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AMs asked to approve Welsh tax collection

Laws that will pave the way for the Welsh Government collecting its own taxes and enabling councils to merge into larger local authorities have been announced in the Senedd. The First Minister set out the legislative programme, the principal laws that AMs will be asked to during the next 12 months.

The Welsh Government says its planning bill will "simplify rather than frustrate" development. A public health bill won't be introduced until next summer but could now include minimum pricing for alcohol, following the recent Supreme Court judgement on the extent of the Assembly's powers.

When I announced this Government’s ambitious five year legislative programme I set out our plans to address many of the issues the people of Wales care deeply about, such as improving public services despite the difficult financial situation.

We are now halfway through the programme, and while we have already achieved many of our goals, the ten bills I am announcing today continue our commitment, with legislation that will really make a difference to the people of Wales.

This legislative programme also sees us take action on two major areas of reform, putting in place the measures needed for local authority mergers and entering a new phase of the devolution story by preparing for our new tax-raising powers.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

The 10 bills announced today are:

  • *Planning Bill *to reform and simplify the current planning system
  • *Qualifications Bill *to establish an independent body for the regulation and quality assurance of non-degree level qualifications
  • Additional Learning Needs Bill will be the sixth and final education bill of this Assembly
  • Local Government Bill** will prepare the ground for reforming local authorities in Wales through a series of mergers**
  • *Renting Homes Bill *to provide a new legal relationship between landlords and tenants
  • Social Services Regulation & Inspection Bill to raise the quality of care and support
  • *Environment Bill *for the sustainable management of natural resources
  • Heritage Bill** to improve protection of listed buildings and ancient monuments**
  • Public Health Bill -a consultation on its contents has just closed
  • Tax Collection & Management Bill will create a tax system

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First Minister talks of fear that David Jones would fight on over farm wages

First Minister Carwyn Jones has claimed that the reaction from former Welsh Secretary David Jones to the Welsh Government's victory in the Supreme Court last week left fears that Westminster would legislate to overturn the decision that the Assembly could regulate farm workers' wages and conditions.

He didn't say he accepted the judgement, his successor did.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

The First Minister suggested that those fears had been ended by the sacking of David Jones and his replacement by Stephen Crabb. He added that any attempt to "plug the gap", as the UK Government saw it, would have been "wholly wrong and undemocratic".

First Minister's hopes for "pragmatic" Welsh Secretary

First Minister Carwyn Jones has told AMs that the Welsh Government does "very much welcome what we hope will be a new approach" from Stephen Crabb.

He said Welsh ministers had found the new Secretary of State "pragmatic and reasonable" to deal with during his time as a junior minister at the Wales Office.

Mr Jones added that he hoped the Welsh Government and the UK Department of Transport can move forward on Valleys rail electrification with the help of the new Secretary of State. There's disagreement between the two governments on which of them should pay for the project.

First Minister's hand-written apology to Opposition leader

Carwyn Jones says he's sent a hand-written note of apology to the Opposition Leader after their angry exchanges in the Senedd last week. The First Minister had questioned Andrew RT Davies' absence from a meeting between Welsh political leaders and Prince Charles.

He apologised in the chamber after Mr Davies said he'd been ill himself and caring for his mother-in-law following a stroke. But Carwyn Jones told his monthly press conference that he followed up that apology with a personal note which the Conservative leader had 'graciously accepted.'

First Minister: 'change of attitude' needed at Wales Office

First Minister Carwyn Jones says he'd 'welcome a change of attitude' at the Wales Office but stopped short of commenting on Westminster reshuffle rumours.

The Prime Minister is expected to make changes to his cabinet over the next 24 hours and there's speculation that Welsh Secretary David Jones could be one of those to leave government.

There's been a tense relationship between the Welsh Government and the Wales Office which is why, at his monthly press conference, Carwyn Jones was asked if he'd welcome a change of Welsh Secretary.

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Video: Carwyn Jones on minister's sacking

The First Minister has dismissed Liberal Democrat claims that the attempt by sacked minister Alun Davies to obtain details of political opponents' farm subsidy payments was part of a wider Labour party smear campaign. Carwyn Jones told ITV News that he was confident that it was "a one-off".

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, who was one of the AMs targeted by Mr Davies, says Labour's official Assembly twitter feed quoted a question she asked about farm subsidy payments on the very day the minister asked his civil servants for the information on farm payments.

