Support our Nation today - please donate here

Today’s Senedd Roundup: Arguments over Autism Bill linger on

18 Jul 2019 10 minute read
Image National Assembly for Wales Commission

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Arguments over Autism Bill linger on

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the publication of the Evaluation of the Integrated Autism Service and the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Strategic Action Plan final report on the 1 April 2019 and further notes the written statement made by the Health Minister.
  • Regrets that the Welsh Government voted against the implementation of the Autism Bill.
  • Acknowledges that, whilst the ASD Report 2018-2019 outlines the Welsh Government’s approach to developing autism services in Wales, there is a lack of outcome measures within the report.
  • Recognises that whilst some progress has been made to improve autism services in Wales, there are inconsistencies which impact on outcomes for autistic people and their families.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to deliver high quality autism support services by: providing sufficient support and services to autistic people and their families that reflects their wide range of needs; developing a clear and consistent monitoring system; clarifying the future funding arrangements for the integrated autism service beyond March 2021; increasing education and employment opportunities; working to implement the recommendations of the Evaluation of the Integrated Autism Service and the ASD Strategic Action Plan.

Seeing the world differently

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), said people born with ASD see the world differently and do so for their entire lives. While he acknowledged some improvements to autism services, a review found a postcode lottery and the Welsh Government hadn’t made any commitments towards implementing the findings of the review. Some of the issues can be easily fixed; for example, better communication training.

“Many regional autism services do not comply with all the national standards. Presiding Officer, I still believe that we need statutory backing to protect the rights of autistic people and raise awareness of a complex condition. The Welsh Government must implement the recommendation contained in the plan as soon as it is practical.”
– Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East)

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said his rejected Autism Bill has at least put autism towards the top of the agenda in the Senedd. Some of the key problems were demand for assessments, access to funding for third sector organisations supporting ASD people, as well as uncertainty over the continuation of services beyond the current action plan.

Neurodivergent rights

Plaid Cymru supported measures to ensure neurodivergence (which has a wider net than ASD) should be a protected characteristic. Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said that some neurodiverse people are protected by disability laws, while others aren’t. Some people may also keep their neurodiversity a secret so they’re not discriminated against.

“The Equality Act 2010 requires proof that a behaviour or circumstance would discriminate against a typical person with that condition, and that’s difficult to enforce for neurodiversity as each condition affects an individual in a unique way. Labelling something as learning difficulties….is not helpful…and many neurodivergent workers, for example, do not struggle to acquire new skills or under new concepts. Furthermore, there is no duty to make reasonable adjustments if the employer did not know or could not have reasonably been expected to know that a person was disabled within the meaning of the Act.”
– Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)

Government has to take notice

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) has been on the government’s side by voting down the Autism Bill, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t problems with autism services. His casework has numerous examples of long waiting times for education referrals or even responses from the relevant local government departments.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) struck a more positive tone and noted lots of progress in her area, but called for more child-friendly autism testing.

A few AMs said their relatives had been diagnosed with ASD. Hefin David AM’s (Lab, Caerphilly) daughter was diagnosed in February this year. He was disappointed by the politicisation of the topic, quoting abusive comments about AMs who voted against the Autism Bill posted on the National Autistic Society’s Facebook page. He believed the organisation hasn’t done enough to present a strong case for a law.

Genuine improvement

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) was pleased improvements to ASD services have been recognised. New data measures for ASD assessment times are being developed by health boards and all seven regional integrated autism services are running.

“The integrated autism service is funded to at least 2021. I’ve made that decision with a risk against future budgets, and during that time we’ll continue to support and monitor its development. I will be in a position to consider future funding once we do have some clarity from the UK Government on our settlement for 2021 and beyond.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

The Minister confirmed that a draft code of practice for autism is due to be put out for consultation by the end of 2019.

The motion was defeated by to 13 votes to 34.

Mark Reckless. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Call for clearer vision for devolved taxes

This week’s short debate was led by the leader of the Brexit Party group, Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East).

Devolution “shouldn’t be a moving feast”

He started by saying that the fiscal deficit between Wales and the UK was likely to become more obvious as more powers are devolved to Wales, but devolution shouldn’t be “a moving feast” that only moves in one direction – there needed to be clarity over what taxes Wales is responsible for and what Westminister is responsible for, based on consensus.

