so that unscrupulous landlords can’t find an equally effective method of forcing tenants out who should really be allowed to stay?
 
I know I’ve raised this with you before, but this is on the issue of withholding references. Sometimes, and I’m sure we’ve heard of cases where a tenant complains, perhaps to the local authority about repairs not being done, and they are asked to leave, but they are then refused a reference for a future landlord, and if you don’t have a reference, getting another property in the private rented sector is extremely difficult.
 
I very much support the enabling of young people between 16 and 18 to rent on equal terms to those over 18, and I’m also pleased to see the requirement for a written tenancy. Now, there is a mention of succession rights within the Bill. I’ve only just seen it, Minister, and I do apologise for not having read the entire thing overnight. I’m assuming that that will apply to the private rented sector, but you could correct me if I’m wrong there. Have you considered the position that private sector landlords could find themselves in, a difficult position, perhaps, with their mortgage lender, as they sometimes attaches conditions to who can rent a property, if the succession is automatic on the death of a tenant? I think, maybe, you could tell us that.
 
I wonder if you had considered ending discrimination of the sort that was mentioned earlier. Sometimes, you do see signs advertising properties that say, ‘No housing benefit claimants’. Would you take this opportunity? That’s not the only restriction, but it’s the only one that I think that I should put on the public record here in this Chamber. Perhaps you’d consider ending that discrimination in this Bill.
 
15:23
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Okay. I thank Jocelyn Davies for her questions. In relation to rent controls, I do recognise that rent control can look attractive initially, but I think previous experience shows that rent controls reduce the incentive for landlords to invest and can then lead to a reduction in quality housing. Those properties that are still subject to rent control under the Rent Act 1977 are often of the poorest quality, so I think such a proposal would require very careful consideration. Again, I think that could give possible unintended consequences to the supply of private rented properties.
 
I absolutely agree that it is about finding a balance between tenants and landlords. It’s not all about tenants, this Bill, and it’s not all about landlords. It’s absolutely about getting that balance. We have to say that the majority of landlords and tenants behave in a very good and appropriate manner.
 
It is a very large Bill and what we are doing is bringing all the Acts together in one very large Bill, as much as possible.
 
In relation to joint tenancies, I do think it’s absolutely right—. I mentioned in my opening remarks about a victim of domestic abuse. It’s wrong that, in some cases, you know, the whole family has to leave the property. This Bill will propose that the perpetrator leaves the tenancy, enabling the victim, and if there are children, to remain in the property. So, I think that is something that has been welcomed by people who I've spoken to in relation to the Bill.
 
In relation to your question about a decent home, the written statement of contract every landlord will be required to give to the contract holder will set out the landlord's obligation to repair and maintain the property. The new requirement to ensure the property is fit for human habitation will place a broader responsibility on the landlord than just carrying out repairs. I think that approach, when combined with the code of practice that landlords and agents will have to follow under the licensing scheme that the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 will bring in, will result in a significant improvement of standards generally in the private rented sector.
 
You asked about electrical safety testing. I think the safety of everyone in rented properties, whether it’s electrical or otherwise, is very important, so I do have some sympathy with this issue. My officials have already met with the Electrical Safety Council and, again, I think we’d need to consider such matters very carefully, to determine whether provision be included, whether in the Bill or by subordinate legislation.
 
In relation to abandonment, I think it's right there have to be safeguards in place. So, what we’re proposing is the landlord will be able to issue a notice stating the property is believed to have been abandoned, the landlord then has four weeks to make investigations, to be satisfied the property has been abandoned, after which a further notice ending the contract could be issued. If the contract holder reappeared within six months, he or she could make a claim to the court, stating that the landlord has not acted properly. If the court was satisfied that was the case, they could then reinstate the contract and order the landlord to provide suitable alternative accommodation, or make any other order that they would see fit. So, I think that's a very significant sanction, potentially, against a landlord who would seek to abuse the procedure. So, those safeguards are in place.
 
In relation to ground 8, as I said, it's about equality for me, and I think it's very unfair that housing association tenants have that ground 8. Again, if the eight weeks of arrears could be explained, the court can’t take that into consideration.
 
