FMQs: Stitch-Ups, Dyslexia & Booze

As the First Minister was on the inaugural Cardiff-Doha Qatar Airways flight this afternoon, the Leader of the House – and effectively Deputy First Minister – Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) stood in for him.

FMQs, 1st May 2018

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): The Welsh-UK Government Brexit Powers Deal

Scottish Labour and the Scottish Lib Dems continue to oppose the same deal tabled for Wales on powers post-Brexit. In November 2017, the First Minister said he wouldn’t accept a sunset clause as it could be extended indefinitely, but now he’s agreed to a five year one. It’s “nothing short of a Labour-Tory stitch up” which has sold Wales short. There are some significant powers in agriculture, fisheries and public procurement which will now rest with the UK Government.

The Leader of the House affirmed that the Welsh Government “had done the very best for Wales”. She wrote off criticisms from Plaid Cymru as “hyperbole”, saying they had secured significant changes to the Bill and it protected the existing devolution settlement and English Minister cannot act in devolved policy areas where they once would’ve been able to.

Verdict: Hit – There’s still no explanation regarding the difference between Labour’s opinion on the deal in Scotland and Wales.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central): Dyslexia

There remains a big gap between the performance at GCSE of children with dyslexia and those without, with a 10% gap in those achieving at least 5 A*-C grades. This doesn’t need new money, just new policies. English schools have introduced phonics to assist in learning to read and write, would the Welsh Government consider it here?

The Leader of the House said it was “extraordinary” to say it wasn’t about money (blamed on austerity); it’s a fact that the more additional learning needs a pupil has the more it costs to help them. Phonics is already used in Welsh schools, but she took exception with the quoted statistics as dyslexic pupils have additional time and take different exams.

Verdict: Block – Neither here nor there.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales): Minimum Alcohol Pricing

Minimum alcohol pricing was introduced in Scotland today (with a Bill going through the Senedd to introduce it in Wales), which has lead to significant percentage increases in the cost of alcohol. Did she agree this will impact those on low incomes? Is it right to add extra burdens to them? Extra profits are likely to go to the supermarkets. In light of problems with obesity, why aren’t we considering additional taxes of food for the same reason?

The Welsh Government take alcohol-related illness seriously. It’s true to say though that minimum pricing is only one part of dealing with it. There is proof that the Welsh Government’s approach to public health through state intervention is working with reductions in smoking rates and widespread cancer screening.

Verdict: Block – Both made fair points.


Mandy Jones AM (Ind, North Wales) Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the provision of social care in North Wales (assisted/medical technology)?

There are several trials of assisted technology taking place in Wales and it’s something the Welsh Government were taking an interest in. Public spending on social care has risen by 22% since 2010-11 compared to 5% in England. The Welsh Government are also working hard to ensure there’s a plan in place to deal with Allied Healthcare’s impending administration.

Verdict: Miss – To be fair, this could’ve been tricky but I thought Julie James dealt with it well.

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen): What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve trunk roads in South Wales East?

The Welsh Government’s commitment to trunk road improvements is set out in their national transport finance plan. On possible cost over-runs on the A465 Brynmawr-Gilwern section, the Economy Secretary is expected to make a statement to AMs. The section of the A470 around Trago Mills is also being assessed due to recent traffic concerns. Julie didn’t know enough about the (polluted) section of the A472 in Hafodyrynys to give an answer to a follow-up question.

Verdict: Block – Julie seemed up to speed on some aspects, but not on others.

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West): What is the Welsh Government doing to promote heritage tourism in south-east Wales?

Just over £1million has been provided to improve visitor facilities at Caerphilly Castle and Blaenavon Ironworks. Following a recent visit, Julie “highly recommended” visiting the Roman museum in Caerleon, though essential work to a roof would mean the closure of the baths for several months.

Verdict: Miss – Straighforward question, straightforward answer – though it was a bit strange to encourage people to visit an attraction that could be about to temporarily shut!

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