Today’s Senedd roundup: Minimum alcohol pricing to come into force in March 2020
Photo by rawpixel from Pixabay
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Missed by many amidst the spying row yesterday, the Senedd debated and voted for regulations which will see the introduction of a minimum per-unit price for alcohol sales (pdf; explanatory memorandum – pdf).
It follows a delay caused by a legal challenge at EU-level by the Portuguese Government, who expressed concern about the impact on the Portuguese wine industry.
The minimum price will be set through a formula: Minimum price-per-unit x Strength in % x volume in litres
The minimum price-per-unit has been set at 50p. Using the formula for the sake of giving an example, a standard twelve-pack of 330ml cans of 5% strength beer will cost a minimum of £9.90 (£0.50p x 5% x 3.96 litres ).
This is unlikely to affect pubs and clubs as many charge more than the minimum-per-unit price in the first place; it’s more likely to impact supermarkets, bulk suppliers and off licences.
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said this was a targeted measure aiming to reduce the 535 alcohol-related deaths in Wales each year. He promised a public information campaign for retailers and the public in the run-up to the regulations coming into force on 2nd March 2020.
Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs) wanted assurances that this would be part of a suite of broader measures, including proper support for alcoholics. The legislation had to be closely monitored and if it’s proven to reduce harm then other nations may follow Wales and Scotland.
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) pointed to a report from Scotland which showed minimum pricing there may have had a positive impact, with a reduction in alcohol consumption (though it’s unclear whether this is down to general social trends than minimum pricing).
Before you prepare to set off for a booze cruise to Cribbs Causeway, Shrewsbury or Chester, the UK Government have been considering (though it’s unclear) introducing a similar law in England.
Also, the Minimum Alcohol Pricing Act 2018 is considered an experimental law and has a “sunset clause”, meaning there’ll be an opportunity for the Senedd to repeal it in 2024-25.
Difficulty in accessing medical records contributory factor in Welsh prison deaths
Department of Work and Pensions “cheating” universal credit claimants out of rent money
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to Housing & Local Government Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West).
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) isn’t a fan of the UK Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), describing it as “Europe’s most vindictive and incompetent department”:
“The regulations for universal credit state that tenants with weekly tenancies will have their universal credit entitlement calculated on a maximum of 52 weeks. This means that every five or so years, tenants paying weekly on the same day will be charged rent on the basis of 53 weeks, but will only be able to receive universal credit to cover 52 weeks. Therefore, there is a shortfall that Community Housing Cymru (CHC) have estimated could affect 13,000 people in Wales.”
– Leanne Wood AM
Leanne Wood added that CHC has called for the Welsh Government to use discretionary housing payments to cover any shortfalls, though her preference is administrative devolution of social security.
The Minister was in no doubt that policies such as these were driving rent arrears, with local housing allowance rates having been frozen for four years. While she offered no commitments on discretionary payments, there is further work being done behind the scenes on the possible future administrative devolution of welfare – though unintended consequences had to be avoided.
“Inhospitable environment” for private housebuilders following Minister’s remarks
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central), took issue with remarks made by the Minister on private housing developers, which she claimed were creating “slums of the future”. Poor planning laws, poor regulatory enforcement and alike couldn’t be laid at the door of private developers and such comments were creating an “inhospitable environment”.
“….we need a housing market that brings together the public and private sector, large and small housebuilders, and national and local government in a positive public-spirited partnership. And a robust housing strategy to increase supply needs more than the very necessary expansion in social housing; it also needs private housebuilders to significantly increase market housing to boost affordable delivery in general, mixed tenures, and everything else that goes hand in hand.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM
The Minister was quite happy to stand by what she said. There were too many examples around Wales of poorly-built estates, lack of open space and like – though the qualified her comments as being aimed more at big developers, not the smaller private developers who often manage to produce “really lovely” developments.
Following discussions with the sector, the Minister was confident the larger housebuilders are taking that on board and upping their game.
Local authorities should have a bigger role in public health
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) said that in conversations with members and officers of a Welsh council, he was told that public health has had a better focus in England since most statutory responsibilities for public health were passed down to councils, including sexual health clinics and substance misuse. Was this worth considering in Wales?
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) expressed support for this seeing as several policy areas linked to public health – like education, environmental health and building regulations – were the responsibilities of councils.
Health isn’t part of the Minister’s portfolio of responsibilities, but the forthcoming Local Government Bill will encourage regional working, but it was about more than government structures:
“We’re not actually in the game of moving functions from one to the other. You can make an argument that social care should be in health, or the whole thing should be together in one body or whatever. Generally speaking, I’m a proponent of the view that it’s not the structure the matters, it’s the working arrangements and the culture. So, we’re going down the regional partnership board route, because we want all of the public services to work well together.”
– Housing & Local Government Minister, Julie James
Onshore wind process “flawed”
Here’s a summary of questions to the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham).
