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Labour sinks Autism Bill

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There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

THIS week, the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly voted as one to defeat a bill that called on the Welsh Government to bring forward an Autism (Wales) Bill during the fifth Assembly term.

The bill’s defeat was a bitter blow for all of those who had ceaselessly campaigned for the introduction of such a bill.

Labour whipped its AMs to ensure the bill’s failure, while opposition AMs were united in supporting it.

A PASSIONATE DEBATE

During the debate, Members delivered impassioned arguments on why ministers should bring forward specific autism legislation that already exists in England and Northern Ireland.

They cited the fact that under current Welsh Government legislation, people with autism lack a legal identity – which has led to people not receiving adequate professional support from public services – placing them at a disadvantage to the rest of society.

Speaking after the debate, Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who called for such a bill to be introduced in 2015, said: “Today’s vote is obviously a significant blow to the 136,000 people affected by autism in Wales – the passion of whom was evident by those who sat in the gallery to watch the debate.

“Despite Labour having voted down the bill today, we know that there are members who recognise the need for this legislation but were not allowed to demonstrate this, owing to the Labour whip on this vote.

“We will continue to fight for this bill in the Chamber, for the sake of those who continue to not receive the support and recognition they both need and deserve.”

‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY’

Meleri Thomas, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Cymru, told The Herald: “We are disappointed by the vote last week and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.

“During the debate, the Welsh Government underlined its commitment to a new autism strategy and highlighted other initiatives that it believes will improve support for autistic people in Wales. We will be looking carefully at these initiatives and what the new strategy says to assess the likely impact.

“However, eight years on from the publication of the first strategy, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to realise the welcome ambitions of a national plan into practical support on the ground. This is why we will continue with our Act Now campaign, which calls for an Autism Act for Wales so that there are clear duties on public services in Wales to meet the needs of autistic children and adults across the country and bring about the changes to services and support that we all want to see.”

MR WATERS HAS ONE QUESTION

The conduct of Llanelli AM Lee Waters during the debate attracted criticism. On no fewer than three separate occasions, he asked members speaking to give way to ask what amounted to the same question.

The first occasion captures the thrust of Mr Waters’s interventions: “Autism is a neurological condition with distressing co-morbidities like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It affects one in 100 people. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder with distressing co-morbidities like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Why is one worthy of an Act and the other not?”

Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins pointed out, before being interrupted by Mr Waters: “Research from the National Autistic Society found that only two children in five are receiving all the support outlined in their statement. There is an Additional Learning Needs Bill on the way, but Plaid Cymru believes this may fall short of what is required, because it offers little or no support for adults with autism while making no distinction between children with Asperger’s, who are often high academic achievers, and others on the autism spectrum.”

Assurances given by Minister for Social Services and Public Health Rebecca Evans that the Welsh Government’s eight-years-in-the-making Action Plan would deliver the changes sought by the proposed Bill without the necessity for further legislation were skewered by Simon Thomas, Plaid’s Regional AM for Mid and West Wales, who pointed out to her in June, after the Action Plan had been approved, that First Minister Carwyn Jones said of a possible Autism Bill: “That is being considered at present… in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately.”

Ms Evans suggested that the Government’s current position in voting against the Autism Bill was no different to that espoused previously by the First Minister.

‘NOBODY WANTS LEGISLATION’ CLAIM

Indeed, the distance that the Welsh Government has rowed back from the First Minister’s words on legislation was further highlighted by a Welsh Government spokesperson, who told us: “We already have both the legislative and policy levers to support people with autism. Our Social Services and Well-being Act came into force in April of this year and puts the individual the heart of decisions about care and support, and aims to meet those needs. We are about to publish our refreshed ASD Strategic Action Plan, following consultation with people with autism and their families, where only two responses mentioned the need for more legislation.

“However, the Minister has met with NAS Cymru who are working with officials to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that cannot already be delivered by these approaches and other initiatives such as our investment in a National Integrated Autism Service through our Intermediate Care Fund.”

As the consultation referred to regarding the ASD Action Plan did not include a consultation on legislation, the Welsh Government seems to have forgotten the dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, not least when you set the terms of the consultation.

DAVIES WILL CONTINUE TO CAMPAIGN

Paul Davies AM, who has been consistent in calling for an Autism Bill, told The Herald: “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that the Welsh Government did not support the cross-party calls for an Autism Act in Wales to better support those living with autism across the country. This has been a particularly difficult issue for families in Pembrokeshire. An Autism Act would see duties placed on local authorities to make sure that every council is taking the right steps to give children and adults in Wales the care and support they deserve.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the local NAS branch in Pembrokeshire, who do a fantastic job in raising awareness of some of the serious issues facing people with autism on a day-to-day basis. I will continue to work with the branch to campaign for an Autism Act which will give greater clarity on the care and support that people with autism can expect from their local authority and local health board.”

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Back in March, one leading AM told The Herald: “It’s clear that autism services in Wales haven’t been good enough so we welcome any further steps the government takes to support children and adults in Wales.”

On October 12, that same AM voted with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Cabinet to reject the proposal advanced by the Welsh Conservatives. That vote was cast in the teeth of an express commitment in her party’s own May manifesto and in spite of these words, also told to us on March 7 this year: “Wales needs a better focus on this issue which is why we would introduce legislation focused on helping and supporting people with autism.”

Kirsty Williams’ unequivocal declaration in March 2016 was made in response to an announcement made by then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford about the Welsh Government’s Autism Action Plan, which will not be rolled out across Wales until 2019. She did not think that went far enough then and the plan has not changed since that date.

The only thing that has changed between May and October 12 is Kirsty Williams’ appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education in Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet.

The Herald contacted both Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats regarding the Autism Bill: neither answered.

