Following the half term break, the Senedd reconvened with First Minister's Questions....
….except the Leader of the House - and de-facto Deputy First Minister - Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) was filling in for Carwyn, who's on a trade and diplomatic visit to the United States.
FMQs, 28th February 2017
Conservative leader, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), believes everyone in the chamber would be horrified by the death of 5-year-old Ellie-May Clark from Newport, who was turned away by a GP and later died of an asthma attack. Andrew was scathing of the General Medical Council (GMC), saying investigations are often conducted behind closed doors with little involvement of the families affected; they're not there to “look after their own” but look after everyone. Without placing blame, he asked what the Welsh Government were doing to work with regulators to address the matters raised?
Jane Hutt said it's a professional regulatory matter for the GMC, and inappropriate for the Welsh Government to intervene. Nevertheless it underlines the need for high standards of care to be delivered at all times. The case was reviewed in accordance with GMC procedures, and it was the local health board (Aneurin Bevan LHB) who referred the case to them in the first place.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), focused on multiple sclerosis (MS). Wales was the first country in the UK to approve Sativex – a drug derived from the active ingredient in cannabis. Despite feedback being positive, take up is lower than Scotland and England. What resources are the Welsh Government willing to allocate to ensure MS patients get support? Also, with growing support for cannabis to be legalised or decriminalised for medicinal use, (Wales on Drugs) what were the Welsh Government's views?
The Leader of the House said a review of prescribing guidelines provides an opportunity to look at what drugs can be made available, but it's right to look at wider services; for example, progress has been made on drug availability and research, but not so much on care. She dodged the cannabis question.
There was yet another inflammatory “contribution” by UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), on the Llangennech school row. He accused Plaid Cymru of setting loose “internet trolls” to launch character assassinations, and Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) of a personal campaign of intimidation targeting an individual protesting against the changes. There's now a case to stop proceedings and (re)launch an “independent” public consultation.
Jane Hutt was concerned the UKIP leader wasn't helping to ease tensions. The Welsh Government can't comment on proposals under consideration by a local authority as school planning rests with them alone – something she repeated at least three times, but Neil struggled to understand.
As an aside, however glorious it is to see Labour eat itself in Llanelli, reputations take a hit and Carmarthenshire live up to the title "Wild West", this whole thing is starting to get a bit boring now. Just what is it about Carmarthenshire?
Point of Order
Immediately following FMQs, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said Hamilton's accusations against Jonathan Edwards would be considered libellous if repeated outside the chamber. The name of the individual in question (if you've been following Y Cneifiwr's coverage you'll know who) only became public after Labour launched disciplinary proceedings. He requested the remarks be withdrawn.
Llywydd, Elin Jones AM (Plaid, Ceredigion), said it was “quite right” that Standing Orders insist members show courtesy to each other, as well as other elected members – including MPs. She stopped short of asking that Hamilton's remarks be withdrawn.
John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) asked what steps were the Welsh Government taking to improve international relations? Brexit threatens to diminish the standing of Wales and the UK. The Welsh Government should find new ways to work with EU member states and EU programmes open to non-member states like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+
Building international relationships is a core Welsh Government activity, and Jane said the First Minister recently hosted the London diplomatic corps, while other ministers visited Dubai and Brussels. The Welsh Government's position is that the UK should continue to participate in key programmes like Horizon 2020. Ministerial visits abroad – like the First Minister's today – send a clear message that “Wales is open for business”.
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) asked for a statement on concessionary travel schemes. There were concerns from young people over uncertainty around the MyTravelPass scheme, so he was pleased a similar scheme will be established – but they need assurances. When will the consultation start?
Concessionary bus travel is hugely popular with older residents and discounted bus travel for 16-18 year olds will continue while a new scheme is designed. The Welsh Government have accepted an offer by passenger groups to promote the passes and increase uptake, with a consultation launching this summer.
Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) asked for a statement on the number of female genital mutilation protection orders (FGM, also called female circumcision – more here) in Wales. It's “somewhat amazing” no orders have been issued (which means no prosecutions). FGM is ritual child abuse and shouldn't be tolerated; will the Welsh Government do more to support the estimated 788 families in Wales who've been affected by FGM?
The Leader of the House confirmed Ministry of Justice figures that until September 2016 no FGM protection orders were issued in Wales. Despite this, the Welsh Government has a zero tolerance approach to violence against women. Measures being taken include ensuring health boards have FGM safeguarding measures, while the Social Services & Well-being Act is leading Wales to a point where mandatory reporting of FGM will become easier.