News in brief: Minister reveals Senedd snub over Westminster’s animal welfare bill
A Welsh government minister has confirmed a new animal welfare act has been passed by the UK Government, without allowing input from the Senedd.
In a written statement, Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Rural Affairs, says the UK Parliament passed and granted Royal Assent to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act while the Senedd was in recess prior to the election earlier this month.
The Act applies to Wales and makes provision which is “within the competence of the Senedd” but it passed without the consent of MSs.
“The Welsh Government was advised only after the Senedd had gone into recess that the remaining stages of the Bill would be timetabled in the final weeks of the parliamentary session. Therefore, the Bill would likely pass before the new Senedd was constituted. The drafting of the Bill also ensured that when passed, it would come into force automatically two months after Royal Assent,” The minister explained.
After writing to UK Ministers, Ms Griffiths was advised that no changes could be made to the timings of the Bill’s remaining legislative stages.
“Whilst we accept any such changes were not straightforward, we do believe a UK Government which placed an appropriately high value on the fundamental importance of respecting the devolution settlement could have avoided these circumstances coming to pass,” she added.
“The Welsh Government supported the policy intention behind the Act and advised the Senedd we supported the Act applying in Wales. However, the timetable which was set for the Act’s passage did not allow for the Senedd to conduct its constitutional role of considering whether to consent to the legislation applying in Wales.”
“It also deprived the UK Parliament of the opportunity to consider the views of the democratically elected legislature in Wales. Given the earlier decisions to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement Act and the Internal Market Act in the absence of consent from the Senedd, this is a deeply disturbing trend, and I have written to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove) to this effect.”
The minister also revealed UK Government Ministers suggested the Senedd would have time to consider the Act after Royal Assent and before it comes into force.
She described this as “not a meaningful substitute for consideration of the Bill prior to Royal Assent” noting that “if the Senedd were to vote against the Bill, it would not be possible to prevent the Bill coming into force,” adding, “it also fails to recognise that part of the purpose of the Sewel Convention is to facilitate dialogue between the legislatures of the United Kingdom, and its constituent nations.”
The new act, which will come into force on 29 June, will introduce tougher prison sentences for animal cruelty and will increase the maximum sentence from six months to five years.
Two further Covid deaths reported in Wales
Public Health Wales has confirmed two further deaths due to Covid-19 and 58 new cases of the virus.
The two newly reported deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan and Hywel Dda health board areas.
Five local authorities reported no new positive tests since yesterday’s report, while Cardiff and Newport both recorded seven new infections.
Bridgend reported a further five cases and now has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 24.5 per 100,000 people.
Over the last seven days 36 people have tested positive for Covid in Bridgend, and the bulk of those are linked with an outbreak at West Park Primary School in Porthcawl, where more than 200 pupils are isolating after 26 people tested positive for the virus.
Bridgend also has the highest positive test proportion in the country at 2.5% per 100,000 tests.
The national weekly case rate is up from 8.9 to 9.2 since yesterday and the test rate is unchanged at 1%.
Extra funding announced for post-pandemic learning
The Welsh Government has announced an extra £19m of funding to help children catch up on their education following the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.
The new support taking government spending on learning for under 18s to over £150m since the start of the pandemic in March last year.
£13m of the funding will be for additional support for early years learners and will go towards increased practitioner-to-learner ratios. The remaining £6 million will be allocated to schools to support teaching staff.
“The last year has brought into sharp focus just how important our schools, settings, colleges and universities are for our children and young people. Education practitioners have risen heroically to meet the challenge, while learners have been brilliant in adapting to learning in different ways,” Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said.
“We must recover and reform. I am determined that the emphasis on well-being and flexibility shown over the last year is built upon and closely aligned with the introduction of our new curriculum.
“Our education system has shown remarkable resilience and flexibility and we must learn from that.”
Capacity boosted for Wales Euro 2020 send-off
The Football Association of Wales has confirmed 6,500 spectators will be allowed into the Cardiff City Stadium for Wales’s final Euro 2020 warm-up game against Albania on 5 June.
The capacity for the match, one of the Welsh Government’s test events for the for the safe return of fans, was originally set at 4,000.
“Following the planning and organisation put in place by the FAW and Cardiff City Stadium, it has been agreed that the match can go ahead with a capacity of 6,500,” the FAW said in a statement.
Next month’s friendly will be the first home game in front of supporters since Wales beat Hungary in November 2019 to qualify for the European Championship finals.
Meanwhile Swansea City have received an additional allocation of 1,000 tickets each for the Championship play-off final against Brentford at Wembley on Saturday.
Both teams will now receive five thousand tickets each for the match which will be played in front of 12,000 spectators.
After confirmation of the extra tickets, Swansea said all fans who were unsuccessful in the ballot for the initial allocation of 4,000 tickets will now have a ticket for the clash.
Council trialling hybrid public meetings as Covid rules are lifted
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Cardiff council is trialling hybrid public meetings as coronavirus rules are starting to be lifted, meaning councillors could soon be meeting face to face again.
Since March last year, councillors in Cardiff have not met in person for full council meetings, planning committees, or licensing hearings.
But as infection rates remain low and lockdown rules are easing, the council is preparing to shift back to something resembling normal.
Issues with technology still need to be worked out, including Welsh translation, and training will be provided on topics like cybersecurity.
During a meeting of the democratic services committee on Monday, May 24, councillors heard how council officers are preparing for the change, and also how much the new technology needed is costing taxpayers.
Gary Jones, head of democratic services, told councillors that new laws allow councils in Wales to hold public meetings remotely, face-to-face, or a hybrid combination of the two with some councillors in the room and others dialling in from home.
He said: “We have to work out exactly how that’s going to happen. I have to say there’s a lot to do. We have a set of hybrid kits installed in County Hall. What we haven’t done is tested it and played with it and worked out how meeting procedures need to adapt.
“If a chair is remote, how does he see the people in the meeting and understand who wants to talk when? There’s also the need to have simultaneous Welsh translation. Microsoft Teams still doesn’t provide a suitable solution.”
Teams should be able to provide simultaneous Welsh translation by June. But the council’s IT team is also working with Zoom as a backup if Teams doesn’t introduce a bilingual function. Previous security concerns with Zoom have now been allayed with new updates.
The cost of upgrading the technology used by the council includes £5,000 for Zoom, £35,000 for the hybrid meeting kits, £3,000 cybersecurity training for councillors, and £25,000 on tablets for council officers to run elections. Welsh Government provided some grants for this.
Previously the law required local authorities to hold public meetings in person. But emergency coronavirus regulations introduced in March last year stopped that need, and since May last year Cardiff council has been holding meetings with video-conferencing.
This means planning committees, licensing hearings and scrutiny committees have been held over Microsoft Teams, with most participants at home rather than in County Hall or City Hall.
In England, some councils are already holding fully in-person meetings, despite fears around vulnerable elderly councillors.
It is unclear exactly when Cardiff council will shift to hybrid meetings, but work behind the scenes is well underway to get ready for the change.
Privately, many councillors complain of how remote meetings stifle proper political debate, but praise the lack of need to travel to County Hall or City Hall, especially for those who live farther away from the city centre and the Bay.