National Assembly for Wales

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Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

13/03/2018

This is a draft version of the Record that includes the floor language and the simultaneous interpretation. 

The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on the agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question, David Rees.

STEM Subjects

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the take-up of STEM subjects in Wales? OAQ51913

GCSE entries were up across all individual science subjects last year. That increase is encouraging because we know that more young people will be equipped with the science skills and knowledge they need to progress to study post 16.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. This week is actually British Science Week, which reminds us of the importance of science, engineering and technology to the Welsh economy. You were with me last week at the Tata works, where again they highlighted the roles they had for apprentices and that they want to take more engineering apprentices on. But there's a take-up reduction in girls taking science subjects and engineering subjects. What can you do to actually encourage more young females to take up science, take up engineering, so that they can be involved in the agenda and our economy for engineering, science and become apprenticeships and graduates to actually take us forward?

Well, we know we need to ensure that greater numbers of young women go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. We are working to address the actions that were identified in 'Talented Women for a Successful Wales'. Improved gender balance in STEM has been highlighted in work on curriculum reform, in professional learning provision, and through enrichment and engagement programmes. The national networks for excellence have also been tasked to consider gender equity, and we know teachers have a big influence on young people's study choices, so it's essential that our schools are supported to enhance girls' experiences of STEM learning. 

First Minister, I was intrigued to hear your response there, because you didn't mention the positive contribution that the further education sector is making to encourage STEM careers and STEM learning. Will you congratulate me, for example—.Will you congratulate Coleg Cambria rather [Laughter.] and me for raising it? [Laughter.] Will you congratulate Coleg Cambria, for example, for the excellent work that it is doing in promoting STEM careers? It's got some fantastic work going on with its chemistry students, which is encouraging people to be ambassadors for jobs in the chemistry industry, and, in addition to that, it's doing some great work with science and maths societies that host competitions and bring in speakers to enthuse young people in order to take advantage of the STEM careers that are offered in north-east Wales and elsewhere.

What work are you doing with the further education sector in particular to promote vocational routes into STEM careers?

Well, I will offer him congratulations, if any are due. I will also offer congratulations to Coleg Cambria because we know that FE is hugely important, particularly when it comes to looking at apprenticeships. And we know that we need to grasp everybody in terms of the talent they have available. No talent should be allowed to go to waste. It's important as well to engage girls before they go to the FE college, so that's why it's so important to look at ways in which science teachers particularly can make sure that girls feel they are fully part of lessons. It's why we're talking to physics teachers about how they can make their lessons more gender inclusive, so that they are ready at 16 to look at science subjects in FE college and then move on to apprenticeships. But, certainly, I'm happy to join him in offering a word of congratulations for the work that's being done in Coleg Cambria. 

Of course, one of the problems that makes the situation worse is your Government’s failure to recruit sufficient numbers to teacher training courses for some of these STEM subjects. The recent Estyn report shows that only three quarters of the target for maths and chemistry has been achieved in terms of attracting people to register for teacher training, with two thirds in physics and barely half the target met in terms of those coming to teach biology. So, what hope is there to inspire a new generation from the point of view of STEM subjects when we can’t even recruit the teachers to teach them?

Well, it’s true to say that supporting the teaching profession is vital to the changes that will be taking place in the world of education. And, of course, we do ensure that the support available at present as regards the standard of teaching science, technology and maths continues to improve in the teaching workforce. So, yes, while we say it’s important that we move on to the new curriculum, we must also ensure that there is a sufficient number of people available, not only to teach through the medium of English, but to teach science through the medium of Welsh, which is sometimes more difficult to achieve. We won’t attain the target, for example, of a million Welsh speakers by the middle of this century unless we can also ensure that we have a sufficient number of teachers in order to expand Welsh-medium education.

13:35
Brexit

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on further devolution to Wales in light of powers that will be transferred back from Brussels following Brexit? OAQ51879

The UK Government language on further devolution or new powers is not quite accurate, because those powers would come to us anyway. Our immediate priority is to protect areas that are already devolved, such as agriculture and environment. And, as has been well documented, we do not agree with any attempt, without agreement, to remove powers from this National Assembly as they come here from Brussels.

Thank you for that answer. First Minister, you and I both agree that the powers currently resting with the European Union should come to Wales in their entirety. For this to happen, the UK and Wales must be out of the EU single market. Will you now, finally, outline your Government's position: single market membership or full control over devolved areas?

