Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to the Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South).
No concerns over Aston Martin
Plaid Cymru’s new economy spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales), brought up the situation at Aston Martin – one of the Welsh Government’s flagship investment coups of the Fifth Senedd.
“….the fact is that Aston Martin sales have fallen overall by 16% from July 2019 to September 2019. The Welsh Government has pledged £18.8 million, which is a very substantial chunk of investment, and, of course, in return, as the Minister has said, Aston Martin has said that they will make the St Athan plant its home for electrification. But we’re now seeing reports that the company will be scrapping the flagship electric car (Rapide-E)….Aston Martin is saddled with a $1 billion debt, it finished last year with just £138 million in cash, and that doesn’t sound to me like a company that we can be 100% sure is secure. “
– Helen Mary Jones AM
The Minister was characteristically upbeat, saying Aston Martin’s DBX sports utility vehicle – being built at St Athan – has already secured 2,000 orders, which he described as “a phenomenal success” and a sign that despite the relatively poor recent financial reports it was turning things around.
It was clear to him that Plaid wouldn’t have supported investing in Aston Martin – which the Minister considers to be one of the highest quality car brands ever.
Welsh Government business support “the envy of the UK”
Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), raised concerns about the value for money of Welsh Government support to businesses. Numerous issues have been raised by the Senedd’s Public Accounts Committee, notably a failure on the Welsh Government’s part to properly report on the impact its business support was having. Was this out of embarrassment so they don’t have to face scrutiny?
Not at all, said the Minister. Unemployment in Wales was at record low levels and the Welsh economy is growing faster than the UK as a whole.
“What people want is access to high-quality jobs. That’s precisely what our economic strategy has and is delivering. We’re creating jobs at record numbers, jobs of higher quality, jobs that people can access. We’ve got a skills training system that is the envy of the rest of the UK and you can take….the apprenticeship completion rates, for example, which remain….far higher than the English average. We have also access to a development bank that, again, is the envy of the rest of the UK.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates
The future of co-ops
David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked about the role co-operatives can play in the regeneration of town centres. He believes co-operatives can be promoted and supported where there are gaps in a town’s retail make-up.
While not mentioning town centres specifically, the Minister said co-operatives play an important part in generating “fair growth” and are a core part of the foundational economy. The Welsh Government have funded a social entrepreneurship academy and Business Wales support for co-operatives.
Smacking “ban” a step closer
At a Glance Guide
Stage 1 report (summary)
The Bill’s sole goal is to remove a defence of corporal punishment in any criminal or civil proceedings where someone is accused of assaulting a child – so it’s not a “ban” on smacking; it means that if you assault a child in a manner that results in a court case you can’t use smacking/punishment as a defence.
Major Changes at Stage 2
There’s a detailed guide from the Senedd Research Service (pdf). Stage 2 proceedings were undertaken by the Children & Young People Committee with the Member in charge – Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North).
The key amendments at Stage 2 include:
- Places a duty on the Welsh Government to publish a report on the effectiveness of the Act (once passed) within five years of it becoming law.
- A clause has been inserted which delays the coming into force of the “ban” until two years after the Bill is passed (presumably sometime in early 2022).
The Key Amendments at Stage 3
Amendment 2 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy)
Beefs-up and describes in detail the public information that would need to be provided to parents before the ban can come into force.
Vote: Rejected – 15 for, 38 against
Reason for Rejection: A “comprehensive” public awareness campaign is being developed and will run for at least six years.
Amendment 5 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to ensure visitors to Wales are made aware of changes to the law on smacking.
Vote: Rejected – 15 for, 38 against
Reason for Rejection: It’s “unhelpful” to highlight particular types of awareness-raising over others.
Amendment 6 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to publish two reports on the effectiveness of the Act (once passed); one within three years and one within five years.
Vote: Agreed unanimously
Amendment 7 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to ensure any public agencies involved in enforcing the Act (i.e. local councils, health boards) are provided with the necessary funding.
Vote: Rejected – 15 for, 38 against
Reason for Rejection: The Welsh Government published a thorough impact assessment alongside the Bill with funding implications.
Amendment 10 – Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Delay to the coming into force of the Act (once passed) until: the Crown Prosecution Service has revised its guidance, the UK Government has established an alternative pathway to prosecution for those affected by changes to the law and the Welsh Government has established parental support services.
