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Full_English Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call Members to order. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: 1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on work to clear Holyhead port following storm Emma? OAQ51938 Lesley Griffiths AM: Diolch. The First Minister and I have both visited the port and marina and have seen the clean up work first-hand. Initial work was carried out to reduce the amount of diesel entering the water, booms have been deployed, and work is ongoing to clear the polystyrene spill. I again thank all those involved for their hard work. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: Thank you very much for that response. There are two parts to my question, I supposeóthe first looking back and the other looking forward. And, in looking back, I think there are some serious questions about the speed of the response to what happened in Holyhead. I asked a topical question five or six days after the event, and what you said was: 'Rydych yn dweud ei fod wedi cael effaith amgylcheddol ddifrifol...nid oes neb wedi gofyn cwestiynau i mi'n dweud nad oedd ein hymateb yn ddigon cyflym...Ceir grwp amgylchedd sefydlog gogledd Cymru, ac mae fy swyddogion yn aelodau ohono...os ydych yn dweud bod yna sefyllfa amgylcheddol ddifrifol...byddaf eisiau gwybod pam na fu cyfarfod.' Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: I think it's quite clear that there was, and remains, a grave environmental issue. So, perhaps you could update us on whether, on reflection, there was a missed opportunity to get in early to deal with the environmental impacts of what's happened. And what lessons have been learned, in terms of making sure that, if there's disagreement about who exactly should take over, Welsh Government can step in, or your relevant bodies? Secondly, looking forward, because that's crucial now, we do need assurances about what is happening. I've heard reports this morning of maritime people returning to Holyhead for the first time since the events and being shocked at what hasn't happened up to now. We need assurances on rebuilding the marina, on help for individuals and businesses that have been affected, and of course on the need to step up in terms of the environmental clean-up, of which there is a lot yet to do. Can you today give us those assurances, because this still is a desperate situation in Holyhead? Lesley Griffiths AM: Okay, thank you for those questions. And, as you are aware, I mentioned in my opening remarks to you that I visited the Thursday after the storm. And certainly, I think, Natural Resources Wales, all the agencies, came together very quickly, and the clean-up operation started very quickly. Of course, there's always lessons to be learned, but I don't think we could have done anything more quickly than we did. In relation to going forward, obviously marine safety, which includes safety within ports, is not devolved; it remains the responsibility of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. When I visited the marina, I mentioned that I will look at any financial support that I could give. Obviously, the first port of call for a lot of these placesópardon the punóis their insurance company, and certainly that seems to have happened. I met with the owner of the yacht shop in the marina. He certainly had some concerns, which I've passed on to my colleague Ken Skates. I've also been contactedó. Obviously, it's the local authority's responsibility to clean the beaches, and, again, I met with the local councillors and officers, and, again, was very happy that that work was being done. I've received representations from the Lobster Pot, which you're probably aware of, in Church Bay, asking what extra funding can be given. I've passed that on to my colleague Alun Davies. So, I think it's very important that, across Government, we come together to see what support we can give. And I've said I will give consideration to possible financial support for public infrastructure repair and environmental damage clean-up. Mark Isherwood AM: After storm Emma hit on 1 March, there were immediate warnings from the community that diesel, debris, polystyrene would get out to the open sea if urgent action wasn't taken, but the boomsóthe environmental boomsódidn't go in until the Sunday afternoon. And, despite warnings by the council, coastguard and police that people shouldn't take on board the clean-up themselves, from the day after, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Holyhead sailing club and members of the public started to clear away the debris because of that risk and because of the delay from statutory intervention. What lessons has the Welsh Government learned from this, so that, in future, better engagement with the community can occur, but also a more joined-up approach to responding quickly, before the damage, diesel and debris start leaking out from the harbour into the broader environment? Lesley Griffiths AM: As I mentioned in my earlier answer to Rhun ap Iorwerth, I think there was a quick response. I know that Members of the public were told not to go down there from a safety point of view. You'll be aware this storm lasted most of the weekend, and certainly, when I met with the owners of the port, and other people associated with the marina, they were still askingóthis was on the Thursday after the weekendófor members of the public not to go down there. They'd had a group of schoolchildren who wanted to come and help, and whilst of course we appreciate the offer of help, health and safety has to come first. Julie Morgan AM: 2. What plans does the Cabinet Secretary have to reduce the amount of plastic waste in Wales? OAQ51946 Hannah Blythyn AM: The latest data from the Waste and Resources Action Programme shows that Welsh local authoritiesí capture rate of plastic bottles for recycling from households in 2015 was 75 per cent, up from 55 per cent in 2009. We have commissioned consultants to conduct a study to examine the potential for extended producer responsibility schemes, which will include an analysis of deposit-return schemes. Julie Morgan AM: Thank you. Last week, I visited the World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour event here in the Senedd, and pledged to give up single-use plastic cutlery to help cut down on plastic wasteójust a small step. But, of course, one of the biggest plastic polluters are plastic bottles. So, would she agree that one of the ways forward is to push for a deposit-return scheme, and could she let us know about any progress towards that? Hannah Blythyn AM: Thank you very much to the Member for her question. I actually too have pledged the same pledge as her not to use plastic cutlery. I think, yes, absolutely, we know that plastics are a big issue. It's certainly something that's in the headlines a lot at the moment. As part of the extended producer responsibility study, this includes an analysis of the potential deposit-return schemes. And that will look at things in the round, in terms of how we build on our current rates, but also what else that we can do to tackle that problem that we know that exists in terms of beverage containers, plastic bottles and other materials that can be recycled but which are not being recycled as well as they could be at the moment. I've had the first final draft of the summary of that report, and I hope to be able to publish that as soon as is practicably possible. Andrew RT Davies AM: Minister, you only need to step outside this building and go over by the Norwegian Church to see a huge amount of plastic floating in the bay area. And whilst fine words are carried out in this Chamber, we all need to take corrective action to make sure we reduce our plastic usage and clean up our environment, But one thing that has gained prominence in recent weeks is the amount of plastic that is potentially in the food system. The Food Standards Agency, over which, obviously, the Welsh Government have oversight here in Wales, have a role to play in inspections and understanding whether this is a potential issue via the food chain. I'd be grateful to understand whether you've had any meetings with the Food Standards Agency in relation to this issue, and if you have had those discussions, what element of risk is conveyed by them to you of plastics entering the human food chain and being a potential risk to people? Hannah Blythyn AM: Thank you for your question. I think you're absolutely right, and as the Member Julie Morgan said, it's about those small steps that we can all take. And whether it's an individual, organisation, grass roots or Government, it's the way we go forward to tackle these issues. In terms of the potential problems of plastic within the food system, I understand that my colleague the Cabinet Secretary has had a meeting with the Food Standards Agency. So, perhaps if you'd like to write to her, she can fully appraise you of how that meeting went. David J Rowlands AM: Following on from the other participants, we understand the Welsh Government is considering a deposit-return scheme to cut down on the use of single-use drink containers. This, of course, follows on from the hugely successful charge placed on plastic bags. Can I urge the Government to make sure that any deposit-return charge is set at a level that will make the return scheme a viable option? I have the advantage, or the disadvantage, of remembering the deposit return on the old Corona bottles. So, it is worth noting that you received thruppence for each bottle returned. This, set against the cost of a full bottle of just 10p, meant that the return price was a little over a third of the cost of the full bottle. Would the Cabinet Secretary consider adopting this same type of differential? Hannah Blythyn AM: May I thank the Member for his question? I actually do remember the old Corona bottles, but you probably lost me a little bit on the thruppence. [Laughter.] Yes, in terms of the extended producer responsibility report and including the feasibility of DRS, we'll look at all those issues and evaluate them, and then we'll be able to produce a report and analyse those results, and actually take all aspects, such as those, into consideration in terms of beverage containers. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: We now move on to questions from party spokespeople to the Cabinet Secretary, and the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you, Llywydd. If I can remind you, Cabinet Secretary, some 18 months ago you started the consultation process on the nitrate vulnerable zones in Wales and the need to tackle that issue. Just before Christmas, you announced that you would be looking for voluntary collaboration to improve the environment around nitrates. Plaid Cymru supports that, because weíre of the view that we can attain a better standard by working with the best in the industry. But, in the meantime, of course, Caring for Welsh Rivers seem to have lost patience with this lengthy process and have said that they will be making a complaint to the European Commission on your performance in this area. What would your response be to the European Commission, and can you tell the Assembly what the timetable is now for putting in place the action required in this area, working together with the industry, not enforcing it on the industry? Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. Yes, you mentioned that I made a statement in December of last year, following the consultation we had on NVZs. I set up the Wales land management forum sub-group on agriculture pollution, which are looking at that for me. I've also met with the group recently too, and I'm expecting them to bring forward some recommendations to me by the end of March. It is absolutely vital that we fulfil our international and our legal obligations, and I've no intention of proceeding with an approach that didn't fulfil those requirements. The voluntary approach hasn't worked on its own. I didn't want to go to full legislation; I wanted to find a mix of both. However, it's incredibly disappointing that we are still seeing so much agricultural pollution of our rivers. Simon Thomas AM: Iím grateful for that explanation and Iím looking forward to some urgent action, therefore, and some recommendations being brought forward, and I agree with the Cabinet Secretary that the agricultural industry also needs to look at its own practices in terms of the release of slurry into some of our rivers. But what this issue highlights, of course, is that the European Commission, and European rules and regulations, are all important in how we manage our environment in Wales, and we now understand, certainly, how the Westminster Government is looking at retaining these powers unless we make amendments to the Bill in Westminster at the moment, or if the Bill that we are to discuss later today doesnít succeed. So, in areas such as fisheries, animal welfare, organic farming, pesticides, herbicides, these are all areas where Westminster is seeking to intervene and that would be appropriate for this Assembly. So, can you tell us, whatever the method that emerges in terms of dealing with thisóeither the Bill weíre discussing here this evening or the withdrawal Bill going through Westminsterówhether you could commit to retaining these European principles in Welsh legislation? And do you therefore believe that although you may not accept Plaid Cymruís amendment later this afternoon, you would accept the principles underpinning that amendment? Lesley Griffiths AM: Yes, absolutely. At the moment, we're still in the EU, so we're obliged to comply with those European directives. I would certainly commit to keeping at least the same standards, if not enhancing them. Simon Thomas AM: I'm grateful for that political commitment if we don't get the legislative one later on. Today you also announced your five core principles for the future of land and those who manage the land. This includes a new farm support scheme to replace the basic payment scheme. But, we all know that if the money that does get reallocated as we leave the EU is allocated to Wales in anything approaching the Barnett formula, rather than our own equal and equitable share of this money, that we will be at least 40 per cent worse off, and some parts of Wales significantly worse off than others. So, can you tell us what further assurances you're seeking from the UK Government regarding funding? We've talked about powers, but this is about the money. And are you in a position to give the assurances that you think that we will have that equitable share of the funding, notwithstanding any decisions that might be made about Bills here or in Westminster? Lesley Griffiths AM: Unfortunately, I can't give you any assurance around funding. They are ongoing conversations. I've got my next quadrilateral on Monday in London. Funding is a standing item, now, on the agenda; both myself and my Scottish counterpart have insisted upon that. I absolutely agree; we're completely opposed to any Barnettisation of that funding. But what we have committed to is making sure that that funding does go back into agriculture, up until 2022óthe same as other parts of the UK. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The Conservative spokesperson, David Melding. David Melding AM: Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, last week, you'll probably be aware that there was, I think, an unprecedented joint inquiry by four House of Commons committees, stating that poor air quality is now a national health emergency in the UK. Obviously, they're talking about all Governments; it's not just yours. They've called for a clean air Act. We know from our own Public Health Wales that air pollution is now considered to be a health crisis second only to smoking, and of more concern than obesity and alcohol. So, is it time now that in Wales we should have a clean air Act? Hannah Blythyn AM: Can I thank the Member for his question? He's absolutely right; this is one of the most important issues of our time, and tackling air quality, as I made clear prior to Christmas, is a top priority of mine within this role. You're aware of our commitment to consult on the clean air zone framework, and this will fit with the UK air quality plan. But the idea is that it will go out for consultation by the end of April, with a view for a document at the end of July. We are also committed to working across Government, particularlyó. Although this is viewed as an environmental issue, actually, like you say, it's a lot broader than that. It involves Public Health Wales. It affects our health and well-being. And a lot of the levers, actually, that we have within Wales to tackle air quality are cross-Governmentóso, that being transport, local authorities and health, of course. David Melding AM: I just wonder, Minister, if this piecemeal approach, even if it's well co-ordinated, is enough, and that's why I'm pushing you on a clean air Act. Can I just remind you that poor air quality contributes to 40,000 early deaths in the UKóin Wales, 1,300óand that the annual cost of all that at UK level is over £27 billion? Road transport is responsible for 80 per cent of roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, and these are highly prevalent in our urban areas. I've just had some information from the British Lung Foundation that, across my region, South Wales Central, there are around 3,230 average life years lost associated with particulate matter. In Cardiff alone, that would be 1,543 life years lost. The toll is massive, and a lot of this is down to traffic flow in our cities, the number of vehicles, and the lack of alternatives and sustainable means to get around that don't rely on motor traffic. So, I ask you again: is it not time that we have a clean air Act, and also have very structured strategies to deal with urban congestion? Hannah Blythyn AM: The Member highlights a very important point about the impact of transport, particularly in our urban areas. I think I noticed, just this week, that Cardiff council has announced a car-free day again in May this year, and I have met particularly with Cardiff council to discuss, actually, the clean air zone for Cardiff, and how we can tackle congestion as part of that. It's also why I'm working very closely with my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport about how we deal with the pressures of emissions and air quality in terms of our trunk roads. We are committed to taking a cross-Government, structured approach to tackling this issue, and air quality is a key priority in the Welsh Government's national strategy, 'Prosperity for All'. David Melding AM: Again, I'm going to push you. I think car-free days are wonderful. The first I ever experienced was about 20 years ago when I was in Brussels, and I was wandering around thinkingó[Interruption.] Well, no, I don't share some of the phobias that are present in certain parts of the Chamber. [Laughter.] But I remember feeling, 'What's strange? What's unusual' and then I thought, 'Gosh, I can hear children playing.' That's what I could hear, because there was no traffic noise. But these are one-offs, aren't they? What we need is a much more ambitious strategy. A recent study found that, if the average speed of urban traffic fell by just 4 kph from, say, 16 kph to 12 kph, there's a 10 per cent increase in pollution in diesel cars and vans, and 25 per cent in buses and trucks. It is absolutely crucial that we reduce the amount of motor traffic and also improve its flows. I'm very sceptical of the initiatives that we occasionally see from the Welsh Government. I don't mind the car-free days in our cities, but the recent oneóto open bus lanes to heavy goods vehicles, so that that's a way of improving traffic flowódoes seem to me to miss the point. We need a strategy to get heavy lorries, at least in peak times, off our roads. There are other forms of delivering goods in city areas. You get that all around the continent nowóthe spoke and hub arrangements, with smaller vans taking in the goods into cities and not relying on these enormous articulated lorries. We need a more structured approach. We need an urban strategy so that we are clean-living places, and we need a clean air Act. When are we going to get it? Hannah Blythyn AM: Can I thank the Member again for his questions on this? You're absolutely right in terms of how car-free days are a positive, but they are just a small step in the direction that we want to go in, and what we actually need is a clear modal shift in terms of how we go about our daily lives, really, and how the infrastructure works. That's why it's so important that this is tackled across the Government. You did refer to Brussels. I wondered where you were going with that for a minute. But one of the things I did observe recently, when I was in Brussels, is how they use data and modern technology to tackle these issues too. Because I'm aware, in Brussels, that they have some kind of app that tells them if it's specificallyó. People can monitor the air quality and if it looks like it's going to be a specifically bad couple of days or period, I believe that there are now such initiatives as free public transport, I think. So, I think these are all options that do need to be considered and explored in full. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton. Neil Hamilton AM: Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Supermarkets are now gearing up for their annual promotion of lamb at Easter time, and it's a great opportunity, obviously, for lamb producers in Wales. I was disturbed to read, in the online version of Farmers Weekly this morning, that some retailers are claiming that British lamb is out of season at Easter. This has been, of course, hotly denied by the National Sheep Association, who say that British lamb can be sourced at all times of the year. Can the Cabinet Secretary tell me what she is doing to ensure that all retailers are aware that Welsh lamb is available at all times of the year, and that they should buy it? Lesley Griffiths AM: Well, that issue has not been raised with me. I do meet supermarkets, and certainly my officials meet with supermarkets and other food outlets to make sure that they are very aware of the amazing Welsh produce that we have and when it's available for them to sell in their supermarkets. Neil Hamilton AM: Another interesting fact that I've picked up is that a YouGov poll commissioned by the National Farmers Union has found that only 18 per cent of the people of Wales had Welsh turkey on Christmas Day, and that only 29 per cent of people had Welsh potatoes. Obviously, there are great opportunities to take advantage of what we might call gaps in the market that have existed hitherto, and leaving the EU means that we have the opportunity to take up the space that might be left, depending on what sort of deal might or might not be done by the British Government in imported produce. Ireland has had a very successful branding project for its products, and I'm sure that Wales could be equally successful, although, of course, we don't want to create an autarchic economy that keeps out imports, and consumers must have a choiceóit's very important that that is one of the consequences of Brexit. Nevertheless, we must have greater emphasis than we've had in the past on creating a new Welsh brand for food. We know about the successes that Hybu Cig Cymru have had up to now, and I think that the Cabinet Secretary has made this one of her priorities, so I wonder, perhaps, if she could just expand a bit on what her plans are for the year ahead in this respect. Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. I was reading some statistics last week that said that over 50 per cent, now, of Welsh people would prefer to buy Welsh food and drink, and do so. So, again, I think we are making a big impact there. It's very important that, going forward, we ensure that peopleóand I think that Simon Thomas raised this yesterday in the legislation that we are taking throughóit's very important that food is badged as Welsh. On Monday, I met the Secretary of State for Wales and made it very clear to him that I didn't want to see Welsh produce consumed in British or any other labelling. I think it's very important that we have that specific Welsh labelling, because it does carry with it great kudos. It is one of our most important manufacturing sectors, and I think that what it does is connect agriculture with consumers right across Wales. It's an area where our profile is really growing. I think people are taking a much greater interest in what they eat and drink, where it comes from and how it's produced. I do think that we are ahead of the game right across the UK. I think you make a very important point about Hybu Cig Cymru. I've given them additional funding to make sure that they can run an enhanced export programme. As we come out of the EU, that is one of the opportunities that we need to look for. You'll be aware of several trade missions and trade development visits that are ongoing to make sure that we are out there selling Wales. Neil Hamilton AM: Finally, I'd like to revert to a question that Simon Thomas started with about the case that is being taken up against the Welsh Government by Afonydd in the European Commission, and the consultation on NVZs, which is still causing, with the uncertainty, great concern to farmers, and to reiterate my support for what Simon Thomas said about the success of schemes like the blue flag scheme in Pembrokeshire, where farmers have clubbed together to find what we might call micro solutions to this macro problem. I fully accept what the Cabinet Secretary said: that farmers have got to get their act together all over Wales on the question of nitrate pollution of soils and rivers. But the approach that I have consistently promotedóand I believe the Cabinet Secretary is receptive toóis of using the carrot approach rather than the stick approach, and certainly not having a kind of one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. I know that she can't, obviously, announce today the results of the consultation and the decisions that she's going to take in consequence of it, but I would just like her to reassure farmers yet again that she is aware of these concerns and that she will try to put together the most flexible scheme possible to take notice of the very different conditions that exist in different parts of Wales and on different kinds of land. Lesley Griffiths AM: Well, I think I did that in my statement in December. I don't accept that there is that huge amount of uncertainty among the agricultural sector. Certainly, when I spoke at the NFU conference in Birmingham, the national one last monthó. Following that, I met with the group, and some of the farmers in that blue flag scheme to which you referredóI had a presentation from them, and they form part of that group that is advising me. I absolutely agree about the carrot and not the stick. That was why I came forward with the way forward, if you like, around having some voluntary approach and the regulatory approach. The recommendations from that group I have asked for by the end of March. We will have a look at those recommendations and see what can be taken forward, but I reiterate what I said to Simon Thomas: I am concerned at the amount of agricultural pollution that we are still seeing. We've recently had six days of heavy snow in the last month, and I've had several e-mails sent to me, with photographs, about slurry being spread on top of the snow, et cetera. So, I think it is about workingó. I very much want to work with the sector in partnership. I think it would be much more successful than if we have regulations alone. However, it does need to be closely monitored. While I have now got the Minister for Environment, the environment is still in my portfolio, and it's about getting that balance right. Andrew RT Davies AM: 3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on improving the planning system in Wales? OAQ51919 Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. Building on the improvements to the planning system introduced through the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, I am currently consulting on a revised 'Planning Policy Wales' and undertaking preparatory work for the national development framework. I also look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Law Commission to simplify and consolidate planning legislation. Andrew RT Davies AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that answer. One of the things that has happened in other parts of the United Kindom via the planning system is a greater allowance under permitted development rights. One of the bottlenecks that I see in local authorities is just the sheer volume of applications that come before many local authorities and their inability to process them in a timely manner. This has huge economic repercussions, not just for the rural economy, but for the urban economy as well. Has the Cabinet Secretary or her officials made any assessment of relaxing some of the controls around permitted development rights that have been undertaken in other parts of the United Kingdom to help economic development and help get some of the applications that really shouldnít be in the planning system blocking up planning departments the length and breadth of Wales? Lesley Griffiths AM: It is something, certainly, that my officials have beenó. I think theyíve probably met with every planning official in each local authority across Wales to discuss this. We are generally concerned about the capacity of our planning departments across, not just local authorities, but obviously the three national parks too. So, I do think we have to look at everything we can to make it easier, because, as you say, itís really important for the economy. David Rees AM: Cabinet Secretary, the pre-planning application process allows many developers the opportunity to actually meet the local authority officers to ensure that they develop the application and to meet the needs of both the local authority and themselves. Now, I appreciate that the local authorities are very limited in their resources, and we often see it as a small number of staff. However, this therefore means that on many occasions, officers who are actually supporting the developers in that pre-application process are also making the recommendations on that application. Now, surely itís a conflict of interest, so whatís the Welsh Government doing to ensure that no such conflict can arise when planning officers make those suggestions to the applicants but also could be ending up making the recommendations, or decisions even, on applications? Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. Decisions on planning applications must be made, obviously, in accordance with the local development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Therefore, any pre-application advice has to be based on the authority's established policies and should provide consistency in advice given. Final decisions on applications are either taken by the planning committee or they're obviously signed off by senior officers. So, an oversight is achieved. Authorities should also have procedures in place to ensure that where an officer has a personal interest in an application, as you referred to, they do not determine that application. Michelle Brown AM: What consideration has the Cabinet Secretary given to the extent to which the planning system can be used to ensure that commercial developments come to fruition and deliver on the promises of work and economic benefits made before planning permission was given? Lesley Griffiths AM: Well, I think I answered that point in my original answer to the leader of the opposition. I think it's very important that our planning system is simplified and consolidated in a way that would help that to happen. I don't think it is at the moment, and that's why I'm undertaking the review of 'Planning Policy Wales', and, also, the Law Commission are looking at it for us too. Simon Thomas AM: I've recently been in correspondence with you on planning issues around a development that's very significant in the mid and west region at the moment, which is the expansion of poultry units. We've seen a lot of applications coming in for free-range poultry. It's a response to the market; it's a response, partly, to Brexit, I think. It's something about the industry preparing itself for the future. So, there's no problem with that, but the planning rules around these units do seem to be rather rooted in the past, because we haven't dealt with such a large number before. Natural Resources Wales say that they don't make any remarks around planning applications around these units if they are not intensive farming, but, in fact, free-range poultry can be as polluting, or potentially as polluting, as intensive poultry; it's the nature of the way the hens are kept, particularly when they're indoors. So, are you absolutely sure that the current planning regime for free-range and other poultry units is fit for purpose? Lesley Griffiths AM: You're absolutely right in saying that we are seeing an increase in the number of poultry units going through the planning system and are coming to fruition. And I do think it is about farmers diversifying and, certainly, I think Brexit is having an impact on this. This is an area that I've actually asked for some advice on, because there was one up in north-east Wales, actuallyónot in my constituencyówhere I received a significant amount of correspondence, just absolutely pointing out that it can be much more intensive than some types of agriculture. So, the short answer is 'No, I'm not', but I am looking for some advice around that to make sure that it is fit for purpose, and I'd be very happy to write to the Member once I've had that advice. Mike Hedges AM: 4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on efforts to tackle non-indigenous plant species in Wales? OAQ51922 Hannah Blythyn AM: The Welsh Government continues to work with partner organisations and the public to tackle the threats of invasive non-native species, which continue to have significant environmental, social and economic impacts in Wales. On Japanese knotweed, we have funded innovative trials with its natural psyllid predator and chemical treatment research. Mike Hedges AM: Can I thank the Minister for that response? We have problems with a number of non-native species, but in my part of the world, Japanese knotweed is far and away the most problematic. Can the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the trials that are taking place with the natural predatoróI note you avoided trying to pronounce its name as well; I'm doing the sameóand any progress with chemical treatments, because it really does cause a blight on houses, on areas, and makes houses unsaleable, and makes some of them dangerous? Hannah Blythyn AM: I thank the Member for his question. I know you've been vociferous in representing your constituents and communities in raising this area, and you're right, it does cast a blight on our buildings and on our local environment. I do notice I get the formal words for theseóit does take you a while to get your tongue round some of them. I'm learning quickly on that. You asked about the data in terms of the trial. Swansea University is currently analysing the data from their initial two-year chemical control trial, with the aim of producing technical advice to help tackle Japanese knotweed. I look forward to reading the final report, as I'm sure the Member will look forward to too. I can also confirm that the Welsh Government has provided additional funding for the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International to continue the psyllid project for 2017-18. Suzy Davies AM: The dreaded Japanese knotweed extends beyond Swansea East and into other parts of South Wales West, including areas around railway lines and areas that have been identified in the draft local development plan for quite extensive development. I'm wondering if you could commit today to speak to your Cabinet colleagues across the relevant portfolios to try and establish what the cost would be, particularly to the Swansea bay metro plans, such as they are, and to the plans under the LDP, should the knotweed blight not be controlled. I think there's some significant concern starting now, particularly around the railway lines, around potential plans for a metro, because getting rid of that stuff first has got to be dealt with before we can even think about expanding the rail network. Thank you. Hannah Blythyn AM: I thank the Member for that question. My understanding is that there have previously been issues around rail lines and the problem of Japanese knotweed, and I think you raise a really pressing and important point there with your question. I'm certainly very happy to liaise and speak to my Cabinet colleagues on actually making sure we are ahead of the issue on this, hopefully, in terms of how we tackle it going forward. Caroline Jones AM: Minister, the invasion of non-indigenous plant species, particularly Japanese knotweed, has been a real problem for my region. Residents in South Wales West have seen their properties devastated by knotweed, and I welcome the work being done by Swansea University and Natural Resources Wales to eliminate this invasive species. Last summer we saw the rise of another threat, giant hogweed, which poses a danger to public health. Cabinet Secretary, what is the Welsh Government planning to do to track and eliminate giant hogweed and raise awareness of the danger it poses to human health? Hannah Blythyn AM: I thank the Member for her question. Like Members, landowners and home owners alike, I'm concerned about the need to control non-native invasive species, not only in their growth, but in their spread. We know they're one of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide and cause significant socioeconomic damage. So, it's something that we take very seriously as a Government and we'll be taking it forward. I'll make sure that is considered in full as well. Jane Hutt AM: 5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the environmental impact assessment process applying to the Barry biomass incinerator? OAQ51932 Hannah Blythyn AM: Welsh Government issued a letter to the developer on 14 February stating that we are minded to direct that an environmental impact assessment is required. The developer has responded and we are currently considering the representations that have been made before taking a final decision. Jane Hutt AM: Thank you, Minister. Will you confirm that you will be following that through? You said you've had a response from the company. Because, obviously, the people of Barry want to know whether you will be instigating an environmental impact assessment on this latest planning application to the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Also, I do understand that EIAs are automatically required when a project is classed as a heavier industrial schedule 1 development, in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017, when a plant has a capacity exceeding 100 tonnes per day, including burning waste classified as non-hazardous, and it's anticipated that the Barry biomass incinerator will burn 200 tonnes a day. Can the Minister confirm that NRW will include the Barry biomass plant in the future generations commissioner's review of the environmental permitting process? Hannah Blythyn AM: I thank the Member for her continued questioning on this area, which I know is of concern to many of her constituents. Our letter to the developers sets out how we were minded to classify the project within the categories set out in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017. Following this response from the developer, we will be giving careful consideration to this screening decision regarding the planning application currently before the Vale of Glamorgan Council, ensuring that it is robust and takes into account the latest case law. You also mentioned in terms of NRW and future generations commissioneróNatural Resources Wales and the future generations commissioner met twice to explore and refine how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 can best be applied to the development of what are often complex and technical policy areas, such as environmental permitting. The review will look at historic cases, as to look at any current cases, as things stand, could prejudice the decision-making process. Gareth Bennett AM: Thanks, Minister, for your statement on the environmental impact and how it will be assessed. Could I just make an additional point that hopefully you'll look into or get the NRW to look into, which is that some residents have reported that there is a lot of noise and smoke outside of the agreed 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. testing window? So, could you investigate that those testing times are being adhered to? Thanks. Hannah Blythyn AM: Can I thank the Member for raising that? It is something that has been raised with me and with NRW. I understand that Natural Resources Wales have investigated complaints about dust from local residents, and I further understand that anotheró[Inaudible.]ópotential to cause dust. I understand NRW are issuing advice and guidance to a number of companies in the area to make sure all is being done to reduce potential emissions, but of course this is something that NRW will be expected to continue to monitor. David Melding AM: Can I support Jane Hutt's representations to you that we need an environmental impact assessment? That plea has also been made by the Tory-led Vale of Glamorgan Council. There's complete political unanimity on this. If you go down to Barry and talk to anyone, often the first thing they'll talk about is this incineration plant and its sheer scale. We need that assessment and we need NRW to monitor things now most closely, because, really, when the local democratic processes are overridden in the planning process, which of course has happened in this case, then people have to be reassured that the most effective, vigilant regulation takes place. Hannah Blythyn AM: The Member is absolutely right that people need to have that reassurance that effective, vigilant regulation is taking place. I know that Natural Resources Wales and the Vale of Glamorgan Council are working together to address the concerns of people in Barry, particularly, as we've heard already today, during the pre-commission work of the biomass facility. There's very little I can add to what I've already said in terms of where we are with the EI assessment, but we don't intend to set an arbitrary deadline for the final decision to be made, as the decision, as you can appreciate, requires careful and full consideration of all the issues. But I am very acutely aware of people's concerns. Si‚n Gwenllian AM: 6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to river management? OAQ51940 Hannah Blythyn AM: The river basin management plans, published in 2015, include detailed assessments of all Welsh rivers and measures that we are planning to take to improve their quality. Currently, 37 per cent of our rivers achieve good status under the water framework directive, and we aim to increase this to 42 per cent by 2021. Si‚n Gwenllian AM: Thank you very much. Many fishing organisations and anglers have raised concerns regarding changes that have been suggested by NRW to bye-laws in relation to salmon and sewin. According to anglers, the bye-laws are strict and anglers themselves have not had much input into the process. The Cabinet Secretary has stated that the proposals have been approved and have been introduced formally for her consideration. Unfortunately, the Cabinet Secretary has refused to hold a meeting with me and two other Assembly Members to discuss the concerns of anglers. So, may I ask you, therefore, today, as the Minister for Environment, if you would meet with us and if you would also postpone the process of introducing the bye-laws in order to discuss the concerns that the anglers have with them? Hannah Blythyn AM: Thank you for those questions. Hannah Blythyn AM: I think I might have to revert to English now. In terms of the NRW consultation on restrictions in terms of salmon rivers in Wales and the consultation in 2017, I heard what you said about writing to my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary. So, I will liaise with the Cabinet Secretary on the recommendations that we're awaiting, and then if the Member doesn't mind, I will respond in writing as soon as possible to you, to follow up on that.FootnoteLink Vikki Howells AM: 7. What are the Welsh Governmentís priorities for improving animal welfare in Wales? OAQ51925 Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. The Wales animal health and welfare framework implementation plan sets out the framework group and Welsh Government priorities for animal health and welfare. One of the strategic outcomes is: 'animals in Wales have a good quality of life'. I will be making a statement on animal welfare on 24 April. Vikki Howells AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. You will know that 80,000 puppies in the UK are sold through third-party sellers, with significant negative impacts on their health, welfare and behaviour. I'm sure you'll also be aware of the growing support for Lucy's law to ban third-party sales, including from animal charities like Friends of Animals Wales and its inspirational funder, my constituent, Eileen Jones. While the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are playing catch-up on the progress already made here in Wales regarding dog breeding, how can the Welsh Government respond to the Lucy's law campaign to make sure we stay ahead of the game on companion animal welfare? Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you for that question. I'm very happy to engage with your constituent who I know has founded the campaign. I think I've been asked to speak at the event that's going to be held here in the Senedd in the near future, and I'll be very happy to do that. We have already introduced a number of animal welfare issues well before England, and it is good to see DEFRA now following suit. I met with Lord Gardiner on Monday, who is the DEFRA Minister in relation to certain parts of animal welfare, and we had a very good discussion around some general issues. But I did note with interest their call for evidenceóDEFRA have just put out a call for evidenceóseeking views on the possible ban of third-party sales, and I'll certainly be very interested to see what comes from there and what we can learn here in Wales. Leanne Wood AM: 8. How is the Welsh Government responding to the spike in cases of Alabama rot disease? OAQ51937 Lesley Griffiths AM: Thank you. Alabama rot, which does not impact on public health, is not a notifiable or reportable disease. The control of the disease is not the responsibility of the Welsh Government. Concerned dog owners should consult their private vet, and we are monitoring developments as private veterinary investigations and research continues. Leanne Wood AM: One of the recent cases of Alabama rot, a fatal disease found in dogs, was reported at a veterinary practice in my constituency after walking in a woods near to my home town of Penygraig. A dog was taken to Tonypandy practice of Treforest Veterinary Clinic with the ulcers that are associated with Alabama rot, and the dog, like so many that get this disease, died. Given that scientists don't know what causes this disease, they don't know how to treat it, and many dog owners are worried about the disease and the spate of cases reported recently. Can you give any advice to those dog owners in the Rhondda and beyond about what they can do to minimise the risk of their pets catching Alabama rot? And can you confirm that the Government is actively engaged in combating this disease? Lesley Griffiths AM: I had a discussion with the chief veterinary officer around Alabama rot this morning. As I say, it's not the responsibility of the Welsh Government, but obviously we are very keen to learn from the research that is ongoing. It's considered to be a winter disease and it's associated with wet weather conditions, so I asked the question, 'Well, if we have a wet summer, will the same situation arise?' As you say, we haveówhether it's just more public awareness around this, but certainly there seems to have been a spike in the number of cases. The chief veterinary officer said that it can be caused more in wet marshy areas, and it's really important in the winter that, if you walk your dog in wet marshy areas, you dry them off after. I suppose that, in the summer, whilst we still could have wet conditions, probably the dog would dry itself off more. The disease has been assessed by the cross-Government risk assessment group. It's not transmissible to humans, which I think is really important to say, but I think we do need to ensure that we monitor developments, and we are doing that through private veterinary investigations and the research that's ongoing. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: And finally, question 9, Llyr Gruffydd. Llyr Gruffydd AM: 9. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the promotion of renewable energy? OAQ51941 Lesley Griffiths AM: Diolch. I have set stretching yet realistic targets for renewable energy. My aim is to decarbonise our energy system, while reducing long-term costs and bringing the economic benefits to the people of Wales. By the end of 2016, Wales generated 43 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable energy. Llyr Gruffydd AM: Thank you for your answer. It's three years now since France legislated that all new buildings in commercial zones should have green roofs, and that means either partially covered by plants, which helps insulate the building and helps retain rainwater and also promotes biodiversity, or, of course, solar panels. I'm wondering what your Government's ambitions are in that respect and whether you think, given that you say you have stretching targets, they could stretch as far as maybe trying to replicate this, particularly maybe in relation to new public buildings in Wales. Lesley Griffiths AM: I'd certainly be very happy to look at it. As you'll be aware, not all parts of energy are devolved to us. When I was in London on Monday, I met with Claire Perry, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's Minister of State, and we had some very interesting discussions about what more she can do to support us in our renewable energy desires, so, for instance, in relation to onshore and offshore. Obviously, it was very disappointing to see the feed-in tariff taken away, because I'm a passionate believer in solar panels. So, I'd be very happy to look at what you say about green roofs, certainly, and to see if we can bring anything forward in Wales. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I thank the Cabinet Secretary. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item, therefore, is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services. And the first question is from Leanne Wood. Leanne Wood AM: 1. How is the Welsh Government helping veterans return to civilian life? OAQ51936 Alun Davies AM: We have set out a range of services in our armed forces package of support, which clarifies our commitment to helping veterans settle back into communities across Wales. Leanne Wood AM: You'll be aware that some armed forces personnel struggle with adjusting to life outside the forces and some particularly struggle because of the traumatic events that they have witnessed. This might explain why a 2014 survey by the British Legion found that working-age veterans are twice as likely to be unemployed as their equivalents in the UK general population. More recent studies on the level of homelessness among UK veterans vary, but what we don't know is the proportion of veterans among the homeless population in Wales, because those figures don't exist. Cabinet Secretary, are you confident that local authorities are following the army covenant when it comes to veterans not being disadvantaged when it comes to housing? And will you also give an undertaking that your department will look into the issue of homelessness among veterans in Wales to see what the extent of the problem is and to consider what measures you can put in place to address those specific problems? Alun Davies AM: I agree with the Member for the Rhondda that there are a number of issues that potentially may face veterans as they leave the armed forces and return to civilian life. The Member may be aware that we are developing an employment pathway to deal with some of those issues and that we are working with local authorities to deal with issues around homelessness as well. I am absolutely confident that local authorities are doing all in their power to deliver on the commitments that they have made under the covenant, and we are certainly working with local government to ensure that that is delivered across the whole country. I'm aware of, and I agree with, the point she makes about information. I've corresponded with the UK Minister in this field before Christmas, and we are looking at how we develop a set of matrix to understand both the extent of veterans who may be homeless, but also to understand the pattern, if you like, of life following life in the armed forces for veterans across Wales. And that will inform not only the issues on how we deal with homelessness and employment, but a whole range of service provision for veterans. Mark Isherwood AM: As the Cabinet Secretary's aware, these are matters covered in the cross-party group on armed forces and cadets' report on the armed forces covenant in Wales, and I know that the group is looking forward to your formal response to that. One of the things it also covers is the call for core funding for third sector partners delivering peer-mentoring schemes. You'll be aware that the Change Step peer mentoring and advice service for military veterans and others with PTSD and a range of psychological problems who want to make positive changes in their lives, led by the charity CAIS, secured 12 months' funding from Help for Heroes to embed a peer mentor into each Welsh health board. How do you therefore respond to the need highlighted by Veterans' NHS Wales for core funding to keep the peer mentors in post as part of their core team, to mirror the Scottish veteran model? Alun Davies AM: I hope that we are supporting and providing sufficient funding to Veterans' NHS Wales. We are currently providing annual funding of £585,000, and you will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services has recently announced additional funding of £100,000 per annum to increase the capacity for veterans with mental health needs. So, I hope that we are providing for the needs that are currently being identified. The Member for North Wales refers to the cross-party group and the report that was published by the cross-party group before Christmas. I'd hoped to respond fully to that by the Easter recess; I haven't been able to do that, but I will be able to provide a full Welsh Government response to that report early in the new term. David Rees AM: Cabinet Secretary, just to pursue Leanne Wood's question a little bit further, because she highlighted in the question as to whether you think the councils were doing enough. But clearly, housing is an issue, not just when they come out of the forces, but perhaps some time afterwards when they fall into situations where they have great difficulties. Will you work with the housing Minister to ensure that RSLs also have a single point of contact for veterans, so they don't have to find themselves chasing different people across the spectrum to try and get that help, so they have a point of contact within RSLs who can help them with all the issues they have? Alun Davies AM: Absolutely. The housing Minister has obviously heard the question that you've asked and will be potentially able to write to you, giving you more information on this. But, certainly, we are aware of those issues. A person homeless on leaving the armed forces is in priority need under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and will be entitled to housing if homeless. We also understand that most local authorities also have a former member of the armed forces as an additional preference category. But what we do need to ensure is that it's not simply a safety net but a pathway in place that will provide for the needs of veterans leaving the services. And I hope we are doing that. One of the more exciting initiatives I've seen has been the co-ordination officers appointed by local authorities, who, working together, demonstrate how local authorities can deliver support to veterans in a more holistic way, rather than in a sector-by-sector way as we've done in the past. And I hope that the liaison and co-ordination officers in local government will be able to make a real difference to the experience of veterans leaving the armed forces. Andrew RT Davies AM: 2. What support is the Welsh Government providing to local government to improve services across Wales? OAQ51921 Alun Davies AM: Across all service areas, Welsh Government continues to provide significant support to local government. Andrew RT Davies AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that answer. Obviously, we've had a brutal two weeks when it comes to the weather over the lastówell, certainly the last two weeks that we've endured, but it's been a pretty wet and bleak winter as well. Road surfaces across my region in particularóbut I'm sure across the rest of Walesóhave suffered and broken up greatly, as was emphasised in press reports yesterday. Has the Cabinet Secretary had any discussions with local government leaders about what additional financing the Government may be able to make available to local government to alleviate some of the unique pressures that the heavy snowfall in particular has placed on their resources that could jeopardise the delivery of services going forward? Alun Davies AM: I think Members across the whole Chamber will want to join with me in thanking all the public service workers, both in local government and elsewhere, who worked so very hard to keep people safe over the last month, where we have had some very severe weather in different parts of the country. I think, right across the Chamber, we all owe those public service workers a great debt of gratitude. And I'm sure everybody will join me in thanking them for the work that they have done. I have not had a formal request from Welsh local government for additional support over the last month. I am meeting local government leaders on Friday, and I will certainly look very hard at how we can continue to provide support for Welsh local government, wherever that is needed. Dawn Bowden AM: Despite the obvious budgetary challenges that have just been talked aboutówe're now into our eighth or ninth year of austerityóI know that improving public services is something you feel as strongly about as I do. So, I was pleased to see the recent launches of Unison's residential care charter, which followed on from the launch of their ethical care charter last year. And both set out standards that the union believes should be applied to deliver improved social and residential care, including bringing outsourced services back in house. Would you agree, Cabinet Secretary, that local authorities adopting these charters would be a significant step forwards in delivering improvements in these particular local government services to help meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens? And would you further agree that we do need to find ways other than outsourcing to improve the efficiency and delivery of our services? Alun Davies AM: Absolutely. I was delighted, alongside the Member for Merthyr, to join Unison for conversations on this matter last week. I think the work that Unison is doing is absolutely groundbreaking in ensuring that we have a public service workforce that works alongside providers and employers to deliver the best possible standards of service for all people who require social care in Wales. The ethical care charter seeks to ensure that we do have a high-quality and sustainable social care sector, a respected and supported workforce, providing compassionate, dignified care across the whole range of services provided. I think everybody across the whole Chamber will join with me in welcoming the initiative from Unison, and I would certainly encourage all parts of local government to work with Unison, and other trade unions, of course, in order to deliver exactly those ambitions and that vision for social care. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Questions now from the party spokespeople. Janet Finch-Saunders. Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, you will be aware that Members across this Chamber have raised concerns about the current local government funding formula. Now, with regard to that, you said to me in January: 'I've heard many Conservative Members here arguing for a change in the formula. What I haven't heard is Conservative councillors arguing for that change in the formula.' But I have copies here of letters sent to your department from Monmouthshire County Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, writing after you took office on 3 November. Both are signed by Conservative councillors, and both state that their authorities wanted changes to the formula. In fact, the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, Councillor John Thomas, was calling for a full review, and he still does today. Cabinet Secretary, how will you address this clear vacuum of engagement with local authority leaders, and will you please apologise to those councils who wrote to your department about the funding formula for dismissing their concerns so casually? Alun Davies AM: I'm aware of the correspondence sheó[Interruption.] I'm aware of the correspondence she has, because I gave it to her. I'm also very aware of its contents. What I will say to the Member is that we work with local government to deliver a formula that local government wishes to use in order to distribute fairly our rate support grant to all local authorities in Wales. There is no, and has been no, proposal from local government to make significant and substantial changes to that formula. Clearly, the distribution sub-group will look at marginal changes to the formula through the year, and we've already published our work plan for the coming year. And I will continue to meet local government leaders and finance leaders in local government in order to discuss with them how they see the formula working and whether they see the need for a significant or a substantial change. But, to date, local government has not sought that significant and substantial change. Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Cabinet Secretary, you didn't give these to me, technically. I obtained these as a result of an FOI. Now, you stated yesterdayó[Interruption.] You stated yesterday that you had been talking to council leaders the length and breadth of Wales, yet the Welsh Local Government Association have said that your Green Paper has caused 'disquiet and confusion'. Further, the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council has noted that there was no meaningful discussion or engagement with councils as regards this. This is yet another example where you are saying one thing in this Chamber, but the reality is different. This casual approach of taking local authorities for granted, taking our voters for granted, and taking this Assembly for granted, will not cut it. There is demoralisation. There is fatigue. And there is growing frustration about your local government reform proposalsóthird in a line over the past two years. Now, do you not think, as the Cabinet Memberófairly new in post, I'll give you thatóthat you have a duty, you have a duty, to remove these obstacles, particularly given the pressures that your Welsh Labour Government has put our local authorities under, and to provide a clear, strategic, well-consulted on plan for local government, with full engagement and agreement from local authorities before bringing it to this Assembly? I think that that's the very least that those authorities deserve. Will you do that? Alun Davies AM: I have many conversations with local authority leaders of all political hues and none. And they all say very different things, in different ways, and express themselves differently. But not oneónot oneóincluding the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan, in fact, has said to me, 'I wish that weó' or 'We want you to deliver Conservative policies and the Conservative policies that are being delivered for local government in England.' Not one. What we've seen in England has been the dismembering of local government, the undermining of local government. We've seen funding in local government decrease by 12 per cent across England in real terms. In Wales, we've seen local funding increase by 4.4 per cent. The National Audit Office report on the capacity within local government in England, published earlier this month, was an indictment of policy in England, of Conservative policy for local government. What we are doing here is putting forward proposals to strengthen and empower local government. What we're seeing in England is the undermining of local government. And let me give you this undertaking, Presiding Officer: whatever proposals come out of the consultation I launched yesterday, what we will test all those proposals against is, 'Does this empower and strengthen local government?' And, if it does, we will move forward. We have a vision of a vigorous local government, an activist local government, a local government that works with Welsh Government in supporting them to deliver public services. We will never follow the Conservative route of undermining local government, underfunding local government, and undermining local authority leaders. Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Well, thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Could you perhaps tell me of one local authority leader that has backed these plans so far? Now, the WLGA have spoken of the recent Welsh Government's assurance that no reorganisation would occur for 10 years. Yesterday, your Green Paper proposals destroyed that stability, and, with it, the confidence, the morale and any ability to plan for the future for local authorities. Can I ask you a question as well? At what point was this raised with your Welsh Government Cabinet colleagues, and can you tell me today also whether you had the support for your proposals going forward from each and every single one of your Cabinet colleagues? Alun Davies AM: I come here to speak on behalf of Welsh Government, not to speak on behalf of myself, and the process that we launched yesterday was a Government process. It was a Government process. It was launched by the Welsh Government as a whole. But let me say this, let me say this: I asked all local government leaders before Christmas what their ambitions were for local government. I asked all local government leaders to send to me their suggestions for the powers, the freedoms, the flexibilities, the additional responsibilities that they wanted for local government. I asked them to outline what their vision was for local government. And, you know, the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan has been mentioned by the Member for north Wales, for Aberconwy, so, let's understand what the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan asked for: automatic cameras in car parks. That is the vision of the Conservatives for local government. It's not much of a vision; it's pretty thin stuff. Our vision for local governmentó[Interruption.] Our vision for local government is of empowered councils able to deliver strong and effective public services, protecting public service workers, protecting public services and delivering stronger councils in the future than we have today, devolving power from this across the whole of Wales. That is a vision that I believe garners support both here and across the whole country. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Bethan Sayed. Bethan Sayed AM: Well, follow that, isn't it? Clee Tomkinson Francis estate agents recently put out an ad in my region for a private rental, and I'm sure many have seen it, including the words, 'No pets' and 'No DSS' in the same sentence. I know that other people have been putting similar such adverts around on Facebook, but that's in their private capacity. Do you agree with me that that's something that's considered pretty discriminatory? You could imply that there's a comparison there between people and pets and how people are then discriminated against if they want to seek tenure in the private rented sector. Rebecca Evans AM: I thank you very much for raising this issue and I'm very keen to work with the private rented sector to break down the barriers that we see in terms of the private rented sector providing housing for people who are in receipt of benefits. But, even more than that, I want the private rented sector to play its role in housing people who are coming directly off the streets. And we are able to do that through our housing first approach, which is already seeing some people coming straight from the streets into the private rented sector. We're able to do that because Welsh Government's providing bonds, for example, which does take away the element of risk for the private rented sector in terms of providing housing to people who don't have a history of secure tenures. But I certainly don't want to see any discrimination operating in any part of the sector and I do share your deep concerns about people who, for reasons that are discriminatory, won't provide housing to people on benefits. Bethan Sayed AM: Thank you for that answer. Just to continue on this, I've raised the issue with the Residential Landlords Association and they've told me that it's often to do with insurance or mortgage, which is a policy put on them from the UK Government. My concern is that, with job insecurity as high as it is and with the private rented sector being the only option for many people, the discrimination against those on universal credit, for example, is just not feasible for them. For example, if someone loses a job or is in regular but temporary work and is required, from time to time, to restart a universal credit claim, is that person going to have trouble either renting a home in the first place or risk not having a tenancy renewed because of their work history? So, I wanted to ask you here today whether you'd commit to making representations to UK banks, insurance companies and the private rented sector to attempt to find a way to change this behaviour, and will you make representations to your counterpart in the UK Government to make it clear that the Welsh Government believes that these policies are ultimately unsustainable, discriminatory and unrealistic, even, in the current climate? Rebecca Evans AM: Thank you. I'll certainly be happy to take this up with my counterparts in the UK Government. I write, on a very frequent basis, to the UK Government expressing the Welsh Government's concerns over many aspects of the implementation of universal credit, not least the impact that it is having in terms of rent arrears and the increase that we're seeing across all tenure sectors as a result of the implementation of universal credit. One thing I am really keen on is that the UK Government takes a proactive approach in terms of offering people alternative payments, by which I mean payments direct to their landlords rather than to themselves, when they're first having their discussions with their work coaches. That's not right there in the template that is used at the moment, but we have had some really good discussions directly with the Department for Work and Pensions on a local basis to ensure that they are having meaningful conversations with people about their options in terms of having those payments. So, rather than saying, 'Would you like an alternative payment?' they're actually being told what that, practically, means for them, because an alternative payment is just a concept, really, if you're having a discussion without understanding the fullness of the options available to you. But, again, Welsh Government officials have strong working relationships with the private rented sector, the banks and insurance companies, and this is certainly something I'll ask my officials to have discussions about with them. Bethan Sayed AM: Okay. Thank you. Well, I'll look forward to having an update on that particular issue, because I think it's important because it sets the tone for how people in society treat one another as well. I think that's something that I'd be very keen to hear more about. Keeping to the private rented sector, solving the challenge of homelessness and housing security will require the private rented sector to play a role, and we've had quite a considerable discussion of late on housing first and the pilots that are being run at the moment, and the issue of ongoing support for those in the private rented sector. Would you be able to look at how you would work in these pilots at helping those who are in receipt of benefits in relation to housing first? For example, many people are capable of living independently and may be capable of work, but other personal issues may mean that that person isn't always good at paying bills, may have mental health challenges from time to time and so they put themselves in jeopardy in that private rented situation. So that's why some private landlords, I understand, are not then offering the tenancies to people in Wales, because they are fearful of the implications that will have, and the fact that they don't have the same level of support that social housing can give in relation to mental health or wraparound support. So, my ask is, when you are looking at the housing first developments, that you consider the private rented sector as integral to this also and talk to the sector as to how they can be part of the discussion. Rebecca Evans AM: Thank you very much for that and I will give my commitment to you that we do see the private rented sector as integral to delivering our ambitious housing first aspirations. But, I would also add that, just last week, I did have a meeting with Tai Pawb, who Welsh Government funds in order to try and create a housing picture in Wales, if you like, which is accessible to everybody. Tai Pawb have undertaken some work in two local authority areas directly with the private rented sector, to raise awareness among private landlords in terms of the opportunities that there are for them and to cut down those barriers that they have in terms of, perhaps, preconceived ideas as to what aids and adaptations might mean for the value of their properties, and so on. Tai Pawb were particularly positive about the discussions they'd had with the private rented sector in those two areas. So, there are certainly opportunities to learn from what they've done in those two areas as to the kinds of conversations that we have to have, really, with the private rented sector to raise confidence and open those doors to people who are disabled or otherwise have protected characteristics. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The UKIP spokesperson, Gareth Bennett. Gareth Bennett AM: Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, I wanted to return to the issue of local government reform, which we were discussing yesterday. There were various issues that came out of that. Mike Hedges, your colleague, raised the subject that there will still be considerable population variations, even after your proposed reorganisation, with different councils having widely different populations. Rhondda Cynon Taf has currently one of the biggest populations of the current 22 councils, at about 240,000 people. If you were to merge RCT with Merthyr, which is your current proposalóor part of your current proposalóthat would add 60,000 people. If you then add Bridgend to the mix as well, which is also part of your proposed plan as it stands, you end up with a population in that proposed council that's not far off 0.5 million people. RCT also has around 30 one-member wards, most of which will presumably be swallowed up or merged following the reorganisation. So, how can we keep a sense of localism and local accountability when places like Taff's Well, Church Village, LlantrisantóI'm not saying these exact places, but certainly communities like theseówill no longer have their own councillor, serving just that place? Alun Davies AM: I think the challenge outlined by the UKIP spokesperson is a good one and I don't disagree with him about the challenges raised. I don't believe, and I've never claimed, that the Government believes that there's an optimum shape and an optimum size for local government. What we're seeking to do is to publish an indicative map that will look at potential shapes of future structures. I hope I made clear to Members yesterday that I'm very happy and very content to have further conversations on all of those different matters. This is a Green Paper process: what it is is a conversation, a consultation, a debate, a discussion; what it isn't is concluded Government policy and what it isn't is a dogmatic view or a determinist view of what the future should hold. I want to look at what is possible, balancing the sort of localism that's been described there with the scale to deliver robust and high-quality public services, and I'm very, very happy to consider how that is best done. Gareth Bennett AM: I'm glad to hear that you're open to discussion and I hope that we have a good conversation, involving many players, about where we're heading with the local government reform. I think, to be fair, whatever you do, there is going to be an element of controversy. You have to do something. You can't make an omelette without cracking an egg, so to speak. But, to return to specific concernsó[Interruption.]. Well, I know there's more than one. I mean, I could ask nine questions about this, but I'm restricted to three. [Interruption.] Oh, eggs. Okay, right. Let's go back to the questions. Vale of Glamorgan, for instanceóhere's another one. We've got political accountability as well. This is another issue, because I think what we need to have, as far as we can, is competitive elections in the new councils, rather than perhaps creating, dare I say it, one-party states. Now, to give a possible example, Vale of Glamorgan has always been a highly competitive council. Both Labour and the Conservatives have controlled it in recent years. But if you merge it with Cardiff, which, I take it, is only a proposalóI understand that, Minister, but that's the current proposalóif you merge Vale with Cardiff, the risk is that it becomes, possibly, a safe Labour zone. Now, I'm not commenting particularly on Labour or the Conservatives because, as you're probably aware, I don't belong to either party, but the point is this: is there a danger of poorly run councils if one party has a political stranglehold on that council? And is there a danger that you recognise, Minister, that we could be heading for that situation, in some cases, under your proposed plans? Alun Davies AM: No. No, I don't recognise that, and I certainly would hope to see competitive elections and competitive democracy in all parts of Wales, even including Blaenau Gwent. Gareth Bennett AM: Well, Blaenau Gwent is an interesting one, because the proposal now is to merge it with Monmouthshire and with Torfaen. Now, last time, we had the issue that there was a voluntary merger proposed by Blaenau and TorfaenóI think Lynne Neagle mentioned this yesterdayóbut that voluntary merger was turned down. So, I think this is an instance in the past where one of your predecessors wasn't perhaps as willing to consult as perhaps he should have been. So, I hope you do take a different route if we do have a voluntary proposal, perhaps involving Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent. I hope you would look upon it, perhaps, in a better light than Leighton Andrews did. To advance to my third question, there is an argument that's been put forward today by the Vale of Glamorgan leader, who has been mentioned earlieróJohn Thomas. He makes a particular point, which is that the Vale currentlyóthis is his contentionóis one of the best performing councils. So, I make no comment on that, but my question is: will performance indicators be taken into account by you as you look into the proposals, and how far will they weigh in your final considerations as to the mergers? Alun Davies AM: I hope that over the next few months what we will debate and discuss is a vision for the future of local government, and not simply the means by which we achieve that vision. What I tried to set out yesterday, and what I want to set out over the coming months, is a vision for local government where local government is more powerful than it is today, is stronger than it is today, has more robust units of governance, able to deliver a broader range of powers. I do not wish to enter a debate with the argument that we're building on ashes. I do not wish to enter a debate that we are simply rectifying failure. I don't want to have a debate on those terms. The Welsh Local Government Association has made it clear many times that the current structures are not sustainable. Nobody that I have spoken to has argued for 22 authorities. So, there is agreement that we can't carry on the way things are. There is agreement that the current position is not sustainable. What we need, then, to do, is to debate and discuss how we take these matters forward. I hope that people will look beyond simply a debate around mergers to have a debate about what sort of units of governance we want to see in Wales in the future. How do we devolve powers from this place? How do we empower local communities? And how do we hardwire democratic accountability? I want to have that vigorous, rich debate about the future of local government. I believe that we have the potential to create a very real renaissance for local government across the whole of Wales, and I hope that Members on all sides of the Chamber will contribute positively to developing and delivering that vision. Jane Hutt AM: 3. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the changes to working age benefits and the roll-out of universal credit in Wales from 1 April 2018? OAQ51933 Rebecca Evans AM: We know the third-year freeze to most working-age benefits will be the most painful yet. I'm extremely concerned about the devastating impact welfare reforms are having on low-income households. I've repeatedly expressed our concerns to the UK Government and called for a halt to universal credit roll-out. Jane Hutt AM: I thank you for that, Minister, because I was going to ask you whether you could confirm that the Welsh Government continues to make representations to the UK Government regarding the adverse impact of further cuts to working-age benefits from 1 April. These are the second largest cuts to the benefits budget in the past decade, affecting around 11 million families. And with £2.5 billion-worth of cuts to working-age benefits and working-age benefits frozen for a third year, and the withdrawal of the family element of support for new tax credit and universal credit claims from families with children, costing families up to £545, affecting 400,000 families, what will this mean for these families in Wales? Rebecca Evans AM: Thank you very much for that question. I can certainly confirm that the Welsh Government continues to make strong and repeated representations to the UK Government regarding the impact that their welfare reform programme and austerity programme is having on people in receipt of benefits. We are really concerned because, actually, this is just the start. Many people are starting to think, 'Well, universal credit has been talked about for so long, it's not going to happen to me if it hasn't already'. But we know that many local authority areas in Wales have yet to commence full roll-out. We've asked for many changes to universal credit, for example to shorten the time for the first payment through the removal of waiting days, and these changes have been applied, in addition to help for those with housing costs via the two-week non-repayable transitional payment, due to be introduced from 11 April. So, we do have some success in the representations we are making. But, certainly, we don't think the UK Government has gone anywhere near far enough. So, we continue to ask for the halt of the roll-out of universal credit until the many issues that we have identified are dealt with. The reasons are made stronger by the fact that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently published a report on the cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms, and this analysis does include Wales-level data, and it does highlight the significant impact that the reforms are having on the low-income households in Wales, but particularly those with children and with protected characteristics. Mark Isherwood AM: Well, evidence shows that people on universal credit are moving into work faster and are staying longer in their work, and that over three quarters of the tenants were already in rent arrears before they started claiming universal credit, but, after four months, this had fallen by a third. It's always been recognised, however, that some will need extra support, which is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been working with the Welsh Government since March 2012 on plans for universal credit roll-out, and why the UK Government issued the universal credit local support services framework in February 2013, developed with the DWP and partners including the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh Governmentónow called universal supportóensuring that claimants who are not yet ready to budget for themselves are protected and assisted under the new system, and that alternative payment arrangements will be available to help claimants who need additional support. Given Welsh Government involvement in this at a devolved level since 2012, and yet the repeated problems we keep hearing raised in the Chamber, why isn't it working better in Wales? Rebecca Evans AM: This really is a question for the UK Government. The fact that the Welsh Government does interact and engage with the UK Government on these issues, as you'd expect us to, in order to voice strongly the concerns that we're hearing amongst people within our communities, does not mean that the Welsh Government is responsible for the decisions that the UK Government makes. The UK Government has not listened to many of the recommendations that we have made. I've outlined a few that they have listened to, but, ultimately, the UK Government does need to halt the roll-out of welfare reform until such time as the many issues that remain unresolved are dealt with. Neil Hamilton AM: 4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the local government settlement for Pembrokeshire County Council? OAQ51952 Alun Davies AM: For 2018-19, Pembrokeshire County Council will receive £162 million from Welsh Government through the local government settlement. Neil Hamilton AM: I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response. The medium-term financial plan of Pembrokeshire County Council says that the county has the largest shortfall between its actual spending and what the Welsh Government predicts it needs to spend to deliver services. And because the Welsh Government assumes that the council tax is collected at the same level for every authority, Pembrokeshire loses out significantly. Welsh average band D council tax for 2017-18 is £1,162. That's £279 more than Pembrokeshire at £883. That's a 31 per cent variance, which is, of course, enormous. It looks as though Pembrokeshire County Council hereóand others that are in the same position, or perhaps not quite so severeóis, in effect, being penalised by the Welsh Government for its past success in containing costs while continuing to deliver services. The perversity of the system is that the more you spent previously, the more you would get by way of a block grant from the Welsh Government. Isn't it time to address this perversity? Alun Davies AM: The variance, of course, is caused by decisions taken by Pembrokeshire County Council, and I strongly support Pembrokeshire's right to take those decisions. Pembrokeshire County Council then deal with the consequences of the decisions that they themselves take. I think it's important that we do have a vigorous debate locally about local taxation. I believe that it's important that local authorities are empowered to take decisions over taxation, and I think it's important to have a strong debate about the consequences of those decisions, and we have had a flavour of that in this Chamber and elsewhere over the past few months in reference to Pembrokeshire. I hope that we will see, through the reforms that we are debating, more decisions taken locally. I hope that we will see more vigorous debate in the future about both those decisions themselves and the consequences of those decisions. Of course, I'm always openóas I've said in reply to previous questionsóto a conversation about the funding formula. I'm always open to conversations about amendments to that. But, fundamentally, decisions on local taxation are decisions, quite rightly, for local authorities, and the consequences of those decisions are also, quite rightly, for local authorities. Simon Thomas AM: Of course, if I were to move from Ceredigion to Pembrokeshire I would save £300 per annum straight away, but I would live in a county where a national intervention has been required by the Welsh Government in terms of childrenís issues and education, and where there have been a number of failings over the past few years because of decisions taken locally to keep council tax low, not just in terms of the whole of Dyfed, but for the whole of Walesóthe lowest possible council tax across Wales. And there is a price to pay in terms of the underinvestment that thereís been over the past few years. The council has now taken the decision, and, like you, I support the decision taken both waysóit's a local decision. Theyíve taken the decision to increase council tax substantially. My question to you is: do you see this as part of a plan to move the county council to a more central position in the range of council tax that we see in Wales? Is this a one-off that wonít truly tackle the problems that the county council has, or is this something that they are discussing with you as something that will work over the next two or three years to re-establish the best services that local people deserve to have in Pembrokeshire? Alun Davies AM: I have discussed this with Pembrokeshire council, but they have a local mandate, of course, and itís a mandate that they have to carry out. They are currently considering the implications and the legacy of the decisions that were made in the past and looking at how they will develop a financial strategy that will ensure the future of local services and also having a reasonable level of council tax. But we agree that that is a matter for them. I donít want to use this platform here to offer comments on that. I donít think, as someone who lives outside of Pembrokeshire, that it is for me, because it is for the people of Pembrokeshire to make these decisions and to hold the discussions locally and then for the council to act upon the decisions that are made. Dai Lloyd AM: 5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the financial support provided to local councils to deliver services for the elderly? OAQ51928 Alun Davies AM: We have invested an additional £65 million in social services in this financial year. The 2018-19 settlement for local government prioritises £42 million and a further £31 million in the following year to maintain core spending on social care at current levels. Dai Lloyd AM: Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Now, loneliness and isolation is a key issue facing many of the elderly population, and not just the elderly population here in Wales, as a health committee review discovered recently, but particularly affecting our elderly population in Wales, and day centres play an important part in helping to tackle that particular agenda. Recently, we have seen local authorities introduce or raise charges for day centres for the elderly, and third sector day centres are struggling to achieve sustainable financial positions. These services are vital and they need to be affordable. Now, with that in mind, will you agree, in conjunction with your Cabinet colleagues, to review the current provision of day centres in Wales and the funding that is available to local councils to deliver or commission these vital day centre services? Alun Davies AM: I've outlined the financial framework within which we are working at the moment. Those matters are quite rightly matters for my colleague the Minister for social services, and I'm sure that those are areas that he would want to address. But I do agree with you, and I think that it's right and proper that you do address issues around isolation and loneliness. You will be aware that in 'Taking Wales Forward 2016-2021' and in our response to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee's inquiry into loneliness and isolation, we confirmed our commitment to developing a nationwide and cross-Government strategy to tackle all of these issues by March next year. I'm sure that the points that you've raised on day centres are areas that will be addressed by that. The Cabinet Secretary for health is in his place and will have heard your comments. I'm sure that those are areas that we would wish to address. Nick Ramsay AM: 6. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide clarity regarding the future structure of local government in Wales? OAQ51934 Alun Davies AM: Our proposals were set out in the statement I made yesterday and the Green Paper that has been published for consultation. Nick Ramsay AM: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. As you can tell, I tabled this question before I realised your surprise statement was going to be made, so apologies for groundhog day. However, it's an important subject that does, as I know you agree, need to be debated. As Janet Finch-Saunders said earlier, the WLGA's reaction to your statement was less than warm. In fact, it was positively icy. They point out that this flies in the face of previous assurances that there would be no reorganisation for at least 10 years. The WLGA also refers to the fact that most academic analysisóand I quoteó 'concludes that such reform programmes rarely deliver the savings or changes' that were originally hoped for. On a positive note, Cabinet Secretary, they are looking forward to their meeting with you on Friday and a full and vigourous debate. I hope you have your Weetabix before that one. [Laughter.] I think we'd all like to be a fly on the wall to see what happens there. Clearly, you said yesterday that we need to be optimistic and I think we would all agree that we do need to see reform of local government, but we need to know what local government and what local people actually want to see at the end of this process. When will the all-important listening part of this process begin? Alun Davies AM: It began yesterday. I'm grateful to the Member for a part of Monmouthshire for placing on the internet for everybody to see our exchange and our conversation yesterday. I felt that the points that he made yesterday were very fair and were important to make, and I hope that he recognises that my response was made in a similar sort of vein. Let me say this about the WLGA. I saw their response yesterday evening, clearly, but I've also, of course, had very long conversations with local government leaders across Wales and throughout the country. Let me say this: they are very clear, and have said so publicly and repeatedly, that the current structures we have are not sustainable. They've said that very clearlyóthat the current structures are simply not sustainable. I've yet to meet a single local government leader who makes the case for 22 local authorities. In fact, I've yet to meet anyone across the country who makes the case for 22 authorities. So, we have points of agreement. We have agreement that we cannot carry on the way we are. We have agreement that the current system is not sustainable, and I think the questions raised by Dai Lloyd in an earlier question reinforced that. So, the question is, then: what do we do? It is not good enough and it is an inadequate response to these challenges to simply say that what we have we hold, and we defend current structures. That is not an adequate response to where we are. What we have to do is to speak seriously, candidly and frankly, openly, together, and work our way towards what I hope will be an agreed position. That listening, that conversation, started yesterday, it will continue until June, and I give an undertaking to all Members here that my mind remains absolutely open on what the conclusions of that consultation will be. Hefin David AM: 7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the role of social enterprises in the Our Valleys, Our Future delivery plan? OAQ51948 Alun Davies AM: The plan recognises the value of social enterprises as delivery partners. They support taskforce priorities through creating jobs, developing skills and providing local services across the Valleys. The plan includes actions to provide support to social enterprises through guidance and training, and initiatives such as Better Jobs Closer to Home. Hefin David AM: One of the key aspects of the delivery plan for 'Our Valleys, Our Future' is the creation of a Valleys landscape park, which will build a sense of pride, and anyone who's travelled to the northern Valleys will see the beauty of that area. This can build on a diverse range of local initiatives, often small social enterprises, which utilise the natural landscape of the Valleys for recreation, leisure and conservation. Last week, I met the Building Communities Trust, who do a lot of good work in my constituency, and they told me there needs to be more support from the Welsh Government for those small-scale social enterprises in particular. Can the Cabinet Secretary commit today to working with those smaller-scale social enterprises within the framework of 'Our Valleys, Our Future', particularly in the context of the Valleys landscape park, so that we can deliver these local projects closer to communities like the northern Valleys? Alun Davies AM: Absolutely. I'm very happy to give the Member for Caerphilly that undertaking this afternoon. But also, I want all of our communities in the Valleys to be a part of designing what that landscape park or that regional park will look like. We will be hosting a number of seminars in the spring, through the spring, in order to look at how we can develop the concept, and make that concept a reality. I know the Member for Caerphilly has been very active in proposing his vision for that, and I'm grateful to him for the points he's made to me, and for the invitations to see projects in the Caerphilly constituency that he has extended to me. I'm very grateful to him as well for outlining his ambitions for the landscape park, and I will give an undertaking to the Member that, certainly, all of those matters are guiding and shaping our thinking. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: And finally, question 8, David Rees. David Rees AM: 8. What discussions has the Cabinet Secretary had with UK Ministers regarding the provision of support services to Welsh prisoners upon their release? OAQ51930 Alun Davies AM: Ensuring that Welsh prisoners have the appropriate level of support upon release is a key priority. As such, I meet with UK Ministers and the head of the prisons service in Wales to ensure that the services provided are appropriate for Welsh prisoners upon release and are supportive to reducing reoffending. David Rees AM: Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. The Ministry of Justice stress that the proposed prison at Baglan will house prisoners who are getting ready for release, and thus will need support as they prepare to learn to return to their own communities, probably mostly across south Wales, but also further afield. Now, we know that it's a challenging time for many prisoners on their release, and supporting this could help in reducing the likelihood of reoffending, as you've highlighted. But as you know, Cabinet Secretary, this support includes input from social services, housing services, health services, education services, employment services and probation services, nearly all of which are actually under the control and the competence of this Assembly. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the additional costs incurred to deliver these services, and what discussions have you had with UK Government to ensure that the necessary funding is provided to Wales to ensure that the already stretched budgets are not expected by the MOJ to cover these additional costs? And if they haven't provided the necessary funding, isn't it time the Welsh Government told the MOJ that the land for Baglan is not for saleóin fact, no land in Wales is for sale? Alun Davies AM: The Member for Aberavon, Presiding Officer, contributed to an excellent debate we had here earlier this month on the whole issue of justice policy in Wales. The points he makes are points that he knows I agree with. I agree very much that the overall constitutional settlement we have in this regard is broken. It's fractured, and what it means is that neither the Welsh Government nor the UK Government can actually deliver the sort of holistic policy response to those in the criminal justice system that is required by all of us. I've made representations to the MOJ about refreshing the concordat that we do have at present with the MOJ about how we take forward these matters. I've written quite recently to the Home Secretary about the way in which the Home Office works on these matters as well, and I hope to be able to bring a statement to this place in the near future that outlines the approach that we will be taking in this field. It's an absolutely essential part of what we want to do if we're able to achieve social justice in our communities and across Wales. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item, therefore, is the topical questions, and the first topical question is from Mick Antoniw. Vaughan Gething AM: Thank you for the question. We continue to see problematic gambling as an emerging public health issue and need to do all we can to tackle it. We strongly urge the United Kingdom Government to take action, resist the pressure from the industry, and significantly reduce the maximum stake for category B2 gaming machines, which, of course, include fixed-odds betting terminals. Mick Antoniw AM: Cabinet Secretary, thank you for that. I know this is a matter that you regard yourself of some importance. The data we have shows that there are 30,000 people in Wales who report gambling problems, 100,000 are identified at risk, 22,500 children aged between 11 and 15 who are in some way involved in gambling, and the estimated cost to Wales so far is between £40 million and £70 million. You'll have seen the Gambling Commission's report, which deals with certainly one issue with regard to fixed-odd betting machines, reducing the bet from £100 to £30 maximum, which quite frankly still amounts to £900 being bet in 10 minutes on these machines, which are identified as the crack cocaine of gambling. In many ways, this really doesn't go far enough and indicates, I think, the extent to which the Gambling Commission has conceded to the powerful gambling lobby. Cabinet Secretary, you'll be pleased to know that a cross-party group has now been formed in this Assembly and we'll be working alongside the cross-party group in Westminster as well to engage in joint activity to ensure that there is legislation and activity across all the Parliaments within the United Kingdom to actually tackle what is this growing hazard. I'm just wondering, from the Welsh perspective, Cabinet Secretary, what powers you think we can use in respect of limiting further betting machines and the actual betting capacity on those, and developing the public health agenda, and in particular the need for real, hardcore research, where Wales can take a lead in actually identifying and understanding far more the implications and the social problems that arise from gambling, it's association with things like sport, the normalisation of gambling and online gamblingóreally, if you could outline what action the Welsh Government proposes to take in light of not only all this information and these points that I've raised, but also the recommendations and the information from the chief medical officer. Vaughan Gething AM: Thank you for the series of points and questions raised. I've previously indicated in the debate around the chief medical officer's report that the Government will bring forward a statement on how we expect to use our new powers once we have them, and you can expect that in the near and not the long-term future. I know that some Members had an opportunity to meet the chief medical officer today, and I welcome the broader gathering of interest and desire to do something that goes across a range of parties. I'm thinking about our Welsh parliamentary colleague Carolyn Harris who's led a high profile and active campaign on fixed-odds betting terminals through Parliament. So, the issue is very current and is very real in all of our communities. I won't be able to deal with all of the points in the question today, but I will certainly undertake to cover those and come up with a more considered statement. But in particular, if I refer back to comments made by the leader of the house yesterday about the advertising issues, which are mentioned in the Gambling Commission's report, and the points about the public health agenda, it is a genuine awareness-raising campaign that we need to have to understand how people behave. I don't think we can rely on the industry self-regulating and simply being responsible. Some more steps have been taken, but I think there is more to do and more to be done. In particular, on your point about advertising, whilst there are things we'd want to see advertising bids coming forward for, there is something that goes into one of the points the Gambling Commission themselves raised. Now, our party on the UK level has policies to have a compulsory levy on the gambling industry. The Gambling Commission themselves said that, essentially, there is a good case for the industry itself to do more to meet its obligations. They currently provide about 0.1 per cent of turnover into GambleAware, and, actually, they could and should do more. The Gambling Commission themselves recognise that if the industry does not meet their obligations on a voluntary basis, there is a strong case to consider a statutory levy. I certainly will be, after I've given it consideration, making a statement to this place, and I'll write to the UK Government, where most of these powers still rest. Simon Thomas AM: When I asked for a statement on the Gambling Commission yesterday, I wasn't expecting it quite so quickly, so well done for the joint act to get you here to talk a little more about this. One of the things that's emerged from the statement from the Gambling Commission and the response that the leader of the house kindly gave to me yesterday is the fact that there is little that the Welsh Government has in terms of a formal relationship with the Gambling Commissionórepresentation on the Gambling Commission or the ability to nominate members onto the commissionóand I think that's clearly something that's a lacuna here, with powers being devolved to the Welsh Government around some limits around fixed-odds terminals, with the interest that we have here in the Assembly around that and the fact that the Gambling Commission, to my mind, has not interacted with Assembly Members, even though we represent the communities that are very much affected by these problems, as Mick Antoniw has set out. So, is there a way that the Welsh Government not only will respond to the consultations, as you've already done, but take some firmer action now in negotiation with the Gambling Commission and also, ultimately, with the UK Government to ensure that you have a much more formal relationship, so that the Gambling Commission does take fuller account and give due regard to your views and, indeed, that the Gambling Commission might come and report to this Assembly from time to time on the decisions that they've taken as well? Vaughan Gething AM: I recognise the points you've made, and I think there's a good argument around them. As and when we respond publicly more formally to the Assembly with a statement, which I've promised on three occasions now, about our fuller response, we certainly do need to consider our relationship and what our bid should be. That's both partly about the Government and what we think the relationship should be with the Gambling Commission, and about having relationships that properly reflect that it is a Scotland, England and Wales regulator. Of course, it's fully devolved to Northern Irelandóone of those odd things, again, about an asymmetric devolution process. But there is something about recognising also the place for the Assembly, and the Assembly itself may wish to take a view through the relevant committee about what the responsibility should be. But the Government will certainly set out its view, and properly take account of the points that you've made today. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I thank the Cabinet Secretary. The next question, therefore, is from Angela Burns. Vaughan Gething AM: I am pleased that the United Kingdom Government has listened to my repeated calls to lift the public sector pay cap and provide additional funding to reward NHS staff right across the United Kingdom. The NHS Wales Partnership Forum is meeting tomorrow to offer advice on how any consequentials could be used in Wales. Angela Burns AM: Lifting this pay cap has been long awaited by all political parties, and we wholeheartedly welcome this announcement, which gives recognition to the front-line staff who work tirelessly to deliver world-class services. From today, staff such as nurses, porters and paramedics will receive an average 6.5 per cent increase in their pay packets over the next few years, with many of the lowest paid workers in the health service receiving the largest increases in their pay, which will certainly help us to promote our equality and fairness agendas. Along with yesterday's announcement, you will know that the UK Government are going to establish five new medical schools in parts of the country. England is not alone in facing these recruitment challenges, and what they're doing will really help to make their health service more resilient. In Wales we spend almost £14 million a month on agency staff, and have seen the equivalent of one nurse a day leave our health service. Health services cannot run the risk of losing more of our exceptional front-line staff, or our newly trained students. Now, we know that you, the Welsh Government, will receive consequential funding from the Treasury to mitigate this increase, so Welsh Government will get the normal share of an extra £4.2 billion for the NHS pay changes over the next three years. Will you please confirm that you will actually put the consequential to the pay awards here in Wales? And could I also ask you whether or not you will be considering the fact that the pay deal so far is looking at how the deal can reduce the high rates of sickness that we see in the NHS across the United Kingdom? It's not just in Wales. We lose over 900 full-time years to sickness every year, and if we can get these people back into work more quickly and incentivise them and perhaps give them priority treatment, then that in itself will help to alleviate some of the human resource pressure we find in our NHS here. We all welcome the lifting of this pay cap, but I do want to hear what you're going to be able to do with this consequential and whether you'll be applying it to our staff. Vaughan Gething AM: I have a few comments to make in response. I genuinely welcome the fact that the pay cap has been lifted, but there are significant challenges that we should not forget that face partners of the national health service in other public services that still face a realistic pay cap as a direct result of eight years of austerity and continuing. We should remind ourselves that, for 'Agenda for Change' staff, it's a real-terms pay cut for most of them of 14 per cent since 2010. So, the move that England have announced will go some way towards resolving that, and I am happy to confirm that any consequential for NHS pay will go into NHS pay here in Walesóclear-cut and no nonsense around the side. That builds on commitments made by both the First Minister and, indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance. I would just remind people that the comments that you made, Angela Burns, about moving on low payóthose are challenges for NHS England to move on. We made further progress. She may not be in the room, but Dawn Bowden was part of the negotiating team on the trade union side, where we made progress for our lowest paid NHS workers in Wales some years ago. So, I'm pleased to see England catch up on some of that progress. We will have a negotiation with NHS employers and the trade union side to decide how to deploy any consequential that is coming to Wales to go into NHS pay, and that will be properly negotiated in the partnership approach that we wish to take here in Wales. I do recognise the challenges you mentioned about NHS nursing numbers. There's a real challenge right across the UK in getting enough nurses in. The biggest problem is in England. They have the biggest numbers, not just in volume but in percentage terms, and you will recognise that the Nursing and Midwifery Council for the first time said that there are fewer nurses in the NHS in England than the year before. That's the first time in history that that's happened. We don't have that situation here, but we should not be complacent about the reality of the pay cap and a range of other measures about the way that nurses feel in England. Also, we will continue to discuss with our partners how to improve attendance rates, how to improve return to work from sickness, how people are supported to stay in work or to return to work. Those are matters that we regularly discuss between employers and the trade union side. So, I do look forward to being able to come back to this place to confirm any agreement that will be reached by the employer side and trade unions on how we expect to reward NHS staff here within NHS Wales. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM: It's not nice watching Wales playing catch-up again; it's the second time in health in two days with that announcement from Jeremy Hunt about the opening of five medical schools in England yesterday. I look forward to us catching up with that eventually. Plaid Cymru, of course, on the pay cap issue, have long made it clear that we believe that the pay cap should have been raised previously, and people, I think, will remember that Labour in Government in Wales were not able to be proactive in seeking ways of raising that cap earlier. But we are where we are, and our hard-working staff in the NHS will now finally, it seems, get that pay rise that they have long deserved. I'm pleased to hear, Cabinet Secretary, you saying that you expect that consequential to go into lifting that cap. Will you agree, though, that lifting the cap in itself isn't enough, and can we have an assurance that, alongside that long-awaited review of pay, we will also see a new concerted effort to put a workforce plan in place for the NHS as a whole and ensure that everything is done on the recruitment front as well? Addressing pay is one thing, but it doesn't in itself address the issue of the unacceptable pressure that there is on staff within many parts of the NHS because of shortages in the workforce. Vaughan Gething AM: I'll happily deal with that last point first. We expect to improve our ability to plan for the current and future workforce through the creation of Health Education and Improvement Walesówe talked about that previouslyóand the way in which we're trying to pool the ability to do so between health boards and other organisations like the deanery and others too. That's a positive step forward to having a more strategic approach to planning for our future workforce need. As well as looking at the numbers of staff that we need and in different groups of staff, we of course need to look at the ways in which we expect them to work, and the ways we expect them to be trained to then work within the service of today and the future. That's why the parliamentary review matters so much. We need to have models of care that are attractive for people to work in, and to get us the best prospect of people wanting to come and make their career in Wales. You may say to train here, to live here and to work here, of course. Now, I want to go back to your starting points about the pay cap. I've been incredibly disappointed about the way in which Plaid Cymru have been quite happy to give the Tories a free pass on this. The reason why Wales could not move on the pay cap before was because of our budgetary position, because of eight years of austerity. That is the clear and unalloyed truth, and the way in which those matters have been handled here have been very clear. We have always been clear that this was an issue for the United Kingdom Government to raise the pay cap and to fund raising the pay cap from the UK Treasury, as they have done today, at last. But the war of words between us will not stop because, unfortunately, Jeremy Hunt compounded previous statements that are simply not factually true by saying in the House of Commons that the health service in Wales would be £1 billion pounds better off if we had taken decisions as they have done. That is just a straight lie. And if we're going to have a properly informed debate about the future funding of the national health service, then there needs to be a more honest discourse between parliaments and governments, and with the public, and I will not hesitate from calling Jeremy Hunt out for what he is when he makes untrue, and knowingly untrue statements about NHS finance here in Wales. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Caroline Jones. Caroline Jones AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. [Interruption.] David Melding AM: But calling him a liar isó[Inaudible.] Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Excuse me. I have called another speaker. Caroline Jones. Caroline Jones AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cabinet Secretary, it is past time we lifted the pay cap for NHS staff who work under tremendous pressures, particularly relating to staff shortages. The deal in England covers staff on the Agenda for Change contract, which excludes doctors. So, whilst I welcome the previously announced increase in pay for our GPs, what consideration have you given to increasing the pay of NHS doctors and dentists? Vaughan Gething AM: Doctors and dentists are covered by a separate review body process. Agenda for Change staff do not include those particular professionals. We are awaiting advice from the doctors and dentists review body, and we will, of course, report back to this place when we have that advice and a decision for us to make. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: We move on to item 4, which are 90-second statements, and the first this week is David Melding. David Melding AM: Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is fitting that we pay tribute today to Nicholas Edwards who died on Saturday. As Secretary of State for Wales between 1979 and 1987, he made a lasting contribution to Welsh public life. Here in the Senedd, Nick Edwards's vision for the urban renewal of Cardiff Bay is obviously apparent. This morning, I crossed the barrage and had views of a truly beautiful cityscape. The Guardian's obituary of Lord Crickhowell emphasises the difficulties he faced in starting this transformation, and I quote: 'Though mocked at the time, Edwards rightly described the bay project as one of the greatest pieces of urban regeneration in the country.' In short, he was a man of vision and leadership, not least in standing up to the Treasury to secure the funds for the project. However, his introduction of the all-Wales learning disability strategy in 1983 will, I believe, stand as an even greater achievement. This is because it set wholly new standards for best practice that have been emulated world-wide. The all-Wales strategy established the right that people with learning disabilities have to normal patterns of life within the community; to be treated as individuals, and to receive the best available public services to achieve their maximum potential. Deputy Presiding Officer, a thriving democracy has to recognise the constructive contributions made by different political traditions. Nick Edwards's term of office was the longest of any Secretary of State for Wales, but in reaching out beyond his own political tradition, he was able to make an innovative contribution that strengthened Welsh national life. In extending our sympathies to Lord Crickhowell's family, it is an honour also to express our gratitude for his enduring achievements. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Angela Burns. Angela Burns AM: Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. In today's consumer-driven society, we can all be guilty of taking for granted that which others across the world do not have. For example, we are able to source an array of exotic fruit and vegetables from around the world in our local shops. However, many in developing countries are not so lucky. They would love to have a banana with their breakfast, an avocado with their lunch and grapes with their supper, but they have to survive on rice and beans, or an equivalent basic, for every meal they eat. An inadequate diet represented by plain rice and beans really is the reality for some of those living in extreme poverty. It is for this reason that I've agreed to support and promote the Mean Bean Challenge. This has been created by the wonderful Tearfund Wales, who are a Christian relief and development agency. The catering team here in the Assembly have agreed to put rice and beans on the menu every day this week and are asking for small donations towards the charity. The idea of this challenge is to eat only rice, beans and oats for five days straight; nothing sweet, no salt, and, worst of all, no caffeine. I have followed this diet for just a day so faróI'm going to try a few moreóand I encourage any other Assembly Member or staff member to take up the challenge either tomorrow or Friday lunchtime to make a small donation and tell others. It is a sacrifice that I'm willing to make to remind myself of the plight of so many people around the world. Tearfund are a great charity and have worked hard to promote the Mean Bean Challenge. I would also like to thank Rob and the Charlton House catering staff who've supported this, and I urge you all to take part. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Jayne Bryant. Jayne Bryant AM: Hugo Thompson, Monty Williams, John Morgan and Joel Wood, all from Caerleon, have successfully completed the world's toughest rowóthe Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. They rowed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise awareness for Diabetes UK. They decided to embark on this ambitious journey after Hugo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2015. Hugo was determined to prove that it wouldn't hold him back, and the friends formed Team Oarstruck. Starting in the Canary Islands on 14 December, Team Oarstruck faced extreme weather conditions, seasickness and exhaustion. It took 55 days, two hours and 23 minutes, but on 7 February, they reached their destination in Antigua. This is an incredible achievement. Fewer people have rowed across the Atlantic than have been to space. Their journey made it into the world record books, with Hugo becoming the first person with diabetes to complete the row. They've raised over £9,000 and have been inundated with support. As chair of the cross-party group on diabetes, and their local Assembly Member, I'm incredibly proud of Team Oarstruck. We hope to welcome them to the Senedd in June to hear more about their significant achievement. Raising awareness is crucial. Almost one in four children in Wales are not diagnosed with type 1 until they're seriously unwell. The common symptoms are the four Ts: toilet, thirsty, tired, thinner. Team Oarstruck have gone from amateur rowers with a big idea to record breakers. Their dedication and commitment to the cause is inspiring. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: The next item is the debate on the general principles of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee to move the motion. Simon Thomas. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. First of all, Iíd like to thank the members of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for their detailed consideration of the Bill at Stage 1. I'd also like to thank everyone who has contributed to the various consultations and debates that we have had whilst drafting and developing the Bill. Before I move on to talk about the recommendations in the report, I think it's important to remind Members why the Finance Committee believes that this Bill is needed. The public in Wales needs to have confidence in the ombudsman to investigate when individuals believe that they have suffered an injustice or hardship through maladministration or service delivery. It's more important than ever that public services deliver for the people of Wales and that the ombudsman is empowered to ensure that our services are citizen-centred. The Bill extends the ombudsmanís powers in four main areas. We believe that the ability to undertake own-initiative powers is important, and has the potential to secure significant benefits. Allowing the ombudsman to accept oral complaints will improve social justice and equal opportunities. The investigation of matters relating to private health services will enable the ombudsman to explore a complaint in its entirety, following the citizen and not the sector. And, finally, complaints handling procedures could lead to a better service for individuals and would have the scope to improve services as a result of learning from best practice. Simon Thomas AM: The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has made 19 recommendations, and I'm able to accept every one apart from one of these recommendations. I am very pleased to see that the committee has recommended that the Assembly agree to the general principles of the Bill and I very much hope that Members will support that decision this afternoon. In responding to the report, I will deal with the main themes stemming from it. I would like to start with recommendation 10, which requests that a revised explanatory memorandum and regulatory impact assessment are published before Stage 2, taking account of the committeeís recommendations. This is the only recommendation that I'm not able to accept. The Standing Orders of the Assembly provide a mechanism for revising the explanatory memorandum after Stage 2 proceedings and this has become standard practice. Should this Bill proceed further, I would be very happy to publish a revised explanatory memorandum after Stage 2, taking account of any amendments that have been made to the Bill. For this reason, I do not feel it would be appropriate to accept this recommendation. However, I'm more than happy to consider whether more robust evidence is now available and to assess whether changes are needed to cost estimates in light of that, and I will provide the committee with written updates as this work progresses. In the Auditor General for Walesís response to the committeeís consultation on the Bill, he raised a number of concerns relating to his functions. Recommendations 7, 8, 9 and 18 deal with these and I am happy to make the necessary changes to the Bill to deal with these concerns. These will ensure confidentiality and will safeguard the auditor from defamation claims. The Bill reiterates the general requirement for the auditor to lay before the Assembly a certified copy of the ombudsman's accounts within four months. The request to change this, in recommendation 9, will need to be considered in the context of the committee's wider work on this recommendation. The ombudsman doesn't come under the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. Currently, we have a bilingual ombudsman who has an office with a bilingual ethos, and we need to ensure that this continues in the future. Therefore, I have accepted recommendation 6 and I will, in consultation with others, such as the Welsh Language Commissioner, be considering how best this can be achieved. A number of recommendations deal with the update of the RIA. These are recommendations 11 to 17 and 19. I am happy to accept all of these recommendations. Iíve said previously to the committee that I welcomed its decision to commission an expert adviser to report on the financial implications of the Bill. I am pleased to note that the expert adviser was supportive of the extension of the powers of the ombudsman in the four main areas. Essentially, these recommendations deal with potential costs stemming from the Bill, recommending that more work is done to show the range of those costs. For example, in terms of recommendations 11 and 12, the figures included in the assessment reflect evidence received from the ombudsman on costs. However, I am more than willing to reconsider the levels of the estimates and to revise the assessment if needed. I think it is worth noting that any variance in this context would decrease the general costs of the Bill. Recommendations 14 and 15 deal with costs related to oral complaints. I think it is worth noting that the ombudsman has discretion at present to accept oral complaints under the 2005 Act. Therefore, not all oral complaints will result in an additional workload for the ombudsman, but I'm willing to consider further analysis of 40 per cent of complaints being made orally. Recommendation 17 concerns an important part of the Bill that deals with investigating a public and private care pathway provision. I will be undertaking further consultation on this to seek further information. I am also content to ensure that the RIA ultimately complies with guidance in the HM Treasury Green Book, which is recommendation 19. It is not an intention in the Bill to cut across other statutory obligations. Recommendations 2, 3 and 5 show that members of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee are concerned about the potential danger of a duplication of work by the ombudsman and other regulators. I hope that I was able to give assurance to the committee about the difference between the role of the ombudsman and of other regulators, and, even though they can look at the same range of matters, they look at them from two completely different points of view. The arrangements within the Bill reflect those that are currently in the 2005 Act, and go further, if truth be told, to enable further collaboration. However, I am happy to accept recommendations 2, 3 and 5 to ensure good collaboration, to maintain appropriate records and to give appropriate consideration to other obligations stemming from the law. I'd like to talk briefly about the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee's report and thank the members of that committee for their consideration of the Bill. I am very pleased the committee has endorsed the approach that we have taken with this Bill in producing a consolidated piece of legislation that is available bilingually. You should remember that the 2005 Act was made in the House of Commons, and was made in English alone. I am also pleased that the committee is content with the balance between what is included on the face of the Bill and what is left to subordinate legislation. This balance has emerged from the 2005 Act, and is based upon the consultation on the draft Bill. The parts of the original Act already in force have been effective and worked well over the past 13 years. I am happy to accept the recommendation made by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, subject to the necessary discussions with the Welsh Government, as this provision relates to the potential powers of the Welsh Ministers under the Bill. I very much look forward to hearing what Plenary has to say on this Bill and on the reports, and, of course, to respond to the debate in due course. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, John Griffiths? John Griffiths AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm very pleased to speak in this debate as Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and to outline our findings from our scrutiny of the Bill. As the Bill was introduced by the Finance Committee, we also conducted the financial scrutiny alongside our general scrutiny. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to that scrutiny, those who gave written and oral evidence, and, in particular, members of the public who either responded to the written consultation or completed our online survey. Our scrutiny focused on the provisions within the Bill where the most substantial changes to the ombudsmanís powers are being proposed, as outlined by the Member in charge in introducing this debate: so, enabling the conducting of own-initiative investigations, providing greater flexibility as to how complaints can be made, allowing the investigation of complaints that include both a private and public healthcare element, and giving the ombudsman powers to set model complaints procedures for listed authorities. Our scrutiny also touched on other aspects of the Bill, including Welsh language requirements. In total, we made 19 recommendations, most of which are focused on elements of the regulatory impact assessment, and I very much welcome the correspondence from the Member in charge and the comments made earlier regarding acceptance of 18 of those recommendations. Dirprwy Lywydd, there was clear and broad support for this Bill, although not unanimous. We heard some concerns from stakeholders. Though supportive of the general principles, they raised issues around the implementation and operation of some of the provisions within the legislation. These issues included creating additional complexity in an already crowded regulatory framework, and the financial impact on public authorities, who, of course, are already managing a difficult financial climate. But, notwithstanding these concerns, the evidence we received supported the assertions made in the explanatory memorandum and by the Member in charge that the Bill will improve social justice, protect the most vulnerable, and drive improvements in complaints handling, and, more broadly, public services. We were therefore happy to recommend that the Assembly agrees to the general principles of the Bill. I will now move on to some of the specific provisions, starting with sections 4 and 5. These sections provide the ombudsman with powers to undertake own-initiative investigations without the need for a complaint to be submitted by a member of the public. John Griffiths AM: We heard from the Member in charge, the current ombudsman, and his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Scotland, that this was a critical tool in the ombudsmanís toolkit. It is also one that is available to most of their counterparts across the world. We noted the concerns raised by stakeholders about creating additional complexity in that already crowded regulatory framework, but the Member in charge responded to these concerns by reminding us of the difference in roles and approach between regulators and an ombudsman. It is the ombudsman who approaches concerns from a citizen perspective, and we found that a compelling argument. We support, then, this extension of the ombudsmanís powers. We made only one recommendation in relation to these provisions, which is to place an additional duty on the ombudsman to consult with regulators before embarking on an own-initiative investigation, and I am pleased that the Member in charge has accepted this recommendation. Moving on to the provisions on making and referral of complaints to the ombudsman, the Bill seeks to remove restrictions on how complaints can be made or referred. Currently, oral complaints can only be made at the ombudsmanís discretion. We heard clear evidence that this can make it more difficult for the most vulnerable to access the ombudsmanís services. While we have focused on oral complaints, we noted that the Billís provisions will enable the ombudsman to adapt in the future and accept complaints in any format they feel is appropriate. This helps futureproof the legislation and will allow the ombudsman to adapt to any technological changes. We believe these provisions will improve access to the ombudsmanís services, and therefore only made one recommendation in relation to these provisions. Recommendation 3 calls for amendments to be brought forward to place a requirement on the ombudsman to maintain a register of all complaints, not just oral complaints, and, again, I am pleased that the Member in charge has accepted this recommendation. We also called on the ombudsman to reflect on the evidence we received when developing any guidance. If this Bill is passed, there will be an issue, and we will monitor, during our ongoing scrutiny of the ombudsman, progress on these matters. Dirprwy Lywydd, Part 4 of the Bill introduces powers for the ombudsman to set complaints handling procedures. This was one of the elements of the Bill that generated the most debate from stakeholders. In particular, we heard concerns about how model procedures set by the ombudsman would interact with already existing complaints handling procedures. Much of this discussion centred on the 'Putting Things Right' regulations within the national health service. There was concern that the definition of enactments within the Bill would not cover these regulations, and while we noted all these concerns, we believe that it is totally appropriate for the ombudsman to have a role in setting complaints handling procedures. We believe that this will help lead to improvements in complaints handling and, hopefully, improvements in public services. We were encouraged by the example in Scotland, where similar powers have been given to the Scottish ombudsman. However, we believe that there could be greater clarity in how existing non-statutory guidance, such as 'Putting Things Right', will be considered by the ombudsman in drawing up and enforcing model complaints procedures. We therefore made recommendation 5, that amendments be brought forward to provide this greater clarity, and, again, I am pleased that the Member in charge has accepted this recommendation. Moving on to provisions that place a duty on the ombudsman to produce a Welsh language strategy, we welcome the strengthening of these requirements. However, we do not believe the Bill goes far enough. We think too much is left to the ombudsmanís own discretion and that the ombudsman should adhere to the principles of the Welsh language standards. We acknowledge that it would not be appropriate for the ombudsman to be covered directly by the standards, but we believe he or she should, in principle, deliver comparable bilingual services to those public services within his remit, and I am pleased again to note the commitment made by the Member in charge to revisit these provisions and that this will be done in consultation with the Welsh Language Commissioner and others. Financial scrutiny was a matter that we centred on, Dirprwy Lywydd, and we appointed an expert adviser, Dr Gavin McBurnie, as mentioned earlier. Those financial implications are the area where the majority of our recommendations focus. It was good to hear both the ombudsman and the Member in charge make clear commitments that the ombudsman would not seek any increase in budget above 0.03 per cent of the Welsh block. However, we are seeking further information on the regulatory impact assessment on issues relating to the indirect costs and, in particular, the costs that may be incurred by the listed authorities that fall within the ombudsmanís remit. We do not believe that the recommendations we have made seeking greater clarity are unreasonable, and, again, I welcome the Member accepting all but one of them. I know that timeó Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Yes, time is running out. John Griffiths AM: óis very short, Dirprwy Lywydd, so perhaps I can move on and say that, in conclusion, we very much welcome this Bill. Our recommendations are set out. They have been referred to by the Member in charge. To conclude, Llywydd, we believe this Bill will deliver on its policy intentions, and we would call on the Assembly to support the general principles. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw? Mick Antoniw AM: Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. You will be very, very pleased to know that we reported on this Bill on 9 March and we made only one recommendation to the Member in charge and, as such, my contribution will be comparatively short. With regard to the need for the Bill, we welcome the approach adopted by the Member in charge in providing a Bill that is a consolidated piece of legislation, and we believe it represents the best-practice approach our predecessor committee promoted in its report, 'Making Laws in Wales'. It will enable legislation of considerable importance in Wales to be available bilingually. The benefits of this to Welsh citizens should not be underestimated. As with our scrutiny of all Bills, we considered the balance between what is on the face of the Bill and what is left to subordinate legislation. In this regard we are content with the Bill. In relation to the issue of how the ombudsman and the Childrenís Commissioner for Wales work together, we agree with the Member in charge and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that the detail should be set out on the face of the Bill. We trust the Member in charge will table the necessary amendments. Turning now to Henry VIII powers, we and our predecessor committee have regularly and robustly scrutinised the use of Henry VIII powers. Whilst the use of such powers in this Bill are significant in number, we note that they are narrow in scope. We further note that six of the nine Henry VIII powers involve consultation. For that reason, we are content with their use in this Bill. As the committee with responsibility for scrutinising subordinate legislation, we will be able to monitor carefully the use of these powers by the Welsh Ministers, should the Bill become law. My final remarks relate to section 78 of the Bill. Section 78(1) allows the Welsh Ministers by regulation to make '(a) such consequential, incidental or supplemental provision, and '(b) such transitory, transitional or saving provision, 'as they think necessary or expedient'. Consistently, our view has been that the Welsh Government should adopt a more targeted approach rather than taking the widest powers available to them. This committee should be no exception. Our particular concern relates to the words 'necessary or expedient'. In our view, the word 'necessary' would be sufficient. Our only recommendation suggests the Member in charge tables an amendment to the Bill to remove the words 'or expedient' from section 78(1). Now, I thank the Member for his formal response to our report and the comments that he's actually made just now. I note that he believes the power to make provision as is necessary under section 78 will be sufficient and, for that reason, 'expedient' could be removed. I therefore welcome his commitment to raise this issue with the Welsh Ministers in the coming weeks. We note that the Cabinet Secretary is considering tabling an amendment to clarify that the section 78 power extends to amending primary legislation. Should an amendment be tabled, it is, of course, our view that, as a Henry VIII power, it should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Thank you. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you very much. Can I call on the Counsel General, Jeremy Miles? Jeremy Miles AM: Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I begin my contribution to the debate by putting on record that the Welsh Government recognises and appreciates the important service the ombudsman provides in Wales? The ombudsman's office provides a means to help those people who have not received the level of service from the public sector that they have a right to expect. We therefore look positively on measures that would help the ombudsman to perform this vital role. I would like to thank the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for their scrutiny of the Bill and their subsequent reports, and to their Chairs for their contribution to this debate. Jeremy Miles AM: This Bill is not, of course, a Government Bill. It has been introduced to the Assembly by the Finance Committee, and the recommendations produced by the two committees will be for the Member in charge of the Bill to take forward. However, I would like to take this opportunity to set out the Government's position, particularly in light of the evidence taken by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. The Bill proposes new powers in four distinct areas for the ombudsman, and I will take each in turn. The Government supports the proposal that the ombudsman should be able to accept oral complaints. We also support the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee's recommendation, as John Griffiths pointed out, for the ombudsman to maintain a register of all complaints received. This has the potential to yield more valuable information about the quality of public services in Wales. The Government also supports the proposal for a power to investigate private healthcare providers where a complaint concerns both NHS and private healthcare. Again, we agree with the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee's recommendations that the Finance Committee must do more work to improve the Bill's regulatory impact assessment, particularly in respect of the costs to private healthcare providers. This section is currently uncosted in the Bill's RIA. I turn next to the proposal to enable the Ombudsman to conduct own-initiative investigations. The Government has followed the evidence carefully in relation to this section of the Bill, and accepts the argument that the Ombudsman will be in a position to react to emerging themes and issues across the public sector. However, we share some of the concerns raised by stakeholders about the potential for the ombudsman to duplicate investigatory work already being carried out by other regulators and inspectors. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has recommended that an amendment should be brought forward at Stage 2 to require the ombudsman to consult with other regulators and commissioners before embarking on an own-initiative investigation. We support this as it would go some way to reduce the risk of overlap, confusion and duplication. Dirprwy Lywydd, I now turn to the final proposal in the Bill: the power for the ombudsman to set common complaints standards for the public sector. The Government has paid close attention to the evidence given during the Stage 1 process, including the analysis of the regulatory impact assessment by the independent expert in relation to common complaints standards. We have concerns that we mirrored in the evidence taken by the committee about whether the power to set common complaints standards could cut across existing statutory complaints procedures, many of which have been agreed and passed by this National Assembly. We believe it could be helpful for the ombudsman to publish principles and model complaints-handling procedures to provide consistency for service users and public services generally. But these should not undermine existing statutory complaints procedures, such as 'Putting Things Right', already referred to in this debate. This could create uncertainty for individual organisations and for the ombudsman and complainants. We could support this part of the Bill if the Member in charge brought forward amendments to ensure existing statutory complaints processes are respected. I'm pleased to note that the Member in charge has accepted this in his response to the committee's report. Dirprwy Lywydd, the Welsh Government also has some concerns about section 71 of the Bill, which, as we've heard, contains provisions requiring the ombudsman to have a Welsh language strategy. This was raised during scrutiny by the Welsh Language Commissioner and by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has said that this section of the Bill needs strengthening, and we would be very happy to work with the Member in charge to bring forward an amendment to ensure the ombudsman is subject to the Welsh language standards requirements. With that said, the Government will today support the general principles of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. Dirprwy Lywydd, I would like to say a few words about the next steps and the development of the Bill. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has set out in its report a very clear recommendation that further work must be carried out on the Bill's financial costings and to the RIA. As they are currently presented, and as the Member in charge noted in his opening speech, there are a number of gaps in the costings and a number of areas where the financial evidence needs to be developed, including the robustness of the ombudsman's running costs and the costs to private healthcare providers. Until this work is carried out, the Government will not be tabling a financial resolution for this Bill. This will give the Finance Committee time to further consider the RIA and to undertake the work in line with the committee's recommendations. Any extra costs for providing the ombudsman with additional powers will be met from the Welsh consolidated fund. Put bluntly, more money spent on the ombudsman will mean less for front-line public services at a time of ongoing austerity. It's essential, therefore, that we have a robust analysis of the costs. Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance has met the Member in charge of the Bill and shared a legal analysis of the Bill identifying a number of areas where changes need to be made to ensure that it functions correctly, if enacted, to meet the stated policy intent. I should stress that these are essential requirements for efficacy, rather than discretionary improvements and enhancements. The Government is keen to work with the Member in charge as the Bill progresses to remedy the issues highlighted. Janet Finch-Saunders AM: I'd like to thank the Member for bringing this forward again today and, certainly, as a member of the committee, I will be supporting it, and we will be supporting it, passing Stage 1 in this Chamber. Calls to increase powers to the ombudsman have been made since 2013, and we feel that it is imperative that there is transformation within the ombudsman's role. No-one receiving any of our public services should feel ashamed to have to go down a complaints route if they feel they need to. And, when things go wrong, we must all be able to scrutinise the errors and put things right. We have seen that Welsh public bodies are facing an increase in complaints: health, 38 per cent; social services, 9 per cent. A few cases that I have brought to the ombudsman myself as an Assembly Member have highlighted the real need for effective investigation and scrutiny where things have gone awry, or where people have fallen through the net, particularly within the health serviceóI have to say, where such omissions really can be a matter of life and death. In such cases, where the clock simply can't be turned back, an assurance that no other family will have to go through the same ordeal is often something of a comfort in itself. And the number of families that I've talked toóreally, the ombudsman process actually does put some checks and balances in when things have gone wrong. The overall actual policy intentions of the Bill in terms of protecting our most vulnerable and improving social justice are ones that I think we would all support in this Siambr. The removal of the requirement to make a complaint in writing, for example, will enable those unable to write to have their concerns heard. And it was quite worrying, really, when we were talking about the percentage of people with very poor numeracy and literacy skills in Walesóthey are the forgotten sector here, and this will envelop those within this support. To this end, we support the strengthening of the ombudsman's powers as proposed. We welcome the long overdue proposals within the Bill for the ombudsman to be able to undertake own-initiative investigations where thematic issues present. The ombudsmen of only five members of the Council of Europe are without this power, so it is about time that Wales was brought in line with the rest of the UK and Europe. The Cabinet Secretary has noted the reserved position of the Welsh Government with regard to the power, but I think that, within the right parameters, such a power is essential to improve the safeguarding and the protections of other more vulnerable members of society and has the potential to play a considerable preventative role also. In giving evidence to the committee, stakeholders were generally supportive of these powers and of taking the positive part forward, hearing that own-initiative powers are commonplace across Europe. So, there will be a body of good practice from which this Bill will develop in later stages. We also welcome proposed powers to investigate matters relating to the private health sector, which will also make a significant difference to the outcomes the ombudsman is able to obtain. But, obviously, I do need to explain that that's the private sector within the line of care when it involves the health service as well. There's the appalling story of a member of the public who had to wait five and a half years for a response in relation to a complaint about private treatment received by her late husband. Finally, proposed powers to establish a uniform complaints handling procedure across the public sector and to work jointly with other commissioners, statutory advisers, regulators and the Auditor General for Wales to aim to drive improvements in public services complaints handling and responses to the citizen are also welcome. But I have to say there were concerns within the committee about 'Putting Things Right' and the statutory complaints or guidance in terms of complaints procedures at the moment, because I think it is felt across the piste that there does need to be a consistent and a very robust complaints procedure in place here in Wales in the first instance. Because after all, the ombudsman has a tendency to only get involved after people have tried going down the complaints process, and I have to tell you from my own experience working on a number of cases for my own constituents that 'Putting Things Right' hasn't always put things right. The committee has made several recommendations in relation to various revisions to the RIA ahead of this being considered at Stage 2. Of course, our support in taking the Bill forward is qualified in terms of this. I'm pleased to note the acceptance of 18 of our 19 recommendations, but unlike the vast majority of legislation considered in this Siambr, the motion to approve the financial resolution for this Bill has not yet been brought forward, despite the response to the committee's report by the Member in charge yesterday. I would be grateful for clarification from the Cabinet Secretary today as to the reason for this delay, and for his confirmation of the Welsh Government's intention to bring forward the financial resolution within the required time. There's a lot of work that's gone on on this, and we don't want this to fall because of this. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Are you winding up? Janet Finch-Saunders AM: Yes. Without this passing, the committee will be unable to commence Stage 2 scrutiny, and the Bill could remain in some sort of limbo. Anyway, I look forward to taking my part in the scrutiny of this legislation going forward. Thank you. Mike Hedges AM: I fully support the proposed ombudsman Bill. I'm pleased that the first recommendation from the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is to agree the general principles of the Bill, or this debate would have finished a lot earlier than it's going to. I also agree with Mark Drakeford that all legislation being brought forward can be improved during the legislative process. I think that's something that we all, perhaps, need to think about. Can I also thank Simon Thomas for leading on this Bill throughout this Assembly? I would also like to put on record my thanks to Jocelyn Davies, who chaired the Finance Committee in the last Assembly and produced the basis of this Bill. I wish to concentrate today on three main points. The ability to carry out own-initiative investigations, which is available to several other ombudsmen, is important, but it is also important that there are checks and balances to ensure this is not abused. Suggesting the ombudsman consults with other regulators and commissioners before doing so is an important one. Also, if the Assembly controls the budget of the ombudsman, and if the Assembly believes the own-initiative investigations are not value for money, then it can refuse to provide funding for it in the future. I think that is key. The other thing is that, without own-initiative, if you've got seven nursing homes that are owned by one company, and we've had complaints from four of them, you can't go into any of the other three that are run by the same company, which are likely to have the same problems, because you haven't had a complaint from them. The danger is that the bad practice in the other four will be carried out in the other three and you cannot investigate. One of the key proposals is that oral complaints are received. We as Members regularly receive oral complaints. A lot of people are much happier talking to us and giving us an oral complaint than they are putting it in writing, either e-mail or letter. They're not confident in writing. Allowing the ombudsman to receive oral complaints will allow people who do not now complain to do so. The ombudsman accepting oral complaints is in line with the NHS Concerns, Complaints and Redress Arrangements (Wales) Regulations 2011, collectively known as 'Putting Things Right'. So, we don't want a situation where you can go to the NHS, you go through the whole of the NHS procedure complaining, and then when you want to go to the ombudsman, you can't complain orally, you have to put it in writing. That is going to debar a number of people. They're going to be the people who are going to be less educated, less capable of going through the process, and I don't think anybody in this room would like that to happen. So, I think it really is important that those who are not happy in writing are able to deliver their complaints orally. I support the ombudsman having the power to investigate private medical treatment. We've had cases where people have gone to the NHS, gone back to private, gone to the NHS again, and they have a problem. The ombudsman can do the two NHS bits, but the bit in the middle that has been done privately he cannot go through. That is a definite problem, and it's one the ombudsman himself recognises. He cannot be sure at what stage and where the problem occurred. It does limit the ombudsman's ability to investigate private care as part of an NHS patient's journey pathway. It means he cannot give the complainant a full response and this, I feel, and I'm sure other people feel, is unsatisfactory. Any finding with regard to maladministration or service failures should have the same principles applied as NHS healthcare to ensure consistency.This Bill is about improving the ability of the ombudsman to deal with complaints of the people of Wales, and I urge Members to support it because it's about making life better for the people we're here to represent. Gareth Bennett AM: Thanks to Simon Thomas for his work as the lead Member on this Bill and also to the people who participated in the consultation. We heard a considerable amount of evidence on the equality and local government committee on this Bill and we reached a certain degree of consensus on the committee about the need for greater powers for the public services ombudsman. In UKIP, we are generally supportive of this Bill. We agree with the aim of making it easier for people to deal with the ombudsman, including people who want to make a verbal complaint because they lack the confidence to make a written submission. I agree with previous speakers on this point, that it will widen the number of people who can make complaints. The right of the ombudsman to initiate his or her own investigations was discussed at length during the committee's inquiry. I think that this is a valuable tool for the ombudsman if he suspects that systemic problems may be occurring somewhere in the public services sector. Of course, there may be difficulties, as Mike Hedges outlined, and there is a need for checks and balances, but that has been covered, I believe, by the requirement to consult with the regulator. But we also have to bear in mind that, if systemic problems are discovered, then, ultimately, there could be cost savings once those are identified and rectified. We also welcome the ability of the public to pursue complaints involving private medical treatment, that is when treatment involved the NHS at some stage. So, in general, we do welcome the principles of this Bill and we support today's motion. Diolch yn fawr. Nick Ramsay AM: I'm pleased to support this motion and to support the general principles of the public services ombudsman Bill. As we've heard, the ombudsman plays a vital role in ensuring that any member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice is able to make a complaint, and is also able to make that complaint with confidence that it'll be dealt with fairly. Many speakers have covered most of the areas that I was going to. It seems that it's easier to count the number of committees that haven't been involved in the ombudsman's Bill than to say those that have. All I will say is it's been a pleasure working on the Finance Committee with the Chair, Simon Thomas, in developing this. We didn't take the decision lightly to progress with this Bill. We had a great deal of conversation and debate about it, because we did realise that you don't want to legislate lightly, you don't want to over-regulate, you don't want to make law that isn't necessary, if the ombudsman, we felt, had the powers to fulfil his tasks within the current legislation that was there. But we did decide that, on balance, since the introduction of the 2005 Act, best practice and international standards have moved on and we felt that it was important that Welsh legislation reflected this. I concur with the words of my colleague from the Finance Committee Mike Hedges, who said that if a complaint involved tracking a complaint through the process, from the public sector to the private sector and back, even if it's a small amount of time that's in the private sector, as in the case of a medical complaint, then it seemed to us crazy that there should be a restriction on that complaint being progressed. I also agree with the members of the equality committee that if there is an issue of someone's literacy and they only feel comfortable making an oral complaint, as is often the case, then it isn't right that that complaint should be rejected just because of the form that it's been made in. And there should be a futureproofing of the process, so that if there is a new way of presenting complaints in the future, that should be recognised as well. At the same time, as the ombudsman himself told us, you also have to guard against vexatious complaints, and in any complaints system you will get a proportion, a minority, but sometimes a significant minority, of complaints that are either deliberately vexatious or that will peter out during the process of that complaint, and that has to be allowed for as well. This is a different type of Bill, as the Counsel General has said, because it's not being progressed by the Welsh Government, it's being progressed by a committee, and then the Government has its role to play, of course. But as I said at the start, I fully recognise the workload on the Chair of the Finance Committee, so we didn't push him over the edge to develop this in a complete vacuum of debate, thinking, 'Let's just have another piece of law in Wales.' We did believe that it was necessary, but at the same time, I think that some of the amendments that have been put forward are well worth considering, and I look forward to returning to the Finance Committee and following through now with the rest of this process, and hoping that the legislation that falls on the GovernmentóI say it falls on the Government's doormat; it's not a Bill, is itówhatever process it is that the legislation takes to get to the Welsh Government, that that, then, is legislation that can be approved by this Assembly. Neil McEvoy AM: Tony Benn used to say, 'What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?' Now, the ombudsman in Wales seems to enjoy almost absolute power. Power corrupts, we're told, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, how does an everyday person get recourse with the ombudsman in Wales if they are treated badly by the ombudsman? And the answer in Wales is that they just can't. The only option open is a judicial review or a vote in the Assembly. So, unless a person has friends of serious net worth willing to fund a judicial review, the ombudsman has virtual absolute power, and that cannot be right. A person in north Wales claims to have been bullied by the ombudsman. A Cardiff resident states that the ombudsman is corrupt. A person in Carmarthenshire says that the ombudsman has covered things up, and also alleges corruption, and I'm in the process of looking at these allegations. The ombudsman seems to rely on gagging orders, and I want to talk about my experience, because the case in which I was involved and found guilty of an offence was firstly dismissed. Only after the personal intervention of the ombudsman did the investigation begin into me. Now, the investigating officer in my case was a former Cardiff council manager, who left the authority when I was deputy leader during a restructure, and I wasn't allowed to call witnesses in my tribunal. The ombudsman refused to disclose e-mails relating to my case. During the tribunal, a transcript was said to be inaccurateóa court transcript that supported my position. Many members of the public were not allowed into the tribunal either, and many people say it was a farce and a political show trial. I also had proof that the ombudsman had discussed my case, when it was supposed to be confidential, with another individual. I had text messages indicating this, and I wasn't allowed to present them. How can that be right? So, needless to say, I have massiveómassiveóconcerns with the position of ombudsman in Wales and the power that that enjoys. In my opinion, these powers are already being misused. So, why on earth would I vote for more powers? I'll be voting against the proposal. