Sustainability lies at the heart of the Welsh Government’s agenda for Wales and it lies too at the heart of this legislative programme. Taken as whole, it will promote economic, social and environmental wellbeing and enhance quality of life in Wales. Our approach to sustainable development has been to focus on fairness and social justice and the protection of our outstanding culture and heritage. Sustainability is more than just a green idea. It is about defining the long-term development path for our nation. It means healthy productive people; vibrant inclusive communities; a diverse and resilient environment; and an advanced and innovative economy. This legislative programme provides new powers, duties and institutional capacity to advance our goals of building a sustainable Wales.
Environment, Sustainable Development and Heritage
We will legislate to embed sustainable development as the central organising principle in all of our actions across Government and all public bodies, bringing forward a Sustainable Development Bill. The approach will set Wales apart as a sustainable nation, leading from the front.
We were very disappointed at the decision of the UK Government to withdraw funding from the UK Sustainable Development Commission, which led to its closure. It served us well in Wales, and the Bill will provide for the establishment of an independent body to continue the legacy of the Sustainable Development Commission in a way that best reflects Welsh interests and needs.
We will also introduce a duty to provide cycle routes in key areas. The Highways and Transport (Wales) Bill will be a short bill that will legislate to put a duty on Local Authorities to provide and maintain cycle paths in key areas. The Bill is intended to make walking and cycling a more practical and enjoyable option for people in Wales. Benefits from this will include the promotion of sustainable travel, and the resultant reduction in carbon emissions and improvement in air quality; the health benefits of a more active nation and economic benefits from recreation, tourism, and to the wider rural economy. We intend bringing forward this legislation within the next two years.
Historic buildings and monuments are an important part of our heritage, helping to make Wales distinctive and the special place that it is.
There is currently a wide range of controls to help protect historic assets but they have been in place for many years and would benefit from streamlining and modernisation. We are seeking therefore to introduce a Heritage Bill which is more fitting to modern day issues, which reduces bureaucracy and is specifically geared to the needs of Wales. There is scope to encourage a more positive, engaged approach with owners and specific interest groups, while at the same time addressing issues associated with neglectful owners who might leave significant aspects of our heritage to deteriorate and decay.
Before we introduce any proposals formally, we want to have a full discussion with a wide range of interested parties. This period of debate will help us to refine initial ideas – perhaps attract new ones – on what is needed to provide a clear and simple system which not only protects our heritage, but is also easy to understand by owners, third parties and government. We therefore intend bringing the Bill in the fourth year of our legislative programme.
Llywydd, throughout history, we have modified and managed the environment to secure food, shelter, energy and livelihoods, providing great benefits to the people of Wales, but also increasing risks that we damage the very ecology that we depend on. Developing a new natural environment framework to enable more integrated management of the environment in Wales is a Government manifesto commitment. Our aim is to ensure that Wales has increasingly resilient and diverse ecosystems that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits. We are therefore aiming to introduce an Environment Bill during the life of this Assembly.
We want the proposed Bill to enhance environmental protection and deliver ecological gains whilst easing the regulatory burden. Further development of the proposals for legislative changes are likely to evolve from the ongoing Living Wales development work over the next 12 to 18 months.
There has also been an increase in demand over recent years for allotment plots. In many parts of Wales, the demand for allotments is not met by supply and there are vast differences in waiting times for plots across Wales. Therefore, to support local communities in becoming more sustainable and healthier, we will seek to use the Environment Bill to legislate on the amount of land to be used for allotments. It will also ensure a minimum standard across Wales.
We cannot underestimate the importance of planning for sustainable economic renewal, and we intend bringing forward a Planning Bill which will consolidate existing planning legislation, making it more transparent and accessible. It will also provide an opportunity to reconsider roles and responsibilities, helping us to ensure that we have a planning system that can help deliver economic renewal. A White Paper setting out our proposals will be published towards the end of 2012. This will be followed by the introduction of a Planning Bill in 2014.
Better life chances for our young people
We want to ensure better life chances for our young people by helping them achieve their potential. Education is fundamental to building a just, inclusive and fair society.