Vote: Rejected – 16 for, 37 against
Reason for Rejection: The amendment would’ve made it difficult to judge if/when the legislation would’ve come into force; as things stand there’s a clear two year period between passing the law and it coming into effect.
“Good progress” in turning around Cwm Taf Morgannwg maternity services
Yesterday, the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), provided AMs with another update on the situation at Cwm Taf Morgannwg maternity services following the publication of the latest report from the appointed independent panel.
The Minister said he was “cautiously optimistic” that improvements will be made. 25 recommendations have been implemented since the panel last reported and the panel will monitor maternity services for the next 6-12 months to ensure these recommendations are upheld.
“I’m particularly pleased by the positive feedback about the experience of care being reported by women and families who currently use services. In addition to the health boards’ processes for capturing real-time experience, this feedback is also corroborated by findings from community health council visits. Furthermore, the recent inspection report from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales found that care was being provided in a safe and effective manner at the Tirion birth centre, which is a midwifery-led unit at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething
While challenges remain, the Minister is encouraged that the new leadership at the health board recognised what needs to happen – and that work was already underway.
Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), was pleased the panel has found staffing to be at an appropriate level and a conscious effort to take the views of patients into account. However, she noted that complaints handling continues to be a major problem and the failure to deal with a backlog of complaints should be prioritised to help grieving parents – something later picked up by Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) too.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) was a bit more critical, saying the panel’s report didn’t paint as rosy a picture as the Minister was suggesting. He pointed towards concerns from the panel that the health board didn’t have the capacity to deliver improvements – something that “should be ringing some very, very loud alarm bells indeed”.
Rhun ap Iorwerth went on to accuse the Minister of siding with NHS managers, when they should instead be held properly to account in the same manner as clinical staff through some form of independent regulation – an idea that, for the time being, the Minister rejects.
Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) cautioned against “taking the foot off the pedal” as so much more remains to be done. One of those things, brought up by Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), was changing what was described as a “punitive culture” within maternity services.
Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) mentioned the effectiveness of the unannounced visits by the community health council and suggested amending the Health & Social Care Quality Bill to ensure such visits can continue to take place.
Wales joins Scotland and Northern Ireland in rejecting Brexit Bill (though it doesn’t matter)
Yesterday, AMs voted on whether to give consent to the Withdrawal Agreement (Brexit) Bill. The Senedd has to be asked permission when UK-level laws relate to devolved powers.
The Scottish Parliament (92 votes to 29) and the Northern Irish Assembly (unanimous) both rejected it and there was an expectation from the start that the Senedd would reject it too.
While the UK Government and Parliament have to ask permission, in practice they can ignore any rejection by the devolved administrations – and that’s going to be the case here.
Objections not all about Brexit
Brexit wasn’t the core reason why opponents to the Withdrawal Agreement were going to vote against it – nearly everyone who contributed accepted that Brexit is going to happen. Most of the objections revolved around how the Brexit Bill respects (or, in this case, doesn’t respect) the devolution settlement.
Paying tribute to unsuccessful attempts in the House of Lords to amend the Bill in Wales’ favour, the First Minister criticised the lack of time given to properly scrutinise the legislation, arguing that Welsh interests had been thoroughly ignored and the Bill will undermine the devolution settlement.
The chairs of the External Affairs Committee and Constitutional Affairs Committee – David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) and Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) respectively – expressed disappointment that amendments designed to address perceived weaknesses in the Bill were rejected in London.
Mick Antoniw and Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) both warned that overriding the principle that devolved legislatures are asked for their consent when the UK makes laws in devolved areas (known as the Sewel Convention) risks breaking up the UK down the line.
Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) criticised the UK Government’s failure to compromise, as well as the hubris of Labour and Lib Dems who thought they could beat Boris Johnson and ended up giving him exactly what he wanted – a Hard Brexit and possibly another “No Deal” at the end of the transition period in December.
“Get on with it”
Replaying arguments which have been made several times over the last three years, the Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), and Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) said the 2016 referendum result had to be respected and it was time to let the UK Government “get on with the job”.
Mark Reckless added that Remainer parties had “gambled” on elections going their way and by rejecting previous versions of the Withdrawal Agreement under Theresa May has resulted in things like a customs union and alignment with EU rules being taken off the table.
David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) argued that the principle that the UK Parliament can effectively do whatever it likes (“parliamentary sovereignty”) is embedded in all devolution laws; Brexit counted as an abnormal enough situation to justify the UK Government overriding decisions made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The vote was 35 to 15 against giving consent.