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. Can I call on Simon Thomas to reply to the debate? Simon. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Iíd like to thank the Members whoíve taken part in the discussion today. May I first of all just recognise and be clear about the contribution by the two committees, of course? Iím very pleased to welcome their responses on the general issues with regard to the powers in the Bill thatís before the Assembly today, and also the warm words of the Counsel General, in general, to these proposals, but also a word of warning. Weíll be looking at how we can ensure that the Finance Committee, in preparing the next version of this Bill, responds to the Governmentís requirements and also the requirements of the two committees. May I be clear to John Griffiths, as Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? Even though we canít accept the restatement of the RIA in full before Stage 2, for the reasons Iíve set outóand I hope that you understand now that I also have to discuss amendments from the Government, which also affect thisóI will certainly commit to keep the committee informed about the work that we're doing on these regulations and on the assessment. And as we go through the recommendations and see whether the figures change or whether we receive new informationówhatever we do, we will share that information with the committee, so that it's aware, hopefully, and by the time that the Government is content to put forward a financial resolution, the committee will also see the fuller picture and be able to move towards Stage 2 of this process and see the amendments that shape this Bill ultimately. I welcome in particular the fact that Mick Antoniw, as Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, has acknowledged that this is a consolidation Bill, and I think that we should remind ourselves that this is the first time for us as an Assembly to discuss this Bill, with regard to the powers of the ombudsman, given that itinitially stemmed from the House of Commons, and I think that itís important that weóeven though weíre responsible for recommending and nominating the ombudsman, and that the ombudsman is accountable to this Assembly, weíve not had an opportunity to revise that legislation for a decade, and itís appropriate, I believe, that we do that. Simon Thomas AM: Can I just say, on some of the contributions to the debate that, obviously, I warmly welcome those Members who support the Bill, and the Finance Committee will want to take on board all the comments that have been made, but I'm particularly struck, I think, by comments from people such as Mike Hedges and Janet Finch-Saunders and behind me here with Gareth Bennettóeveryone who's interacted with the ombudsman on behalf of their constituents and has actually seen the work that the ombudsman does, sometimes in solving problems, sometimes being unable to solve the problem but identifying the problem that's there. The new powers in this Bill actually allow the ombudsman to sometimes do some of the workó. Systematic failure I think was mentioned by Gareth Bennettóproblems that have been, for a long period of time, mentioned by Janet Finch-Saunders. These powers are designed to bring together groups or individuals to overcome those, and it's very much centred on the citizen. They're very much centred around the powers that the ombudsman needs to exercise, not as an ombudsman because he's a little dictator, but as an ombudsman on behalf of all of us and on behalf of all our citizens as well. I think many of us who've come across the ombudsmanó. I've had problems solved by the ombudsman; I've had problems that the ombudsman has told me that he can't solve. Well, you know, there is something wrong sometimes with public services in Wales and we need to recognise that, but some of the powers in the Bill around complaints procedures going forward will hopefully address some of those long-standing failures. I very much welcome, therefore, those comments from Members. Nick Ramsay as well was supportive of that and underlined the fact that access needed to be there for justice and the access in these powers does that. I recognise that one Member does not support this Billóor at least one Member has publicly stated that he does not support the Bill, and he was, of course, subject to an adverse report via the ombudsman procedure himself. In answer to Tony Benn's question, of course, the ombudsman is answerable to this Assembly. A vote in this Assembly can dismiss the ombudsman. It needs to be put on record that the ombudsman is not without confines to his powers. And we do trust the ombudsman. There is a lot of trust that has to be invested in an ombudsman, because heóit is currently a heówill exercise great powers on our behalf, and we are suggesting that he has further powers. However, the powers that we are suggesting are further powers in the field of defending the citizen. They do not in any way interfere with the procedure that was set out by Neil McEvoy, which is regarding complaints regarding local councillors. These powers are not related to that whatsoever, and those powers are already contained, of course, in the 2005 Act passed by the House of Commons. So, in taking this Bill forward, I hope people will come to the conclusion that we can use the ombudsman to improve public services in Wales when we identify failures that are systematic or running over a period of time; we can use the ombudsman to help our individual citizen when he or she has suffered some injustice because of a failure by public authorities. None of these powers we want to see used because all of us want to see perfect public authorities in Wales and a perfect administration of natural justice in Walesóit doesn't always happen. But when we do see the exercise of powers by the ombudsman, what we want to see, in turn, from public authorities in Wales is that they listen to what the ombudsman has to say, think about the exercise of their own relationships and administration, think about what they can learn from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, or even internationally, think of what the ombudsman can help them to achieve, and, of course, improve their own behaviour as a result of that. And I regret that not everyone has learnt that lesson. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we defer voting under this item until voting time. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Yr eitem nesaf ar ein hagenda y prynhawn yma yw'r ddadl Aelodau o dan Reol Sefydlog 11.21(iv) ar drafnidiaeth gymunedol, a galwaf ar Mark Isherwood i wneud y cynnig. Mark Isherwood AM: Diolch. Community transport is about providing flexible and accessible community-led solutions in response to unmet local transport needs, and often represents the only means of transport for many vulnerable and isolated people. Significant user groups are older people and disabled people, with a majority of services and projects working in rural areas, but, of course, not exclusively in rural areas. Using everything from minibuses to mopeds, typical services include voluntary car schemes, community bus services, school transport, hospital transport, dial-a-ride, wheels to work, and group-hire services. Most services are demand responsive, taking people from door to door, but a growing number are offering scheduled services along fixed routes where conventional bus services are not available. Services are always run for a social purpose and for a community benefit, and never for a profit, ensuring a broader range of transport needs can be met. The Community Transport Association in Wales represents 100 organisations, many of which are small charities, and all of which provide transport services that fulfil a social purpose and community benefits. One hundred and forty thousand individuals and 3,500 groups are registered to use community transport in Wales. Services deliver approximately 2 million passenger journeys each year, travelling 6 million miles. The sector is predominantly volunteer led, with nearly 2,000 volunteers giving their time freely to ensure that services can be deliveredóa contribution worth millions to the Welsh economy. These vital services help to reduce loneliness and isolation, ensuring that people can access hospitals, GP surgeries, social events, leisure facilities, places of employment, shops and much more. However, despite the obvious positive contribution that community transport makes in Wales, the sector currently faces a number of threats. The responsibility for community transport is distributed across all levels of Government, from EU regulations to UK Government responsibility over permits and licensing, to Welsh Government responsibility over how community transport operates in Wales, to local authorities funding and framing the use of community transport locally. It's therefore vital that all levels of Government together seek to find a solution to the current problems, seek to mitigate the short-term effects on our communities, and look to develop a strong and sustainable long-term future for community transport in Wales. At a devolved level, the Community Transport Association has identified three key issues: that funding settlements do not enable long-term planning; that their members are not remunerated cross departmentally for the work they do, and that one-off capital funding may be necessary to support growth. Whilst welcoming the uplift in concessionary fare reimbursement rates for community transport, they've also called for the formula to be reviewed for community transport operators. The reimbursement rate remains less than 100 per cent, and, while commercial operators can make that back elsewhere, community transport permit restrictions mean that they're unable to recover losses from those journeys. Short-term funding cycles mean that operators are unable to plan for the future and develop sustainably. Late funding decisions can lead to permanent losses, removing vital expertise from the sector. The Welsh Government provides funding directly to transport operators through the bus services support grant, administered on an annual basis by local authorities. The amount allocated to community transport operators varies between local authorities. For example, the Welsh Government suggested that the Vale of Glamorgan Council set a target of £81,160 for spending on community transport last year, but they only contributed £28,200. The combination of annualised funding and lack of certainty of funding amounts makes forward planning extremely difficult, and it's therefore impossible for them to develop meaningful three to five-year business plans. It is particularly problematic when organisations wish to make capital investments in either vehicles or their organisational infrastructure. Mark Isherwood AM: Community transport operators are increasingly providing health and social care services, taking pressure off public sector bodies and allowing people to live independently for longer. However, few operators receive financial recognition for this, relying on volunteers to go the extra mile to ensure that individuals have the support they need. Finding and retaining volunteers is already a challenge, especially as people are working later and often have additional responsibilities. Budgets are therefore needed that support cross-departmental working in order to develop innovative solutions that enable the sector to deliver the activities so obviously required. Operating community transport is more expensive than an average charitable enterprise, and, despite fundraising, some operators will be unable to raise capital for future investment, compromising the development of their services. For example, many converted their vehicles to diesel when told that that was the right thing to do, and replacing these with wheelchair-adapted electric or hybrid vehicles will be costly. A well-targeted capital funding programme could therefore drive innovative projects, extend the scope and reach of community transport operators throughout Wales, and save money for the statutory sector. In 2015, the European Commission told the UK Government to address how its directives on passenger transport operator licensing were interpreted into UK law. This focused on the rules that operators should follow when fulfilling local authority contracts and how derogations from the regulations apply. Alongside this, there's been a campaign from a small but noisy group of commercial operators to force a settlement through threats of legal challenges to community transport operators, local authorities and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. In consequence, the UK Government is currently consulting on plans to change how EU rules for regulating passenger transport services apply in the UK. Its consultation document states that it remains committed to supporting the sector, but that concerns have been raised that some community transport operators that use permits are competing with commercial operators, which, quote, is not allowed by EU law. The proposed changes would mean that, under section 19 and 22, permits used by community transport operators to deliver minibus services and community bus services, many organisations will only be able to engage in competitive tendering for public service contracts, such as social care contracts and school contracts, if they obtain a public service vehicle operators licence, unless there's been no competition for any of these services from holders of PSV operator licences. This is costly and requires that the organisation has a number of paid roles with professional qualifications. During my own most recent visits to community transport operators in north Wales, they emphasised that most operators in Wales are small, unlike some of the giants in England, and that the proposals now threaten the continuation of community transport here. Further, whilst the consultation is still under way, the EU interpretation that community transport in the UK is in breach of its rules is already being treated in some cases, at local level in Wales, as though it's already in force. The UK Department for Transport has announced a transition fund of £250,000 and that they're exploring what further assistance they can give, but it's unclear if a proportion of this will be reserved for Wales, and it's unlikely to be enough to cover transition costs for all organisations affected. Local authorities have said that there'll be a shortage of accessible minibuses if they're unable to work with community transport to deliver services, impacting on passengers who need them most. The older people's commissioner has said that community transport makes a significant contribution to older people's health and well-being, helping them to maintain their independence for longer and participate in community life, plugging the gaps in the public transport network that are particularly important for older people and those living in isolated communities and rural areas. We therefore call on the Welsh Government to work in partnership with the community transport sector and public bodies to ensure the sector can continue in its unique role, providing bespoke transport options for vulnerable people to ensure access to services while the consultation process is under way; to develop contingency plans to mitigate any impact on transport provision through minibus services delivered through section 19 and 22 permits; to publish a clear strategy that recognises the cross-cutting aspect of community transport provision across Welsh Government departments in delivering the Welsh Government's strategic aims; to provide much-needed stability for the sector by moving towards three-year funding arrangements to allow organisations to develop and take forward plans to ensure greater sustainability and a more strategic approach to service provision; and to ensure engagement with relevant partners and stakeholders across Wales to inform the Welsh Government's own response to the UK Government consultation and ensure understanding in the sector of the Welsh Government's position. Evidence has shown that community transport provides £3 value for every £1 spent on it. Community transport offers an invaluable service for those who face particular barriers to accessing transport for whatever reason. Whilst it's a very resilient sector, the individuals and organisations who work within it must be valued and supported. Despite the challenges, Community Transport Association Wales believes there is an opportunity for organisations and authorities in Wales to work together to ensure continued services for our communities. Let us justify their belief. Diolch. Angela Burns AM: I will be supporting the motion before us today on community transport, which has been tabled by individual Members, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to speak to it. I don't intend to rehearse the entire motion, but I do want to emphasise the opening point: 'that the National Assembly for Wales '1. Notes that community transport services play a vital role in our communities, providing transport for people who face barriers to accessing public and private transport, supporting people to live independently and access vital services, while also mitigating issues around loneliness and isolation.' Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is a rural community and encompasses a population that has areas of significant deprivation and a population that is significantly older than the Welsh average. Without community transport, so many of my constituents would struggle to access medical appointments, struggle to get their shopping done and struggle to engage with friends and family. I absolutely recognise the innovative and collaborative thinking that my local community transport providers offer, and I would ask that the Welsh Government recognise the vital role that they play. I have three key areas I want to highlight today. Firstly, that value to our communities. There is a recognition that loneliness and isolation is not only a great social ill, but also on the increase. Communities are more fractured, families more disparate, and people, older people in particular, can be left behind. We have those who have never had strong support networks and those whose networks have dissolved with the passage of time. For many of these people, the lifeline that is community transport really is their only point of contact with the world and is their only enabler. For example, in Pembrokeshire, Country Cars runs a service that not only relies on the use of volunteers' cars, but also has funded and run successful vehicles able to take a wheelchair user and their partner or carer, like the terminally ill gentleman whose bucket list consisted of desperately wanting to see his grandson play cricketójust down the road, but he had no other way to get there; or the isolated, severely disabled young man who was able to borrow one of the accessible cars for the weekend and went, with his two carers, to Swansea to see a favourite band and have the chance to be like young people throughout the country. Another outstanding initiative funded by the National Lottery is Bus Buddies, a system where people are able to not only call a bus to their door to facilitate their ability to get out and about, but can have someone with them. But, of course, the sad reality is that for a substantial number of people, the driver who drops them off on a Friday will be the last person they see until that driver reappears the following Tuesday. Nobodyóabsolutely nobodyóknocks on a great many doors, which is a sad indictment of our society, and why we should be so very grateful to the volunteers of organisations such as Bus Buddies or the Bloomfield centre dial-a-ride, or County Cars. The second area I would like to highlight are the reasons as to why we've become so very reliant on this band of voluntary organisations, and the enormous pressures they find themselves under. Cabinet Secretary, there are three principal strategic documents that the Welsh Government have used to set out transport and community policies: 'Prosperity for All', the new economic action plan and the Welsh Government budget. And, to be frank, Cabinet Secretary, I find them to be incoherent, uncoordinated, and divorced from the front-line, day-to-day reality we see on the ground. In the first of these, the budget document, Welsh Labour has initiated over £100 million-worth of cuts. Welsh Labour have comprehensively failed to build a comprehensive public transport system. Congestion on our roads is crippling our economy. The rail network is staggering under 15 years of Welsh Labour mismanagement of the rail franchise, and bus services have been completely decimated over the past decade. Cumulatively, these policy and delivery failings have created horrendous and unfair pressure on community-based transport services. Community transport has also had to step up to the plate because the number of registered bus services operating in Wales has decreased dramatically in recent years. A total of 53 bus services were reduced, altered or withdrawn in 2015-16 alone. We're all concerned about the potential impacts the Department of Transport outcomes might have on the consultation, which is why, Cabinet Secretary, I'll be interested to hear what contingency plans you might have to mitigate any impact on transport provision through minibus services. My final and very quick area of concern, Deputy Presiding Officer, is the sustainability of these worthwhile services, given that there's a diminishing pool of volunteers and an ever-increasing demand for services. People are working later in life, they have more pulls on their time, and yet there's an increasing demand for community transport services because of the failures of Welsh Government. And I would be interested to know, Cabinet Secretary, how you intend to address those failures. Jane Hutt AM: I'm pleased to take part in this debate, and I'd like to pay tribute to the voluntary community transport schemes that serve my constituency, Dinas Powys Voluntary ConcernóDPVCóand Eastvale Community Transport, which also serves Vaughan Gething's constituency. The latter is a small charity, founded in 1986, based in Penarth, serving the community in the eastern Vale bounded by Penarth and Barry by providing accessible transport in two wheelchair-friendly, 12-seater minibuses with volunteer drivers. Dinas Powys Voluntary Concern provides weekly minibus transport to local supermarkets, to various regular social activities, and for a weekly luncheon club and to a church service. DPVC also works closely with the Vale of Glamorgan Council around the Greenlinks service, which had support from European funding. Greenlinks is supported by the Vale council, working in partnership with DPVC, using a dedicated Volkswagen Caddy with wheelchair adaptations, which takes elderly patients to and from the new Dinas Powys medical centre. Both DPVC and Eastvale Community Transport are models of voluntary commitment, serving local communities in my constituency. They provide vital services for elderly people. They break down isolationóthat's already been said in opening remarks. They break down that isolation for those who use the services, but they provide a rewarding role for experienced volunteer drivers. Dinas Powys Voluntary Concern says the majority of its volunteer drivers are retiredómany are over the age of 70ówhich means that there is a need to renew D1 licences, with medicals, et cetera, at regular intervals. They are concerned about the future recruitment of volunteers who are eligible to drive minibuses, as many will not have the required D1 entitlement on their driving licences. Both these organisations would like section 19 permits to remain unchanged, so that the charities can continue to provide the transport services that are currently provided and have the flexibility to adapt to changing needs within the community. And, finally, both organisations comment on the insecurity of funding, the short-term nature of funding, and raise concerns that any changes to the conditions of section 19 licences, such as requiring special qualifications, could add to costs and could potentially lead to the closure of the valuable and unique services they provide. What is important, I think, is tható. I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary, in responding to this, will consider the evidence from the community transport sector in this debate, particularly if the Welsh Government is responding to the Department for Transport consultation on community transport permits. But I also recognise and know that the Welsh Government is very supportive of the community transport sector and the unique role it plays as part of an accessible transport service, and I'm very glad to take part in this important debate today. David J Rowlands AM: I will begin by confirming that UKIP will be supporting this motion today. You will, of course, not be surprised that I wish to point out that this debacle is the result of European Community regulation 1071/2009, which is being imposed on the UK and takes no account that community transport is an almost unique British solution to plugging gaps in our commercial transport provision. The Department for Transport interpreted the regulation in such a way as they saw the term 'not for profit' and 'non-commercial' as one and the same. This interpretation has been in force since 1985 and has been the regime under which community transport has been operated. European Union rules do not make this distinction, and herein lies the severe problems facing our CT operators. I'm sure that all in this Chamber will acknowledge the huge positive impact that community transport has on many communities and people, particularly those with special needs, which include the elderly, the isolated and the disabled, as well as providing much-needed transport for many social activities, including sporting occasions. Any regulation that puts financial or strategic pressure on the community transport operators is an unwelcome intervention. The community transport fraternity has put in place its own industry standards, and there is no evidence to suggest that it is any less safe than ordinary commercial operations. Indeed, there is much evidence to show that they go further than some commercial operations with regard to training staff, for instance, on the use of disability equipment and specific interaction with disabled people. If the Department for Transport is forced to adopt these EU regulations, CT operators will be faced with considerable costs to implement these measures, particularly in the short term. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that both the Department for Transport and/or the Welsh Government provide the funds for this transition period. The consequences of not providing this funding could be catastrophic for community transport operators, with many of their services closing. As has been said, data shows there is a £3 return for every £1 invested in CT. It would be unthinkable that this funding would not be made available. Lastly, the uncertainty that now exists with regard to regulation and funding is already affecting community transport operators with regard to retaining staff and long-term strategy. We call upon the Department for Transport and on the Welsh Government to commit to funding any operational changes. Suzy Davies AM: I particularly wanted to contribute to this debate, having been a volunteer with two community charities who provided or worked with community transport in rural areas. The experiences that I had completely reinforce what other Members have already said today about the purpose and outcomes of often co-productive community transport organisations. As weíll know from examples from our own constituencies and regions, some of those organisations go beyond being a straightforward on-call service and become very proactive in their communities in meeting the challenges of loneliness and isolation. One of the organisations I was involved with worked directly with volunteer drivers using their own cars. In that one case, we came across resistance to our work from a local taxi firm, which complained that our drivers were undercutting them and depriving them of business. I suspect Kirsty Williams knows what I'm talking about here. Itís pretty similar, I think, to the argument that commercial transport companies are running in order to prompt the review of the permits granted under section 19 and section 22 of the Transport Act 1985. You can see why they make the case: they are subject to more restrictions, and they have to pay their workforce. But, in my view, it is a completely false argument, and one that gets particularly complicated where a community transport organisation is asked by stranded residents basically to fill a gap left when a service is dropped by a commercial operator because it's unprofitable. That is a position in which DANSA, which is operating in the west of my region and in the Amman valley, effectively finds itself in today. To quote them, the removal of the sections 19 and 22 permitting regime would be 'catastrophic'. Section 22 permits are issued to bodies concerned for the social and welfare needs of one or more communities. If those communities are abandoned by commercial operators, the needs of that community do not disappear overnight. In fact, I would argue that the social and welfare needs of those communities are likely to increase if people are stuck in their village, because taxis are expensive and you only use them when you absolutely have to. Weíve already heard from other Members how community transport can help tackle loneliness and isolation. DANSA is a particularly good example of such an organisation, which proactively arranges trips and events for older or other vulnerable people who are at risk of just that. So, they are not just a reactive, on-call bus service. This is why Iíd like Welsh Governmentó. I appreciate that it's the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport responding to this, but this isn't just a debate about transport competition, which is how it's been presented to the Department for Transport. As the Bridgend council consultation on buses is already revealing, community transport canít always fill those gaps anyway. And, as we argued with that Powys taxi firm, we are talking about passengers who would, effectively, be stuck if not for community transport, sometimes just for reasons of cost. Members may have been reminded by the NHS Confederation that community transport operators can be contracted by the ambulance trust to provide non-emergency trips to and from hospital. This can be a very useful arrangement, and a good core income stream for many community transport providers. To be honest, I cannot see the philosophical difference between this and a local authority contracting community transport to serve difficult-to-reach communities. Even so, particularly in rural areas, the car journeys can be quite long between home and hospital, and made longer by the fact that the car or, sometimes, the bus will be picking up and dropping off other patients as part of the run. I remember a particular case of three women travelling from rural Brecknock to Velindre hospital. Their cancer treatments only took a few minutes, but they spent a considerable part of the day stuck in a car, in the company of strangers, feeling pretty lousy, and travelling from house to house collecting the carload. For those women, they were basically told that this was the service that the state could provide for them, albeit in a car not in an ambulance. It wasn't really what I would consider to be person-centred. Direct access to community cars would have given those womenóand I think they could have had it, actuallyóthe chance to make the journey alone, even if they had to a pay a modest