FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has today set out his Government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead.
In the first of five Bills, the Welsh Government will introduce legislation that will make it illegal for alcohol to be sold below a set price.
Evidence shows a direct link between drinking harmful levels and the availability of cheap alcohol. The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) Bill will propose a formula for calculating the minimum price for alcohol, based on its strength and volume, and enable local authorities to enforce the powers and bring prosecutions.
The Government is also introducing a Bill to stop landlords and estate agents from charging unfair, up-front fees to tenants and prospective tenants in the private rented sector.
Increasing evidence shows the current fees – which can be as high as £700 – are a barrier to people looking to rent their own place and discourage people from moving home. The Bill will provide private renters with clarity about the costs involved and ensure the system is fair and sustainable.
Over the next 12 months, the Government will also introduce a Bill that will pave the way for one of its key pledges; 30 hours of free childcare a week for working parents of three and four year olds.
Good progress is being made on the childcare offer, with the first pilot set to begin in September. The Bill will support this and enable the childcare offer to be rolled out in full by 2020 by creating a national system for applications and eligibility checks.
The Welsh Government will also bring forward legislation to reform local government in Wales. The Bill will establish a new relationship between the Welsh Government and local government, create greater transparency in decision making and ensure greater collaboration through mandatory regional working arrangements.
The Government will also bring forward legislation in the next 12 months to reform the regulatory controls for registered social landlords in Wales. In September 2016, the Office for National Statistics reclassified RSLs into the public sector. As a consequence, any private sector borrowing by RSLs will become a charge against the Welsh Government’s capital budget.
If not addressed, the change by ONS could restrict the development of new affordable social housing and restrict our own ability to fund other capital infrastructure projects. The Welsh Government’s Bill proposes to reform central and local government controls over RSLs, enabling the ONS to reconsider the reclassification and return them to the private sector.
The Government is also seeking cross-party support for legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, and will consult on proposals with the intention of introducing a Bill in the third year of this Assembly term.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The Bills we intend to introduce during the second year of this Assembly will support our efforts to build a Wales that is healthy and active, prosperous and secure, ambitious and learning and united and connected.
“The five Bills will tackle harmful alcohol consumption, help support working parents, protect tenants from unfair fees and reform and improve local government.
“Last week the UK Government set out its legislative intentions in the Queen’s Speech. While wholly unambitious, the statement included the Repeal Bill and other Brexit-related Bills.
“As I have repeatedly made clear, the UK Government must respect the devolution settlement. If this does not happen, we will consider other options, such as a Continuity Bill, to protect Wales’ interests.
“Leaving the European Union will have a significant impact on the business of this Welsh Government and National Assembly. It would be naive to assume that it will not also have an impact on our own legislative programme – but, we will do all we can to keep driving forward progress and delivering for the people of Wales.”
New Year’s messages from party leaders
Andrew RT Davies
AS ASSEMBLY Members we have the privilege of being in a position to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the people of Wales.
My New Year’s resolution will be to carry that mantra into 2018, and concentrate on the things that bring us together rather than things that drive us apart.
As a country we are often accused of looking at our feet rather than at the horizon. Let’s make 2018 the year that we challenge that narrative and look ahead to the opportunities in front of us.
New Year’s Day is a hopeful time, as we mark the passing of one year and look ahead to a healthier and happy new one.
It is a time of positivity, and a time to be open to change.
2017 was a difficult year in so many ways. Yet it was in the very depths of adversity that we witnessed the best of human nature – and the true strength of community spirit.
The Assembly itself also witnessed great tragedy, but we have to continue to look forward and reach for the more positive future that’s just around the corner.
Above all, we must remember that in spite of our political differences there is much that binds us together.
There are huge opportunities ahead for this country and there will be times when our ability to come together will serve the people of Wales far better than working in isolation.
Wishing everyone across Wales and the United Kingdom the very best for 2018.
AS the year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and look ahead to the year to come.
2018 offers us new opportunities and a chance to build on the progress we have made this year, and over the past two decades of devolution.
There are certainly challenges and uncertainty ahead, but many reasons for optimism too. I look forward to my ministerial team and I driving forward our ambitious plans for Wales – focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, supporting our public services and improving the day-to-day lives of the people of Wales.
I want 2018 to be a year that unites us – a year in which we celebrate all we have in common and work together to build the fair, open, prosperous nation that we all want Wales to become.
I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
PEOPLE here in Wales face many problems and challenges which cannot be solved by our National Assembly because of its limited powers and because its current Labour government lacks the necessary will and ambition to get those powers.
Neither can our problems be solved by Westminster, where the concerns of Wales are an afterthought at best. I very much hope that 2018 will be the year where we collectively conclude that only people in Wales can solve the problems this country faces.
As the political landscape changes alongside our relationships within the UK and Europe, as people in countries like Catalonia and Scotland push for self-government to have more control over the decisions that affect them, we have the chance for 2018 to be the year that people here consider how we in Wales can be empowered to tackle more of our problems for ourselves.
While the other parties may be content for many big decisions to be taken on our behalf in London, Plaid Cymru believes that decisions are best made by those who are directly affected by them. Plaid Cymru therefore believes also in further devolution within Wales.
