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Labour’s legislative plans announced

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Final programme for departure: Carwyn Jones unveils legislative aims

DEPARTING First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced the Welsh Government’s legislative programme for the Assembly’s term following the summer recess.
The programme makes good on the Welsh Government’s policy promise of ending the physical punishment of children in Wales. The measure, which has been opposed by the campaign group ‘Be Reasonable’, is one of a package of members aimed at promoting child welfare.

Commenting on the move, an NSPCC Cymru spokesperson said: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for children in Wales to have the same protection against assault as adults so the Welsh Government’s intention to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in the coming year is hugely welcome.

“It is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.

“It is wrong that a legal defence which does not exist in a case of assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.

“Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”

A bill will also be brought forward to establish duties of quality and candour in health and social care. This will place statutory obligations on all health organisations in Wales to be open and transparent and will ensure lessons are learned and improvements made where necessary. A new independent body will be created to give people a stronger voice for their experiences of health and social care services.

The government will bring forward a local government bill, which will include reform of local authority electoral arrangements, including reducing the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

The way animals are treated is an important reflection of society and over the next 12 months, a bill will be introduced to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on welfare grounds.

The government will also introduce a bill to make Welsh law more accessible. The Legislation (Wales) Bill will be the first major step towards achieving a clear and well-organised statute book.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The year ahead will be one of the busiest for us in legislative terms since Wales gained primary law-making powers.

“Making our statute book ready for EU exit is a big challenge for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly but we must not let this limit our ambitions. We will keep driving forward progress and delivering for the people of Wales.”

In addition to the Welsh Government’s legislative programme, the National Assembly will be asked to undertake a substantial programme of correcting regulations under the EU (Withdrawal) Act between October and March in preparation for EU exit.

However, Carwyn Jones’ final statement on the Welsh Government’s law-making priorities for the year ahead have been branded “unambitious, last-minute scribblings of a tired administration” by the Welsh Conservatives.

One of the proposals to be brought forward is a ban on wild animals from performing in travelling circuses, something Welsh Conservatives have been calling for in recent years.

Legislation to merge councils is likely to face much contention following fierce opposition from the Welsh Local Government Association over the past few months after being told they will have to merge voluntarily, or have t imposed upon them.

Interim leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “After nearly 20 years at the helm, the Welsh Labour Government have been proven to be unimaginative and tired.

The headline bills to be announced today is typical Welsh Labour: tinker at the edges, but do nothing to resolve the fundamental challenges to Welsh society and its economy.

“We have an underperforming health service, a health board in special measures for three years, and an education system that ranks bottom of the UK nations.

“It is time to be more radical with public services – not only to deliver better value for money for taxpayers, but also better outcomes for everyone in all parts of Wales in health, education, and beyond.”

And Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood also expressed her and her party’s disappointment at Labour’s programme.

“I congratulate the First Minister on delivering his eighth and final statement on a future legislative programme.

“However, I am saddened to say this looks like a re-hash of a legislative programme we have seen before. At a time when our democracy, our nation, is in flux, we need ambition, vision and leadership. Values I do not see demonstrated by today’s statement.

“We can agree that Westminster is failing Wales. But this Parliament – the new home of Welsh democracy – was meant to give us the opportunity to do things differently. When they cancelled plans for a tidal lagoon, legislation should have been brought forward for a new nationalised Welsh energy company. We must take our future into our hands, not allow Westminster to tie them behind our back.

“We are leaving an environment that is increasingly inhospitable. Air pollution kills tens of thousands every year and plastic waste litters our coastline and countryside. But a Clean Air Act and bottle return scheme are nowhere to be seen in this statement. There is also no proposed legislation or laws to create a feminist Welsh government a reality as promised.

“Many key decisions have also been kicked into the long-grass. The size of our parliament and who can participate in our democracy, for one.

“There is not a single piece of legislation planned for education, transport, energy, the environment, housing, social care, farming and fisheries.

“This is a legislative programme of old ideas and no ambition. The Welsh Government can do better. The National Assembly can deliver better. Wales needs better.”

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Councils warned they have two years to improve local elections

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COUNCILS across Wales have been warned they have just two years to improve local democracy, after a new report has highlighted major issues with the most recent elections in May.

Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV, published by campaigners ERS Cymru, has highlighted a slew of uncontested seats and disproportionate results under the current first past the post system [1]. 

It comes as local councils in Wales have the chance to change voting systems, with each council now able to vote to move to a fairer system, the single transferable vote (STV). However, councils will have to vote to move to STV by the 15th November 2024, two years from today in order for this to take effect for the next elections in 2027 [2]. 

Analysis of the 2022 Welsh local elections found that 74 seats in Wales were uncontested, meaning over 100,000 potential voters in Wales had no choice on who represents them in their local council. 

Furthermore, there are eight councils in Wales with ‘unearned majorities’ where a party holds over 50% of the seats on less than 50% of the vote, a third of all councils. 

The report also compares the Welsh local elections in 2022, with the Scottish local elections, where STV has been in place since 2007. It finds that Scottish election results are dramatically more proportional, with only two local authorities in Scotland with ‘unearned majorities’ – , just 6% of councils compared with over one third in Wales.

