MONTHLY REPORT

13/05/2014

ARFON ASSEMBLY MEMBER

Alun Ffred Jones AM

APRIL 2014

Entries from the April diary

1 April

Assembly plenary meeting

2 April

Chaired the Environment Committee

Welcomed children from Ysgol y Garnedd, Bangor to the Assembly

Met the Minister Carl Sergeant to discuss the Planning Bill

3 April

Public Account Committee meeting

Constituency meeting, Caernarfon

4 April

Surgery, Caernarfon

7 April

Surgery, Caernarfon

8 April

Discussed cattle grids in Fron

Meeting with Paul Lovelock from the Welsh Association of National Park Authorities

Meeting with Aneurin Phillips and Jonathan Cawley from the Snowdonia National Park

9 April

Visited Always Aim High, Brynrefail

Visited the project Every Child a Library Member at Caernarfon Library

10 April

Opened ‘The Incredible Years’ project Bangor University

‘Codi’r To’ concert at Ysgol Glan Cegin

Surgery, Bangor

11 April

Surgery, Caernarfon

Met Richard Foxhall of Horizon to discuss Wylfa

14 April

Surgery, Caernarfon

15 April

Meeting with Finance Minister Jane Hutt

Official opening of food recycling plant at Llwynisaf, Clynnog Fawr

16 April

TV interview about the Hergest ward, Ysbyty Gwynedd

Sponsored Caernarfon Town football match

17 April

Addressed Cymdeithas yr Iaith meeting on Planning

20 April

Opening of the International Harp Festival in the Galeri, Caernarfon

24 April

Briefing meeting for Assembly Environment Committee

28 April visited Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd house renovation schemes in Penygroes and Groeslon

29 April

Public Accounts Committee

30 April

Met representatives of the MS Society and MacMillan Cymru

Launch of Stop Climate Chaos

Meeting with BVA officers

 

QUESTIONS AND SPEECHES IN THE ASSEMBLY

1 April

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Language Unit

A.Ff.J. Will the First Minister make a statement on the operation of the Government’s Welsh language unit? 

C.J. The Welsh Language Division is responsible for the delivery of the Welsh language strategy, ’A living language: a language for living’, and the Welsh-medium education strategy.

A.Ff.J. The purpose of bringing the Welsh language strategy unit within Government was to put the Government’s powers behind its enforcement. For three years, we have heard nothing but shocking silence from this unit. Do you intend to maintain this unit and ensure that it actually delivers operationally?

C.J. I do not think that that is true at all. That is not the view of others in Plaid Cymru. I think that we have the ’cynhadledd fawr’ and the work that has been done on the economic language...

Questions to the Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths

Arts

A.Ff.J. What work is the Welsh Government doing to generate interest in the arts among young people? 

J.G. The Welsh Government, and the Arts Council of Wales, works with various partners to promote young people’s interest in the arts.

A.Ff.J. Thank you, Minister, for that statement. Professor Dai Smith has produced a report that calls for art to be put at the heart of our education and schools. What is the Government’s view and when will you be making a statement on this?

J.G. Dai Smith’s ‘An independent report for the Welsh Government into Arts in Education in the Schools of Wales’ is very significant indeed. We plan to publish a national plan for creative learning this summer...

An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry in Wales

A.Ff.J. I thank the Minister for this statement on this exceptionally important field. It is always worth looking at the conclusion of a statement to see exactly what is being recommended. At the conclusion of this statement, you say that it is time that we set a clear a direction and actions for the food industry. Well, yes, I am sure that we would all agree, but, as far as I can see, there is nothing in this statement that sets a clear direction or any definite action points and we are three years into the life of this Government.

In your response to Russell George, you alluded to the need to declare a vision for the food and drink industry, and I would agree with you. So, what is actually stopping you from stating that vision before your definite actions that will follow some time later on in the year?

As regards the questions arising from the statement, can you tell us what the form of this federation will be and what powers it will have or what powers you anticipate this federation will be accorded?

Also, you talk about improving integration in the supply chain. Of course, this closely aligned to the procurement process, but what we know is that there are great variations throughout Wales in both the practices and the outcomes of the procurement process, for example, in food tenders in the public sector, among county councils and the health boards also. So, what exactly do you believe can be done to improve this situation and to ensure that we arrive at the point where you and we agree, where more of the food that we produce is sold here in Wales, not to mention beyond Wales?

You also refer in your statement to closer collaboration with Visit Wales, and I would agree with you 100%. So, how do you anticipate that that will happen, what exactly will happen on the ground and have any discussions taken place between your officials and Visit Wales in this direction?

Finally, as you know, I live in the Nantlle valley and we produce lambs and cattle and there is good fishing at Lake Nantlle. By now, we have a vineyard and orchard at Pant Du, which produces wine, apple juice, cider and mineral water from rocks that are 50 million years old, apparently. Therefore, may I invite you to come over to visit this family initiative in the Nantlle valley, when it is convenient for you to do so?

Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food: I am always happy to accept invitations to visit vineyards, wherever they may be, and I am sure that the vineyard in the vicinity of Snowdonia is as happy as I would believe it to be. I am very happy to accept such an invitation...

