THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales held a minute silence at the Senedd on Tuesday (Nov 14) in memory of former Assembly Member Carl Sargeant, who died last week.
The Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, opened Plenary by saying: “His death has shaken us to our core, and his absence from our midst pains us today. But our loss pales in comparison to that felt by his community, his friends, his staff, and especially his family.”
After a minute’s silence, Elin Jones invited party leaders and Assembly Members to speak.
A MAN OF MANY TALENTS
First up was an ashen-looking Carwyn Jones, who expressed the wish to speak of his deceased former Cabinet colleague as ‘a politician, as a colleague, and as a friend’.
The First Minister highlighted Mr Sargeant’s contribution to the Assembly: “He took more legislation through here than any other Minister. And he had a knack of turning difficult pieces of legislation into something worthwhile.
Mr Jones continued to observe that Mr Sargeant was: “A man of many talents. In all the years I knew him, we never had a cross word.
“He was ever-present in the Cabinet, and with good reason. I appointed him because he was good at legislation, he was good with people.
“Well-liked and committed, jovial but determined, firm but fun, and he will be missed by his family, by those in this Chamber, and by the nation.”
Andrew RT Davies was notably warm in his tribute: “Very often, politicians are lucky if they get one piece of legislation through in their lifetime; Carl put four pieces of legislation through. For a man to come from the factory floor and wake up each morning to put a collar and tie on and put the cufflinks in, and have that as a legacy—each piece of legislation will have a massive impact on the outcomes here in Wales about improving people’s lives.
“You speak as you find, but I have to say he is one of the most genuine men that I’ve had the privilege to meet.”
BETHAN JENKINS ‘DEVASTATED’
That warmth was noticeably absent from Leanne Wood’s brief speech. The Plaid leader described Mr Sargeant’s loss as a blow, but who left the warmth to her absent colleague Bethan Jenkins, whose words she read out.
Ms Jenkins, absent through injury, said: “’Carl Sargeant was a friend of mine from across the political divide. Despite many people telling me that I should not have friends from different parties, I’ve always been of the belief that we are human first.
“All I know was that whenever I needed support or someone to speak to about anything, Carl was at the other end of the phone. We joked after I would raise questions in Plenary with him that even though we clashed politically he still respected me, and vice versa.
“I can say for the record that I am devastated. My support rock in that place has gone. Gorwedd mewn hedd, Carl.”
After pointedly remarking on the way with which Carl Sargeant was dealt, Neil Hamilton said: “Carl and I were diametrically opposed politically, and we cheerfully hurled verbal bricks at each other across the Chamber, but he was a civilised and decent man, and big enough to recognise an opponent’s sincerity, and he didn’t allow political differences to preclude cordial relations outside the Chamber
“I didn’t know him very well, but I liked him for his avuncular geniality, his friendliness and his authenticity—above all for his authenticity. He was a genuine man of the people, never lost touch with his roots.”
HUMOUR AND ACHIEVEMENT
Following the party leaders’ tributes, there was a succession of earnest, heartfelt, and occasionally emotional contributions from Mr Sargeant’s fellow AMs.
Many of their reminiscences were tinged with humour, describing a man who never failed to see the funny side of things but who was a committed and dedicated public servant.
Lesley Griffiths’ deeply personal tribute mentioned Mr Sargeant’s sense of mischief: “One of Carl’s most important jobs was to ensure our shared drawer always had a good supply of sweets. One day, he brought some new ones in and told me just to try one, but I in my usual style grabbed a handful, only to find on eating them they were hot chilli sweets. He could barely contain his gleefulness at my discomfort.”
That humour was made more poignant by her recollection that: “Carl was one of the most generous people I have ever met, particularly with his time, and he loved socialising with his family and friends. Behind his burly and jovial exterior was a beautiful, sensitive and vulnerable soul. He always told people how special and unique they were, because he cared how people felt. He was kind to people, and being kind to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
Her North Walian Cabinet colleague Ken Skates observed: “I think if there is to be a legacy, a lasting legacy, to Carl, it should be that we should all show a little more love and care for one another, that we should be kinder and more respectful to one another, not just in here but across our society, to change our culture for the better.”
ASSURANCE OF FAIR PLAY
Alun Davies, the newly-appointed Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, appeared on the verge of tears throughout an emotional address.
Describing Mr Sargeant as ‘a very, very decent and honourable, authentic friend and a mate of mine’, he continued: “You’d never have guessed that he had the achievements behind him that he had. But he cared deeply and all of us who worked alongside him know how deeply held his convictions were, and how deeply he cared about what he was doing and how deeply he believed in fair play and social justice.”
Mr Davies concluded his remarks by addressing them directly to Mr Sargeant’s family, present in the public gallery: “We’ll always make sure that Carl has fair play.”
Paul Davies said: “Every time I was with him, we would laugh. But he was a serious and committed politician who cared about his constituents, and he got people. He understood people. After all, politics is about people and Carl definitely got that.”