We've had a discussion about references and I think you raise a very good point. I think, again, it would need careful consideration, but it seems very unfair that a landlord could refuse to give someone a reference, therefore stopping them from getting a further tenancy. So, I think that’s something that we need to have a look at going forward.
 
I'm glad you welcome the requirement that 16 and 17-year-olds can rent. I think, sometimes, that age group is the most difficult, in some circumstances, for local authorities to house. So, I think it's right that we are proposing that they themselves are able to get their own tenancy, and also, again, in succession—you know, if a parent died—they would be able to succeed to the tenancy.
 
15:28
Mike HedgesBiography
I, again, welcome the Bill. From 1945 to 1980, we saw a reduction in privately rented accommodation and a huge growth in council housing and owner occupation. Since 1980, we've seen a growth in the private rented sector and housing associations and a severe decline in council accommodation.
 
The private rented sector exists in two distinct markets: the high-cost and high-quality rented properties, as seen in Swansea marina, and also low-cost and often poor-quality properties, which exist in a large part of my constituency. I have two questions for the Minister. I welcome the duty to repair and maintain properties. How will this be imposed and what will be done to ensure that properties are fit for human habitation prior to being rented out? I listened to your answer to Jocelyn Davies regarding electrical safety; if they're going to maintain the property, how can they know the property is well maintained without actually undertaking an electrical safety check?
 
The second question is: the Bill also includes the right of occupation for under 18s—I know that, previously, 16 and 17-year-olds have had to have a guarantor in order to either rent in the housing association, council, or private rented sector—how will any contract be enforced on people who are under 18?
 
15:30
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you for those two questions. As you said, at the moment, 16 and 17-year-olds are not able to rent on exactly the same basis as those aged 18 or over. What this Bill will address is—that will bring them up to the same as for anybody over the age of 18. It won’t change any other aspects of the law relating to young people; it’s just specifically to enable 16 and 17-year-olds to rent on the same basis as those aged 18 or over.
 
In relation to fitness for human habitation, it will be for the courts to decide that. I know there have been considerable discussions around the category 1 hazards, but we felt that would place an undue burden on local authorities.
 
15:31
Peter BlackBiography
I noticed, Minister, that, in your statement, you started off by saying that housing law may be an impenetrable forest, and then produced a Bill that most probably consumed the best part of a forest, which we’re very grateful to you for. Jocelyn Davies has already listed some of the good things in this Bill, and I very much welcome much of what is in here, particularly in relation to ground 8 and the clauses on retaliatory evictions, and, of course, standard contracts, which I think will make a huge difference, particularly in social housing, but also, of course, in private housing as well. The legislation on joint tenancies as well, I think, is very welcome, as are the laws of succession.
 
I’d be interested actually in how this Bill is going to be applied in respect of existing tenancies. Is it going to apply just to new tenancies, or will we be able to apply it retrospectively? That’ll be, I think, most probably a matter of discussion as it goes through committee.
 
I’ve got a number of issues I wanted to raise with you, Minister. The first one of which is, of course, the abolition of the six-month moratorium. I’m concerned about the impact of this on the new right for local authorities to discharge the homelessness duty through the private sector. I think there was already some concern around what security would be available to people who presented as homeless who would be rehoused in the private sector, and I think this will add to that concern. So, I’d be interested in what consideration you gave to that when you decided to proceed with this particular measure.
 
Also, the impact on security of tenants: I noticed that you’ve defended this by saying it provides flexibility. Flexibility, of course, hides a multitude of sins, and certainly was one of the many excuses used by Margaret Thatcher when she introduced a lot of the reforms in the housing sector. I feel that this particular clause is there for landlords, not for tenants, so I am concerned about it. But, of course, in England, your own party is proposing three-year tenancies, whereas you’re going in completely the opposite direction. So, who is right? Is the Welsh Government right, or is Ed Miliband right, on this particular aspect? It is in the best interests of both landlords and tenants to have long-term and reliable tenancies. Have you considered alternatives, such as, for example, a one-year tenancy with a probationary period, which might give flexibility to the landlords whilst at the same time giving better security to tenants?
 