“One concern I have in this area is the idea that somehow we should tax for taxation’s sake, or we should tax in order to test the devolution machinery, and I first heard this from Mark Drakeford…. Rather than saying, ‘We should tax because we need that tax to fund those particular public services, and this is the best way of getting it,’ it seemed almost as if the tax was seen as a good thing in itself. I understand that some taxes have behavioural impacts. When people talk about a tax on plastic or a tax on vacant land, at least part of the reason for the tax is a desire to change behaviour. But, for me, that is a subsidiary issue to the primary one, of needing tax to fund public services.”
– Mark Reckless AM

He was concerned that a possible vacant land tax would give the impression that business costs in Wales were higher than England and that was part of a wider problem of a lack of vision on what devolved taxes would be used for – particularly when informing the UK Government of the Welsh Government’s intentions.

Bringing decisions closer to the people of Wales

Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said tax devolution meant that around £5 billion of Wales’ running costs are decided in the Senedd and subsequently brought key decisions closer to the people of Wales.

More than two hundred different taxes were suggested to a public call for new devolved tax ideas and a vacant land tax was eventually chosen. The Welsh Government did, however, have a clear vision for taxes

“Taxes should always be as simple and clear and stable as possible, and of course they should link directly and contribute directly to our Well-being of Future Generations Act goal of creating a more equal Wales….But at all points throughout the year we’re really keen to engage with anybody who has an interest in taxes in Wales in order to continue to develop our thinking and explore new ideas, and always seeking to improve the things that we’re already doing.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Minister’s comments on housing quality criticised….and applauded
House-builders have criticised comments from Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), who suggested at a housing conference that the quality of some new-build developments meant they had the potential to become “slums of the future”. The comments were reportedly applauded by attendees at the Tai 2019 event.

The Home Builders Federation sent a letter asking the Minister to clarify her comments, saying they were “committed to delivering high quality and affordable homes and considerable progress has been made in recent years to improve purchasers’ satisfaction with new homes.”

The Minister told BBC Wales: “Sometimes we build things that are single tenure, they are a little bit cramped and look a bit dense. Not always, and it’s patchy across Wales, but our new planning policy guidelines are making it very clear that we want a community and not an estate.”

Tributes to former Conservative leader in the Senedd

The first leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd, Rod Richards, died on July 13th at the age of 72 following cancer.

He served as MP for Clwyd West between 1992-1997 and was AM for North Wales from 1999-2002. He resigned following an accusation of grievous bodily harm. An opponent of devolution, in his later years he joined UKIP and developed an alcohol problem.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said: “He was an able and talented politician whose career had its ups and downs but he made in indelible mark on Welsh politics and devolution.”

Welsh high streets see “worst June for 20 years”

Footfall on Welsh high streets fell by 6.1% in June 2019 compared to June 2018, with a 5% drop in retail footfall generally – the worst falls in the UK.

The British Retail Consortium told BBC Wales that business rates required reforms and the government had to do more to support the retail sector, which employs an estimated 130,000 across Wales.

Police called to investigate drug use at the Senedd

The Assembly Commission has called for South Wales Police to investigate the use of illegal drugs on its estate after an ITV Wales investigation found evidence of cocaine use in toilets accessible only via a pass – usually issued to AMs and staff. Swab testing kits returned a positive test when rubbed on surfaces in at least two toilets.

In a statement, the Assembly Commission said: “We are working with all employers to remind them of the Codes of Conduct for Assembly Members, Assembly Member support staff and Commission staff and that any pass holders found to be in possession or under the influence of illegal substances will be subject to disciplinary procedures and may be reported to the police.”

Teachers concerned about new curriculum’s impact on the attainment gap

A Cardiff University survey of teachers at schools pioneering the new curriculum has found that 30% of teachers believe the new national curriculum will be beneficial to students from the most deprived backgrounds.

Currently, only 32% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieve 5 A*-C grade GCSEs, compared to 64% of those not eligible.

WISERD’s Nigel Newton told BBC Wales: “This is shocking. What we don’t want is for there to be a situation in 10 years time, where pupils in some schools leave just not knowing the things other pupils know.”

Black history in the curriculum “too focused on slavery”

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.