She said "The First Minister needs to investigate who else in his party knew about what Alun Davies was up to. Unless it is just a massive coincidence, judging from his party’s official twitter feed it would seem that others high up in the Labour party possibly knew about it.

"At the time it seemed particularly odd that the Labour party was tweeting the questions. It now seems clear that it was an attempt at intimidation; yet they’ve actually shot themselves in the foot. This scandal looks like it could have grubby Labour fingerprints all over it.

“It is outrageous that Alun Davies tried to use his position for party political purposes. If the Labour party officials were part of this shocking misuse of public office, then the people of Wales deserve to know about it.”

Welsh Government to press on with council shake-up

The Welsh Government will today emphasise its determination to cut the number of local councils. The First Minister will formally respond in the Senedd to the Williams Commission's plan to cut the 22 county and county borough councils by half.

The Local Government Minister will then publish a White Paper on the councils' future. The Government is pressing on despite so far failing to secure the cross-party support it's been seeking. Even the Welsh Labour Party has only just begun a three month consultation before deciding its position.

The Welsh Local Government Association has warned that the costs of reorganisation will be considerable but last week the First Minister made it clear that such objections are not going to stop him demanding that the councils merge into larger local authorities.

We are in the process of conducting our own analysis of what the costs might be. I have seen the Williams commission’s analysis, and I have seen the WLGA’s analysis. It is important that we, as a Government, are able to have that analysis as well. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are seeing unnecessary duplication of effort and cost as a result of the present local government structure that we have, and it must change.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Devolution can go further says First Minister

First Minister Carwyn Jones has marked the 15th anniversary of the Assembly getting its first powers by setting out the case for its role continuing to grow. He's argued that "regardless of the result" in the Scottish independence referendum the UK needs to move to a more stable settlement.

The First Minister was making the Welsh Government's formal response to the second report from the Silk Commission. It not only recommended the transfer of more functions to the Assembly but also moving to a "reserved powers" model.

That would allow the Assembly to legislate in any area not explicitly reserved to Westminster, a far cry from the position on July 1, 1999 when the Assembly was given the powers formerly exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales.

Silk puts us on the right path but I believe we need to go further, and today I am setting out the case for broader powers so we can promote our goals for health, for the environment, for the economy and transport, and for our communities, free from uncertainty and confusion about our powers.

Silk is by no means the end of the story, but adopting their recommended approach will set us in the right direction. However, the detailed provisions in the next Wales Bill will need to take into account potentially much wider changes to the UK’s devolution settlement following the Scottish referendum. We will be ready to consider whether these are right for Wales.

The Welsh devolution settlement in its current form is over cautious, over complex and out dated. The direction I have set today offers a better way forward, and we stand ready to work with the UK Government to put in place the reformed constitution Wales needs.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Labour holds Welsh summit

Labour leader Ed Miliband is bringing his entire shadow cabinet to Wales later this morning for a joint meeting with Carwyn Jones and his ministers. Wales' role in next year's Westminster election seems likely to figure large in their discussions.

Labour is anxious to stress its achievements in the one part of the United Kingdom where the party is currently in government but also needs a strategy for fending off Conservative and Liberal Democrat attacks on its record in Wales, especially in health and education.

We have plenty to talk about. The next future Labour Government in Westminster will be grappling with the unbridled chaos that has been unleashed in the NHS in England and the fragmentation of the schools system. First and foremost however, Ed Miliband will need to deal with the cost of living crisis that continues to blight the lives of millions, despite the slow and slight improvement in the UK economy.

Welcoming Ed, and his team to Wales, I look forward to discussing and showcasing some of our policies that have protected our communities from the worst excesses of the Coalition Government. We are delighted, for example, that Rachel Reeves is looking to develop a new offer for young people based on Jobs Growth Wales. Other decisions we have taken in Wales, like the Council Tax Relief scheme and our equitable Tuition Fees policy have shown that even in tough times there are alternatives to the UK Government's austerity measures.

That isn't easy, however, when our budgets have been cut so severely by the Tory-led Government in Westminster. A real terms cut over the lifetime of this Assembly means that we have £1.7 billion less to spend on frontline services. This is on top of the £300 million a year that Wales is losing through the UK's unfair funding system.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

The way Wales is funded is one area where Carwyn Jones wants a commitment that a future Labour government at Westminster would offer a better deal. The last Labour Government didn't accept calls to end the system that limits Wales' share of any increase in public spending to its population share.

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