The second issue I wanted to raise was in terms of tenants themselves. There’s a lot of technical stuff in here, but I think very little in terms of improving protection for tenants, other than, obviously, the legal contractual side, particularly in relation to giving them a right of redress when there are disputes. I think everybody who’s dealt with the private rented sector know of cases where tenants have had disputes with their landlords and have not been able to get the support to resolve those disputes. Given that this is not a statutory duty for local authorities and a lot of the private sector tenancy officers that local authorities used to employ are no longer there, what consideration have you given to providing better redress for tenants? For example, have you considered allowing the residential property tribunal to arbitrate in disputes in the same way they do in the Mobile Homes (Wales) Act 2013, which I brought forward, in that particular aspect?
 
Then, on the final aspect of this Bill that I wanted to raise at this point, page 32 of the explanatory memorandum lists the 29 criteria for unfitness for human habitation, and although carbon monoxide and electrical hazards are mentioned, there is nothing there about regular checks or even carbon-monoxide detectors. This has already been raised, of course, by both Jocelyn Davies and Mike Hedges. Will you look at amending the Bill to make these tests compulsory on a five-yearly basis? Will you also consider carbon-monoxide detectors as a compulsory aspect of making sure that properties are fit for habitation? You may know, Minister, because you were not the Minister at the time, that, when the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 came through committee, this was a very strong issue that was raised by a number of witnesses and by Members, and, at that time, we were given assurances that this may be addressed in the guidance that is going to be given under that Housing Act. Are you going to be raising that in that guidance or can this be done through this Act? Will something be done about these particular issues? Thank you.
 
15:35
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Peter Black for his comments. You’re quite right, I’m not surprised Jocelyn Davies didn’t have time to read the Bill overnight. It is a very large Bill, but it’s a very large Bill for a reason, and I’m sure Members will accept that. Your welcome remarks in relation to successions and joint tenancies and retaliatory evictions in ground 8 I’ve certainly noted. It will apply to new ones, but then it will be done in retrospect and we’ll come up with a time limit in respect of that as we take the Bill forward. Your concerns around the six-months moratorium: I do think it’s really important that I emphasise that local authorities, in discharging their duty to secure accommodation for applicants in priority need into the private rented sector, will still be required to provide a fixed-term contract of at least six months, so I hope that does reassure you in relation to that. I mentioned, in my answers to Mark Isherwood, the reasons why I thought it would provide more flexibility and certainly, it is, as I said, about getting the balance right for landlords and tenants, and maybe this part of it is more in favour of landlords, but there are other parts of the proposals that are more in favour of tenants.
 
On the basis that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I think that’s a balance that we will strike and ensure that—.One of the things I want to make absolutely clear from this Bill is the roles and the responsibilities of both the tenants and the landlords, which I think at the moment—. You know, written contracts vary so much. In the private rented sector, there are literally hundreds of contracts being used, and I think it’s really important that we have that continuity, that we’ll just have the two model contracts, and, when I launched the Bill yesterday at the citizens advice bureau in Wrexham, the staff and the volunteers in the bureau said that one of the things that would help them is that there will be the same terms used across all the contracts, so that, when people go to them for advice and information, they feel that they’ll be able to help them much more easily than at present.
 
You mentioned the three-year lease. What I’m proposing is that this is right for Wales, and this is right for Welsh circumstances. I am aware of what’s being looked at by the UK Labour Party in England, and certainly, after they come to power in May, if that’s what they bring forward, I’ll be very happy to have a look at it. I think it’s something that we would have to keep under review, and I’ll be very interested to see how that goes forward.
 
I know that you feel that you would like to see a probationary period followed by a minimum one or two-year contract. It’s something we’ve discussed and I think it’s really important to remember that the vast majority of landlords do issue initial fixed-term contracts of at least six or 12 months, and I think that landlords actually want to keep their tenants as long as possible. When you look at people leaving tenancies, I think it’s about 10% that’s actually down to the landlord—90% of the time, it is down to the tenant—but it’s something that we need to look at. I think we have to remember that Wales is part of a larger housing market, and I think it’s really important that we do all we can to assist the market to make sure that—. People are constantly looking to the private rented sector for their housing needs. It’s a growing sector; we think it may pass even the social housing sector in the not too distant future.
 
The Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) took the Chair at 15:39.
 
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Regarding disputes: dispute resolution in the Bill is through the courts, as at present, but I do recognise that alternative forms of dispute resolution and mediation could perhaps stop cases ending up in the court. I think it’s something that potentially could be agreed by a landlord and tenant, and perhaps we could add it to the contract. That’s certainly something that I’m very happy to look at.
 
In relation to your last question, about compulsory testing of electrical equipment—and you mentioned several other aspects, and the criteria of the 29 hazards—again, I’m very happy to look at this as we go forward. It’s not something I’ve considered putting in the Bill at this time, but, as we go through scrutiny, it’s something that certainly we can have a look at.
 
15:40
Sandy MewiesBiography
Some of these points have been made already, as I’m sure you imagine, but I feel that a couple of them are important enough to reiterate. It was in February 2011 that the Communities and Culture Committee, which I chaired, published a report on the private rented sector, and the Welsh Government took on board many of those recommendations, and they did appear in the recent Housing (Wales) Bill. This is a much, much wider Bill in many ways, as you’ve said already, and it’s addressing very varied and complex law that will cover housing associations, councils and private landlords. It is clear, I agree, that the law around renting needs to be simplified for both the sake of tenants and for landlords, but I would emphasise the point that you’ve made yourself, and many others have made—it has to be a balance. It has to be a balance of fairness between landlords and tenants, otherwise there will be an imbalance in the sector that will cause ongoing problems.
 
I certainly welcome the fact that, for example, domestic abusers can now be evicted without making the rest of the family homeless, and that landlords will have to provide a written agreement for tenants—something that the Communities and Culture Committee report called for. But when my committee took evidence in 2011, it was suggested that the private rented sector was often not the tenure of choice, simply because it did not offer security of tenure and accountability. While young people and migrants were happy with six and 12-month leases, evidence then suggested other tenants were concerned over what they saw as short-term leases, particularly those who wanted to stay in the area. So, again, you’re looking at those—you’ve mentioned these areas—but, again, it is about balance, isn’t it? I can see the need for further flexibility in the market for short-term renting, but I would not want it to result in increased evictions. You are aware of, as you said—and other people have raised—the concerns of Shelter and Citizens Advice over the proposals to end the so-called no-fault evictions in the first six months of tenancy. The reasons for the moratorium you have outlined, and outlined well, but I know that you met with Citizens Advice—I saw that happened yesterday—and I presume that you’ve met with Shelter. But I do hope that you will continue, because I heard something new there, I thought, in what you said. I’d have to check the Record to check that, but I hope you will continue with these very important parts of our—the voluntary sector supporting the housing sector. I do hope you will continue to talk to them about the way things are moving forward. I should say ‘third sector’ rather than ‘voluntary’.
 
Many people have mentioned the call by Electrical Safety First, and I am pleased again that you have said that you know about it, you are aware of it. Would it be much trouble for you, Minister, to respond to those who’ve raised this particular issue? Could you respond to say how, perhaps, you will be taking their issues forward, if this is possible?
 
15:43
Lesley GriffithsBiography
I thank Sandy Mewies for her comments and questions, and I’ll reiterate again that it’s very important that we get the balance right, both for tenants and landlords, and that both are very clear what their role, responsibility and rights are. The whole point of this Bill is to simplify things and make it fairer.
 
In relation to contracts, as I said, a written contract is not currently required as part of a tenancy or a licence, and, even when written contracts are issued, as I mentioned in my answer to Peter Black, even within the private rented sector—and I’m sure many Assembly Members are now part of the private rented sector—if you change properties, you get a completely different written contract, so it’s really important that we standardise those so that everybody understands, again, their rights and their responsibilities.
 