contribution towards the trip. This is where organisations like the Pontarddulais and district community car scheme come into their own: cheaper than a taxi and run by volunteers who perhaps have the time to respond to a passenger's needs without watching the clock, which, unfortunately, taxi drivers do have to consider. Three-year funding rounds would be a huge help to organisations, thereís no doubt about that. But I urge you, Cabinet Secretary, to look at point 3(c) of the motion in particular, which is why I want you to consider this as a debate about the well-being of present and future generations and not just about transport. As we heard from Mark Isherwood and Angela Burns, the decisions of Welsh Government have affected the provision of public transport. But it's not just about Welsh Government and being cross-sector within Government departments, although they obviously need to sit up and take notice. It's about the public, private and third sectorsósociety itselfórecognising that mobility, connectivity if you like, creates choices and freedoms to exercise those choices. So, funding that connectivity is a responsibility that all need to share, and it's not just for a silo departmental budget. Russell George AM: Can I thank very much the Members that have brought forward this debate today? I certainly will be supporting the motion. The motion has my full support. Now, the Powys Association for Voluntary Organisations, or PAVO as they are known for short, have been raising concerns with me about the current threats that threaten the continuation of community transport in Powys. I thank them very much for their providing me with a very comprehensive briefing and report on this issue, which I shall refer briefly to today in my contribution. I think Members will understand that Powys's geography and sparse population and relatively limited public transport infrastructure mean that community transport, of course, provides an absolutely crucial lifeline to vulnerable residents who would not otherwise be able to access the services and opportunities that matter to them. Other Members have mentioned them in their contributions. Now, the Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations provides support themselves for a range of community transport schemes operating across Powys. There are Dial-a-Ride operations, school contracts, community car schemes, taxi card schemes and minibus hire for third-party sectors. Certainly, Dial-a-Ride as wellóa number of trustees operating Dial-a-Ride services have been in contact with me with a range of concerns for some time. I think all Members have mentionedóand I've listened to every Member that has spoken so far in this debate todayóthat it seems that the single largest area of activity and journeys with regard to community transport providers is associated with social care and health needs. In Powys itself, this financial year, groups in Powys drove over 800,000 miles for 8,000 people in Powys and delivered 108,000 single passenger journeys. Now, over 6,000 of these people are over 60, and 1,800 have a disability. I point this out, of course, to demonstrate the importance of community transport to people in my rural constituency who face barriers in accessing services with very limited private transport. Without these services, of course, not only is it estimated that half of the 8,000 passengers in Powys would lose their transport, but the financial consequences for the local authority and the health board would be significant. It's estimated that they would have to spend around just under £800,000 to cover the same health and social services currently serviced by community transport operators. As the motion notes, there is real concern about the proposals contained within the Department for Transport consultation on community transport permits, which would mean that any service in receipt of payment in exchange for the transport provided, whether that be fares or grants or even lunch for the driver, would be considered commercially and subject to new licensing arrangements. This, of course, would have significant costs with regard to running services, limit the availability of community transport services to deliver contracted services for local authorities, and affect some aspects of licensing affecting the group hire of minibuses. I'm just going to read a little bit from the report that PAVO provided to me. There are nine community transport organisations providing services in Powys. Now, as it stands, according to the Powys report, having discussed this issue with each of the nine providers, five would be forced to close altogether, two might continue to operate under the new requirements but would be forced to only operate within the commercial market and, as such, they might still close, and two currently use vehicles with under nine seats and would therefore not be affected by the change. They go on to say that because of the legal nature of licensing arrangements, it is anticipated that these community transport schemes would be obliged to cease, affecting services immediately upon confirmation or enforcement of the new licensing requirements. The motion today calls on the Welsh Government to work in partnership with these groups and provide a clear strategy to recognise the cross-cutting aspects of community transport provision across Welsh Government departments, but I very much hope that the Cabinet Secretary will be able to respond positively to today's debate in a way that provides some stability for the groups that I and others have mentioned. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: I now call the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates. Ken Skates AM: Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'd like to begin by thanking Members for their contribution today to an important debate about a vital service for many, many communities in Wales. I recognise that the community transport permit regime is a non-devolved matter and that it will continue to be a matter reserved to the UK Government, even after commencement of the Wales Act, but I fully agree with the first paragraph of the motion that we are debating today. Community transport services play a vital role, providing transport for people who face barriers to accessing public transportóand, indeed, private transportósupporting people to live independently and to access vital services. As many Members have observed, community transport also plays a crucial role in mitigating issues around loneliness and isolation, particularly in our most rural areas. As we begin work on the new national transport strategy and our plans for reforming the way we plan and deliver local bus transport services in the long term, I am convinced that community transport should and will make a vital contribution to an integrated public transport network in the future. Ken Skates AM: I'm pleased to say that it remains my intention to set out our detailed proposals for reforming how we plan and deliver local bus services in the near future, and as part of those proposals I'll be keen to ensure that community transport providers will be able to bid for public sector contracts to provide essential public services. The motion calls for the Welsh Government to take action in support of the community transport sector in Wales, and I'm pleased to report to Members that action is taking place. We have been working in partnership with the community transport sector for many years, and we will continue to do so. Core funding has been provided to the Community Transport Association for a number of years to support and develop the sector, and this funding will be maintained in 2018-19. Yes, the UK Government announced last month additional funding of £250,000 to provide advice and support for operators who may need to apply for public service vehicle operator licences, but Mark Isherwood is right that this is a relatively tiny sum of money and we need clarity about how much Wales can expect to receive. Working together with the sector in Wales, we also need to consider very carefully the potential impact of any changes the UK Government has proposed to the community transport permit regime. The public service operator regime is more rigorous than the permit regime, and it's right that this should be the case. But simply forcing operators to incur these potential additional costs when the benefits to passengers are negligible is not a viable solution. Operators must be permitted to operate services to passengers under the most appropriate licensing regime. Now that we are in a position to assess the potential impact of the UK Government's proposals for the community transport permit regime, we are working with the CTA in Wales to develop contingency plans to mitigate any potentially negative impact on services provided under the community transport permit regime. One of the key themes emerging from the bus summit that I hosted in Wrexham last year was the need for a more stable funding agreement between the Welsh Government, the public sector and the bus industry. I think this has been well recognised since the summit, and in the challenging financial climate that persists for the public sector, I've continued to prioritise the funding provided for local bus services. I've maintained the level of support for the bus services support grant at £25 million for a fifth year, and my guidance to local authorities states that not less than 5 per cent of this funding should be set aside to support community transport in their local areas. Our indicative budget for the next two years thereafter further maintains this budget commitment, so we are providing the funding stability needed to plan and deliver our local bus services. I have to say I was, though, astonished to hear some comments from the Conservatives that would suggest that this Government is to blame for the fragility of local bus services and for creaking rail infrastructure. The fact is that, firstly, bus services are vulnerable due to the disaster of deregulation by a Conservative Government in the mid 1980s, and secondly, rail structure is creaking because of dreadful underfunding of the Welsh route network because of decisions by the Department for Transport in the current control period, where barely more than 1 per cent of funding has been allocated for the Wales route, in spite of the fact that it contains around 10 per cent of track. But rather than get dragged down into a pointless political point-scoring exercise, I wish to instead pay tribute to the community transport sector for keeping this item right at the top of the transport agenda. It's disappointing that continued use of the community transport regime in Britain has been the subject of so much uncertainty. I'm sure every Member in this Chamber would agree. I also agree with the findings of the House of Commons Transport Committee that, however well intentioned, some of the comments included in the Department for Transport's letter of 31 July last year could be deemed to be ill-judged. The public consultation that has subsequently been published goes some way to alleviate some of the concerns across the sector, and whilst we can welcome the commitment to retain the community transport permit regime, there is still work to be done to persuade the UK Government that some of the changes that have been proposed remain a deep cause for concern. One such example, Deputy Presiding Officer, is the restriction on permit operators being able to bid for public service contractsóonly if public service operators have declined to do so. In some areas, competition from community transport providers may be the only competition for public sector contracts. Deputy Presiding Officer, I'll be sharing my views and that of the sector in Wales with the Department for Transport as part of this consultation, and given its importance to the provision of local bus services to some of the most vulnerable people and communities in Wales, it's my intention to share this information and my formal response with Members of the National Assembly. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you very much. Can I now call on Dai Lloyd to reply to the debate? Dai Lloyd AM: Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Itís a pleasure to draw this debate to a close. Iím pleased to have given a platform for community transport as well. Itís not very often that we discuss this issue, so Iím very pleased to be able to speak on it. I congratulate my fellow Members on their contributions, because what Iím doing now is summarising what people have said, but itís important to note that the transport that we haveóthatís the glue that holds our communities together. Russell George, amongst others, talked about the contribution to the health service and the care service, and from my background as a GP in the Swansea area, I know about the contribution that voluntary community transport makes, or many of our patients wouldnít be able to come and see us in our surgeries, not to mention going to our hospitals. So, as weíre all aware, there is a great deal of pressure on the ambulance service, and as has been said this afternoon, there are contracts between the ambulance service and community transport to enable that vital service to help our ambulance services. We all know about the pressure thatís on our ambulances. Now, community transport takes thousands of patients to appointments in our hospitals and to our GP surgeries every day of the week. That contribution is vital, and as a number have said, thereís no profiteers; itís voluntary, itís informal very often, and thatís the strength of community transport. It's entirely vital. Thank you to Mark Isherwood for opening the debate and for revealing and explaining the issue and discussing the challenge in terms of funding and the challenge with regard to the new licensing system as well. Those are the two main challenges. Angela Burns talked about the same issues, and Iím very pleased that Jane Hutt has been able to speak in this debate as well from her experience, and also David Rowlands and Suzy Davies as well as Russell George, as I already said. Iím very pleased to acknowledge the response of the Cabinet Secretary, who is supportive of the proposal in the motion, which deserves our unanimous agreement and a vote in favour this afternoon. This is a vitally important area: there is a vital contribution that community transport makes. There is pressure and thereís uncertainty now, but our health service and our care services are very dependent on community transport. Yes, itís voluntary, but itís crucial. As the inquiry that we as a health committee undertook into loneliness and isolation discovered, itís vitally important in terms of transport to keep people from being isolated or feeling lonely. As others have said, very often, public transport stops in the evenings and on weekends and thatís where this glue of community transport comes into its own; it fills the gap where there is no other transport available. And for those people who volunteer to be drivers, very often, for these charities, for community transport groupsóitís of benefit to those people as well to help their own personal development. And very often, they look for something to tackle their own personal loneliness and isolation, and they volunteer for this community transport. So, itís a win-win situation, and so it deserves our wholehearted support. We heard the figures from Mark Isherwood in opening: those millions of journeys and millions of miles travelled every year by patients and others who have to get to their destinations, and the vital contribution that community transport makes. It is a comprehensive motion and it deserves all of our support. Thank you very much. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Item 7 has been postponed until 18 April, so we now move to voting time. Unless three Members wish for the bell to be rung, I am going to proceed to voting time. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Okay, so we move to vote on the general principles of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill, and I call for a vote on the motion tabled in the name of Simon Thomas. Open the vote. Close the vote. For the motion 47, no abstentions, one against. Therefore, the motion is agreed. Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding Officer: Item 9 has had no motion tabled, and so, therefore, before we move to debate Stage 3 of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill, I will suspend proceedings for 15 minutes. The bell will be rung five minutes before we reconvene, and I would encourage Members to return to the Chamber promptly. Thank you. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call the Assembly to order. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: We now reach Stage 3 of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: And so the first group of amendments to be considered relate to environmental principles and governance. Amendment 9 is the lead and only amendment in this group, and I call on Simon Thomas to move and speak to the amendment. Simon Thomas. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you very much, Llywydd. I move amendment 9. I make no apologies for returning to an area that we discussed yesterday, but I won't rehearse everything that was raised yesterday either, but I just wanted to emphasise why we have returned to this issue. As Members will hopefully recall, although a great deal has happened since yesterday, the Bill as it currently stands doesn't include a specific reference to some of the environmental principles that underpin current European legislation. Now, the Government's argument yesterday was that we have legislation in Wales that either derives from the European Union or directly Welsh legislation that has been drawn up in the context of European legislation that would do the job, and I'm not convinced that that's sufficient. And, if you like, the position that I and Plaid Cymru are taking here was endorsed just half an hour ago in the Scottish Parliament, where an amendment similar to this was passed by the Scottish Parliament, placing environmental principles on the face of their Bill in the Scottish Parliament. And who moved that amendment? A member of the Labour Partyóa member of the Labour Party against the SNP Government in Scotland. So, we have the Labour Party in Scotland wishing to place environmental principles on the face of their Bill, and you have the Labour Party here rejecting an amendment that does exactly the same thing. Well, there is no consistency there, so I make no apologies in returning to this point. The amendment that you have before you today is different from the one you had yesterdayóitís better, if anything. Of course, weíve had at least 24 hours to think about it. Itís not better for the Government, because they will reject this even more robustly. But the part of the amendment thatís different on this occasion is clause 4, which relates to placing a duty on Welsh Government Ministers to seek to do what I referred to yesterday, but wasnít included within the amendment yesterday, namely to close the governance gap in this area. As we leave the European Union, as I said yesterday, there will be no direct right for Welsh citizens now to go immediately to the European Court of Justice on some of these issues, and we donít know what the Westminster Government will put in place of that. We donít know what will be put in its place. And therefore this amendment has a clause added to it, which ensures that those functions that were carried out by the Commission and the European Court of Justice should now remain for public authorities in Wales, and that there will be a duty on Welsh Government Ministers to seek to do that. We canít bind anyone because we are leaving the European Unionóthis Bill is just a continuity Bill; it canít add anything that isnít already there. But the point that we make is that it is already there. We already have this access to the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. I asked the question on this issue directly to Lesley Griffiths todayóthe complaint from Afonydd Cymru, the six river trusts in Wales, about the state of Welsh rivers. They have the right to go to the Commission. Iím sure the Government has a very good defence, but they have that right to approach the Commission. When we leave the European Union, weíre not sure what those rights will be. So, that amendment closes that gap, to a certain extent, but in an appropriate manner, and restates those environmental principles that I covered yesterday. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Jenny Rathbone. [Interruption.] Neil Hamilton. Neil Hamilton AM: Diolch, Llywydd. Well, I adopt my traditional role of being a friendly, disputatious neighbour of Simon Thomas in this particular instanceónot that I'm opposed, obviously, to having a high level of environmental protection. Anybody in his right mind wants that; we all live in this world, and we all want to be protected against the ills that come from pollution. But I am a bit worried about the nature of the precautionary principle when it's inserted into law. This is something that was inserted into European law as a result of the Maastricht treaty in 1992, and what I think it seeks to do, actually, is to remove the balancing process that should be at the heart of what we do in deciding on environmental policy. There are a number of problems that this can create because, in the first instance, of course, it can block innovation if it's applied too strictly. If we had applied this rule back in the nineteenth century, we may never have seen steam engines appear, or railways. And, indeed, we would never have removed the man with the red flag who used to precede motor cars until 1896, as a result of which legislation to remove we have the London to Brighton car run every year. A fear of the unknown, of course, is a problemóor can be. And, yes, we should always, of course, want to have a high level of environmental protection, but we should weigh that up against the cost of doing nothing, and the cost of alternatives that are available. So, if we apply this principle without regard to that, then we are actually, perhaps, making things worse rather than better. Just take an example: if we, as they have done in Germany now, decided to bring an end to nuclear power generationóthat has led to greater reliance upon fossil fuels. And if you accept the man-made global warming theories, that could, of course, produce a worse outcome in environmental terms, not a better one. Indeed, Germany is building a large number of new coal-fired power stations whilst it's closing its nuclear generation, and also becoming more dependentóand this is another geopolitical issue of great topical interestóupon Russia for gas supplies. So, there are all sorts of reasons why we might not wish to apply the precautionary principle with too great a rigour. Why is it safer or more precautionary to focus on the potential harms of new activities or technologies, without reference to the activities or technologies that they might displace? There is no a priori reason to assume that newer technologies or less-known risks are more dangerous than older technologies or familiar threats. This principle, applied in the United States, has led to some very curious cases indeed. In the face of scientific uncertainty, some formulations don't specify any minimum threshold of plausibility or risk that acts as a triggering condition, so that any indication that a proposed product or activity might harm health or the environment is sufficient to invoke the principle. There was one interesting case called Sancho and the US Department of Energy, where a litigant began a lawsuit, which included the popular worry that the large hadron collider in Switzerland would cause destruction of the earth by a black hole. I mean, this was seriously litigated. It was, fortunately, thrown out by the judge eventually. But when we introduce broad principles of this kind that are capable of giving rise to sometimes complex litigation, we set a hare running and we don't know where it's going to end. So, whilst I believe that proper regard for the environment must be upheld, it's got to be done, always, on the basis of science and a balance of risk. So, whilst I'm not opposed to the principles that Simon Thomas's amendment seeks to cause us to focus upon, I do think that if we were to accept it, it would impose upon the Government too onerous a responsibility and would actually, in a sense, deprive us as legislators of one of our primary functions, which is to be the balancing and judgmental grouping that, ultimately, in the name of the people, decides what's best for our country. Mick Antoniw AM: I have no problem whatsoever with the principles as they're outlined in the amendment, and as it's drafted, and to that extent, in its drafting, it is a good amendment. It is just that it is a wholly inappropriate amendment in this particular piece of legislation. I have to say, from my personal view, had this been an amendment that came before the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, there would've been issues that we would've wanted to considerówould've had to consideróas to the implications and how it relates to some of the competence issues. What I would say is that our Bill is not the same as the Scottish Bill; they are not replicas of one another. The drafting is very, very different. In fact, I think the drafting of our Bill is actually significantly better than the Scottish Bill. I think it is more comprehensive than the Scottish Bill, but establishing these particular principles in this particular way, what that will do is it will apply into areas that may well have unforeseen consequences, particularly in application to those areas where there may be grey areas as to whether they are matters for us or matters for the UK Government, or across, whether they are grey areas. If that were the case and if this matter were then to be referred, in some way, to the Supreme Court, they would become, indeed, quite significant issues. Now, we might well win those, but what I would say is that this is a constitutional Bill of such constitutional importance to Wales that I'm not prepared to support a gambleó David Melding AM: We're embarking on this huge constitutional Bill with a matter of profound principle that has been placed into the Scottish version of, well, their Bill, and you're now saying we don't have time to really examine these things and fully consider them. So, isn't this whole procedure an utter sham? Mick Antoniw AM: Well, no. In actual fact, David, as you well know, what I'm doing is commenting on an amendment that's put in that has not been raised previously, an amendment that could be raised at any stage in any piece of legislation, and I'm also reminding you, of course, that the Welsh Bill is different from the Scottish Bill and has adopted a different approach. What I'm actually saying is that because of the importance of the constitutional issue to this Assembly and to the legislation that is going through Westminster, it would be reckless to actually put that on the table and to take that particular gamble with the constitutional status of this Bill. For that reason, I think it is an inappropriate amendment and one that I would oppose. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call on the leader of the house, Julie James. Julie James AM: Well, I was going to start by thanking Members for their contributions, but I'm a little hesitant to do that. I am, though, grateful that Simon Thomas has again demonstrated the great importance the Assembly places on ensuring the environment in Wales is preserved for future generations, and I'm grateful for that, because, as a Government, we do wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments behind the amendment. We've been clear and consistent in our message that Brexit must not result in any dilution of the rights that currently flow from our membership of the EU or of the standards that apply across member states. This includes environmental standards. I referred yesterday, during the Stage 2 debate, to our proven track record on the environment. This includes the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, which provides an important overarching framework for environmental protection in Wales. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, a landmark piece of legislation, will guide our use of the powers in the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. It places the environment and sustainable development at the heart of our Government here in Wales. I emphasise again how Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, has already made clear that we are committed to maintaining and enhancing environmental standards, and we will continue to build on the positive outcomes we have achieved to date. This clearly demonstrates the Government's commitment to the environment. While we are unequivocal in our support for the environmental principles cited in Simon Thomas's amendment, we have to consider the amendment in the context of the Bill before us today and recognise the implications that passing the amendment would have. The LDEU Bill already sets out how the various types of EU law are to be converted into, and secured within, our domestic legal system after we leave the EU. Because environmental principles do not have a single legal status or effect, this Bill will apply differently to them, depending on the matter at issue. For example, the precautionary principle, as a general principle of EU law, is given effect by section 7 of the Bill. It requires that all EU derived law must be interpreted in accordance with it. The polluter-pays principle will be subject to section 5 of the Bill and will continue to be part of the domestic law in Wales after exit. The amendment Simon Thomas has tabled today differs from the amendment he tabled at Stage 2 in one important wayóand you made specific reference to this. It makes reference to environmental governance and the functions currently carried out by EU institutions with regard to the protection of the environment. Can I reassure Members that we are absolutely committedóalthough I'm not sure I'm reassuring Neil Hamilton, but I reassure everybody elseóthat we are absolutely committed to ensuring that we do not leave any gaps in environmental protections after we leave the EU? It's in all our interests to ensure that, for example, any environmental damage continues to be monitored and that action to enforce the law is taken. This Bill confers all the powers needed to transfer any existing functions relating to the policing, monitoring or enforcement of all environmental EU law. Llywydd, the primary purpose of this Bill is to fill the legislative gaps that will arise as a result of the UK leaving the EU, including those in relation to the environment. This is a Bill designed to provide legislative continuity as we leave the EU. It has been introduced to this Assembly via the emergency procedure, and, as such, there has been minimal time for scrutiny of new and emerging issues. This is not the vehicle to provide for the new legislative framework for the environment post Brexit, which this amendment seeks to do. [Interruption.] Well, I can hear David Melding muttering from below. I was glad to see him take part in the debate todayóI will take an intervention. David Melding AM: You now have the audacity as a Government to make a virtue of the fact that you used an emergency procedure, which, of course, doesn't mean you can actually scrutinise things properly. That's what you've just told Simon Thomas. I mean, it is shambolic. Julie James AM: Well, I think that's really interesting, because, of course, the reason we're using the emergency procedure is because of the UK's shambles in negotiating our exit from the EU, and that's what's driven us into this position. Llywydd, there are a number of other issues that have informed the Government's decision not to accept this amendment. Firstly, we recognise the importance of the environment; it's not the only important area of law governed at the EU level. If we were to accept this amendment, we would be giving prominence to the environment above and beyond a number of other extremely important issues, such as social rights, workers' rights and protected food names, just by way of some examples. We do not believe it would be right to start specifying a non-exhaustive list of important matters, as it would begin to cast doubt on the scope of the powers contained in the Bill, which I'm sure is not the intention of the amendment. The second issue I must highlight is the amendment's far-reaching implications. It would apply to all functions under the Bill, not simply the regulations made under sections 3, 4 and 5. It would include other functions contained in the Bill, such as the function to provide consent to subordinate legislation made by UK Government Ministers under sections 14 and 15, powers to specify fees and charges and the power to specify exit day. Of greater concern, however, is its application to section 4 of the Bill and the power to restate EU derived enactments. These include legislative and executive functions covering a very broad range of subjects. If the amendment was passed, these functions would all, for the first time, be the subject of a new duty to have regard to these principles. These principles and governance duties would not be limited to the steps we take now as the UK leaves the EU, but would apply well into the future. This amendment goes well beyond the stated purpose of this Bill, which is to ensure continuity. Because we are taking this Bill through using the emergency procedure, we have not had the usual opportunity to scrutinise this amendment properly or to consider its impact on the extension of the scope and purpose of the Bill. The third issue is that it creates an avenue of legal challenge to the exercise of powers under the Bill, but also in relation to existing powers contained in a broad range of enactments. The risk of challenge would arise in relation to possible failures to adhere to what is a broad-ranging set of principles that are specified in the amendment. We have not been able to analyse what the full implications of this amendment are and how it impacts on all of the existing functions across the broad range of subjects it would apply to, not just in the short term, but in many years to come. We cannot, therefore, support it. [Interruption.] I wonder, David, how you feel about the UK withdrawal Bill, in that case. I want to conclude by giving Members this commitment: this Government will take the first proper legislative opportunity to enshrine the environmental principles into law and close the governance gap. I would hope, on the basis of that commitment, and in the knowledge that the Government fully supports the sentiments behind this, that Simon Thomas will feel able to withdraw his amendment. Diolch. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Simon Thomas to reply to the debate. Simon Thomas AM: Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Can I start with the positive and just say that I do welcome the political statement, if I can put it that way, made by the leader of the house, around no dilution of environmental standards andówhat she has just concluded in sayingóto seek an early legislative opportunityópresumably after we have left the European Union, that isóto restate some of these principles? I'm pleased we did retable this. It's allowed new ideas to come into the debate; not all of which I agree with, but at least new ones. I have to say to Neil Hamilton that I don't think he really understands how the EU precautionary principle is utilised. Most of his examples were from America, where an Uber self-driving car has just knocked down and killed a pedestrian, of course. So, there is perhaps a lack of precautionary principle in Arizonaóthat's for certain. We need to focus on what we have here. The precautionary principle is not a stop to development, otherwise Jane Hutt would not be asking questions about an incinerator in Barry. Otherwise, we wouldn't be asking questions about a new M4 motorway. We wouldn't be asking questions about ancient woodland in Northop being demolished for another new road. The precautionary principle does not stop development. It makes you think of development in the light of future generations, and that's what our foundational Act of the well-being of future generations is. That embodies a lot of the precautionary principle in the action that it does, and I don't think that necessarily restating these on the face of a Bill is, in itself, defective. Now, if the amendment itself is defectiveógone too far or not good enoughóthen the Government could, of course, table its own amendment. That's what I hoped would happen. I hoped to flush that out, and I was unable to do that, and I regret that, because when we look at what's happened in Scotlandó. Yes, it's a different Bill to that in Scotland; they have the different powers model, of course. We're getting this through just on our own old powers model. Nevertheless, the political commitment in Scotland is very clear. So, who tabled it? I said a little earlier that it was a Labour Member, but it was a Labour Member with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. And we have a coalition Government here that has a Liberal Democrat in it, somebody who describes themselves as an independent environmentalist, and the Labour Party. This is exactly the coalition that's tabled these amendments within the Scottish Parliament, and I just don't see why this Welsh Government has not moved that one step further and brought forward their own amendments to deal with this. Because if this one doesn't work, and the Scottish Bill is different, bring forward an amendment that does work and suits this Bill. And if I might conclude on my final point, because membersó. You know, members of the Government bringing forward this emergency Bill are tired. Are you tired? Do you want to go to sleep? Are you tired, Alun Davies? Do you want to go to sleep? Alun Davies AM: You're boring me. Simon Thomas AM: I'm boring you, am I? Well, I'm sorry I'm boring you. I'm sorry I'm boring you about something that you think is so important that you'll bring it forward as emergency legislation. I'm so sorry it's boring you. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Are you taking an intervention? Simon Thomas AM: From Alun Davies? Certainly. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: No, from Mick Antoniw. Simon Thomas AM: From Mick Antoniw. I was just about to deal with Mick Antoniw's points, but if he wants to intervene before I deal with them. Mick Antoniw AM: Yes. I'll just make this point that if there is any merit whatsoever in the argument, 'This might cause difficulty for the Bill at a later stage,' is it a gamble you're prepared to risk the whole of the legislation on, on the basis of a luxury? Simon Thomas AM: From a Member who introduced an asbestos Bill that went straight to the Supreme Court and cost £60,000 to this Assembly, that is a bit rich. Mick Antoniw AM: What relevance does that have to this legislation? Simon Thomas AM: That's a bit rich. It's notó Mick Antoniw AM: What possible relevance does that have? Simon Thomas AM: Would you like to intervene again and explain? You persuaded this Assembly to support the Bill that went straight to the Supreme Court. Mick Antoniw AM: No, I did not. With respectówith respectóthe Member has got it wrong, as he has got so many things on this wrong. It was a recommendation from the Counsel General, and it was appropriate because of specific circumstances. It has no comparison whatsoever. The point is: are you prepared to gamble with what is the most important constitutional piece of legislation we've had in this Chamber? Simon Thomas AM: Such an important piece of legislation that your ex-natural environment Minister just yawns and says he's tired and bored with it. [Interruption.] That's how important it is. [Interruption.] I'm starting to think that maybe the Conservatives have a point here: maybe the Government's not taking this seriously. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I think you need to focus on amendment 9 now, Simon Thomas. Finish your responding to the debate. Simon Thomas AM: Well, amendment 9 will notó. If it is included in the Bill, amendment 9 will not damage the Bill in the Supreme Court, because the Member who did bring forward the asbestos Bill, and was the Counsel General for a while, knows full well that the Supreme Court does not throw out whole Bills when one amendment is found, or one clause is found, to be defective. It simply adjusts the Bill. He knows that. Therefore, there is no danger that this Bill will be rejected by the Supreme Court if one aspect of itóthis amendment, included in the Billóis found to be defective. Therefore, I hope the Assembly supports this amendment. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 9 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll therefore move to an electronic vote, and I call for the vote to be opened. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 19, one abstention, 33 against. Therefore, amendment 9 is not agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next group of amendments is the group relating to the duty to report on Welsh Ministers' consentsósections 14 and 15. Amendment 3 is the lead and only amendment in this group. I call on the leader of the house to move and speak to the amendmentóJulie James. Julie James AM: Diolch, Llywydd. During Stage 2, Simon Thomas brought forward an amendment requiring the Welsh Ministers to report on the exercise of their functions under section 14(1) and section 15(1), that is, the provision of consent to the making, approving or confirming of subordinate legislation by Ministers of the Crown or others. Although I was not able to support the precise detail of that proposed amendment, during the course of the debate I made it clear that I agreed with the principle behind it and offered to work with him to prepare an amendment for Stage 3 that would be acceptable to both of us. The main concern with the proposed Stage 2 amendment was that its requirement to report to the Assembly within two weeks on each occasion that a consent was granted would be unduly burdensome given the large number of consents that are likely to be granted in the context of the EU withdrawal Bill. As a result, amendment 3 has been developed in conjunction with Simon Thomas so that the requirement to report is made within a period of 60 days, discounting any time during which the Assembly is dissolved or in recess for more than four days. This does not necessarily mean that an individual report is required for each consent given. It will be possible to include details of multiple concerns within a single report, provided that details of any consents are provided within 60 days of the consent being given. This approach would guarantee the detailed accountability that the original amendment sought to provide, but in a way that is more proportionate and less burdensome. I therefore commend the amendment to Members. Simon Thomas AM: Thank you, Llywydd. On this issue we have reached agreement, and therefore I'm pleased to see the amendment tabled by the Government. As Julie James has outlined, our main concern yesterday was to ensure that there was regular reporting back to the Assembly, but that should happen in a way that was reasonable for the Government and in a way that made sense for Assembly Members too. So, the fact that the reporting happens perhaps including a number of events is acceptable to us, because there is a sense where you see the whole picture emerging. So, following discussions with the Government, and in light of what Julie James has said, we are pleased to see this amendment and we will be supporting it. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Leader of the house to reply to the debate. Julie James AM: Thank you. Just to thank Simon Thomas for his support with amendment 3 and his contribution to its development, and to ask Members to support the amendment. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 3 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 51, one abstention, one against. Therefore, amendment 3 is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next group of amendments is group 3, relating to the repeal of the Act. Amendment 1 is the lead amendment in the group and I call on David Melding to move and speak to the lead amendment and the other amendments in the group. David Melding AM: Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I move the amendments. It was strange that this Bill had no repeal clause, unlike the Scottish Bill. The amendment I am speaking to will rectify that defect, and I believe this is necessary because the Welsh Government continues to state that it would prefer to proceed via a UK Bill, and I do accept that statement as in good faith. The Welsh Government continues to seek an agreement on the grounds on which it could support an LCM on the UK Bill. The UK Government is also committed to reaching an agreement, and has already made helpful changes to accommodate the concerns of the Welsh Government. Good progress was made last week when the First Minister met with the Prime Minister. Further meetings are planned to build on this good progress to achieve a final agreement. Therefore, it is clearly the hope of the main players that this Bill will become redundant. An efficient repeal process is therefore very much in the public interest. Can I just speak to why I think my amendment is a better version than the Welsh Government's? The version that I have laid follows the Scottish model. However, the Welsh Government has introduced an option of a form of superaffirmative process, essentially allowing for consultation on repeal. I do not believe that this would be in the public interest, principally because, if an agreement between the Governments does come forward, it would be the best thing to do to repeal it quickly and ensure that there is complete clarity on the legal position. That is best achieved by this place, having gone through the Bill process, then deciding to repeal it because circumstances would have changed so much. Also, I do observe that it is slightly bizarre to have a consultation process on repeal when the original Act had no such consultation. Simon Thomas AM: Fe fydd Plaid Cymru yn cefnogi'r gwelliannau yn enw'r Llywodraeth. Rym ni'n cytuno bod bwlch yn y Bil fel ag y mae i beidio ‚ diddymu'r Bil pe bai cytundeb yn cael ei gyrraedd gyda Llywodraeth San Steffanódyna'r brif reswm gwleidyddol efallai y bydd yn codi, yn hynny o beth. Mae eisiau jest trysori'r eiliad pan siaradodd David Melding yn erbyn proses uwchgadarnhaol. Mae hwnnw'n un i 'cut out and keep' fel y maen nhw'n ei ddweud, a byddaf yn cofio hynny. Rydw i o'r farn bod y broses yma yn briodol. Ydy, mae'n troi o gwmpas ymgynghoriad, ond fe fydd yna o leiaf sgwrs rhwng pwyllgorau'r Cynulliad a'r Llywodraeth pe bai'r Llywodraeth am ddiddymu'r Bil. Felly, mae'r broses yna yn iawn ac yn briodol, rydw i'n meddwl. Bydd angen inni ddeall, cyn pleidleisio ar ddiddymu'r Bil, a yw'r cytundeb gwleidyddol yn un y byddwn ni fel Cynulliad yn ei dderbyn, er enghraifft. Felly, mae'n hollol briodol bod proses uwchgadarnhaol yn troi o gwmpas diddymu'r Bil. Mae'r ddadl ynglyn ‚'r ffaith bod y Bil wedi'i gyflwyno ar frys yn ddadl wahanol, a byddwn yn dychwelyd ato yng Nghyfnod 4, mae'n siwr, wrth gloi'r trafodaethau ar y Bil yma. Ond nid yw'n wir i ddweud nad yw'r misoedd diwethaf heb fod yn trafod materion yn ymwneud ‚'r Bil. Mae Steffan Lewis wedi'i godi sawl gwaith yn y Siambr yma ac mae nifer o gyrff allanol wedi bod yn ei drafod yn ogystal. Rydym ni'n cefnogi'r ffaith bod cymal i ddiddymu'r Bil, ond rydym ni'n hapus, ar Ùl trafod gyda'r Llywodraeth, i gefnogi'r gwelliannau yn enw Julie James a'r Llywodraeth. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call on the leader of the house, Julie James. Julie James AM: Diolch, Lywydd. The Welsh Government has been consistently clear that the LDEU Bill is a fallback option, and our preferred outcome continues to be an agreement on an amended EU withdrawal Bill that provides legal continuity for the UK as a whole but which properly respects our devolution settlement, as everyone in the debate has pointed out. However, the expected timescale for the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill through the UK Parliament means that if we pass the LDEU Bill today we will have done so before the EU withdrawal Bill has completed all of its amending stages. There still remains, therefore, an opportunity for a satisfactory agreement to be reached with the UK Government and for the necessary amendments to be made to the EU withdrawal Bill, and I want to assure Members that we continue to make every effort to achieve this outcome. I'm sure everybody thinks that we are doing that. This would enable us to recommend to the Assembly that it provides legislative consent to the EU withdrawal Bill. If that consent is provided, it would not be necessary to proceed with the implementation of the LDEU Bill. In these circumstances, amendment 4 would provide a pragmatic means of repealing the Bill without the need for further primary legislation. The amendment mirrors a power that has been included in the Scottish Government's continuity Bill, as was pointed out, and provides the flexibility to repeal it in its entirety or in part only. I believe that passing this amendment will be a strong signal to the UK Government, Parliament and stakeholders here in Wales that we continue to prioritise an agreement on the EU withdrawal Bill. I have to say, David, at this point, that I too will cherish the moment in which you said that you didn't see the need for the enhanced procedure and that that was because the Government hadn't proceeded correctly in the first place. I can't help but feel that we'll be playing that back to you on numerous occasions. I don't accept that the Government hasn't proceeded correctly in the first place, but it's an interesting argument to run. Anyway, amendments 5, 6 and 8 are consequential to amendment 4 and are collectively designed to ensure that the power to repeal is subject to the full enhanced scrutiny procedure requirements and cannot be made subject to the urgent procedure. I consider it imperative, given that this is a power to repeal primary legislation by regulations, that it is subject to the full rigour of the full enhanced scrutiny procedure. It is for that reason that I would urge Members to reject David Melding's amendments 1 and 2. While these would introduce a power, as he said, of repeal similar to that contained in amendment 4, they would make the use of that power subject to a lower level of scrutiny, which I consider would be inappropriate in this case. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: David Melding to reply to the debate. David Melding AM: I thank the Members for their vigorous parliamentary performance and reflections on my traditional opinions on these issues. The point is that, over this major area of constitutional law and Britain's exit from the European Union, we need legal clarity. We would need to move quickly. The whole reason that you argue you have to do this in an emergency fashion is that you need speed in the process. It makes no sense, on this sort of issue, to then hang around and cause uncertainty by having a very cumbersome process. So, it is in the public interest in this case to move quickly and establish clarity. Now, in terms of what Simon said, you know, as a former Chair and Deputy Presiding Officer very keen on the superaffirmative process, all I can say is what a very, very senior civil servant once said to me when I thought I had delivered a knockout punch in terms of what he had said. He just looked at me and he said, 'You know, being a grown-up means sometimes you've got to live with paradox'. I move the amendment. [Laughter.] Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 1 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 18, no abstentions, 35 against. Therefore, amendment 1 is not agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Amendment 2óDavid Melding. David Melding AM: I move. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 2 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 18, no abstentions, 35 against. Therefore, the amendment is not agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Leader of the house, amendment 4. Julie James AM: Formally. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: If amendment 4 is not agreed, amendments 5, 6 and 8 will fall. The question is that amendment 4 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 47, one abstention, and five against. Therefore, the amendment is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Leader of the house, amendment 5. Julie James AM: Formally. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 5 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 47, six abstentions, none against. Therefore, the amendment is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Amendment 6óleader of the house. Julie James AM: Formally. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 6 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. Forty-seven in favour, six abstentions, none against. Therefore, the amendment is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next group, the final group of amendments, is group 4, relating to proceduresótechnical amendment. Amendment 7 is the lead and only amendment in this group, and I call on the leader of the house to move and speak to the amendmentóJulie James. Julie James AM: Diolch, Llywydd. Amendment 7 is a technical amendment that follows on from the amendment made to the Bill at Stage 2 that introduced a review and sunset provision at section 12. Amendment 7 prevents the urgent procedure from applying in relation to regulations made under section 12, that is, regulations to extend the period that the power to make provision corresponding to EU law after exit day remains in effect. I urge Members to agree amendment 7 as it will ensure that the use of regulations made under section 12 are subject to an appropriate level of Assembly scrutiny. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: There are no indications that anyone wants to speak on this amendment, so I take it that the Member doesn't want to reply to the debate. The question therefore is that amendment 7 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electronic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 47, six abstentions, none against. Therefore, the amendment is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Leader of the house, amendment 8. Julie James AM: I formally move. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The question is that amendment 8 be agreed to. Does any Member object? [Objection.] We'll proceed to an electonic vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 47, six abstentions, none against. Therefore, the amendment is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: We have therefore reached the end of our Stage 3 consideration of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill, and I declare that all sections and Schedules of the Bill are deemed agreed. That concludes Stage 3 proceedings. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: In accordance with Standing Order 26.50A, I can confirm that, in my view, the provisions of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill do not relate to a protected subject matter. I call on the leader of the house to signify any required consent under Standing Order 26.67óJulie James. Julie James AM: There are no required consents under Standing Order 26.67. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: Diolch. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: The next item, therefore, on the agenda is Stage 4 of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill, and I call on the leader of the house to move the motionóJulie James. Julie James AM: Diolch, Llywydd. I formally move the motion. Can I start by thanking the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, in his absence, for all the work that he has undertaken to develop and bring forward this Bill? I know that he will be bitterly disappointed not to have been here for this final stage of the process, but delighted if the Bill is passed by the clear signal that it will provide of our commitment to defend the devolution settlement while helping to provide legislative continuity as the UK leaves the EU. However, the role of helping to steer the Bill through its final stages has fallen to me, and it's one that I consider to have been a great privilege. The Bill is a product of an intense period of hard work, initially on the part of officials and latterly on the part of the Assembly Members. I am grateful to the Chair, members and staff of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in particular for the impressive speed at which they were able to consider the Bill and then produce a report setting out a useful set of recommendations, which has made the Bill more robust. I'd also like to put on record my thanks to Simon Thomas, for the constructive approach he has taken to this Bill. His challenge and support during the scrutiny stages has certainly improved the Bill. [Interruption.] You speak as you find. It's been very helpful, and, as I say, his challenge and support during the scrutiny stages has certainly improved the Bill. I must also give particular thanks to Steffan Lewis for being the first to champion, with great passion, the need for a Welsh continuity Bill, and for the contribution he has made to get us to this position. Their contributions have played an important part in the shaping of this Bill. As a Government, we've been clear throughout every stage of this process that the LDEU Bill is a fallback option, and that remains the case. Our preferred outcome is and always has been that the UK Government's EU withdrawal Bill is amended so that it provides legal continuity and certainty for the UK as a whole, while properly respecting our devolution settlement. We continue to work hard in formal and informal discussions with the UK Government and the Scottish Government to this end, and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached that results in the necessary amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill. However, I want to be clear that the fact it is and remains a fallback option does not diminish the importance of the LDEU Bill today, if it's passed today, because the Bill will do two vital things. Firstly, it will enable us to prepare reasonably and sensibly for the possibility that the EU withdrawal Bill is not amended in a way that allows the Welsh Government to recommend to this Assembly that a legislative consent motion is passed. A key reason for bringing forward this Bill is that our approach to the EU withdrawal Bill is in no sense about trying to block Brexit. To refuse legislative consent without providing an alternative way of securing legislative continuity would be inconsistent with our clear focus on, to quote my friend the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, the form not the fact of Brexit. In the event that the Assembly cannot give consent, we would have to ensure that appropriate alternative arrangements are in place to enable EU derived law to continue in Wales with as little disruption as possible. A failure to do so would leave Welsh citizens and businesses subject to an intolerable state of legal uncertainty, with holes in the statue book at the point of Brexit. This Bill will ensure that that will not happen. Secondly, passing the LDEU Bill will demonstrate to the UK Government that this Assembly is serious about protecting the devolution settlement and about ensuring that the outcomes of two referendums on devolution are properly respected. Brexit must not be used as an excuse to undermine the authority of this Assembly and roll back its powers. It is our responsibility as elected representatives of the people of Wales to stand up for devolution and protect the interests of the nation. I am heartened by the clear support from across the Assembly for that point of view. We shall see in the next few days and weeks whether an agreement is reached on the necessary amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill, and we will continue working to achieve that, which continues to be our preferred outcome. However, if an agreement is not reached, we will have no choice but to proceed with the implementation of this Bill, which is a robust, intelligent piece of legislation that reflects well on this still young but very determined legislature. I commend the Bill to the Assembly. David Melding AM: We remain opposed to this Bill in principle for the reasons I set out in Stage 1. I don't think anything that's happened this afternoon could reassure people that this has in fact been a robust process for any type of Bill, frankly, let alone a constitutional one. But, in essence, as I said at Stage 1, the LCM process is the appropriate constitutional mechanism to protect the devolved settlement. I will conclude with this plea: it is time for all parties to focus on the inter-governmental arrangements needed to establish shared governance over UK frameworks. If we're to see a strong union post Brexit, the UK needs to focus on the issues set out in the CLAC report on UK governance post Brexit, which itself echoes many other reports that have been made in other legislatures, in Westminster and, I believe, in Scotland. That is what we need. We do need to have a system that takes us out of Europe but doesn't, in that process, weaken the devolved constitutions. And on that essential matter, we will seek to give every appropriate assistance to the Welsh Government when it operates in the national interest. Thank you. Simon Thomas AM: I would like to thank everyone who was involved in the drafting of this Bill. Iíd like to thank the Government and Government officials for many constructive conversations. Plaid Cymru and the Government have agreed on a number of areas in this context, and it was a matter of discussing how to deal with them on the face of the Bill. There was one area where we didnít reach agreement, and that was the cause of the debate that we had earlier. But Plaid Cymru will now support this Bill at its final stage. Like Julie James, I stand here on the shoulders of someone else whoís done a great deal of work on this Bill, namely Steffan Lewis, and I know that he will be extremely pleased to see this Bill passed by the Assembly this evening. Steffan has made the case for this Bill since last summer. Plaid Cymruís stance is slightly different to the Governmentís stance. We believe that this Bill is an appropriate response to leaving the European Union, and we donít believe that we necessarily have to wait for Westminster to agree. We have seen a clear effort from the Westminster Government to grab powers through section 11 of the European withdrawal Bill since the very early days, and we have warned on a number of occasions, both myself and Steffan Lewis, had warned that that is what would happen, and we still havenít seen clearly whether this will be resolved. The Bill is important, I agree entirely on that, and, as we pass this legislation, I hope that this will now empower the Welsh Government to negotiate with the Westminster Government and to ensure that not an inch of devolved ground is ceded to the UK Government. It is crucially important for form and order as we leave the European Union that there should be pan-UK frameworks. Plaid Cymru doesnít oppose that. Although we have a different vision for the future of the United Kingdom, we donít oppose that in any sense, but we havenít yet seen any sign of collaboration from the Westminster Government on these issues. And it is clear that section 11 in the Westminster Act wouldnít be necessary unless those powers return automatically and smoothly to this place, without that section being like some dam holding them back in Westminster. Itís essential that we do away with that dam and ensure that those powers flow to this Assembly so that we can use those powers on behalf of the people of Wales, or even to secure further devolution in Wales, depending on what is appropriate. Simon Thomas AM: I do note that this is a real practical threat. This is not some kind of constitutional argument as some have made out over the last couple of days. This is about people's daily lives: how you farm, how we look after the environment, how we look after our social protection, how we live together as communities is intimately connected with how we agree to live together on these islands. Therefore, any attempt to take away powers from this Parliament does affect daily lives. It isn't a stale constitutional question. It's something that directly impacts upon us. I just saw today that DEFRA are advertising for policy advisers for a UK agricultural framework. I think that tells you everything that you need to know about DEFRA's idea of how we will leave the European Union. It's not what I share. This Bill will strengthen the hand of the Parliament, and that's why we ultimately support this Bill. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: I call on the leader of the house to reply to the debateóJulie James. Julie James AM: Diolch, Llywydd. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the Assembly that, having been informed of the purport of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill, Her Majesty has given consent to this Bill. I'm very grateful to Members for their comments, and for the support of some today. I'm grateful that the Tories engaged in the debate at the end. It's important that we all have a say in where we are. Llywydd, this is a historic day for devolution in Wales, and it's my pleasure to present this Bill to the Assembly for final approval. I urge Members to show their support for this vital piece of Welsh legislation. Diolch yn fawr. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: In accordance with Standing Order 26.50C, a recorded vote must be taken on Stage 4 motions. Therefore, I call for a vote on the motion to approve the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. Open the vote. Close the vote. In favour 39, one abstention, 13 against. Therefore, the motion is agreed. Y Llywydd / The Llywydd: That brings today's proceedings to a close. Thank you very much, everyone.
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