2. Business Statement and Announcement

– in the Senedd at 2:30 pm on 18 June 2024.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 2:30, 18 June 2024


Item 2 this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd, Jane Hutt. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour


Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. There are two changes to today's Plenary agenda. The Stage 1 debate on the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill has been postponed until 16 July. Instead, the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs will make a statement on Wales's world-class recycling. Additionally, the Conservative debates tomorrow have been reordered, and the debate on women's health has been postponed. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available electronically. 

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative 2:31, 18 June 2024

Trefnydd, can we have an update on the blue badge scheme across Wales? We know that new guidance has been issued to local authorities, but this doesn't seem to be resolving the many problems that people in my constituency are having when reapplying for their blue badges. Why should it be that someone with a deteriorating condition, who qualified for a blue badge previously, is having to continually, every few years, go back to request one? That seems to me like unnecessary bureaucracy. If people have got a deteriorating condition, they should qualify for life. I do think that there needs to be further work on this, and I would welcome a statement on the blue badge scheme, to make sure that we're not wasting officers' time in local authorities, and we're not wasting the time of our residents unnecessarily, with having to do applications that ought not to be happening. 

Secondly, can I call for an update from the Minister with responsibility for flood defences in Wales on flood risk management? One of the challenges I have in my own constituency is that, in the Sandy Cove area in Kinmel Bay, it's a place that has been hit by flooding on a number of occasions in recent years. Now, the Welsh Government, rightly, is investing in the sea defences in the Kinmel Bay area in the coming year, with work that is expected to start in September of this year. But, unfortunately, whilst that will help to protect the residents on Sandy Cove from flooding episodes, it will not resolve the significant drainage problems that there are on the Sandy Cove estate, as a result of the highways and roads on that estate being unadopted. So, I would like to see the sea defence and flood works, which are taking place in Kinmel Bay, extended to cover the drainage on that estate, and I think it would be useful to have a written statement on this matter, to see whether there's any further action that the Welsh Government can take in order to help the residents in Kinmel Bay there. Thank you.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:33, 18 June 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Darren Millar. On your blue badge scheme, yes, I will raise this with the Cabinet Secretary. Obviously, this is something that is developed in partnership with our colleagues in local government. It is a vital scheme to enable accessibility and independence for disabled people, and people with impairments and conditions that qualify them for the blue badge. And, of course, the review system is important, as you would acknowledge, but I will raise this and feed back to you on the outcome of that discussion.

I'm very pleased that the Cabinet Secretary is here in the Chamber when you raise the issue about flood risk management, and particularly focusing on sea defences and the work that we are, as a Welsh Government, investing in, not just in Kinmel Bay, but across the whole of Wales. I think we should be very proud of the investment we make in flood risk management. This affects all our constituencies.

I have to say, also, that we actually benefited from European funding in relation to the work that we've done, and indeed in terms of coastal erosion, and the work that's been done with our coastal path in terms of sea defences, and indeed other flood risk defences that we have invested in. Again, our partnership with local government, who are the authorities who are responsible for delivering the projects, with our funding support, is key. So, this is another partnership that I believe is very robust in Wales, but, as I said, the Cabinet Secretary has heard the point about your local question.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 2:35, 18 June 2024


I'd like to place on record my disappointment that we won't have an opportunity today to discuss the general principles of the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill. I was one of the members of the Business Committee who agreed to a truncated timetable in terms of scrutiny by committees, and, as a member of the Senedd's Reform Bill Committee that undertook that scrutiny, I'd like to express my discontent that the timetable has changed, because the committees could have had the usual time to scrutinise the Bill. We accept that there's a UK general election at the moment, but that is beneficial in this regard, that it has happened more swiftly, because it means that you can have these discussions. So, can I ask you to continue with the ambition to introduce it in time for 2026, and to demand the right to do so from the next UK Government?

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

Secondly, I'm sure you're aware, as a constituency Member of the Senedd for the area, of the ongoing sewage spills impacting the river Ogmore and Ogmore-by-Sea beach. The beach has been classified as 'abnormal' by Natural Resources Wales, and is one of the two worst beaches in Wales for water quality, with people being advised not to swim, despite it being a designated bathing area in 2023. However, some people are still not aware of the risk and continue to enter the water. So, can I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs on this issue, updating the Senedd on the situation, and the steps being taken to rectify the situation, and warn people of the dangers?