The Minister for Education and Skills has already set out his ‘20 action points’ to improve standards and performance in Wales, and in the early part of 2012 we will bring forward our first Education Bill which will focus on Schools and Standards. The Schools and Standards (Wales) Bill will put in place actions to drive up school improvement. It will also make changes to the process of reorganising schools following on from our extensive consultation earlier this year. The Bill will also make provision for statutory Welsh in Education Strategic Plans, fulfilling another of our manifesto pledges, and will enable the streamlining of a number of grants payable to Local Authorities.
The second Education Bill – The Structures, Governance and Special Educational Needs (Wales) Bill, will be introduced in year two. The Minister for Education and Skills has been very clear about the value that the Government places on excellent teaching. To that end, this Bill will include provisions in several areas of teaching including performance management and Continuing Professional Development. We are committed to consortia working as the model for delivering educational services in the future, and we expect our Local Authorities to commit to working together to deliver the regional working agenda. This Bill will support that collaborative model.
It will also deliver the changes in the law required to reform our Higher Education sector, realising our Manifesto commitment of “bringing coherence and efficiency to higher education in Wales”. We will also use this Bill to take forward changes to the governance of FE institutions and to reform the existing system of statements for children and young people with Special Educational Needs, following our extensive pilot programmes.
We want to improve the status of children and young people made vulnerable through offending. International research has shown a correlation between offending behaviour among children and economic exclusion and poverty. We want to see significant changes to the environment in which youth justice operates, and to increase Welsh Government influence over the delivery of youth justice services in Wales.
During the course of the next two years, we will consult on a Prevention of Youth Offending Bill which would strengthen the delivery of services to children and young people entering and leaving the youth justice system, by making clear the vulnerabilities of those within the system and establishing duties on local partnerships to address them. Conferring equivalent entitlements on those entering juvenile custodial detention to those currently looked after.
In the second half of this legislative programme we will also bring forward the Children and Young Persons (Wales) Bill, which will build on the Children’s Rights Measure introduced during the last Assembly, and expand the role of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
Protecting Vulnerable People
We have said that the economic challenges will inevitably put additional strains on families in Wales. This Government wants to introduce a series of Bills that provides for the right kind of support when it is needed. The first Bill to be introduced – the Social Service (Wales) Bill will provide, for the first time, a coherent Welsh legal framework for social services based on the principles we hold dear in Wales. It will ensure a strong voice and real control for people, of whatever age, enabling them to maximise their wellbeing. It will set the legal framework and infrastructure to transform services to meet changing social expectations and changing demography.
Developing a Bill of this scale and importance will take time to get right. We will therefore consult, building on the vision and commitments in “Sustainable Social Services for Wales” on the content of the Bill from the winter onwards, with a view to introducing it in October 2012.
Our proposed Housing Bill – will also protect our most vulnerable citizens and help to improve their health and wellbeing. The Bill will enable us to meet our manifesto commitments which include tackling homelessness, as well as improving standards and tenants’ rights in the private rented sector.
It will also build on the three strategic priorities identified in our National Housing Strategy launched in April 2010: increasing the supply of housing; improving its quality; and improving housing-related services – particularly for those who are vulnerable or homeless. With more people having to opt for accommodation in the private rented sector due to continuing difficulties in obtaining mortgages, we will seek to improve the quality of accommodation to enhance the sector’s image as an acceptable housing choice. We will publish our proposals for inclusion in the Bill in due course.
This Government wants to do more to tackle the social problems of domestic abuse. We will introduce in the next two years the Domestic Abuse (Wales) Bill, designed to place a duty on relevant public sector bodies to have a domestic abuse and ‘violence against women strategy’ in place. The Bill will not seek to address criminal justice issues. Rather the purpose of the provisions will be concerned with social welfare and the prevention, protection and support elements of a domestic abuse and violence against women strategy.
Protecting and Promoting Health
Protecting the health of our citizens remains a priority for this government. The E-coli outbreak in South Wales in 2005 showed how important food safety is and whilst the voluntary scheme has achieved good results, it suffers from a lack of coverage. Since food hygiene is essential to help improve food safety we will be bringing forward a draft Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (Display of Information) (Wales) Bill for consultation at the end of this year. It will allow the Welsh Government to make mandatory arrangements for providing consumers with easily understandable, at-a-glance information on the hygiene standards of a food business – so they can make better informed choices about where they eat out or shop for food.
