30 September 2016
Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On Tuesday (4 October 2016), Assembly Members will debate the Welsh Government’s priorities and its plans for introducing legislation to the Assembly during the next year.
The Welsh Government recently published its Programme for Government, Taking Wales Forward 2016-2021. In his statement accompanying the publication, the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, said the Welsh Government wanted ‘a stronger, fairer economy, improved and reformed public services and a united, connected, and sustainable Wales’.
The Welsh Government had planned to publish its Programme for Government before the summer recess but decided in light of the EU referendum result that ‘it [was[ not yet the time to do so’. The First Minister made a statement in Plenary on 12 July 2016 on his ‘Priorities for Government’, saying ‘there are many questions about the future to which we simply do not have the answers’. However, he said ‘health, jobs and schools’ would be at the ‘heart of our plans for government’.
The concept of a Welsh Programme for Government was introduced at the start of the Fourth Assembly in 2011 setting out several hundred ‘commitments’ over the five year term. By 2015, the Welsh Government was reporting on 547 commitments and 336 outcome and tracking indicators.
The 2016-2021 Programme for Government (PDF 117KB) consists of ‘four cross-cutting strategies’ with various sub-headings, listing 121 actions/commitments. The Welsh Government’s work is to be guided by ‘financial responsibility and realism’.
- ‘Prosperous and secure’, which includes work on ‘Supporting Businesses’; ‘Childcare’; ‘Prosperity for All’; ‘Housing’; Successful, Sustainable Rural communities’; Community Safety and Tackling Extremism’; and the ‘Environment’ (35 actions listed);
- ‘Healthy and Active’, encompassing ‘Improving our Healthcare Services’; ‘Our Healthcare Staff’; Healthy and Active; Mental Health and Well-being’; and ‘Care and Older People’ (23 actions listed).
- ‘Ambitious and Learning’, which is made up of ‘Best Start for Children’; ‘Looked After Children’; ‘Standards in Schools’; ‘Schools’ Workforce’; ‘Digital Inclusion’; and ‘Further and Higher Education’ (29 actions listed).
- ‘United and Connected’, including ‘National Infrastructure Commission’; ‘Transport’; ‘Digital Connectivity’; ‘Local Government’; ‘Community Assets’; ‘A Fair Society’; ‘Welsh Language’; ‘Armed Forces’; and ‘Volunteering and Third Sector’ (34 actions listed).
The debate on Tuesday 4 October has been initiated by the Welsh Government. A Welsh Conservatives-led debate on the Programme for Government took place on Wednesday 28 September when opposition parties criticised its level of detail and ambition.
The Welsh Government’s priorities should be seen in the context of the current political balance of the Assembly. Welsh Labour have 29 of the 60 seats in the Senedd and Carwyn Jones’s re-appointment as First Minister only came about following an understanding reached with Plaid Cymru. Add to that the Welsh Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams’ appointment to the Cabinet and the Welsh Government’s priorities cannot be considered to be Welsh Labour’s alone.
Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru reached a ‘Compact to Move Wales Forward’, ahead of the re-appointment of Carwyn Jones as First Minister for Wales. Information on the Compact is available on the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru websites respectively, as well as in Carwyn Jones’ Plenary statement on 18 May 2016.
Plaid Cymru reported the outcome of their ‘one-vote deal’ as securing ‘5 out of 9 of their key policies’:
- The establishment of a New Treatment Fund, including a commitment to end the postcode lottery for new drugs and treatments and an independent review of the exceptionality test for patients.
- The establishment of a new National Infrastructure Commission, and a new Welsh development bank.
- A commitment to make 30 hours of free childcare available for working parents.
- A commitment to create at least 100,000 new all-age apprentices in this term.
- The recruitment and training of additional GPs and other primary healthcare professionals.
The First Minister told Assembly Members in Plenary on 12 July 2016 that three Liaison Committees – for Constitution, Finance and Legislation had been established and had all met.
The First Minister, Carwyn Jones, and the new Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, exchanged letters dated 15 June 2016. These set out details of their agreement underpinning Kirsty Williams’ appointment to the Cabinet and her acceptance of collective responsibility for Cabinet decisions.
Carwyn Jones and Kirsty Williams agreed the following seven ‘Common Priorities’:
- More nurses, in more settings, through an extended nurse staffing levels law;
- Consideration of the recommendations of the Diamond Review (published 27 September 2016), with a view to early implementation where appropriate, but with no negative effect on the higher education budget if there are any changes;
- 20,000 extra affordable homes;
- A new ‘Rent to Own’ housing model;
- A funding floor for future local government settlements;
- A small grants scheme for Welsh agriculture within the rural development plan;
- An end to Mental health discrimination.
A number of specific education priorities for Kirsty Williams to take forward as Cabinet Secretary were also agreed, including the key Liberal Democrat pledge to reduce infant class sizes.
The First Minister said on his reappointment that the Welsh Government would not introduce any legislation in the first 100 days of the Fifth Assembly, which have now passed. On 28 June 2016, he made a statement in Plenary on the legislative programme for the following 12 months, marking a move from a five-year programme to an annual programme. The First Minister said this was ‘one step in developing our practices to ensure they befit the parliamentary responsibilities of this place’. He outlined six Bills to be introduced before the 2017 summer recess:
- The Land Transaction Tax and Anti-avoidance of Devolved Taxes Bill (introduced on 12 September 2016, followed by a statement in Plenary the next day).
- A Landfill Disposals Tax Bill, establishing a second devolved tax in Wales. The administrative foundations for the new taxes were laid by the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016, which established the Welsh Revenue Authority.
The Welsh Government say the two tax Bills will mark the ‘start of a new relationship between Welsh taxpayers, the Welsh Government and the delivery of public services’ further strengthening the link between citizen and government.
- Legislation to repeal the UK Parliament’s Trade Union Act 2016 in its application to Wales. (See our previous article from June 2016 for background.)
- Re-introduction of a Public Health Bill in the form as amended at Stage 3 in the Fourth Assembly but without the restriction on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces. The Assembly rejected the Bill at its Stage 4 vote in March 2016.
- An Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal Wales Bill (the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies, has said he expects to introduce this before Christmas 2016).
The previous Welsh Government consulted on a draft Bill in 2015, which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Fourth Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee. (See our previous article from June 2016 for background).
- A Bill to abolish the Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire, in order to ‘safeguard … social housing stock in Wales and ensure it is available to people who need it’.
The Programme for Government refers to two other actions involving legislation during the course of this Assembly (2016-2021), which can be traced back to commitments the First Minister made on 18 May 2016. These are:
- The Welsh Government will ‘seek cross party support for legislation to end the defence of ‘Reasonable Punishment’. This follows campaigns calling for children to have ‘equal protection’ under the law, referred to by some as a ‘smacking ban’.
- The Programme for Government also says the Assembly will be asked to amend the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) 2011 ‘so that businesses and others can invest in promoting the use of the Welsh language and establish a Language Usage Fund’.