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:36, 18 June 2024


Thank you very much, Heledd Fychan, for your very important question. And thank you also for your interest in this matter.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

We were very grateful for the work that was undertaken at speed, at pace, by the Reform Bill Committee, and indeed the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and indeed the Finance Committee, in relation to the Senedd Cymru (Electoral Candidate Lists) Bill. I'm fortunate, of course, to be the Member in charge of that Bill, and Members will be aware that I have circulated a letter that I wrote to the Chairs of all of those committees at the end of last week, to say that we need to give due consideration to the 47 recommendations that we received from those committees—we received the reports on 7 June—and that we need to respond as fully and appropriately as possible ahead of the Stage 1 debate. So, I did take the decision, on behalf of the Welsh Government, to delay the Stage 1 debate on the general principles of the Bill until 16 July 2024. I hope my letter, which has now been circulated to all Members, clarifies the position as far as this is concerned.

But I also would say that it's very important that we do look fully at those reports, because what is so good about the reports, particularly, I have to say, the Reform Bill Committee report—and I appreciate that the Dirprwy Lywydd is the Chair of that Reform Bill Committee, the pwyllgor—is that it's really great to see that the majority of Members on that committee endorse the general principles of this Bill. We were waiting to hear, as a result of the evidence that was given, and also the fact that the Reform Bill Committee acknowledged the strength of the academic and international evidence that was given to that committee. And I will take this opportunity, Heledd Fychan and Dirprwy Lywydd, to say how delighted I was by the evidence given by Joyce Watson and the women's caucus, which is a cross-party caucus in this Senedd, backing this Bill. I think that gives you an indication of my commitment in terms of taking this Bill forward.

Your second point and question is also very important, in relation to the situation we find ourselves in in Ogmore. This abuts more than one constituency, more than one region, as you acknowledge, Heledd Fychan—myself and indeed Sarah Murphy, from Bridgend. Obviously, high bathing water quality is a priority for the Welsh Government. Outdoor swimming, water-based recreational activities are particularly popular in Ogmore-by-Sea, in my constituency. I was disappointed with the 'poor' classification given to Ogmore in 2023, but it is work being undertaken with Natural Resources Wales and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, as they continue to investigate the catchment, to identify and deliver the necessary water-quality improvements.

So, I think the good news is that, as of midnight on 17 June, last night, NRW have now lifted their abnormal situation notification, which was in place at Ogmore. The incident and wider catchment investigations are still under way, so we can't comment any further. But I am grateful to the Cabinet Secretary who has, I can say, agreed to meet with myself and Sarah Murphy, and I'm sure will want to also engage with other Senedd Members with an interest.

But can I also pay tribute to those citizens of the area, who have continuously raised this as an issue, and not just the community and county councils, but also particular individuals? And perhaps I could name Alun Phillips, as being one of those campaigners who have not only raised these issues, but also organised the all-important cleaning of the beach, the removing of old tyres and plastic waste, which just demonstrates the commitment of local citizens and residents to water quality in Ogmore. 

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 2:41, 18 June 2024

Across Aberconwy, residents and visitors are being completely deprived of mobile signal. We have masts, but they are simply overwhelmed. An engineer recently informed me that the mast by Venue Cymru is already at 140 per cent capacity. But just look, MinisterCabinet Secretary—at the headlines over the weekend:

'Mobile networks swamped by tourists causing "embarrassing" problems for North Wales'  and

'Tourism surge Wales strains mobile networks hitting local businesses'. 

The consequences of overloading these masts are serious: mobile payment machines are failing, leaving businesses unable to take payments; residents and visitors cannot get hold of loved ones. Mobile service providers are informing residents and businesses that they now need to wait until winter to have a reliable service restored. It simply isn't good enough. 

Llandudno, Aberconwy, and, I guess, all our constituencies, need twenty-first century technology. While mobile coverage continues to improve across the country, 86 UK-funded 4G masts are currently being rolled out in Wales. But will you make a statement now on how you believe, or ask the Cabinet Secretary what actions they are taking to speed up this mobile phone signal and connections? Diolch. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:42, 18 June 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Janet Finch-Saunders. Well, what's interesting, of course, is this is a question that I would have thought you would have put to your colleagues in the UK Government, in terms of the powers and responsibilities. [Interruption.] It's not devolved.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 2:43, 18 June 2024

It doesn't matter. [Laughter.] You do have some—. You have—. You have—. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

I will be very respectful, actually— 

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

To think you're not interested—

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

Janet, I don't want a conversation going on. You've asked the question. Listen to the answer.  