It also finds that uncontested seats have vastly reduced in Scotland under a fairer voting system, with just 27 uncontested seats in total in the four elections since the voting system change, compared with 61 in just the final First Past the Post election alone. 

Commenting on the report Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:

“Our research shows a stark picture of a voting system that does not deliver for voters in Wales. Everyone should be able to go into a polling station on election day knowing their vote will count. But for over 100,000 people their elections were cancelled this May with the winners declared without a single ballot cast. For millions more there was no guarantee that their vote would matter or be reflected in the result.

“The good news is that there is an alternative. This report highlights how much of an improvement moving to STV has been in Scotland, reducing uncontested seats and making votes count so much more. 

“We have the chance to follow Scotland’s lead and for each council in Wales to vote to move to STV. Councillors must grasp the nettle and vote for this much-needed change in the next two years to really ensure a strong local democracy for Wales”. 

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Politics

CIEH joins over 60 charities calling for measures to tackle fuel poverty this winter

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THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH (CIEH) has joined over 60 charities in their call for the UK Government to implement a suite of measures to prevent millions of households falling into fuel poverty this winter.

CIEH have signed a joint letter released last week as part of our involvement in the ‘Warm this Winter’ campaign. Warm This Winter is a new campaign demanding the government acts now to help people struggling with energy bills this winter and to ensure we all have access to affordable energy in the future.

The Government has already introduced a number of measures designed to support households with soaring energy bills, namely the Energy Price Guarantee. Originally introduced by Liz Truss, freezing the price cap on energy for two years, it was then reduced to 6 months by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Secondly, the Energy Bills Discount Scheme introduced by Boris Johnson, which offers £400 to households, spread over 6 months from October to March.

However, even with the Government’s support package this winter, 7 million UK households will still be in fuel poverty and forced into making impossible choices. This will rise to 11 million households – over a third of UK households – next Spring without additional targeted support.

Warm This Winter are seeking to put pressure on the Government by making the following asks:

  • Urgently expand the support available to people this winter, including confirming that benefits will be rise in line with inflation as normal, and clarify the future of financial support from April 2023
  • Rapidly embark on a national programme of insulating homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces, which could save households on average around £500 on their bills each year
  • Implement a plan for a rapid roll-out, in harmony with nature, of clean, renewable energy to move the UK beyond expensive, volatile fossil fuels and enhance UK energy security

CIEH has consistently supported calls for the Government to both increase financial support for households facing fuel poverty this winter as well as calling for the rollout of a national programme of insulation measures.

Ross Matthew, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “CIEH are delighted to lend our support to the Warm This Winter campaign.

“We have been consistent in our calls for the UK Government to provide greater support to households who are being faced with the impossible choice of turning on their heating or putting food on the table.

“While current government measures may prevent a full-blown crisis this winter, we are concerned that there is no long-term plan beyond Spring. That is why we also support Warm this Winter’s calls for the rollout of a national programme of home insulation as well as greater investment in renewable sources of energy in the long term.

“We urge the UK Government to recognise the severity of the situation many households face and to take urgent action.”

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Plaid to investigate ‘very serious’ allegations against top party bosses

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HERALD EXCLUSIVE

TWO senior figures in the Party of Wales face an internal investigation following allegations of serious misconduct.

A former Plaid Cymru employee made the allegations via Twitter yesterday (Tuesday, November 1).
The Herald has screenshots of the allegations. However, we cannot detail the allegations or identify the persons they relate to for legal reasons.

We spoke with the complainant and respect their request for their identity to remain anonymous.

The former employee has now deleted their tweets and locked their Twitter account.

The tweets allege a toxic culture within Plaid Cymru, echoing the “Pestminster” scandal that engulfed the House of Commons in 2017/18.

We approached Plaid Cymru on Tuesday, November 1. We asked them to respond to the serious allegations, including one of sexual assault. We provided details of the tweets and asked for a response before publication.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson told The Herald: “Plaid takes all allegations very seriously, and the party has processes in place to investigate them.

“At present, the allegations in question remain just that.

“We ask for everyone to respect the process the party must follow in this situation, and to guard against making any comments that may be considered to be baseless insinuations, or indeed defamatory about the situation or the individuals involved in it.”

The Herald believes the Chair and the Head of the Disciplinary Committee discussed the allegations in a meeting yesterday.

Plaid Cymru came under scrutiny earlier this year for the National Executive Committee’s attempt to rewrite its disciplinary procedure after one completed that did not lead to the result some on the NEC wanted.

As a result, Plaid Cymru said it would revisit and strengthen its disciplinary procedures to provide more protection to those making allegations of abuse.

A Plaid Cymru insider told The Herald: “These are extremely serious allegations.

“The party has covered up other incidents of this nature; however, in this case, the victim going public means that those who have covered up in the past cannot hide from this issue any longer.

“The only way for the party to restore public confidence is through a transparent investigation and, if necessary, strong disciplinary action against those concerned.
“While the investigation takes place, those concerned should not participate in the party’s activities and the party must safeguard the complainant.”

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