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AMs call for strengthening of Ombudsman's powers

Credit: PA

A Welsh Assembly committee has called for a new law to strengthen the powers of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

The Finance Committee has considered how the Ombudsman role could be developed in order to 'future proof' the position

The Committee has suggested the following changes:

  • Own initiative investigation powers.
  • Full discretion for the Ombudsman to decide how complains can be made.
  • Complaints handling across public services.
  • Extending the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to include the private healthcare providers.

The Ombudsman plays a vital role in ensuring that any member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice through maladministration or service failure by a public body, is able to make a complaint with the reassurance that their complaint will be dealt with fairly and independently.

For this reason, we sincerely hope this legislation is taken forward during the Fifth Assembly and that its implementation will enhance the role of the Ombudsman and increase public confidence in Wales.

– Jocelyn Davies AM, Chair of the Finance Committee

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales welcomed the proposals:

This is a real opportunity for the Fifth Assembly to hit the ground running with concrete proposals that will lead to improved public services in Wales and empower the citizen.

I hope the Assembly considers carefully the detailed work of the Finance Committee conducted under the outgoing chair Jocelyn Davies, and we can get on with the job of delivering legislation that will put social justice at the heart of the complaints system.

– Nick Bennett, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
  1. Nick Powell

Public Health Bill defeated

The Public Health Bill has been defeated in the Senedd after the final vote on the proposed law was tied with 26 votes for and 26 against.

The Presiding Officer was then required to use her casting vote to halt the legislation.

E-cigarette ban fails after Plaid Cymru withdraw support. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Government, which has no majority in the Assembly, had been relying on the support of Plaid Cymru AMs to pass its proposals, which included restrictions on the smoking of e-cigarettes.

Relations between the two parties broke down this afternoon following a row over earlier legislation.

The defeat was the final act before the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, announced the end of the 2011-2016 Assembly.

It won't meet again before it's dissolved next month, prior to the election in May.

  1. Nick Powell

Senedd hit by power cut

Proceedings have been interrupted twice this afternoon Credit: Senedd TV

A debate in the Senedd has been halted twice by a power cut. During a debate on the NHS, the lights went out during a speech in Welsh by the Plaid Cymru health spokesperson, Elin Jones. The simultaneous translation into English was cut off and the sitting was briefly suspended. When AMs resumed their debate Conservative Angela Burns was interrupted by a second power failure. She was able to conclude her speech after a delay lasting about 15 minutes.

Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd joked on Twitter that he'd always said the Assembly needed more power. Labour minister Leighton Andrews preferred to tweet that the Assembly had experienced a "power surge".

  1. Nick Powell

Cameron blocks spying on Assembly Members

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been told it can't spy on Assembly Members Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

The Prime Minister has reasserted the rule that the security services cannot spy on MPs and confirmed that the same principle protects AMs and members of other devolved parliaments.

David Cameron's ruling follows a court case in July, when it emerged that GCHQ guidance had been revised and that AMs were no longer protected by the so-called 'Wilson Doctrine'.

It was named after the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who decided in 1966 that MPs could not be spied on. However, in a letter to the Assembly's Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, Mr Cameron makes clear that he could give special permission in exceptional circumstances.

The Prime Minister will be consulted should there ever be a proposal to target any UK Parliamentarian ... This applies to Members of the House of Commons, ... the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and UK Members of the European Parliament.

– Prime minister David Cameron MP

In a concession to the fact that policing is devolved in Scotland but not Wales, the Prime Minister adds that if the spying was to be carried out by Police Scotland, he wouldn't be consulted. It would be entirely up to the Scottish Government whether to over-ride the 'Wilson Doctrine'.

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Labour's adopting Plaid's ideas, claims leader

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has said that although legislation is not the only requirement for tackling Wales health and education problems, she's pleased that the Welsh Government has adopted what she claims are some of her parties policies in those fields.

The Qualifications Wales Bill will introduce the independent exam regulating body that Plaid Cymru has called for, although the Labour government will need to do a lot more to convince people that it has the measures in place to drive up standards when it comes to the Welsh education system.

The establishment of a Welsh Treasury through the Tax Collection and Management Bill is a significant move. There is great symbolism in establishing this function, which goes beyond the essential role it will have in administering the devolved taxes and borrowing powers. All self-respecting Parliaments must have the ability to vary taxes. Unlike Scotland, it has taken Wales fifteen years to establish this important symbolic function.

Plaid Cymru very much welcomes the establishment of a Welsh Treasury. For the first time, future Welsh Governments will have acquired the extra economic levers needed for job creation, although the powers proposed in the Wales Bill are limited and will not yet lead to a government that is properly accountable to the people of Wales.”--

– Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood AM

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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