Plenary Wednesday 15 February 201713:48:45
Spoken Contribution -13:48:45
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, one of the traditional functions of local councils is in the field of housing. But sometimes excessive regulation can be a block, particularly for smaller house building companies, and some of these regulations relate to great crested newts. Now, the UK Government has brought out a White Paper in which they propose a newt-offsetting scheme. This would allow developers to build on sites containing newt ponds as long as they paid for good newt habitats to be provided elsewhere, so the newts, as a species, should continue to thrive. I wondered if you thought local councils in Wales might be able to better address the housing shortage if such a scheme were introduced here.
Spoken Contribution -13:50:11
Yes, thank you. We do need a balance, but I’m glad that you were mindful of considering it although I appreciate that the responsibility lies automatically with another Minister. But, thank you.
Now, complying with regulations can be a recurring issue for councils. Obviously, we need regulations—sensible regulations, that is—but regulations do add cost. One recurring debate that we will probably be having here over the next couple of years will be which EU regulations we actually want to keep. There have been major issues over household waste collections in recent years. In Cardiff, the relevant cabinet minister, Bob Derbyshire, has frequently cited the needs to comply with EU regulations, but soon we will no longer have to comply with them. Given that, would now be a good time for councils to review their policies on waste collection?
Spoken Contribution – 13:51:50
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Now, the last time I asked you questions with your local government brief, I was talking about traffic charges in Cardiff and you said you would write to me, which indeed you did. So, thank you for the information you provided. You stated that, in terms of parking and traffic violation charges that were collected by Cardiff council and other councils—Cardiff was the example I used; of course, it’s applicable throughout Wales—you stated that these fines would be ring-fenced to the particular department involved. So, I wondered how you, as a Government, enforce the ring-fencing of the fines.
Spoken Contribution – 14:22:31
I was interested by Hannah’s question and I had a look at the case, which I kind of had heard of from years ago. I think it used to be known as the Shrewsbury 2, rather than 24, but I gather it’s the same case. When I tried to put it into a political context, the conclusion I came to was that tougher trade union restrictions on issues like flying pickets weren’t introduced until later. So, as there were no tough regulations on picketing in 1972, it is possible that the Government did use rather arcane laws on conspiracy to prosecute some or perhaps all of the 24. So, there may be a possible injustice. Certainly, the files relating to the case should be put in the public domain.
The only problem I wanted to flag up with you, Counsel General, was one of public funds, because although it is obviously a matter of concern to Hannah Blythyn because it relates to some of her constituents, which I perfectly acknowledge, we do have to recognise that legal fees can escalate in these sort of matters. So, I just hope that if the Welsh Government did get involved we could at some point have some estimate of the likely legal fees incurred to the Welsh taxpayer.
Spoken Contribution – 15:37:21
Thanks to the committee Chair for bringing today’s debate. This was a well-intentioned Act. However, the post-legislative scrutiny work has highlighted serious problems in implementing it, which we’ve been hearing about this afternoon. One of the problems is that local councils, in large part, have to implement the Act, but it comes hard on the heels of other Acts that they also have to implement, such as the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. A major issue that arose during the post-legislative scrutiny was that councils often struggle to find the staff to allocate these extra tasks to, and they’re also struggling to find adequate financial resources. So, it does cause problems.
During the scrutiny, we heard from some very able council officers who were certainly passionate about reducing violence against women, but who told us that their councils struggled with time, with staffing levels, and with money, so it will still be a big job to effectively implement this Act. I welcome the committee’s desire to introduce healthy relationships teaching at schools, but, again, this raises issues of time and expense on already time-pressured curriculums. Also, we should be mindful of a point that has been made in the Chamber recently, which is that domestic violence can affect men as victims, as well as women, albeit in lesser numbers, and I think this aspect could also usefully form part of healthy relationship lessons at school.