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) raised concerns that the process of selecting priority areas for onshore windfarms within the draft National Development Framework (NDF) is flawed, with a number of the eleven selected areas being deemed unsuitable for wind energy or only suitable for small scale projects of 10MW or less.
“….it will have a huge impact on your ability to fulfil what, I presume, are your aspirations, in terms of decarbonisation and energy or renewable energy production. Now, the strategic search areas in TAN 8, of course, had a target, in terms of proposed energy generation. There’s no indication of what levels of energy your energy priority areas in the NDF are expected to contribute.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM
While not wanting to give AMs an impression she wasn’t concerned, the Minister reminded everyone that the framework is still very much a work in progress. Wind energy will likely form a big part of Wales’ future energy generation, but she was unwilling to comment while the consultation was still live – something Llyr said the Minister was hiding behind.
Minister needs to see evidence on UK Labour’s decarbonisation targets
Not one to turn down the opportunity for some electioneering, Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), turned to UK Labour’s policies and in particular an aim for the UK to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. The Welsh Government’s target date is 2050. Was 2030 really that realistic? The GMB union said such a radical decarbonisation programme would “be completely devastating to whole swathes of communities the length and breadth of the UK” (though he didn’t expand further on this point).
The Minister put some “clear red water” between the Welsh and UK branches of Labour:
“….this Welsh Government took the advice from our advisory body, the UK Climate Change Committee. They advised us that the target that we should reach for here in Wales because this is the Welsh Government that you’re questioning now, should be 95% (reduction in carbon emissions). I’ve asked the committee to go back and see if we can go further to net-zero by 2050….What the UK Labour Government comes forward with on the evidence that they’ve gathered for obviously the UK….I’d be very interested to see that evidence and then we can look at it further.”
– Minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths
Voluntary slaughterhouse CCTV scheme “not working”
Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) raised the matter of disturbing footage from the Farmers Fresh slaughterhouse in Wrexham. It was clear to her that the voluntary slaughterhouse CCTV regime wasn’t working and it had to move to a mandatory system.
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) made the same point, suggesting Wales should follow England in legislating for mandatory CCTV.
The Minister hasn’t ruled a mandatory programme out, but would prefer to see where the voluntary system goes:
“I’ve not ruled out legislating to introduce mandatory CCTV, but I did commit a year ago to work with businesses to look at whether they would do CCTV installation voluntarily. We’ve put forward the food business investment scheme, where we would give funding for CCTV. The bid process for that doesn’t close until the end of January. I want to see how that progresses before I make a decision looking at the next steps in relation to mandatory CCTV.”
– Minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths
Committee backs GP indemnity law, but reforms to clinical negligence laws are more urgently needed
Health & Social Care Committee
Stage 1 Report: NHS Indemnities Bill (pdf)
Published: 12th November 2019
The NHS Indemnities Bill will create a publicly-backed indemnity scheme for GPs in Wales to cover costs associated with medical negligence cases.
- There’s broad support for the Bill, but there are worries the new scheme doesn’t do enough to protect doctors’ professional standing
It’s no surprise that the medical profession supports the Bill. In the absence of wider reforms to laws on personal injury and medical negligence, there was a need for some form of state-backed indemnity scheme.
The Committee was told that the personal claims environment in Scotland – which has a completely different system of law to EnglandandWales – is benign and law firms have been discouraged from trying to progress medical negligence cases there because Scots law has never encouraged it.
There was some criticism from the Medical Defence Union that there was little consultation on proposals for a state-backed indemnity scheme in either England or Wales. There’s the possibility that this model could put GPs at risk as there would be no responsibility to protect the professional standing of doctors involved in a claim.
The Committee recommended the Senedd agree to the general principles of the Bill, but the new scheme shouldn’t present a lesser offer to GPs in terms of protecting professional standing.
- There’s no agreement yet on transferring liabilities to the Welsh Government
Under the proposals, all existing GP liabilities will transfer to the Welsh Government in return for a transfer of assets from the existing Medical Defence Organisations (MDOs). The liabilities have been estimated at £100million.
The transfer hasn’t yet been agreed but negotiations are ongoing and it’s hoped an agreement will be reached “in the near future”. However, the Medical Defence Union didn’t present a positive picture of the Welsh Government negotiations, saying that the level of asset transfer hasn’t yet been discussed and engagement has been lacking.
The Health Minister said the Bill won’t be affected if there’s no agreement with the MDOs, but the Committee said the government must engage in meaningful discussions to reach agreement on a fair and proportionate transfer of assets.
- Clinical negligence laws need to be reformed
As hinted earlier, there was evidence that clinical negligence laws in EnglandandWales require reform, with MDOs saying the creation of state-backed indemnity schemes was a missed opportunity and a distraction. Claims for clinical negligence were diverting funds away from front line care.
A decision by the UK Government to change discount rates for personal injuries had big consequences. Responsibility for this appears to lie at UK level and the Committee believes that reform of the law was needed to address the root cause of the problem.
Call for better Active Travel targets