I think it is important that we have flexibility, but, like you, I certainly don’t want to see an increase in evictions. Certainly, when you meet people who tell you that they can’t get into the privately rented sector, or they see, as Jocelyn Davies said, ‘No DSS’. It’s very difficult for these people to get properties, or they end up in very poor-quality housing. So, this is why I think it’s really important that we help landlords as much as we can to, perhaps, offer a contract to somebody that they would have deemed high risk. I certainly have met with Shelter; the last time was just before we came into the Chamber at lunchtime today. I understand their concerns and I’m very happy to work with them and to listen to what they’re telling me. I have to say that Citizens Advice thought we were making the right decision regarding the sixth-month moratorium—the people I spoke to yesterday within Citizens Advice, that is.
 
As I mentioned, my officials have already met with the Electrical Safety Council, and we are looking at how we can work through what they’re suggesting, and certainly what Peter Black was mentioning also in the previous committee, which I think you chaired; you are right, many of those things are now in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, but this is about the rented sector, and we’ll certainly see what recommendations we can take forward from that report.
 
15:46
Joyce WatsonBiography
I think, to set the record straight, that it is the case that private landlords have never had it so good. There is a record low interest rate; there are record high rents, doubling in my area; record demand, which is driving that up; welfare cuts; repossessions; Right to Buy; and the sector has absolutely boomed in the last few years. But, it is also likely to continue to grow. And what this is about today is making sure that it does so in a sustainable way—sustainable for those landlords and sustainable for those tenants—and I hope that this Bill will achieve a balance between fairness, the rights and the duties of both sets of people. At the moment, landlords are in a considerable position of strength, and we can’t really pretend otherwise, but at the same time, what we must do, and I know that the intention of this Bill is to do it, is to encourage the majority of those very good landlords whilst at the same time weeding out the rogue landlords that do indeed abuse their power.
 
I won’t mention again, only in passing, the six-month moratorium; I think that you have addressed that in part. What I do want to mention, and welcome, is the Bill’s provision that will evict domestic abusers rather than those who have been abused. I really do welcome this, because it will save individuals from considerable misery. Very often, they lose their home, they will then lose their jobs and their children will also lose their right to be in the school that they are currently occupying. I know that we can’t do this in every case; I know that it will come with a real, serious look at whether that is safe in that instance, and I’d like some assurances that that will be done, Minister, and that all of the agencies involved in domestic abuse, whoever they are, are fully up to speed with these changes when they come in, so that they don’t give the wrong advice.
 
I would also like to ask a question about regulation and inspection. It’s all very well and good—and Peter did mention this early on—having rules and having regulations to make homes better for people, but if the inspection isn’t going to happen and if it doesn’t take place, I’m not sure that the tenants will realise what we are trying to afford them.
 
I am going to mention again, just for the record, the Electrical Safety Council. I’m going to do it because I represent a rural area. You will find mostly in rural areas that they are off-gas, so their main source of energy will be electricity. So, it is absolutely critical. I’m also going to mention carbon monoxide detectors. I moved into a flat and I had a boiler in my flat that was two years and one month old. It had been installed wrongly, and I felt ill and I guessed straight away what was going on, because I am aware. And I was right—it was condemned immediately when I called somebody out. I knew; there will be people out there who will not know.
 
The other question I want to ask, Minister, is on the other issue that happens very often in some places—the issue of overcrowding or hot-bedding for contract workers. Very often, on paper, you seem to have six people being let rooms; in fact, there are 12 people there. And in terms of shared housing, where there are no clear contracts, are we going to do something about that, because, increasingly, it is the case that for people to afford anything in the rented sector, they are being offered a room in a house and they are sharing that house and sharing the expense, but if one person moves out, everybody else has to move out, because there is no actual contract to allow those people who are left to afford their stay.
 