Well, I'm not sure I've been particularly silent about what the Government's view is. Our view is quite simply this: we need to have full and unfettered access to the single market. There's a debate as to whether you can be a member of the single market or not. What's important is that our businesses are able to access the single market in the same way as they do now. But, surely, we don't want to see barriers put up between ourselves and our single biggest market. So, from our perspective, what we have said is that, where powers would return from Brussels, they come here, naturally—that's what would happen in a constitutional sense—and they shouldn't be diverted down towards Whitehall unless and until there is agreement between the Governments—plural—of the UK to do so.

First Minister, after having so closely allied yourself with the Scottish Government, can you assure this Assembly that, when you meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, you will not be deflected from seeking the most constructive option now available to Wales?

Well, as it happens, the Scottish Government and ourselves are as one on this, because the challenge we face is exactly the same. We have offered a way forward. We understand the UK Government's view that there needs to be no disruption to the UK's internal single market—we understand that. There needs to be certainty for businesses—we understand that. The difference is this: we want to create that certainty through agreement and not by imposition. And that's where we need the UK Government to be, to recognise that there is no one Government in the UK that controls Brexit; there are different Governments, who will be representing their different nations. And ourselves and Scotland have been in the same position, and we have jointly put forward suggestions that we think would help create the certainly that everybody wants to see.

Before we talk about new powers for Wales after leaving the European Union, there’s the small issue of power is being rolled back from Wales in the meantime, something that the Westminster Government has admitted will happen, and they admitted that over the weekend. Now that we have seen the Westminster Government’s amendment to clause 11 of the Bill, and we know that the Westminster Government will have the right to bring new Orders to the Westminster Parliament without the consent of this Assembly, which will have an impact on devolved issues, and those Orders could even become part of UK-wide frameworks for the future, again without the consent of this Parliament. And I noticed this morning that the language of the Government here in Wales has started to soften on these issues, and I would like an assurance from the First Minister that he isn’t about to agree to a compromise that will have a negative impact on the Welsh constitution.

No, that situation wouldn’t be acceptable to us, and I discussed this with Nicola Sturgeon yesterday. We are both in the same place, which is that it’s not adequate that the powers should remain in one place and that we then see those powers used in a way that is not of benefit to Scotland or Wales. Therefore, there is no possibility that we would agree to something that would give any kind of consent or a free hand to the Government in Westminster to amend secondary legislation without so much as a by your leave or permission from Wales or Scotland.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, in relation to ambulance response times, with the new categories, the Government does seem to have made progress. But we do know over the last couple of months, across the United Kingdom, ambulance response times have been under pressure. Recently in the press, there have been examples of extreme waits that patients and people have had to wait for ambulances. I cite a gentleman in Dinas Powys, who waited 16 hours to receive an ambulance, I cite an example yesterday in the South Wales Evening Post, where a lady was taken to hospital after such a long wait for an ambulance, and returned home only to find the ambulance turning up 20 hours later in west Wales. In my own region, yesterday, in Cowbridge, a lady waited 10 and a half hours for the ambulance to turn up on Sunday, getting admitted to A&E at 01:15 in the morning on Monday morning. I hope that you can recognise that there are these cases out there. I don't look to you to comment on those individual cases, because I appreciate that you can't do that, but does the Government recognise that there is a real issue when it comes to certain waiting times across the whole of Wales for the Welsh ambulance service to respond? And, if you do recognise that, what measures are you putting in place to address those deeply distressing wait times that families, patients and, indeed, the paramedics and operators of the ambulance service have to deal with?

13:40

Well, I have no reason to doubt the examples that have been cited by the leader of the opposition, and those examples need to be investigated, of course, and investigated fully. Can I say that the ambulance response times model was devised by clinicians. It is designed to ensure that those who are most in need of an ambulance get an ambulance. We know that ambulance response times have improved greatly over the past few months, indeed now for more than a year, but there will be examples that he has detailed that need to be looked at to see why such a situation has arisen.

It is right to say that there has been a great deal of pressure on the NHS and, indeed, on ambulances across the UK over the past few months particularly, and, of course, the cold snap of last week did have an effect, particularly on admissions of strokes, where there was a substantial increase in the number of people who had had strokes because of the cold weather.

