Today’s Senedd Roundup: Stricter emissions target to be introduced next year

Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Climate change is all the rage at the moment and following a number of debates over the last few weeks, the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), updated AMs on the Welsh Government’s low-carbon plan.

Meeting increased ambitions on climate change

The Minister told AMs there was a collective commitment by the Welsh Government to address climate change, with the low-carbon plan drawing together policies from all government portfolios. As of 2017, carbon emissions from Wales were 25% lower than 1990, but progress has stalled due to the siting of fossil fuel power stations in Wales as well as the impact of heavy industry.

An expert group will be set up to investigate the decarbonisation of Welsh industry. Also, tree-planting will be accelerated, there’ll be additional support for low-carbon vehicles and the use of both public transport and active travel, while an advisory group will be set up to explore how Wales can become less reliant on fossil fuels.

“….next year we will bring forward legislation to adopt a 95% carbon reduction target (compared to 1990), representing a huge increase in ambition from our current 80% target; and before the end of 2021, we will set out our next plan to meet the 2021 to 2025 budget period.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) focused, again, on the economics. There hasn’t been any serious analysis of the potential impact these initiatives would have on the economy and employment, while only 1% of the Welsh Government’s budget is spent on decarbonisation efforts.


Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) later added that there were semi-official estimates that a 95% reduction target would cost the UK £50-70billion a year. He also questioned whether it was possible to fully decarbonise an industry like steel, where coal was a fundamental raw material?

Work should move on swiftly

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said that while the statements and a newfound sense of urgency were welcome, there were behaviours in the past from Labour which contradicts this – such as their voting down Plaid Cymru proposals to strengthen energy efficiency in new-build homes. Was there even a proper timetable for some of these new actions and measures? If we’re in an emergency situation, then surely measures should be outlined sooner rather than later?

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said it was “great” Wales was producing 48% of our own energy needs from renewable sources, but there were still a number of things beyond the Welsh Government’s control or facing serious barriers – citing the lack of charging points in Wales as a barrier to uptake of electric vehicles.

“I don’t believe you can ever have too many trees, and I think that we ought to have a lot more woodland than we’ve got now. But have the Welsh Government got any thoughts on trying to create a series of urban forests around urban areas, like the one in Maesteg that Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) speaks very highly of?”
– Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) added that for Wales to catch up with European averages, an additional 22% of land in Wales would need to be re-forested. This would inevitably have an impact on the Welsh red meat industry and may require a rethink of school meals to include more plant-based choices.

Picture by Richardjo53 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Formal backing for, Newport M4 commission

While there’ve been a flurry of statements and debates on climate change and the B-word, AMs are also resolutely determined to talk the Newport bypass into the dirt too. Most of this was a repeat of a recent debate, so I’m only going to focus on anything said that was new.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the Planning Inspector’s report and decision letter published on 4th June 2019, including an oral statement, regarding the M4 corridor around Newport.
  • Notes the proposed next steps outlined including the establishment of an expert Commission to be led by Terry Burns.
  • Recognises the significant congestion issues on the M4 around the Brynglas Tunnels and the impact it has on Newport and the wider economy.
  • Notes the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing and funding sustainable and effective solutions to congestion issues as part of an integrated, multi-modal and low carbon transport system.

“Only responsible” to respond to new challenges

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) said it was “only responsible” for a government to respond accordingly to new challenges when they present themselves. He was resolute, however: doing nothing wasn’t an option. The Commission will be “small and focused” and will consider the views of all interested parties.

In the short-term, additional breakdown and recovery patrols will be introduced. While other major road projects in other parts of Wales are still set to be delivered, the Minister said nobody should get their hopes up that the M4 budget will be ring-fenced for alternative schemes:

“….not all of the money that was allocated to the black route is available for a road-based solution….on the M4 because one of the reasons why the First Minister decided not to grant the Orders was because it would have drawn capital from other vitally important infrastructure. However, the First Minister has been clear that the recommendations put forward by the commission will have the first call on funding set aside by the Welsh Government to resolve the issues.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), was disappointed that a binding vote won’t go ahead despite it being promised. The Commission was just kicking a can down the road and what was to stop the Welsh Government dismissing their recommendations in six months time?