15:51
Lesley GriffithsBiography
Thank you, Joyce Watson, for those questions and comments. You are right; the private rented sector has increased hugely, and as I previously stated, we do think that it will pass the social housing sector for renting homes in the not-too-distant future, so it certainly is a growing business and part of the sector that is rapidly increasing. So, it is right; I’ll go back to what I said about getting the balance between the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords. The majority of landlords are good landlords, but we know we do have some rogue landlords and we do want to address the problems that can come forward. And I think one of the ways is by having that standard written contract, rather than, you know, the myriad of written contracts that we have at the moment, and sometimes no contracts at all—just a verbal contract—so how does a tenant know about their rights and responsibilities if they haven’t even got a contract in writing?
 
I very much welcome your comments regarding removing the perpetrator from a property. One of the things I’ve certainly come across in my own casework is where I’ve had a victim of domestic abuse who would not leave the abusive relationship because she did not want to leave the house. So, by this way, we can ensure that it’s the perpetrator that’s removed, and that the victim and—if there are any—children can stay in the home. I think that’s a very strong message that is coming out of the Bill, and something that’s been very much welcomed. It also complements the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill, I think, and it’s really important that those, where possible, can dovetail in relation to how agencies will know about the new Act, when it becomes an Act after its successful passage through the Assembly. That’s something that I will be able to take forward with the Minister for Public Services.
 
I hear what you’re saying about the Electrical Safety Council, and as I said, my officials have already met with them.
 
In relation to carbon monoxide detectors, I think that’s something we can certainly look at. I know that in my previous portfolio I worked, and I know that the Minister for Public Services is now working, with fire and rescue authorities on a piece of work that the fire and rescue authorities are doing. Whereas I think most houses now have smoke detectors, we were looking at putting carbon monoxide detectors in, because I think that is an area where people aren’t aware of the risks perhaps as much as they should be.
 
In relation to houses in multiple occupation, that’s not something that we’re looking at in the Bill at the current time, but a couple of things have been raised with me that I’m very happy to look at, and I will take on the points that the Member raised with me.
 
15:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:54
5. Statement: Tax Devolution in Wales—Consultation on a Land Transaction Tax
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move on to item 5, which is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on tax devolution in Wales—consultation on land transaction tax. I call on the Minister to make the statement.
 
15:54
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Diolch, Lywydd. I am pleased to launch today a consultation on a land transaction tax that will replace UK stamp duty land tax from April 2018—one of the first new Welsh taxes for 800 years. This is the second of three consultations that will inform the legislative programme for tax devolution, following the White Paper on the collection and management of devolved Welsh taxes, which I issued in September last year.
 
With the passage of the Wales Act 2014 in December, this Assembly has been given a range of important new fiscal powers to help manage our finances and to use as policy levers to help boost the economy of this country. It also gives significant new responsibilities to the people of Wales, which we must exercise carefully and responsibly. Balancing the need to maintain vital public services with the responsibility to manage our new taxation powers will be vital. I am determined to ensure that everyone in Wales has an opportunity to contribute to the debate—whether as an individual through the public consultations or through an advisory group or other forums that help to define and inform the choices open to us.
 
Alongside the implementation of the Wales Act powers, I am continuing to press for further financial reforms, in line with the motion agreed by all parties in this Chamber last October. Through the UK Government's St David's Day process, led by the Secretary of State for Wales, I am seeking a Barnett floor that will deliver fair funding for Wales, devolution of air passenger duty, a higher ceiling for borrowing and bond-issuing powers.
 
I have especially welcomed the devolution of stamp duty land tax via the Wales Act. In the aftermath of the Silk commission's report, which recommended that this tax should come to Wales, there has been widespread interest from those involved in the construction and sale of houses to meet housing need more effectively by replacing the UK tax with something better suited to the needs of Wales.
 
When I announced my principles for Welsh taxes, I highlighted the need to develop taxes that are fair to people, businesses, and which support growth and jobs, which in turn will help tackle poverty and sustain communities. In the development of my consultation document, I have actively sought the views of a wide range of stakeholders to help identify the key issues, to help inform the Welsh Government's analysis, and to help shape the range of solutions that we might pursue.
 
I would like to put on record my thanks to the members of my tax advisory group, tax forum, and technical experts group, who have all worked hard to ensure that the consultation document asks the questions that need to be tackled, and presents a range of solutions that are realistic and pract