So, what we do, of course, is to look to ensure that individual cases are looked at. When it comes to the actual model that's used, it is a model that was devised by clinicians.

I made this specific point when I opened my remarks by saying that there has been progress on ambulance response times in certain categories, but it is undeniable that, week after week, we are seeing cases, both in the press and reported here in the Chamber, of extreme waits that are hugely distressing to the paramedics, the teams who manage the ambulance service and, importantly, the patients and families who have called the ambulances to come in their hour of need.

The issue that I highlighted with you with the constituent in Cowbridge—actually, on Monday morning, at the Princess of Wales Hospital, they were actually using the bereavement room to stack trolleys with patients on because the pressure in A&E was so great. Now, we highlighted to you over the weekend that, over the last three years, the equivalent of 1,000 nurses have been lost to the Welsh NHS, from freedom of information request information that we've received from the local health boards. If you haven't got the staff on the front line, how on earth are you able to deal with the patients coming through the front door and the increased demand on the NHS, so that, ultimately, the 999 service can respond instead of being parked in car parks around the country?

Well, I can say to the leader of the opposition that more registered nurses are working in the NHS than ever before. For example, since 2014, the number of nurse training places commissioned has risen by 68 per cent. That, alongside our international recruitment campaign, demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the NHS continues to have a high-quality workforce. We are aware of cases where nurses have left the profession. The reasons around that are varied and complex. Numbers will fluctuate year on year, but we know that, as I said, there are more registered nurses than ever. We are investing this year £107 million in education and training programmes for healthcare professionals. That has resulted in a 10 per cent increase in commissioned nurse training places over the course of the last year.

So, the nurses are there, but I think we have to understand that, of course, when it comes to A&E admissions, A&E admissions are affected indirectly by delayed transfers of care, for example. Where people are unable to leave a hospital when they are ready to do so and therefore able to—I put it in a way that's perhaps harsh—vacate a bed, that, of course, means that pressure is relieved all the way through the system to the very front of the hospital in A&E. So, it is hugely important to recruit healthcare professionals—I've illustrated how we're planning to do that—but also to focus on moving people through the hospital when they're ready, and out of hospital when they're ready, in order to make sure that there is space available for others who need those beds.

My first question highlighted the dilemma, the crisis that some people do face when they ring for an ambulance here in Wales. And that was my very point: the system isn't allowing the flow of patients so that, instead of being parked in hospital car parks with patients on board, the ambulances are out in the community dealing with the 999 calls that are requesting their help. I've highlighted, from FOI requests from the LHBs—these are their own figures—that 1,000 nurses have been lost to the NHS here in Wales through not being able to retain the nurses within our service. The health board that's under your direct control, Betsi Cadwaladr, has lost 493 nurses in that period. They had the highest number of nurses not being replaced out of all the seven health boards here in Wales. It's not unreasonable, First Minister, to put to you, and it has been put to me over the last couple of days in particular by this family from Cowbridge: has the Welsh Labour Government run out of ideas when it comes to addressing the pressure points within our NHS? So, can you give me something to take back to my constituents, and many other people in Wales, to understand what exactly the timeline is for seeing progress in the Welsh NHS, so that these 10, 12, 14, 16-hour waits are not a regular occurrence within our ambulance service?

13:45

Well, if we look at the figures, we see that ambulance response times have improved, and he has acknowledged that. We see improvements in delayed transfers of care, we see improvements in terms of diagnostics, we see improvements in terms of referral-to-treatment times, but there will be occasions where some people are affected adversely, and they need to be looked at very carefully and investigated, and lessons learned from those occasions. I have to say that the financial pressures on the NHS are always considerable, and they are financial pressures that exist across the whole of the UK. We have to make sure that there is sufficient funding available for the Welsh NHS. We are in a position where, fairly soon, the NHS would consume half of our resources, and, as political parties, I believe we have to look very carefully—and the parliamentary review, in fairness, has done this—at how we allocate resources to the NHS in the future, how we remove log jams, if there are any, and how we develop an NHS that commands public support across political parties.

Diolch, Llywydd. All Members will have been horrified by the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The general consensus of opinion appears to be that the exchange in the House of Commons yesterday by Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister fell well below the level of events. Chris Leslie, a former Labour shadow Chancellor, said it wasn't appropriate to make party political points when

'our country is potentially under attack'.