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) bemoaned the eight wasted years getting to this position and believed that the issues should be left to the national infrastructure commission, not an entirely new one.

A Welsh problem, not a Newport one

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) said the Newport bottleneck was a Welsh problem, not just confined to the city itself. While respecting the views of ecologists, we can’t go back to square one and she repeated calls for any money earmarked for Newport to be spent in Newport.

A number of AMs said public transport and car-sharing needed to be incentivised, while Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) supports a “hybrid strategy” of public transport and rail freight investments combined with smart technology on the road network.

“I would totally refute and reject (the blue route – upgrading the A48), and I wonder if those making those suggestions have ever driven on that road, with its roundabouts, its traffic lights and its junctions….that route goes through the heart of many communities with many thousands of people living there, and they do not want to be subjected to the higher volume of traffic, the higher speed of traffic, that would bring those associated problems of air pollution and noise to those communities.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)

The motion was carried by 27 votes to 10 with 14 abstentions.

Money

Uncertainty over whether borrowing powers will be extended

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s Finance Questions.

Borrowing powers

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) asked about the extent of the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers in light of the cancellation of the Newport bypass.

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said the government were allowed to borrow £150million a year up to a total maximum of £1billion. There was a request for this to be extended to £300million a year, but because the UK Government’s spending review has been consistently delayed it’s unclear whether that will take place.

The issue was, however, being discussed further:

“I’ll be issuing a written statement later this week, which talks about the statement of funding policy and that’s a discussion that I started ….with other finance ministers, and with the support of the Scottish and Northern Irish administrations, which looks at a much fairer and more transparent allocation of funding from the UK Government to the nations….”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Decarbonisation budgets

The Conservatives are pressing on the potential economic impacts of the climate emergency and, with the Future Generations Commissioner suggesting an additional £1billion was needed, that pressure continued with Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth):

“I appreciate that this is a budget-setting exercise, probably, but in terms of a strategy for deciding those allocations in advance of that process so that departments know that they’re going to get funding specifically to reduce carbonisation, how are we ensuring that that will happen?”
– Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM

The Minister said discussions were starting over the 2020-21 Welsh budget. It’s still in its early stages. The £1billion figure was “a useful starting point”, but it could require difficult discussions on where it would come from and wasn’t guaranteed.

Welsh Government “still supports principle” of a community bank

The Economy & Infrastructure Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into banking access, and Chair of that committee, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), acknowledged that while discussions between the Welsh Government and interested parties were at an early stage, was there any indication of how much public money could be put towards the project?

The Minister said the community bank was still an active priority for the government. They’ve provided advice on what would need to happen for the community bank to access seed capital. It could still be quite some time before anything happens though:

“Officials are now reviewing a specific proposal and a request for seed funding from the Public Bank for Wales Action Group, working in collaboration with the UK-wide Community Savings Bank Association. Seed funding would be used by the Public Bank for Wales Action Group to initiate a phase of work that would include stakeholder engagement, market assessment, and feasibility for a community bank for Wales, which will then progress to a banking licence application. An application for a banking licence can take quite some time – two years or more….”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Welsh law a step closer to “codification”

Yesterday, the Senedd undertook Stage 3 scrutiny of the Legislation Bill.

At a Glance Guide

Stage 1 report (summary)

  • The Bill places a duty on the Welsh Government to make Welsh law more accessible, which will be done in part through a series of consolidation Bills which will include all legislation passed to date in any given devolved policy area in one place (i.e a consolidation Bill for the environment, a Bill for agriculture, a Bill for health).
  • It will be a bilingual interpretation Act, ensuring that the language and definitions in Welsh law are consistent in both English and Welsh.

Major Changes at Stage 2

Stage 2 proceedings were undertaken by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, while the Member in Charge of the Bill is the Counsel General, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath).

  • The duty to make Welsh law more accessible has been expanded to include the promotion and awareness of Welsh law.
  • The Welsh Government will have to report annually on progress made under accessibility.
  • Makes it clear that Welsh language and English language versions of Bills have equal status.