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Can I just be very respectful, Janet, of your point, because I am sure this is shared by many across this Chamber? But we just do need to clarify, for the benefit of the record and for those who are involved in this business statement—as I respond to the business statement—that this is not devolved. But we have, as a Welsh Government, continuously invested in this, because we absolutely agree, Janet Finch-Saunders, that this is part of our infrastructure, isn't it? It's part of our infrastructure not just for tourism, but for education, for the economy, for energy, for all aspects of life. So, I think, obviously, in our general election period that we're in, this is a call, obviously, to the current Conservative Government—the failure of 14 years—

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

—of lack of investment. But also, I have to say, I recall in having, particularly in relation to social justice and inclusion, and of course Lesley Griffiths will be very familiar and, indeed, Rebecca Evans, when you've had responsibility as well for digital inclusion, that this is something where we, actually, also did invest a lot of European funding in this, and we've worked hard and had our digital strategy, which, of course, is crucial, because—. We've mentioned tourism, we've mentioned education, but also let's mention health, access to health and social care as well. 

Photo of Siân Gwenllian Siân Gwenllian Plaid Cymru


As chair of the cross-party group on women, I am extremely disappointed that there won't be a Stage 1 debate on the candidates Bill this afternoon, as intended, and that it's been pushed back a month to 16 July. This will mean, of course, that Stage 2 won't be able to start tomorrow and that the whole timetable for the Bill is being pushed back. What will running the clock down mean? Well, there's a risk that it'll mean that we will have a larger Senedd, elected in a fairer way, but there'll be a real risk that a lack of equality and a lack of diversity will continue as an unacceptable feature of the Welsh Parliament. We will have incomplete reform if the candidates Bill, which is an integral part of the jigsaw, is not implemented. 

The letter that you've referred to already, which has been sent to Members of the Senedd, does not justify the rationale for delaying this afternoon's vote. The rationale doesn't hold water. Reports from Senedd committees recommend progressing to Stages 2 and 3 and call on you to have discussions with the new Labour Government in Westminster before Stage 4, because that Labour Government could make an Order in Council to give power to the Senedd to pass the Bill, putting the implementation of the proposals contained within it beyond any doubt.

I have to ask whether this the latest example of this new 'partnership' in action. It's not two Labour Governments working hand in hand for Wales, but rather a weak Welsh Labour Government in Wales just taking their instructions meekly from London.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 2:46, 18 June 2024


Siân, can you draw to a close?

Photo of Siân Gwenllian Siân Gwenllian Plaid Cymru


The unnecessary delay is a major step backwards. I am drawing to a close. Could you please ensure that the amended timetable does allow for the full package of reforms to be implemented and that there should be no rowing back on the pledge made in your programme for government? And I do quote page 7 in your programme for government:

'introduce gender quotas in law.'

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:47, 18 June 2024


Thank you very much, Siân Gwenllian. Thank you for your comments and questions.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Clearly, one of the most disappointing points when we introduced this Bill was the fact that the Llywydd ruled that this was not in compliance. This is one of the crucial things about how we take forward a Bill where there are issues about that grey area, which can be tested and, of course, was contested, It was looked at in terms of scrutiny at Stage 1 in terms of legal competence. So, it was disappointing that we set off on that step—that we did not get that backing from the Llywydd in terms of acknowledging that this Bill could have recognised the legal competence for us here in the Senedd.

So, I was really grateful to both of the committees who actually addressed these issues, and particularly the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, who were looking at the issue particularly of compliance and competence. I think one of the important things about this is that both committees have come up with a range of recommendations. Particularly as you referred to the letter that I've circulated, they've asked us to engage with the UK Government after the UK general election. We had no idea we would have a general election when we were going through Stage 1.

Recommendations in both reports relate to the potential risk to the 2026 Senedd ordinary election associated with the implementation of the legislation in time for that election. For us, I think protecting that 2026 Senedd ordinary election is absolutely of key importance. Also, I think, as to the concerns about the risk not just in terms of getting everything in time for the 2026 election, many stakeholders came back and said that we should not take that risk in terms of the implementation of the wider reform. So, we had to take those concerns seriously. The response has been entirely—. I realise I'm responding as the Member in charge, Dirprwy Lywydd, here today. We had to take that seriously in terms of the recommendations that came from the reports and also from the evidence.

So, my commitment is wholly towards getting this electoral candidates list Bill on the statute book, and sometimes we have to look at that in terms of timing. I want to get it on the statute book because, as the Reform Bill Committee said, the Bill is a step towards delivering fully diverse representation in the Senedd. And I think we are also discussing—and we'll have the opportunity when we look at the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which is being taken forward by the Counsel General—what we can do in terms of voluntary guidance for 2026 if we cannot get it through in time for the 2026 election. I have referred to this in my letter, in terms of that voluntary guidance, where we can ask parties if they will voluntarily implement a gender quotas route, which has been proven in 130 countries across the world as being an important way to deliver on that diversity that we call for. We want to remove potential barriers to more women's participation in politics in Wales.