Another Labour MP, John Woodcock, said

'it would put our national security at significant risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat which Russia poses to this nation.'

Does the First Minister think that Jeremy Corbyn is such a person?

I'm not here to answer for anybody else, any more, I'm sure, than he's here to explain how it is that Nigel Farage thinks that a trade deal with the US is possible in 48 hours, which is what he said yesterday. This is a hugely serious matter. We have people who have been badly affected, we have a police officer who was badly affected. Fortunately, it seems as if he is on the road to recovery. Of course there needs to be a full investigation, and the investigating authorities will have the support, I'm sure, of politicians, not just in Westminster, but of politicians on all sides here in this Chamber.

I noticed that the First Minister sidestepped the question. But Nicola Sturgeon has said

'Cool heads certainly required but also a firm response. Russia simply cannot be allowed to launch attacks on our streets with impunity.'

Does the First Minister agree with that?

Of course I agree with that. He's trying here to suggest that, in some way, I do not accept there has to be a full investigation or do not accept there's any Russian involvement. Of course those factors come into play. It's hugely important that there is a full investigation. I know that, on a non-partisan basis, there is support for that, both in the House of Commons and, indeed, I'm sure, here in the Assembly. It cannot be right that people are injured or worse as a result of the use of what appears to be a military-grade nerve agent. Whoever was responsible for that needs to be brought to justice.

Well, I thank the First Minister for that very reasonable reply. One thing that I did agree with Jeremy Corbyn on as a result of yesterday's exchange was this: he said there must be

'a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues—both domestic and international—currently dividing our countries, rather than simply cutting off contact'.

If that is true of Russia, it is perhaps even more true of our relations with the United States. The United States is our most important ally, and although the Secretary of State has changed during the course of today, Rex Tillerson said recently

'We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom'

and that what happened in Salisbury was a 'a really egregious act' and he was extremely concerned by Russia becoming more aggressive. There's no reason to believe that the policy of the American administration will change with a new Secretary of State.

Is it not, therefore, incumbent upon all senior Labour politicians to have the closest regard to our interests with the United States and our diplomatic relations with them, and to stop the puerile name-calling of the President and others in his administration with whom they happen to have political disagreements? It's the interests of Britain that should be first and foremost.

13:50

Well, I have to say that I do not approve of the methods of the President of the US and the way he communicates. The office of the presidency of the United States of America is one that should command respect, even amongst those who did not vote for the current President, and I'm not sure the current President is in that situation. I am troubled at the fact that Rex Tillerson, as the Secretary of State, was supportive of the UK and was wholly supportive of the Prime Minister's position, and he has been sacked as a result of it. That does trouble me. What does that mean in terms of what support will come from the US Government for the position of the UK Government in terms of this horrific attack? And there are many questions that are asked as a result of that. I have never taken the view that we should in some way cut off our ties with the US. I was there a fortnight ago, and spent time both in the US and in Canada. My view is that we should reach out to all democratic nations and entities, including the European Union, of course—an entity that he is less keen to keep ties with.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, can you outline the role of Assembly Members—the role that we have—in terms of scrutiny of the south Wales metro plan and the next rail franchise?

Well, it's open to Members, of course, to scrutinise the Government's plans in the normal way.

Well, the comparison of the south Wales metro to the Loch Ness monster by one of your backbenchers sums up how many of us feel about it. Your Government won't explain what's going on, and people want clarity. You won't even publish the invitation to tender document, and that's something that's been done by every other country that makes up the UK, and it's now been confirmed that Transport for Wales believes that the electrification of the Ebbw Vale line has been, and I quote, 'discontinued from further consideration'. Can you confirm that you no longer have any intention to electrify the Ebbw Vale line by 2023?

Well, the Ebbw Vale line was not included in the original spec for electrification. That does not mean, of course, that there won't be more frequent services on the line. That will happen. Now, when it comes to the metro itself, as I'm sure Members are sick of me saying, the metro was something that I first mooted, many years ago, in—of all places—Bedwas rugby club. There is a map that's been published, including different phases of how the metro will be developed. It's not simply a question of upgrading what is already there. It does mean looking at, for example, new light rail links, particularly where there are existing heavy rail lines that are not in use. It does mean looking at the way buses interact with both light rail and heavy rail. We've shown our commitment, of course, by making sure that we have control of the track itself, to make sure that we're not in the hands of Network Rail, over whom we have no powers to direct. We fully intend to move forward—and we've allocated money for this purpose—with better trains, more convenient trains, a reasonable price, an integrated network and, of course, more frequent trains, and that's exactly what the metro will deliver.

