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.
Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme
THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.
The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.
For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.
According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.
The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.
“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?
“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.
“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”
Retailers’ no deal reality check
THE HEADS of the UK’s major food retailers, including McDonald’s, M & S and Asda, have written to MPs and dramatically spelt out their view of the risks of leaving the EU without an agreement.
The warning comes shortly after the revelation that Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit.
With all contingency plans routinely labelled ‘Project Fear’ by those Brexiters stuck on transmit instead of receive, the retailers have taken a significant risk in sticking their collective head above the parapet by trying to address a substantial issue which is rather glossed by those proclaiming the benefits and underplaying the downside of a crash out Brexit.
The letter is backed by the British Retail Consortium, which represents over 70% of Britain’s retailers by turnover.
The Government said that it was taking special measures to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit on supermarkets’ suppliers and insisted that food was not going to run out as a result.
“The government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the European Union.”
The Food and Drink Federation, which represents thousands of food processors and manufacturers, has said a no-deal Brexit would be a “catastrophe”, with uncertainty undermining investment and constraining businesses’ ability to plan and export.
DEAL OR NO DEAL: THE LETTER
On behalf of our businesses and the wider food industry, we want to highlight to you the challenges for retailers and the consequences for millions of UK consumers of leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of March. While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption in the short term as a result if there is no Brexit deal. We wanted to share with you some practical examples of the challenges we are facing.
Our supply chains are closely linked to Europe – nearly one-third of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU. In March the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit are sourced from the EU at that time of year. As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores.
This complex, ‘just in time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of no deal. Even if the UK government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be major disruption at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU, which will lead to long delays; Government data suggest freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by 87% against current levels as a result. For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores.
We are also extremely concerned about the impact of tariffs. Only around 10% of our food imports, a fraction of the products we sell, is currently subject to tariffs so if the UK were to revert to WTO Most Favoured Nation status, as currently envisaged in the no-deal scenario, it would greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices. The UK could set import tariffs at zero but that would have a devastating impact on our own farmers, a key part of our supply chains.
Our ability to mitigate these risks is limited. As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK. Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit. Retailers typically store no more than two weeks’ inventory and it becomes difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted. We are also attempting to find alternative supply routes but there are limited options and not enough ferries, so this could only replace a fraction of the current capacity.
We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit. We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.
We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.
WG votes down another rights Bill
THE WELSH Government has voted down a second Private Members Bill in a week, leading to an angry reaction from the Welsh Conservative Party.
Welsh Conservative AM – Darren Millar – slammed the Welsh Governments ‘tribalism’ as a key contributor to its failings in Wales, and described its rigid approach to politics as ‘comparative of an authoritarian regime’.
Last week, The Herald reported on opposition AMs’ fury that the Welsh Government voted against Assembly Member Paul Davies’ private bill which aimed to ensure increased support for autistic people of all ages, by addressing issues such as health and social services, educational outcomes, access to housing, and employment and providing rights of statutory redress when services fail.
The Older People’s Rights Bill was proposed by Mr Millar, and designed to ensure that older people in Wales were protected, promoted and respected by public sector decision makers.
The Bill was backed by the Older People’s Commissioner, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Age Cymru, Age Connects, and the Cymru Older People’s Alliance, amongst others.
Proposals for Mr Millar’s Bill had previously received cross-party support, and the Welsh Government supported a motion which was agreed by the National Assembly for Wales on 12th January 2016 to bring forward legislation to protect and promote the rights of older people.
GOVERNMENT REJECTS STATUTORY RIGHTS
Notwithstanding the Welsh Government’s previous position, it once again waved the shroud of wanting to deal with issues in a holistic way without resorting to legislation ‘at this stage’.
Fear is growing that the Welsh Government is fearful of enacting legislation that confers rights to individuals, preferring instead to listen to service providers whose services might not withstand close scrutiny and a rights-based approach to ensuring compliance with standards.
Speaking in the Assembly, Darren Millar said: “The purpose of the Bill is to build on Wales’s excellent track record to date by embedding a rights-based approach in the development, planning and delivery of public services that affect older people in Wales.
“If given permission, I will seek to consult with stakeholders to develop a Bill that will further enshrine the rights of older people within Welsh law, by placing a duty on Welsh Ministers to have regard to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons when making decisions that may impact upon older people in Wales; that will provide for the ability to extend that due-regard duty to local authorities, health boards and other Welsh public authorities; that will place a duty on Welsh Ministers to promote knowledge of and understanding of the UN Principles for Older Persons; and that will require Welsh Ministers to publish annual reports on their compliance with their older people’s rights schemes—something that doesn’t happen at the moment.”
The proposed legislation was very similar to the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. A Bill which passed the Assembly with little controversy.
Mr Millar continued: “We embarked upon this journey a number of years ago and we can deliver and pioneer a new rights-based approach for older people’s rights here in Wales. We’ve got an opportunity to develop legislation that will result in practical improvements in the decision making and delivery of public services, that will raise awareness of older people’s rights and give them recognition and status, and that will empower those hundreds of thousands of older people across Wales to access those rights.”
THE TIME IS NOT RIGHT
Responding on behalf of the Welsh Government, Minister for Local Government Julie James suggested that older persons’ rights are already sufficiently protected by a range of Welsh Government measures, including its totemic Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
In any event, the Welsh Government did not regard the time had yet come for legislation – rather ignoring the point that the current First Minister supported such legislation when he was Health Minister.
Ms James concluded: “While I strongly support the sentiments behind this Bill, the time is not right for this particular bit of legislation. When we do legislate, we should do that holistically for the whole of society and in a way that identifies the needs of all disadvantaged groups.”
Supporting Darren Millar’s bill and suggesting that it should progress to the next stage so elements of it could be incorporated into future Welsh Government legislation, Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones pointed out: “Unless individuals have mechanisms they can use which don’t depend on the Government and that do not depend on an independent commissioner, but that they can use themselves to enforce those rights, those rights at their very end may not be enforced.”
David Rowlands (UKIP) said: “It is incumbent on statutory authorities to ensure that the core mainstream services are available to older residents in the same way that they are for other people… If children are protected in law, why not the other most vulnerable group, the old?”
THE PAYROLL VOTE VOTES
Concluding the debate, Darren Millar noted that an invitation extended to both himself and the older people’s commissioner to meet with the Government on February 6 to discuss its ‘holistic’ plans for the future was made only the day before the scheduled debate.
As usual, Labour AMs, including ‘independent’ government minister Dafydd Elis Thomas and Lib Dem Kirsty Williams, followed the government line. Two members abstained, Bethan Sayed and Jenny Rathbone. Apart from Ms Sayed, all other opposition parties supported the Bill.
It fell by 27 votes to 21.
Speaking after the vote, Darren Millar said: “This is not the way politics should be handled in this country, and it’s not the footing that the First Minister should start on with his new Government. It’s a tribal attitude and it is holding Wales back.
“The Welsh Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas. Both this Bill – and last week’s Autism Bill – are non-contentious proposals which had widespread cross-party and stakeholder support.
“We are supposed to be a democracy where the ideas of all elected representatives, regardless of their party politics, can be treated with respect, but in Wales, under this regime, that clearly isn’t the case.”
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