Oral - The Welsh Assembly Government’s Legislative Programme 2009-10
I am pleased to announce today the content for the third year of the Government’s legislative programme. We have achieved a great deal over the last two years as shown by 'One Wales 24’ to demonstrate that we are at the halfway stage and are on track to deliver the vision we set out before the people of Wales in 'One Wales’.
When I announced the second legislative programme last July, I included proposals for three legislative competence Orders and five Assembly Measures aimed at delivering specific commitments in the 'One Wales’ programme. Over the last year we have seen the fruits of our efforts, as a legislative body, in bringing forward the proposals that I set out and in making progress on those remaining from the first programme. The result has been the approval of four legislative competence Orders and four Measures over the last 12 months.
This is a record. In addition to the Government’s programme, Member proposed legislation is contributing more and more to the legislative agenda of the Assembly. We are actively taking on board the contribution of backbenchers and committees and, where practicable, taking forward their proposals.
It is right that, over the course of the first half of the Assembly, a large degree of our focus has been on the transfer of power to the National Assembly. That has now begun to enable the Assembly to fulfil its role as a democratically elected legislature to deliver on behalf of the people of Wales.
It is important that we make full use of the devolution settlement to secure power for the Assembly in priority areas, either through the legislative competence Order process or framework proposals arising from England and Wales legislation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Over the last two years, we have successfully obtained legislative powers for the Assembly in 45 different areas or 'matters’, as they are technically described, covering 10 of the 20 fields.
We do not legislate for legislation’s sake, so our primary focus must now be on using those powers through Assembly Measures, namely primary legislation, to tackle the key challenges and to deliver the changes that have the most beneficial impact on the people of Wales.
Powers conferred through the domiciliary care legislative competence Order in the last session paved the way, in this session, for the introduction of the Proposed Social Care Charges (Wales) Measure, which was introduced at the end of June. Also, the powers conferred through the vulnerable children and additional learning needs legislative competence Orders led to the Proposed Children and Families (Wales) Measure and the Proposed Education (Wales) Measure that we will be debating later today. That is the way that the system works.
The use of Assembly Measures is still a relatively new development for the Assembly and is a sign of real maturation. The National Assembly committees and the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons are delivering a high standard of scrutiny, even when they come to diametrically opposite conclusions.
We will bring forward a new proposed legislative competence Order on housing. Its scope will encompass a number of areas, including social housing and meeting the accommodation needs of vulnerable groups. Although unfortunate, the withdrawal of the draft legislative competence Order on affordable housing has provided an opportunity to develop a far more strategically focused proposed legislative competence Order, which will ultimately improve the options available to support the delivery of sustainable homes, our new national housing strategy and address the housing needs of Wales.
Learning for life is a key theme in our vision for Wales. In 'One Wales’, this Government committed itself to ensuring that young people have the best possible start in life. We want to raise standards of attainment in all schools for all pupils. We will seek legislative powers on school governance to improve the locally managed school model and to place a greater emphasis on improved collaboration and shared good practice.
We must also ensure that our young people are able to travel to and from school in safety. We intend to bring forward a proposed legislative competence Order on school bus safety and concessionary fares that will do what it says on the tin.
I am announcing today our Government’s intention to bring forward six proposed Measures. The passing of some of the six in this Assembly term will be subject to the transfer of power to the Assembly through legislative competence Orders not yet completed.
The Welsh language is part of our common national heritage and identity, and to realise the three key ambitions that are part of 'One Wales’ and update the current legislative framework, we intend to bring forward a proposed Measure on the Welsh language to establish the first language commissioner in Wales, confirm official status for both Welsh and English in Wales, and confirm linguistic rights in the provision of public services, thereby modernising the Welsh Language Act 1993.
We will also bring forward a proposed Measure on the environment that will focus on proposals around waste management underpinning the delivery of 'Towards Zero Waste’ and including provisions to support emerging policy on single-use carrier bags. Both areas are currently subject to public consultation.
Getting to the real red meat of the programme, there will be a proposed Measure to confer levy-raising power in the Welsh red meat industry directly on Welsh Ministers to promote a vital Welsh industry.
Turning to the two vegetables, the delivery of a healthy future for Wales was a fundamental theme of 'One Wales’. The penultimate proposed Measure will utilise the powers conferred through the carers legislative competence Order and introduce new requirements on the national health service, working in partnership with local authorities, to produce a carers’ information strategy and a joint strategy for engaging with carers.
The proposed Measure on carers will also seek to ensure that young carers do not carry an inappropriate caring burden.
Once the proposed mental health legislative competence Order has finished its passage into law, we will use the powers conferred to address issues relating to the assessment of mental health and the treatment of mental disorder. The proposed Measure will also provide additional support to service users through an independent specialist mental health advocacy service.
We also intend to explore further the possibility of introducing a Measure to embed the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into law on behalf of Welsh children. Those principles, which are expressed in our seven core aims, already form the basis of children’s policy in Wales, and it is my intention that they should also provide the basis for further work to consolidate and reform the law affecting children and young people.
Lastly, to support further the delivery of a strong and confident nation, we will put my statement to immediate effect when the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government, Brian Gibbons, introduces the proposed local government legislative competence Order later today. Thriving local democracy is at the heart of a confident nation, and the proposed local government legislative competence Order will provide the Assembly with the power to legislate on the role of community councils in Wales, and on the remuneration structure of councillors in Wales.
Furthermore, it is this Government’s intention that, subject to the successful transfer of these powers to the Assembly, we will bring forward a proposed Measure to strengthen the role of community councils, to remove the barriers and disincentives to people standing for election to local authorities, and to improve the decision making and scrutiny functions of local government in Wales. That proposed Measure relies on the legislative competence being conferred through the proposed legislative competence Order, and on the United Kingdom Government’s Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, but it is an affirmation that the systems that we have in place are working.
In introducing the next stage of the Welsh legislative programme, we are well on the way to achieving the 'One Wales’ vision.