Joyce Watson remembered his contribution to clamping down on domestic violence and said: “In all the coverage of the loss of our friend Carl, one word and one word alone keeps getting repeated, and that is the word ‘authentic’. Everything about Carl rang true. It was obvious to everyone who met him that Carl was in politics for the right reasons. Intellectually, instinctively, head and heart, he understood and he cared deeply about the people and places he represented.”
GREATLY ADMIRED, GREATLY MISSED
Rebecca Evans, who worked in Mr Sargeant’s office when he was first elected to the Assembly, remembered a working atmosphere filled with humour and music, but recounted that: “ Behind the jokes and behind the laughter was a deep seriousness about making life better for his constituents and a driving passion for social justice.”
Former Finance Minister Jane Hutt said that Carl Sargeant was: “Loved and respected by us all here today, a man and a Minister who served Wales so well, greatly admired and greatly missed.”
Simon Thomas recalled Mr Sargeant’s generosity with his time and the pains he took to attend to small details. After covering Carl Sargeant’s frequently remarked upon talents at karaoke and on the dancefloor, the Mid and West AM observed that although humour was part of his success as a legislator: “He was very serious about what he was achieving, and his ability to have passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is, I think, one of the crowning achievements of any legislature, and he took it through here and did that work for and on behalf of all of us.”
Nick Ramsay remarked: “We know that politics can be a cold business, but, in contrast, friendships go to the heart of what it is to be human, and Carl was one of the most human souls I’ve ever met. He was unique—a one-off. He was friendly, warm, engaging, and supportive. He was always supportive when you needed help. He was a sensitive man, and he had turned his hands to most things in his full life.”
Dafydd Elis Thomas, former Presiding Officer and recently appointed to the culture portfolio, told AMs: “I want to celebrate and thank him for what he did for the environment of Wales, and in particular for the designated landscapes, because he understood, as someone who was a proper north Walian, who loved both the industrial areas, and the rural areas and the national parks, and the areas of outstanding natural beauty, that it was important that these areas should learn to live together and share their delight.”
‘A CHAMPION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS’
Darren Millar said: “Remembrance Sunday has just passed, and it reminded me not just of the sacrifice of the fallen, but also of what a fantastic champion the armed forces community and veterans across Wales had in Carl Sargeant, holding that portfolio, representing their views around the Cabinet table, and across the country.
“And, of course, he wasn’t just a friend to the armed forces, he was a tremendous friend of faith communities as well, across Wales. I know how greatly faith communities, faith groups—of all religions—appreciated his work and engagement through the faith communities’ forum.”
Mr Sargeant’s achievements and legacy were summed up by Rhianon Passmore, past chair of the Welsh Labour’s Women’s Committee & Policy Forum, who said: “There are many Members of this National Assembly for Wales who loved and respected Carl.
“As a proud feminist, I want it stated on the record that no other Assembly Member, in the two decades of Welsh devolution, has been as passionate to champion the progress of women’s and children’s rights and causes through legislation than Carl Sargeant. As Minister for social justice, he became known as champion of equality and women’s rights.”
A book of condolence has been opened for visitors to the Senedd.
UK Government’s ‘considerable offer’ not enough
IN A speech delivered at Airbus’ Broughton HQ, Theresa May’s effective deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, has attempted to allay fears of a Westminster power grab of devolved powers following the UK’s departure from the EU.
Mr Lidington, claimed the UK Government had made a ‘considerable offer’ to the devolved administrations with a commitment that the ‘vast majority’ of powers returning from Brussels will start off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast rather than Whitehall.
Mr Lidington, said his plans marked “a very big change to the EU Withdrawal Bill that is before Parliament and a significant step forward in these negotiations.”
He continued: “If accepted, this offer puts beyond doubt our commitment to a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union, in a way that doesn’t just respect the devolution settlements, but strengthens and enhances them.”
Mr Lidington warned that a “divided country at home” would be “weaker, less secure and less prosperous overseas.”
The problem with Mr Lidington’s words is that ‘the vast majority’ is not all powers currently vested in the UKs’ devolved administrations within the EU. Moreover, the clear message that the Westminster government wanted to maintain the unity of an internal market within the UK suggests that powers will have to be taken from the devolved governments and retained permanently by the UK parliament in order to make that arrangement work. However, the UK government’s stance on agriculture, a key issue for the Welsh Government, has been extensively trailed by Michael Gove and Defra ministers for months and cannot have taken it by surprise.
Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit minister, said: “However they try to dress this up, the UK government is using Brexit to try to take control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish parliament. It is totally unacceptable for the Tories to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement.”
First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said: “As currently drafted, the Bill allows the UK government to take control of devolved policy areas, such as farming and fishing, once the UK has left the EU. This is an unacceptable attack on devolution in both Wales and Scotland.
“We now need further progress that goes beyond warm words and I hope the ‘very big changes’ promised in the speech equate to sensible amendments to the bill which respect devolution. We will continue to work with the UK and Scottish governments to that end.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented: “Common frameworks in certain areas will certainly be important after Brexit and we would never want to put the UK’s common market at risk. However, it must be up to devolved Governments to decide if they want to enter common frameworks in devolved areas and to negotiate suitable frameworks. The UK Government cannot and must not impose frameworks on devolved Governments.