2 April

Questions to the Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis

Standards in Schools

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on support to raise standards in schools? 

H.L. The Welsh Government is supporting school performance at a national, local and school level. These are set out in the programme for government.

A.Ff.J. The view of headteachers in my constituency is that the disappearance of Cynnal, the educational support body, has been a great loss. The feeling is that the consortium that replaced it is acting more like some sort of an alternative to Estyn—prepared to see the weaknesses but unwilling to give support. How can you assure headteachers that the new consortia will be an improvement on the previous system?

H.L. Of course, the Member will be aware that, when I first took up this post, I was dissatisfied with the way in which consortia were delivering. The north Wales consortium certainly was a cause for concern at that time...

Questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart

Bontnewydd and Caernarfon Bypass

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister provide an update on the Bontnewydd and Caernarfon bypass? 

E.H. I refer you to my letter of 28 March 2014, which I wrote to all Assembly Members.

A.Ff.J. Thank you very much for that information. It is good to see that the work is progressing. Can the Minister tell us what efforts are being made by her officials to ensure that as many of the contracts appertaining to this road will come to Welsh companies as possible, and, as that happens, will then ensure local employment from this major investment?

E.H. I always make it clear to officials that we want to maximise the number of people who are involved in local contracts and employment. However, I will specifically make enquiries regarding this project and write to the Member.

The Environment and Sustainability Committee’s Report on its Inquiry into Invasive Non-native Species

The Presiding Officer: I call the Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee to move the motion—Alun Ffred Jones.

A.Ff.J. I am very pleased to speak in this debate today. The committee’s report on invasive non-native species was published in January, following a brief inquiry to collect evidence from stakeholders and Welsh Government officials. Invasive non-native species constitute considerable environmental and economic risks for Wales on both land and sea. From the perspective of environmental damage, they compete against native species, such as red squirrels and voles. Australian swamp stonecrop, for example, can overwhelm ponds and lakes, interfering with sensitive ecosystems, which can lead to a decline in biodiversity. Some of them, such as giant hogweed, can also present a risk to people’s health. Others present less obvious risks, such as increasing the risk of flooding by eroding riverbanks and slowing down watercourses.

I will just turn to some of the key conclusions of the report, which are in relation to co-ordinating local efforts, data collection and raising awareness, together with access to land and national leadership.

I will start with the co-ordination of local efforts. We heard of good local examples of tackling invasive non-native species across Wales, but the national picture is inconsistent. There is a need to link these local efforts in order to assess the true extent of the risk presented by the species, and take steps to mitigate that risk. A more effective response to try to combat the species could be undertaken on a national level.

Secondly, the system of data collection varies in terms of quality and geographical spread. We heard that new technologies are available to collect data in different ways and the committee believes that we should continue with efforts to collect as much data as possible, and to share that information with stakeholders.

 

It is essential to raise awareness of how common invasive alien species are and how easily they can spread. People do not realise how common the problem is or how much of a threat they present. The expertise of people such as nature volunteers and anglers should be used to greater awareness.

As regards access to land, we heard that there is a problem with gaining access to private land and that this is an obstacle for authorities trying to take steps to eradicate species where the land owner is not willing to co-operate. Some witnesses were of the view that authorities should have the right to access land, but that view was not universally held. In terms of national leadership, this is needed to co-ordinate local efforts and collect data in order to address these increasing problems. The committee concluded that Natural Resources Wales is in the best position to take the lead on this. We would wish to see either the Welsh Government or Natural Resources Wales reporting regularly on the progress made to improve the situation.

We made a number of recommendations. We believe that these recommendations should be implemented to address invasive non-native species in Wales. Among these are recommendations to designate Natural Resources Wales as lead body on the work of co-ordinating local efforts to collect data and to tackle the problem; to present a report to the Assembly on the implications for Wales following completion of the GB strategy review; to write to us as a committee on an annual basis to set out progress in tackling the problem; to consider the merits of managing invasive non-native species on a river-catchment basis—it is obvious that this is a constant theme in the committee’s work; to consider the problem of access to land for the purpose of tackling invasive non-native species; and, finally, to respond to the European Commission’s proposals on invasive non-native species and the implications for Wales.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and I am pleased to note that all of our recommendations have been accepted or accepted in principle. I am glad that the Minister recognises that there is a need to co-ordinate efforts to assess the scale of the risk presented by these species and to take action to combat the problem. I would like to ask him for more information about how he intends to achieve this in the long term. Also, I am pleased that monitoring the species will be part of a wider biodiversity action plan; we look forward to hearing more about that in the future.

The Minister accepted the recommendation that Wales should be represented as part of the GB strategy review. It is good to know about the work that has been done on this already and for the annual forum that will be held next month. I would like to thank the Minister for his commitment to report to the Assembly on the implications for Wales of the GB strategy review and to report to us as a Committee on an annual basis on the progress made to tackle the problem. We are eager to receive an update as soon as possible.