My team and I will be dedicating time in 2018 to be in open consultation with people right throughout the country about how we can make the most of the opportunity devolution has given us to practice a different kind of politics, how we can extend and deepen our autonomy to develop a real alternative to the mess that Westminster has to offer.
Mandy Jones sworn in as AM
MANDY JONES has been returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region following the resignation of Nathan Gill.
Mr Gill, whose sporadic attendance at the Assembly had become a running sore, resigned just before Christmas.
When a regional Assembly seat becomes vacant, the Llywydd informs the Regional Returning Officer for the relevant region.
Where the seat was vacated by a Member who was elected at an Assembly general election from a list of candidates submitted by a political party, the Regional Returning Officer is required to contact the next candidate on the list submitted at the time of the general election by that political party.
Once the Regional Returning Officer has established that the person is able and willing to serve, the Regional Returning Officer informs the Llywydd of the name of the person.
When the Llywydd receives notification of the name, that person becomes an Assembly Member. However, he or she cannot undertake the work of an Assembly Member until the oath has been taken.
The Regional Returning Officer informed the Llywydd on 27 December 2017 that Mandy Jones is able and willing to serve and was therefore returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region on that day.
And, on December 29, Mandy Jones AM was sworn in as the new Assembly Member for North Wales, in a ceremony at the National Assembly’s North Wales Office in Colwyn Bay.
Mrs Jones was accompanied at the ceremony by her family, and fellow UKIP AM for North Wales, Michelle Brown.
Mandy Jones commented: “I am extremely grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to be the Assembly Member for North Wales. I live here, I raised my children here and I promise to serve this region to the best of my ability.
“I will work hard on your behalf by supporting local businesses in delivering good jobs and campaigning for better local health and transport services in north Wales.”
UKIP Wales Leader Neil Hamilton welcomed Mandy Jones to the UKIP Assembly Group stating: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”
‘Payroll vote’ attacked
THE EVER-INCREASING size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness of democracy in Wales according to the Welsh Conservatives.
Following Carwyn Jones’ last reshuffle, twenty one Labour Assembly Members now hold remunerated positions – be it ministerial, commission or committee chair posts – which currently represents a staggering 75 per cent of the governing party in Wales. In Scotland, the percentage of SNP members in similar paid-up positions is closer to 50 per cent.
The pay-roll vote and democratic deficit intensifies in Wales with the inclusion of Independent AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and Lib Dem AM, Kirsty Williams, as Welsh government ministers.
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has said the ‘bloated’ government pay-roll vote is damaging the heart of democracy in Wales.
He said: “The ever-increasing and bloated size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness and heart of democracy in Wales.
“As an opposition party, we work around the clock to hold Carwyn Jones and his chaotic government to account, but the Welsh Parliament is unquestionably being harmed by the ever-shrinking voice of genuine backbenchers.
“By bringing three quarters of his Labour members into the ‘paid-up tent’, the First Minister is effectively closing down scrutiny of his actions and those of his government.
“A tired government of 18 years standing and devoid of new ideas is seeking to cover-up its numerous failures by increasing the democratic deficit in Wales – people and communities deserve better and for that we need to start with a fully functioning democracy and smaller government pay-roll.”
‘Welsh Government pay-roll vote’
Labour Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers (12):
Carwyn Jones – First Minister
Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Vaughan Gething – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Huw Irranca-Davies – Minister for Children and Social Care
Mark Drakeford – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Alun Davies – Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
Rebecca Evans – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Hannah Blythyn – Minister for Environment
Eluned Morgan – Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Julie James – Leader of the House and Chief Whip, with responsibility for digital infrastructure and equalities
Jeremy Miles – Counsel General
Other Welsh Government Ministers (2):
Dafydd Elis Thomas – Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Kirsty Williams – Cabinet Secretary for Education
DPO and Committee Chairs (7):
Ann Jones – Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister
Lynne Neagle – Children, Young People and Education Committee
Mike Hedges – Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Mick Antoniw – Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
John Griffiths – Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
David Rees – External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee
Jane Bryant – Standards of Conduct Committee
Other roles (2):
Joyce Watson – Commissioner – Equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff
Julie Morgan – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee (EU funding oversight)
During the last Assembly term, the scope of the payroll vote was demonstrated when a Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, was sacked by Carwyn Jones as Chair of the All-Wales PMC for breaching ‘collective responsibility’ by speaking out against a policy decision made by the Welsh Government – despite fulfilling a number of supposedly ‘backbench’ roles such as sitting on Assembly Committees as a Labour representative.
While Mr Davies’ point has merit, in the Westminster parliament the total number of ministers in government posts in June 2017, following the general election and reshuffle of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.
This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010.
As a point of comparison, there were sixty government ministers in 1990 and India, with a population of over 1.3bn, has under eighty.
There are nine unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government.
The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.
There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).
The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017. More recently, the Conservative Government rigged the Select Committee system, which is supposed to scrutinise the government, by appointing nine members of its payroll vote to select committees.
There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.
Most recently, in a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review. Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.
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