Plaid Cymru have said that the party offered to support the recall of the Assembly before it's dissolved next month if Labour would agree to dropping restrictions on e-cigarettes from the Public Health Bill. The move followed the breakdown of co-operation between the two parties after the Public Services minister, Leighton Andrews claimed that Plaid had been a "cheap date" when he needed support for his Local Government Bill.
On the very last day of the Assembly, Leighton Andrews has shown a disrespect for parties and individual AMs seeking to create a consensus across political divides. He chose to belittle cooperation and put his own Government’s legislation in jeopardy. This afternoon, Plaid Cymru proposed to Welsh Government that the Bill should be withdrawn before the vote and that the Assembly should be reconvened immediately after Easter to vote on a Bill with all sections on e-cigarettes removed. Plaid Cymru would have supported that legislation.
Until today, the Government had thought it would get its legislation passed although all the opposition parties were against the e-cigarette restrictions. That's because Plaid had allowed two of its AMs, including its Health Spokesperson, Elin Jones, to vote in line with their personal wish to see the use of e-cigarettes discouraged. Ms Jones and the other AM -Llyr Gruffydd- have now been instructed to vote against.
The expected defeat of the Government tonight will be almost the final event in the Senedd before the Mace is removed later this evening, marking the end of the 2011-2016 Assembly. The Labour Government has survived for five years despite not having an overall majority and only faces losing a major piece of legislation on the very last day that the Assembly will sit before the election. There's expected to be a tied vote, with the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler required to then use her casting vote to stop the Bill proceeding.
The Welsh Government has produced its own version of the draft Wales Bill, as an alternative to the proposals for further devolution that were 'paused' by the Welsh Secretary last week. Unveiling his 'Government and Laws in Wales Bill', First Minister Carwyn Jones claimed that it would deliver a stable, long-term devolution settlement for the people of Wales.
It includes substantially fewer 'reserved matters' -powers to be retained by Westminster. It also provides for further devolution in future, with the Welsh Government eventually gaining control of policing and the courts. The bill would immediately create a distinct legal jurisdiction for Wales.
Whilst it was the right decision for the UK Government to pause and reflect on their proposed Wales Bill, we are still deeply concerned at the lack of consultation and involvement in the process. So today, in the spirit of constructive collaboration and co-operation, we have published a comprehensive made-in-Wales alternative Bill which addresses those concerns, and provides a stable, long term solution to the future governance of Wales. We hope the UK Government will use the space created by the pause on their Bill to engage constructively with our proposals and believe it offers solutions to many of the difficult issues we currently face. This is the Bill we could still deliver together.
The immediate response on behalf of the Welsh Secretary suggested that it was unlikely that many of the First Minister's proposals would be incorporated into the actual Wales Bill.
The Secretary of State has already announced changes to the Wales Bill that will command broad support and deliver a stronger devolution settlement for Wales. As part of the St David’s Day process, Welsh Labour specifically ruled out devolving policing and creating a separate legal jurisdiction. The fact is the Labour Party is split from top to bottom when it comes to devolution. This alternative Wales Bill is clearly a concession to Plaid Cymru ahead of the Assembly elections in which Labour is expected to lose seats.
A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said the Welsh Government's bill wasn't worth the paper it was written on, as Labour MPs haven't put forward these proposals at Westminster.
The Welsh Government has suspended its flagship programme to vaccinate badgers against TB, which can spread to cattle. Vaccination was introduced after previous plans to shoot badgers in affected areas were abandoned. But there's a global vaccine shortage and the World Health Organisation has appealed to governments to let preventing TB in humans take priority.
Bovine TB is a serious animal health issue ... however, public health must always take priority, and until the supply situation is resolved our badger vaccination projects currently underway in Wales ... will be suspended. This does not mean that the hard work of the previous years will have been wasted. We have successfully administered more than 5,500 doses during that time.
The vaccination scheme was introduced after the 2011 Assembly election in parts of west Wales where TB in cattle is endemic. It replaced a planned badger cull proposed by Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones when she was the Rural Affairs Minister in coalition with Labour. Trial culls have since been held in England.
This is shocking news that will make a complete mockery of the vaccination trial. The Labour government should be ashamed that it could have let this happen.
Four years ago, many of us argued for a different approach but the government was insistent on vaccination. Now there is a risk that we will have wasted four years.
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The Treasury has confirmed that the Welsh Government's budget will fall by 4.5% in real terms as a result of the Chancellor's spending review. Modest cash increases in the revenue budget, which finances day-to-day expenditure will be more than cancelled out by inflation.
- 2015/16: £12.9 billion
- 2016/17: £13.0 billion
- 2017/18: £13.1 billion
- 2018/19: £13.2 billion
- 2019/20: £13.3 billion
However, there's better news for the Welsh Government's capital budget, which pays for new roads, schools and hospitals. That's going up by 4.7% -a cash increase from £1.5 billion to £1.7 billion by 2020. So the Chancellor's promise of a budget totalling £15 billion will be kept and he's also committed to keeping overall spending in devolved areas 15% higher in Wales than in England until the next Westminster election.
People will not be misled by this smoke and mirrors approach to public finance: this is the slowest recovery in living memory and family and national prosperity is being held back on a daily basis. Today’s Spending Review shows that the people of Wales will continue to suffer from the Chancellor’s failure to meet his own fiscal targets. He gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
Although today’s commitment towards a funding floor that will ensure that in future public spending in Wales is at 115 per cent of the England average is welcome this is unhelpfully restricted to this Parliament. We haven’t got fair funding yet and it is essential that there is an inter-government agreement on the way forward. The devil is very much in the detail as to how this will work in practice.