Tuesday, 20 June 2017

FMQs: Brexit, Recycling & Grenfell Tower

Things are starting to get back to normal after the general election (ha!) so it's back to the grind for me with the latest First Minister's Questions from the Senedd.

FMQs, 20th June 2017

Party Leaders

Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), believes the general election result didn't deliver a mandate for leaving the EU single market. She accused the First Minister of “being all over the place”, having listened to concerns herself from Airbus over tariffs which contradict statements made by the First Minister to business leaders on “access” to the single market, as well as senior Labour figures in London who've all talked about "membership”.

The First Minister said the election result didn't give a mandate for a “Hard Brexit” and his view hasn't changed that Wales needs “full and unfettered access” to the single market. He didn't rule out EEA or EFTA membership as a short-term measure, but the EU referendum result showed people didn't want the UK to abide by EU rules and regulations; this is different to membership of the single market and both Labour and Plaid agreed on a white paper outlining this position.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central), asked for clarity over the Welsh Government's PISA targets following comments by the Education Secretary that the targets are to be abandoned. It's the second time a national target has been disowned by a cabinet member for education. Who's taking ownership of education in Wales? Is it a wonder it's in such a shambles under Carwyn's leadership?

The First Minister confirmed that there's no change to the target of Welsh pupils scoring an average of 500 points by 2021 – but it's only one target amongst many. Carwyn then tried to deflect attention away by picking at a sore spot, saying the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, is invited to UK cabinet meetings while Andrew's not, also flagging up the odd circumstances around his replacement for the leader's debate during the election campaign.

UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), made a rather odd request that Plaid Cymru should use their position in the UK House of Commons to secure more funding for Wales; did the First Minister agree?

Neil then raised a more pressing issue – and hit new lows - on the Grenfell Tower disaster, where he accused Jeremy Corbyn of “weaponising” the disaster by calling for the seizure of private property to house the victims, something he later described as “dangerous rhetoric” and compared it to civil disorder that undermines parliamentary democracy.

In response to the first statement, Carwyn said it's not for him to tell other parties to “extort money”. As for the second, UKIP were displaying a “complete lack of humanity”. Jeremy Corbyn has simply expressed the anger many people in the area were feeling because of a lack of support from the local authority. Neil had “gravely misjudged” the mood of both the chamber and the public and should reflect on his comments.


Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) asked whether the Welsh Government intended to review recycling targets? In April, three Welsh local authorities in the Gwent area failed to meet government targets and had fines waived – so what incentives may there be for under-performing councils?

The Welsh Government are giving consideration as to what recycling targets to set beyond 2025; at the moment Wales is exceeding the 58% (of household waste recycled) target and are on course to hit the 70% target by 2024-15. Councils are already incentivized because by recycling more they avoid paying landfill tax (which is being devolved to Wales).

Following a question from Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West), Carwyn brushed off concerns about Kier Group's controversial new waste collection service in Bridgend, saying he's used it for the last fortnight without any problem and it's not that different to the old system. It was a matter for Bridgend Council – having been assured they're “doing something about it" – and he claimed opposition to the new contract is led by people who didn't want the new system (I presume he means the “two bag rule”) in the first place.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) asked what the Welsh Government were doing to improve the lives of older people? 75,000 older people in Wales are said to be lonely, and this issue isn't being addressed as much by government.

The Welsh Government are investing in initiatives to ensure the elderly can maintain their independence and remain at home. It's right to say loneliness has a detrimental impact on older people's physical and mental health and the government are willing to work with Age Cymru and other third sector organisations to address it. They're also working to make Wales a dementia-friendly country and improve awareness of various scams targeting the elderly.

Nathan Gill AM (Ind, North Wales) asked for a statement on the future of devolution. The DUP leader has pressed for air passenger duty to be devolved to Northern Ireland; what was the Welsh Government's position on this with regard Wales?

The First Minister hopes devolution would “continue to be strengthened”. The Welsh Government have long argued for devolution of air passenger duty, and if it were devolved they would look to reduce it or cut it completely for long-haul flights. There's no rationale for it to be devolved to Northern Ireland and Scotland but not Wales. It was, however, important that if/when taxes are devolved the situation is properly communicated to the public so they understand the changes.


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