We understand that the problem of access to private land is a major challenge, and once again, we look forward to seeing what the Minister has to say in this regard. We are pleased that the Minister has accepted the recommendation that he should respond to the proposals of the European Commission for invasive non-native species. We will wait to hear more about the implications for Wales.

In summary, it was a worthwhile investigation, we believe, and we appreciate the spirit of the Minister’s responses, in the hope that this will lead to a tackling of this problem, which has expanded in Wales almost without anyone noticing it, in many cases—although those of us who live in north-west Wales are very aware of what has happened on the mountains of Snowdonia with the rhododendron. The efforts that have been made in the past, and are still being made, prove how difficult it is, in fact, to tackle this problem once it has takes a grip and has spread. We look forward to the Minister’s response.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call the Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee to reply.

A.Ff.J. Thank you to all who have contributed to the debate this afternoon. I will just make a few comments.

Mike Hedges began with a peroration of hate against Japanese knotweed. He seems to have an abnormal amount of knowledge about this particular plant, but he is right that it is a perfect example of an invasive species that has resulted in unsightly growth, damage and huge expense. I learned a new name, ‘Sally rhubarb’. Is that the term in Swansea? It is. In Welsh, it is ‘Canclwm’; well, that is one of the names for it.

Russell George supported Mike Hedges’s view of the distruction and cost resulting from Japanese knotweed and the need to tackle it and the need for protection. He referred to the red squirrel, and I think that this is a success story, is it not? I know of the situation in Anglesey, where it has repopulated the island and is breeding successfully, and there is talk now of extending that area into my constituency, over the river.

William Powell highlighted the consequences of inaction for the marine ecology, and, again, he is right that we have to be very careful with our seas as well as our land.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas made reference to European regulations and the need to create an international framework but to take action at a local level.Certainly, he was spot on in saying that unless you have continuity in these programmes then it leads to a waste of energy and money, and it is completely ineffective in the long term. Therefore, budgets are exceptionally important, and not only at a national level. That is why his questions on collaboration at a UK level are so extremely important as well. The figures are quite frightening. The figures that he cited in terms of the cost of implementing these programmes across Europe were staggering, but then the costs of inaction are also horrific. I endorse Dafydd Elis-Thomas’s comments and also his thanks to the staff who were involved in the inquiry,

I welcome the Minister’s response. It is clear that there is a good deal of common ground here, and I was very pleased to hear that NRW will lead the action in this area, although I also believe that there is a very important role for voluntary organisations in this work of gathering data and taking action. We have seen that happening in the collaboration between the national parks and local bodies.

The hardest task is to get things moving, but we are looking forward to hearing regular updates from the Minister on what is happening, which will, hopefully, lead to a great improvement in the situation.

Questions to the First Minister Carwyn Jones

Safeguarding Welsh as a Community Language

A.Ff.J. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the Welsh Government’s efforts to safeguard Welsh as a community language? 

C.J. The Welsh Government undertakes a range of activities to increase the use of the Welsh language and to safeguard the language as a community language. I will present a policy statement to the Assembly that will respond to the main findings of recent reviews in this area and offer foundations for implementation over the next three years.

A.Ff.J. In the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’ that you assembled in Aberystwyth, one of the main findings was that population movement is an important factor in the decline in the number of areas where the Welsh language is the language of day-to-day communication. In looking at the Government’s policies and plans, we note that the new TAN 20 does not change hardly anything in terms of what was previously in place under TAN 20. There has been no further guidance, although that was promised, in order to demonstrate how that TAN is to be implemented, and there is no reference to the Welsh language in the proposed draft planning Bill. What is the Government’s intention, therefore, in responding to this outcome of the ‘Cynhadledd Fawr’ that you yourself called?

C.J. Work has been done to ensure that a consistent assessment is available to each local authority to use. There are good examples where this has happened already—for example, in Gwynedd...

30 April

Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies

Biodiversity

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister update the Assembly on the fund set up to prevent the decline in biodiversity in Wales? 

A.D. We have received over 460 ideas, which have shaped our development of the nature fund to ensure that it will address the decline in biodiversity and support sustainable land management going forward. I will be announcing the details of the funding and the areas for action next week.

A.Ff.J. One great success story, of course, is the eradication of the grey squirrel from Anglesey, by culling them, as it happens, and the red squirrel is re-established there now. However, grey squirrels are crossing the bridge, apparently—or bridges, I should say—from Arfon to Anglesey. So, the latest plan is to eradicate the grey squirrel from Arfon too and to reintroduce the red squirrel. Would you be willing to consider supporting that campaign through the fund that you are to announce next week?

A.D. Arfon has always caused problems for the people of Anglesey. [Laughter.] Possibly, we will have to consider expanding this project further...

Questions to the Minister for Housing and Regeneratiion, Carl Sergeant

Rural Housing Enablers Scheme

A.Ff.J.   It appears that only two or three houses a year—no, it may be a little more than that: some 18 houses a year are built through this particular scheme. There are many of them the length and breadth of Wales and I know that they do some very good, constructive work. However, why has progress been so slow over the years, given the demand that exists for housing in rural areas?

C.S. Well, of course, the Member will be aware of the difficulty in planning terms of getting local communities to accept schemes sometimes...