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Draft Wales Bill debated in Senedd

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Clarity and coherence needed: Andrew RT Davies

Clarity and coherence
needed: Andrew RT Davies

CROSS PARTY concerns about the draft Wales Bill were expressed during a debate at the Senedd on Tuesday (Nov 3).

Carwyn Jones, who has previously described the draft Bill as giving ‘great cause for concern,’ said that the proposals went ‘straight to the heart’ of what the Assembly does, and can do in years to come.

Mr Jones said that he had recently had a ‘constructive’ meeting with the Secretary of State for Wales, who had been ‘better appraised’ regarding the difficulties of the bill in it’s current form.

“At the heart of the difficulties with the bill is the failure to create a separate jurisdiction,” he added, pointing out that the Lord Chief Justice had said that separate Welsh jurisdiction was possible without a separate judicial system.

Among the issues that Mr Jones said his party had with the draft Bill was the division between what is and isn’t devolved. Using Milford Haven as an example, he pointed out that devolving port control according to turnover ‘acted as a disincentive’ to the Welsh Government, because investing to improve ports could see control over them returned to the UK Government.

Another example given was that of open-cast mining, which is legislated by Whitehall, while land restoration falls under the Welsh Government’s remit.

Mr Jones also criticized the Minister of the Crown Consents over Welsh laws, which he described as a ‘relic.’ He claimed that as a result, the Welsh Government would no longer have recourse to the Supreme Court, and that the Welsh Government would be unable to modify any function of reserved authority, or any UK government function, even if it were devolved.

Andrew RT Davies also said that he had concerns over the draft Bill, although he described it as largely positive. Mr Davies said that it was ‘vital’ for the Assembly to work cross-party to make the Bill clearer and deliver what was requested by every county in Wales in the 2011 referendum.

He pointed out that there was a ‘lot of good’ in the draft Bill, including legislation powers over energy and ports as well as increased devolution of local government and Assembly elections. “Instead of focusing on the negative, we should concentrate on the positive,” he added.

“I, along with my colleagues on this side, do have issues and concerns around the consenting process, because ultimately, what we don’t want to do is move backwards.

“What we want is clarity and coherence in the settlement. It will serve no one if all we end up doing is muddying the waters.”

In response to Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas asking whether this meant he was willing to reconsider his opposition to a separate Welsh jurisdiction, Mr Davies said that he had always been open minded about this, but might need to be persuaded that the timing was currently right. However, he added, it may help improve the clarity of the Bill.

Leanne Wood said that a reserved powers settlement without separate jurisdiction was ‘complex and restrictive,’ and that there seemed to be cross-party agreement on this point.

The Plaid Cymru leader criticized the Secretary of State for Wales for blaming Westminster opposition parties, Plaid Cymru, and ‘Welsh Nationalist academic and lawyers’ for opposition to the draft Bill, without taking any responsibility himself.

She added that Labour’s position was ‘problematic’ due to some Welsh MPs agreeing that certain powers should not be devolved.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams said: “The status quo of Welsh devolution cannot stand. The fact our laws regularly end up in the Supreme Court is evidence enough that the current system is not fit for purpose.

“Devolution must work properly and efficiently for the people of Wales. Yet, the draft Wales Bill risks taking us back to a situation where the National Assembly will have its actions thwarted by Westminster. That clearly is not acceptable.

“Without the Liberal Democrats in government, I fear the momentum on this issue could be lost. We can’t allow that to happen. The Tories are, I hope, slowly waking up the fact that this bill is a long way off being ready. My Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues in Westminster will be leading on amending the bill to ensure that there is clarity regarding the division of responsibilities between Wales and Westminster.

“It’s disappointing that, during the St David’s Day process, the Tories and Labour once again blocked progress on devolving policing and youth justice. The Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to ensure that decision making is brought closer to local people.”

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Chancellor’s economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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THE CHANCELLOR, Rishi Sunak, set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Another announcement is that employers who take back staff on furlough and continuously employ them until January will get £1,000 cash bonus per employee.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

  • A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.
  • VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
  • Funding for apprenticeships and trainee-ships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.
  • £1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres
  • A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.
  • A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Crabb has given his strong backing to the Chancellor’s coronavirus recovery plan, calling it “a huge step towards getting Pembrokeshire back on its feet”.

The Preseli MP said that the Chancellor’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ includes a £1000 bonus for businesses to bring back furloughed staff and the Kickstart scheme which will provide high quality work placements for unemployed youngsters. In England businesses will also be offered £1000 bonus to take on a trainee and £2000 for each new apprentice. Welsh Government has been given equivalent money to support their training schemes.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the Chancellor’s statement, Crabb said: “Make no mistake, this action to save a generation of young people from bearing the brunt of the economic crisis is incredibly positive and to be welcomed.”

The MP has previously warned about the prospect of a surge in unemployment as a result of the lockdown.

The Chancellor also announced a cut in VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector, giving a much needed boost to some of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus. Early on in the lockdown, Crabb wrote to the Chancellor to call for a package of support for Tourism that included a VAT cut.

Responding to the announcement today, he said: “I am delighted that the Chancellor has listened to the proposals that many MPs from coastal areas have put forward. Tourism and hospitality need a real shot in the arm and the VAT cut will be very welcome.”

Today’s statement also saw the launch of a new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, giving people 50% off meals out to encourage more families to eat out or get a takeaway during the month of August.   These measures will be important for Pembrokeshire’s many hospitality businesses who are still awaiting an announcement from Welsh Government on when they can open again.

On Friday Stephen Crabb will be bringing together more than thirty local pubs and restaurants for an online discussion with the County Council and others about how the sector can re-open safely and successfully.

 

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Cllr Beynon suspended as school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL said that they are unable to comment on the suspension of a Pembroke Dock councillor as a school governor.

Cllr Beynon confirmed that he has been suspended as a school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur.

“I’m looking forward until when the ombudsman throws out the complaints,” Cllr Beynon said.

Paul Dowson, a fellow Pembroke Dock councillor, recently resigned from the board of school governors of Ysgol Harri Tudur.

Cllr Dowson said after he resigned: “I feel a recent smear campaign reflects badly on the school even though its untrue.”

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Union wants council investigation into Councillor Paul Dowson’s conduct

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Councillor Paul Dowson’s public statements criticising the Black Lives Matter movement should be formally investigated by the council, according to UNISON.

The trade union said Mr Dowson’s use of a phrase adopted by the racist Klu Klux Klan was deeply offensive when people around the world were united in protest at police brutality and the murder of George Floyd.

UNISON questioned whether the councillor is fit to hold public office.

Mr Dowson used his Facebook page to attack Labour councillor Josh Beynon’s suggestion Pembrokeshire County Hall could be lit up in support of Black Lives Matter’s commemoration of Mr Floyd’s death.

Cllr Dowson posted that “White lives matter” a White supremacist phrase which originated in 2015 as a racist response to protests against police brutality against Black-Americans in the USA. Councillor Beynon received an online torrent of racist and homophobic abuse.

Manuela Hughes, UNISON Pembrokeshire branch chair said: “The Black Lives Matter movement has shown everyone that racism is rife in society. Black people are more likely to have been subjected to police brutality, more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be unemployed as a result of systemic racism. Their contribution is often written out of the history of this country.

Black workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and in the NHS, care and transport sectors, Black people have paid with their lives for caring for the whole community.

“This is the climate in which Councillor Dowson made his comments. He has brought Pembrokeshire County Council into disrepute. It is important that everyone stands together against racism and the council must formally investigate his behaviour.”

Mr Dowson was criticised for his Facebook comments in April last year that former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, should commit suicide.

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