And can I just finally say that what was interesting as a result of the evidence given is that quite a lot came back about what was described as quota plus. It was the quota, but addressing other barriers, and I know that those barriers have been discussed not just by the cross-party women's group, but, indeed, in giving evidence to, particularly, the Reform Bill Committee in terms of the ways in which we need to address the other barriers that impede women's progress in terms of participating in politics in Wales.

And finally, I just thank the women's caucus, which is a cross-party group, and which is chaired, and evidence was given, by Joyce Watson and Rhianon Passmore, and Heledd Fychan, in terms of your role as well in the Reform Bill Committee. So, I hope we can have a fuller debate, Deputy Llywydd, on this matter. I know we will on 16 July.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 2:52, 18 June 2024

Back to the real world, I'd like to call for a statement again from the Cabinet Secretary for local government on the waste collection chaos in Denbighshire, which is a result of the Welsh Government-funded scheme. We are three weeks into the Trolibocs bin system roll-out and my inbox is full of constituents' e-mails who are in dismay about the chaos that has been caused by Denbighshire County Council's inability to introduce the new bin system and ensure that all collections are made. As a result, countless people are contacting me about repeat missed collections, and this is now becoming a serious potential risk to public health, with waste piling up outside, pavements and highways becoming a magnet for seagulls and rodents, a bit like something back in the late 1970s. We shouldn't have to put up with this, especially when the new bins are likely to discourage recycling, contrary to their purported goals. The Trolibocs system was introduced by Denbighshire council, despite public opposition, due to a handsome investment by the Welsh Government. So could the Welsh Government outline whether they will reassess the scheme in light of the myriad issues it has brought to people's doors, and have a discussion with Denbighshire County Council about the best way to move forward, with the scheme's abandonment still left on the table? Thank you.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:53, 18 June 2024

Can I just say that I'm utterly disgusted by what Gareth Davies said, by saying 'back to the real world.' Why do we need a gender quotas Bill? Because we need better representation of women, and I have to say, let's look over there, where we certainly need this gender quotas Bill. I think it's shocking that we have that disregard of a piece of legislation that was taken through by three committees.

I will answer your question. You've raised this question every week. Why can't Denbighshire County Council be given the opportunity to implement this kerbside recycling collection without you coming back week after week undermining them, undermining your authority? Actually, neighbouring authorities like Conwy are delivering on kerbside recycling collection. Of course there are teething problems, we know that, but the Cabinet Secretary, who's sitting here, who's going to be proudly talking about the fact that Wales is the second most successful country in the world shortly, will be talking about this further.

Finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, can I just say—

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

—we've got expert advisers, WRAP Cymru, and they're working with Denbighshire?

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

Trefnydd, one second please. I appreciate it. The Member who asked the question should not keep commenting from a sedentary position. Let the Member responding have a chance to respond, please. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Diolch yn fawr. The final point was that WRAP Cymru are their expert advisers, and they're working with Denbighshire to resolve immediate issues. I look forward to not having this question, although I'm sure it may come back next week, in the business statement.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour


And finally, Natasha Asghar

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative

Thank you so much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, please may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care about the provision of NHS dentistry in south-east Wales? I know that it's a topic that many of us have touched upon from different parties, but I have actually been contacted by a number of constituents following a decision taken by Beaufort Park Dental Surgery in Chepstow to stop providing NHS services from the end of August this year. Cabinet Secretary, this decision has understandably caused a great deal of concern, with patients now frantically searching for a new NHS dentist, which we all know are in scarce supply.

An investigation carried out by the British Dental Association found that 93 per cent of dental practices are not taking on new NHS adult patients, which is the worst rate in the UK, and those fortunate enough to be on an NHS dentist's books could be facing a wait of up to 26 weeks before actually getting an appointment. Now, one constituent has actually gone ahead and told me that he has heard absolutely nothing from Aneurin Bevan University Health Board following Beaufort Park's decision, with others concerned about the impact this will have on those who cannot actually afford private treatment. This latest announcement actually follows revelations that some residents in Blaenau Gwent are facing years on waiting lists to see an NHS dentist or are being forced to drive hundreds of miles to receive treatment across the border. I'm sure you'll agree, Cabinet Secretary, that this is completely unacceptable, and a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health about the current situation, outlining where my constituents can find NHS dental treatment, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:57, 18 June 2024

Clearly, the investment that we're making in dentistry and, indeed, the updated contract with our dental profession in Wales is helping us deliver for dentistry. Indeed, as the Member says, it's so important in terms of access to NHS dentistry. And, of course, this is very much dependent on the decisions of those dentists themselves in terms of their contract position. But, certainly, I will be raising this with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, and the particular challenge that you raise at a local level today.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour


I thank the Trefnydd.