“Brexit will have huge implications for sectors such as agriculture. Brexit will cut our farmers off from their key markets and dismantle the financial support they rely on. Decisions on these vital areas must be made in Wales and address the unique needs of Welsh farmers.”
The Welsh Conservative spokesman on Europe, Mark Isherwood AM, said: “Welsh Conservatives have been steadfast in our belief that the devolution settlement must be respected with the necessary changes made to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“As we’ve stated from the outset, we would also expect that leaving the European Union would not undermine the devolved settlement and would result in more powers making their way to the Welsh Assembly.
“It is vital that we now protect the UK’s single market and that’s why it is imperative the Welsh Government engages positively with the UK Government in this process to ensure the frameworks relating to devolved matters are agreed by all parties.”
Wales’ housing adaptation system ‘unfair’
THE CURRENT system for delivering housing adaptations needs to change in order to meet the needs of older and disabled people in Wales. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Auditor General for Wales.
Roughly, 70 agencies deliver housing adaptation services assisting over 32,000 people a year. Annually, over £60 million of public money is spent on these services to older and disabled people. They help restore or enable independent living, privacy, confidence and dignity for individuals and their families. Adaptations also offer an efficient and effective way of making the best use of the existing housing stock in Wales by supporting people to live independently.
The report concludes that high satisfaction ratings mask a hugely ‘complicated, reactive and inequitable system’.
The conclusions include:
Assessment processes are not streamlined or efficient, which lead to delays which can be the difference between people staying in their own homes or moving into specialist care;
The complex systems used to deliver adaptations make it difficult for people to get the help they need and often stops health professionals from using adaptation services;
There is not enough joined up working between agencies and local authorities which is making it harder for those in need to access services; and
The adaptations disabled and older people can receive are often determined by where they live in Wales and who they seek help from rather than their need;
Public bodies are not improving performance because of limited oversight of performance across Wales.
The Auditor General, Huw Vaughan-Thomas said: “Demand for housing adaptations is projected to rise. That’s why it’s so important that public bodies improve how they deliver adaptations and address the many weaknesses in the current complicated and inefficient system.
“People deserve the very best standard of service to help them live independently. Unfortunately, public bodies have failed to address some long standing weaknesses in current arrangements and disabled and older people are the ones losing out. This needs to change. My recommendations are aimed at helping kick-start much needed improvement.”
The Chair of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM, said: “Housing adaptations are important in helping older and disabled people maintain their independence, but today’s report shows that due to the complexity of the current delivery system, people get very different standards of service because of where they live and not what they need.
“The report’s findings highlight a range of weaknesses and highlights that the Welsh Government, local authorities, housing associations and their partners need to improve how they deliver services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“It is critical that action is taken now to ensure public money is spent wisely and vulnerable people are provided with the help they need.”
Meet Barry Gardiner
IT WOULD be very cruel to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn’s late conversion to Britain being members of a customs union with the EU post-Brexit was motivated by crude politicking.
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, Barry Gardiner, has spent most of the last twelve months echoing the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ line and rejecting any form of customs union.
If Mr Gardiner was disappointed by his leader’s very public rejection of what he had every reason to believe was Mr Corbyn’s preferred policy he had every reason to be. Especially as he now has to sell the brave new policy to the media.
Writing in The Guardian last year, Barry Gardiner said: ”Some have suggested we should retain membership of the customs union, the benefits of which extend to goods rather than services, and establish common import tariffs with respect to the rest of the world. But that is not possible.”
He continued: ”Other countries such as Turkey have a separate customs union agreement with the EU. If we were to have a similar agreement, several things would follow: the EU’s 27 members would set the common tariffs and Britain would have no say in how they were set. We would be unable to enter into any separate bilateral free trade agreement. We would be obliged to align our regulatory regime with the EU in all areas covered by the union, without any say in the rules we had to adopt. And we would be bound by the case law of the ECJ, even though we would have no power to bring a case to the court.”
In other words, Mr Gardiner believes – or at least he believed then, or perhaps he believed his leader believed, or hoped against hope someone somewhere believed – that membership of a customs union was a non-starter.
He crystallised that sentiment in one pithy phrase: ‘The 52% who voted to leave the EU would consider it a con if Britain was out of Europe but still subservient to its laws and institutions’.
What a difference six months make.
On Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn said: “We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe.”
Mr Gardiner, a genial-looking chap, must have remarkable self-control not to jump up from his seat and bellow, “You what?!”
So, now we have a sort of clear sort of policy placed before the public as an alternative to the Conservatives’ vision for Brexit. Whatever that is.
In fact, Mr Corbyn’s speechwriters came up with a very nice line on the chaos within Conservative ranks: “Time after time with this government, anything agreed at breakfast is being briefed against by lunch and abandoned by teatime.”
However, it is now poor Barry Gardiner who must explain Labour’s long teatime of the soul on a customs union. Genial though he appears, Mr Gardiner’s patience is about to sorely tested.
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