There are nearly 300 welsh residents on the active waiting list for a transplant and last year roughly one person a week died in Wales waiting for an organ donation. The shortage of human organs continues to cause otherwise preventable death and suffering. We will therefore bring forward a White Paper Consultation on an Organ Donation (Wales) Bill before the end of this year. The Bill will provide for an opt-out system of organ donation, backed up by a comprehensive communication programme.
We will be considering further the legislative basis for delivering improved life expectancy, well being and reducing health inequality in Wales as we promised both in our manifesto and in our policy document ‘Fairer Health Outcomes For All’. We plan to consult next year on a Public Health (Wales) Bill, with a view to introducing the legislation in the second half of our legislative programme.
Cosmetic piercing has become increasingly popular in recent years. Over a quarter of people who have a cosmetic piercing procedure (other than the earlobes) experience complications. Informed parental consent will ensure that parents are aware of their child’s desire to have a cosmetic piercing and the possible implications. We intend to consult on the introduction of a Cosmetic Piercing (Age of Consent) (Wales) Bill shortly.
Simplifying and Improving Government
We want a strong public-service ethos in Wales, and one which is not prevented from delivering good quality services through unnecessary bureaucracy or governmental control. After the summer recess we will therefore bring forward a draft Wales Audit Office Bill which will strengthen the governance and accountability arrangements of the Wales Audit Office, without restricting the Auditor General’s crucial independence to examine whatever subjects he chooses. Provisions in the Bill will establish the Wales Audit Office (WAO) as a body corporate with a majority of non-executive members appointed by public appointments procedures, including pre-appointment hearings in the Assembly.
The Bill will also set out the relationship between the Wales Audit Office and the Auditor General Wales who will become the Accounting Officer for the WAO. The Auditor General Wales, whose terms and conditions of service will be set by the Assembly on the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee independent of the Welsh Government, will become the Chief Executive Officer of the WAO.
To further the aims of this Government to reduce complexity and the burdens being placed on local authorities, this year we will be introducing a Local Government (Byelaws) (Wales) Bill which will reform byelaw procedures and include the removal of the Welsh Ministers’ role in confirming certain proposed byelaws. This is designed to simplify the process resulting in greater responsibility and ownership for these local laws. We are also proposing alternative enforcement procedures through fixed penalty notices. The aim is to facilitate enforcement through a more direct approach. These proposals are in keeping with the Welsh Government’s well established recognition of the community leadership role of local authorities.
We will also introduce a Local Government (Collaborative Measures) (Wales) Bill which will facilitate the process of local authorities making joint appointments; require them to consider doing so for posts of specified seniority, and to create powers for the Auditor General for Wales to inspect and report on compliance with this duty, and for the Welsh Ministers to intervene in cases of failure.
We also wish to bring greater transparency to the appointment, status and funding of returning officers, so that the public can be satisfied that elections and other polls are run efficiently and cost-effectively. And to this end we will bring forward in the second year of this legislative programme the Democracy and Elections (Wales) Bill which will re-design the rules within which the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales will operate. The Bill will make reforms to the structure and functions of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales and to the process of appointing and funding Returning Officers.
We will also consult on legislation which would make Third Sector compact arrangements between local authorities and the third sector intermediary bodies County Voluntary Councils, a statutory requirement. Currently established on a voluntary basis, most local authorities have embraced the ethos of establishing formal relationships with the third sector. The scope and make-up of compacts though differ from area to area, with varying degrees of engagement and effectiveness. If the evidence and consultation suggest that it is necessary to place compacts on a statutory basis, we will bring forward a Statutory Third Sector Compacts Bill towards the end of this Assembly.
It is very true that with Government comes responsibility and Plaid Cymru above all will understand when I say to the other parties in this chamber we all have a responsibility to the people of Wales. It is inevitable and proper that the opposition will seek to hold this Government to account. But it should not be about political point scoring, but about working together and finding consensus where possible, in developing distinctive Welsh policies for the betterment of the communities we each represent.
This Welsh Government will keep to its end of the bargain in ensuring that we carry out robust regulatory impact assessments, that we consult appropriately, engage meaningfully with our business and other social partners and provide sufficient time for you to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s legislation. I and my Ministers will make ourselves available to attend committees to defend our policy decisions when appropriate to do so. However, we ask you to play your part and consider the legislation that comes before you for consideration in committee in a timely manner.