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 1 – Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
Places a duty on the Welsh Government to fully review and report on the effectiveness of their “accessibility” programme by the end of 2023.
Vote: Rejected – 24 for, 27 against
Reason for Rejection: There’s already a clear commitment to review the effectiveness of the Bill before the mid-point of the Sixth Assembly.

Amendment 5 – Counsel General, Jeremy Miles
Includes any EU laws and regulations retained in UK and Welsh law after Brexit so they can be referenced in relation to future legislation.
Vote: Agreed unanimously.

Amendment 13 – Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
Inserts an expanded definition of “accessibility” which includes a responsibility towards bilingual publication and to ensure legislation is “easy to understand and certain in its effect”.
Vote: Agreed unanimously.

Picture by Welsh Youth ParliamentYouth Parliament and Senedd hold joint session to strengthen relationship

As part of events to mark devolution’s 20th anniversary, there was a special joint sitting of the Senedd and Welsh Youth Parliament earlier this afternoon.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Note the Welsh Youth Parliament’s work during its first term will focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing; life skills in the curriculum; littering and plastic waste.
  • Confirms the Senedd’s commitment to supporting the work undertaken by MWYPs to engage young people.
  • Agrees on a joint declaration outlining the Senedd’s and Youth Parliament‘s commitment to work together on behalf of the young people of Wales.

A relationship between two parliaments

Maisy Evans MWYP (Torfaen) opened by saying it was “vital” for there to be a relationship between the two parliaments and joint work on the three issues identified as important by MWYPs.

Jonathon Dawes MWYP (Clwyd West) has advocated life skills in the curriculum and in May a survey of 11-25-year-olds was launched to gather young people’s views on what they would like to see in the new curriculum – due to be debated at the next Youth Parliament plenary session in October. The life skills brought up most often were CPR and first aid.

“As the majority of us today will know, mental health problems affect one in 10 young people. They include anger, depression, loneliness, panic attacks, stress, anxiety and conduct disaster, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. But in order to reduce this number and help every single young person we all need to work together.”
– Sandy Ibrahim MWYP (Partner Member)

Anwen Rodaway MWYP (Partner Member) highlighted the work being done by members in schools, where they’ve helped organise litter picks or recycling schemes. She was encouraged by the recent declaration of a climate emergency but as highlighted in a recent committee report, it was also important to address plastic that you can’t see, like microplastics.

“Although we’re here today to celebrate, we must remember that there are 200,000 children in Wales living in poverty, hundreds have to wait months for mental health support, and the world around us is being destroyed by climate change.”
– Ifan Jones MWYP (Ynys Môn)

Alys Hall MWYP (Rhondda) praised the co-operation that already existed between AMs and MWYPs on local and youth issues – picking out period poverty as one such issue. Angel Ezeadum MWYP (Partner Member) said technology was enabling them to reach a wide audience very quickly, while Cai Phillips MWYP (Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said the joint declaration would give MWYPs “certainty and confidence” going forward.

Strengthening democracy

The First Minister said Wales was leading the way in children’s rights and this joint session was an example of how to strengthen democracy. Children and young people have unique viewpoints on major issues facing Wales. He expressed support for further discussion on all three of the issues picked by MWYPs, using extending voting rights to 16 and 17-year olds as an example of a life skill in itself.

“On this side of the Chamber, we are eager to see more work done to encourage stronger preventative measures and early intervention (on mental health). For example, we want to see schools the length and breadth of Wales taking steps to develop mindfulness awareness in their school, and we want employers to look at how their businesses can provide greater support to those living and working with mental health conditions.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.)

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said the development of the youth parliament has been a source of pride and young people can – and probably will – lead the way on tackling issues such as plastic waste and changing attitudes towards mental health. Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) was also pleased the Youth Parliament was contributing to an atmosphere where young people can get mental health support more easily.

“I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward with great excitement and hope to watch your progress and seeing the outcomes of your hard work. But it is my firm belief that we shouldn’t only sit on the sidelines and watch your progress. Our committee has already benefited greatly from engaging with the Youth Parliament on proposals to remove the defence of reasonable punishment.”
– Chair of the Children & Education Committee, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)

The motion was passed unanimously.

Teaching Welsh history “could become a divisive issue” if not properly interpreted

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