A process that is a bit of an event


Speech to Clean Air Cymru Coalition Senedd reception, 9th January 2024

Well there’s not a great deal to celebrate at the moment but the passage of Bill, and the way in which it was done, is definitely a moment worth marking.

In a few months we’ll be marking the 25th anniversary of the first meeting of the National Assembly for Wales. The Act which established devolution for Wales set in law a commitment to work with the voluntary sector, and a duty to promote sustainable development. And it promised a more consensual, inclusive, approach to decision-making.

So I think it is fitting that in this anniversary year we have all succeeded in putting those principles into practice in shaping and passing this important legislation.

Having spent a decade in the third sector before being elected here I don’t always have complimentary things to say about the ability of the voluntary sector to effectively lobby and mobilise. But hats off to the Healthy Air Cymru coalition for their campaigning on this.

It is not easy to bring together a group of NGOs and agree a common ask. Nor to build consensus across parties to bring in legislation and to shape it. And it is especially tricky to work closely with Government Ministers, advisers and officials on shaping the details of reform, while at the same time teeing up the opposition to challenge them.

All the while getting Government to move further than initially proposed.

All this is tough stuff. And to pull this off while maintaining good  relationships does I think make the work of the Healthy Air Cymru coalition on the Clean Air Plan the Bill a case study of how to influence.

25 years into devolution I think this work is an exemplar of using our structures, designed to bring Government closer to the people, to improve the quality of life of us all in Wales

Credit where its due, great job.

It is only right that I single out Joseph Carter and Haf Elgar for leading the effort. The Jonny Cash and June Carter of Welsh civil society.

Always in harmony, and never missing a beat.

Seriously, the reason they have been so successful in shaping this agenda is because they had the evidence, they knew how far to push, and how to bring people together.

I’d like to pay tribute to the Senedd Members of all parties who worked together to test our proposals, and to improve them. Llur Gruffydd, Huw Irranca Davies, Delyth Jewell, Jenny Rathbone, Joyce Watson and Janet Finch-Saunders – even though she voted against the Bill! Consensus only goes so far.

I want to recognise the work and skills of all those in Government too who responded to this challenge and turned ideas into workable action. The Civil Servants working on this Bill really did work into the night on countless occasions to respond to the requests of me and Julie James to make last minute changes which took us to the wire.

Diolch to them. And particularly to our Special Adviser Dan Butler. He may not always reply to your emails but I can testify that Dan was a critical factor in getting us the Bill that we trust will soon become an Act. Thank you Dan, you can be proud of your work on this and you have our gratitude.

 But of course the hardest bit is still to come. Implementing the legislation and the action plan is going to test us all. And will require us all to keep challenging each other, and to put aside party divides to agree on measures that will put the aims of this Bill into practice.

Let’s not pretend that the politics of some of these changes are going to be difficult. And its no good supporting the targets in the Bill if you won’t support the actions that are needed to achieve them.

There are wins in this Bill:

-         A  new air quality target setting framework that gives Welsh Ministers’ powers to introduce long-term targets.

-         Strengthened Local Air Quality Management arrangements which require local authorities to set dates for  air quality action plans

 -           Moving smoke control measures from a civil sanctions regime to a criminal one.

 -         Anti-idling measures and a strengthened Active Travel Act placing duties to promote active travel as a way of improving air quality 

We are incredibly proud of the new duty to promote awareness of air pollution. You will all be aware of the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report following the tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013. The recommendations in this Report did not apply to Wales. However, this duty was primarily developed in response to the recommendations.  During the stage 4 debate Julie outlined the influence that the inspirational presentation given to the Cross-Party Group on a Clean Air Act for Wales by Ella’s mum, Rosamund, on the impact of air pollution on children’s lungs, had

Much as I don't much like the title - The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill

We can be proud that putting the concept of soundscapes into legislation is breaking new ground. Testified by the 2023 John Connell Soundscape Award for putting the concept of soundscapes into legislation. And we can look forward to the new plan becoming the first National Strategy on Soundscapes.

All this together amounts to a tangible step forward. A win for us all, and in this 25th anniversary year, showing the value of having devolved Government and a Parliament for Wales.

The original driving force behind our policy to bring forward a new Clean Air Bill was the desire of the Mark Drakeford to enable children to go to school and play outside safely without suffering the impact of polluted air on their health. And I am pleased that we’ve been able to get this legislation done in his final months as First Minister.

We have hard work ahead of us, and a very difficult budget to operate within, but if we can keep the unity of purpose  we have shown in passing this legislation we will make a real difference to the air environment in Wales for current and future generations.


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