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Second workshop held on Ceredigion’s Economic Future

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A SECOND workshop was held on July 9 for County Councillors to discuss Ceredigion’s economic future bringing together some of the county’s biggest organisations to share what they had to offer and what partnership working between businesses and Ceredigion County Council could look like in the future.

The Workshop was an opportunity to hear from the large businesses that operate in Ceredigion. Environment Systems, MicroPharm and Rachel’s Dairy gave an insight into their businesses and about future investment opportunities.

The Workshops are an essential component of engaging with businesses as the Council begins to make preparations for a Growth Deal for the region which, if successful, will provide a major boost to the economy, job prospects and the prosperity of the area.

Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn, Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Vice-Chair of the Growing Mid Wales Partnership, said: “I hope that holding this second Economic Future Workshop shows that we continue to meet and support businesses. These businesses are key in keeping our young people in the county, providing a variety of different jobs and developing their skills and continuous learning for their future in West Wales.”

A third Workshop will be held in the near future which will provide a flavour of possible projects for a Growth Deal.

The Growth Deal will be prepared between Ceredigion and Powys County Councils, working with the Welsh and UK Government.

A Joint Agreement between Ceredigion and Powys is also being prepared for agreement in the Autumn to take this work forward.

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Lucy’s Law gets support from AMs

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AN EVENT calling for the introduction of ‘Lucy’s Law’ was held in the Senedd last Wednesday (Jul 11).

Assembly Members Eluned Morgan and Vikki Howells sponsored the event in support of an immediate ban on the sale of puppies by pet shops and other third-party commercial dealers, in response to growing concerns from animal charities that not enough is being done to prevent illegal breeding and animal cruelty.

The sale of puppies through commercial third-party dealers both sustains and is dependent upon the existence of ‘puppy farms’, where puppies are bred for maximum profit and with minimal regard for animal welfare.

Although very few high street pet shops sell puppies these days, the third-party trade remains significant across the UK with dealers operating from a diverse array of premises including private homes and puppy superstores. Evidence suggests that the trade sources puppies bred in Wales.

According to animal charity, CARIAD, a ban is the essential first step towards ending the practice of farming dogs for profit with little or no regard for their welfare or their fitness as family companions. Stress, increased risk of disease, poor breeding practices and irresponsible selling tactics are all associated with the method of third-party puppy selling.

Respected Vet and campaigner Marc Abraham spoke during the event at the National Assembly for Wales, he said:
“It simply isn’t enough to license puppy sellers, we must have a full and complete ban, to stop the trade and supply of dogs bred on such an extensive scale. Lucy’s Law will help to change the way dogs are bred in this country. It will make the process more transparent and raise standards, improving the economy and employment opportunities. This is a revolution in dog breeding and it will do wonders for the reputation of Wales as a responsible dog breeding nation.”

Eluned Morgan AM said: “There are many documented cases of puppy farming, particularly in the region I represent. Puppy smuggling is also an issue with several reported cases of puppies entering our ports from Ireland. The adoption of Lucy’s Law in Wales sends a strong message that as a nation we expect the highest animal welfare practises and that the cruel act of puppy farming can be consigned to history. I want us to be ambitious and to take the lead on this legislation which I hope will be a real possibility following this event in the Senedd.”

Vikki Howells AM said: “I am pleased to be jointly hosting this event today with important contributions from Pup Aid and CARIAD and Marc the vet who has done so much to raise awareness of Lucy’s Law across the United Kingdom and now here in Wales too.”

Legislation relating to Lucy’s Law is devolved to the Welsh Government under the 1956 An

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Views sought on proposed Ceredigion Language Strategy

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VIEWS are being sought on the proposed Ceredigion Language Strategy 2018-2023.

Ceredigion County Council’s proposed strategy sets out how the Council – working in collaboration with other partner organisations – will actively promote the Welsh language and facilitate the use of Welsh more widely within the local area.

Producing the Strategy is one of the requirements of the Welsh Language Standards in accordance with the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) 2011.

The Ceredigion Language Strategy aims to sustain and to promote the Welsh language in all aspects of life and to demonstrate ways of strengthening social networks in a bilingual area. Ceredigion remains a stronghold of the Welsh language however communities are changing which can affect the Welsh language and culture. Responding to these challenges, mitigating the risks facing the Welsh language and securing the viability of welsh-speaking communities requires robust language planning, alongside taking positive action in all aspects of social and economic life within the county.

The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member with responsibility for Welsh Language Standards, Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn, said: “In implementing this strategy, Ceredigion will be contributing towards the Welsh Government vision in its Welsh Language Strategy, which aims to reach a million Welsh speakers in Wales by 2050. This strategy is an opportunity for us to work across the county to increase the use of Welsh language and to ensure that it reaches those parts of public life where it may be less prominent at present. This vision is to maintain a truly bilingual Ceredigion, where the Welsh language can be seen and heard every day in communities as a natural means of communication.”

The strategy is designed to be as realistic and proactive as possible in order to contribute to the vision of a truly bilingual Ceredigion, however the actions identified are within the sphere of influence of organisations working in partnership through the Ceredigion Bilingual Futures Forum.

Councillor ap Gwynn continued: “We are inviting you to comment on the proposed Strategy and the identified actions to be delivered in Ceredigion. We value your opinion, and your comments will be taken into account when publishing the final Strategy.”

Closing date for the consultation is August 13, 2018.

To view the proposed strategy, visit the Consultation page on the Council’s website, www.ceredigion.gov.uk/

Individuals are welcome to contact the Council on 01545 570881 should they wish to receive further information or to receive the information in another format. You can also obtain a paper copy of the Strategy at any of the Council’s Public Offices or Libraries.

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