This sounds to me very much like a reverse gear, First Minister. Your original business case included the Ebbw Vale line. It said, and I quote:

'the case for electrification of the Valley Lines rail network is, first and foremost, on the basis that all lines are included from Ebbw Vale to Maesteg and with the Vale of Glamorgan line also included.'

Now, the documents published by Transport for Wales are based on the latest available information, which was published in November 2017—two months after the final invitation to tender. So, I ask you, First Minister: what information did Transport for Wales receive, which led to them stating that the Ebbw Vale line, the Maesteg line and the Vale of Glamorgan schemes have been discontinued?

Well, they haven't been discontinued, because there will be more frequent services on those lines, as we've said. For example, if you look at Maesteg—. [Interruption.] If you look at Maesteg, for example—. If you look at Maesteg, for example—. [Interruption.] If you want to ask me about trains, then good luck. If you look at Maesteg, for example, a twice-hourly service is what is being proposed, whether that means through to Cardiff or that means one to Bridgend and one to Cardiff. Of course, the problem with Maesteg is that the main line electrification has gone west of Cardiff. That adds significantly to the cost of electrifiying to Maesteg. Originally, when we looked at the metro plans, the UK Government had said it would electrify as far as Swansea. Now that has disappeared.

But let's be quite clear about this. Two things to emphasise here: firstly, whatever is the method of traction, there will be a better service and a more frequent service; and secondly, to suggest what was suggested last week, that you can divorce Cardiff from the rest of the Valleys lines, clearly doesn't work. Many, many people come to work in Cardiff from the Valleys. That means when they get to Cardiff it's hugely important that they can get around Cardiff properly, and get around Cardiff in the easiest way possible, and that means, of course, integrating the system in Cardiff with those of the Valleys lines. Again, let me be absolutely clear: there will be more frequent services; there will be better services. 

13:55

Some lines will be electrified first. The business case for others will be looked at in the future. We can't electrify them all at once. We're looking at the lines and developing electrification as time goes on.

But the point that Plaid Cymru are trying to make is this: that somehow—I know they're not listening—there has been a move away from providing people in the south Wales metro area with a better train service. That's not the case. The trains will be better, more frequent. In the first phases, some will be electrified, and there will be a rolling programme for doing that. People will be able to catch buses that connect with train services. They will be part of an integrated network in a way that's never been possible before. The metro will happen. It will move forward along the lines we've suggested, along the plans that we've suggested, and the people in the south Wales metro area will get a better service.

Heritage Railways

3. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the economic benefits that heritage railways bring to Wales? OAQ51884

We fully recognise the economic value of all our heritage railways and we have helped support the extension and development of a number of heritage railways across Wales.

Thank you. Well, writing in last November's edition of the 'Heritage Railway' magazine, its editor, Robin Jones, referred to the Llangollen Railway big push into Corwen Central, as well as the Bala Lake Railway extension, highlighting the multiple economic benefits to local councils and others that heritage railways can guarantee. What action will you therefore take to ensure better understanding, at all levels of government and business activity, of the benefit that heritage railways, such as Llangollen Railway, can bring to the areas they serve?

I couldn't quite hear most of the question. You mentioned the Llangollen Railway, I think, at the end. Well, Llangollen Railway is really important, not just in terms of the tourist attraction that's there, but also as a mode of transport. But the apprenticeships that I saw when I was there—there are maintenance operations for a number of other heritage railways as well, and they, of course, are able to provide employment opportunities. We often think of heritage railways as employing mainly volunteers. Well, that's no longer the case, and particularly what I saw in Llangollen.

We know that heritage railways are an enormous tourist attraction, marketed, of course, at one time, as the great little trains of Wales. Well, Llangollen is a standard gauge line, as opposed to a narrow gauge line. We know, of course, that Snowdon Mountain Railway is hugely important and a massive tourist attraction there. We see, of course, the link between the Ffestiniog Railway and the Welsh Highland Railway and the way that's been done. So, from our perspective, we have funded heritage railways in the past. For example, the Welsh Highland Railway has had £420,000, Snowdon Mountain Railway £300,000 and Llanberis Lake Railway £400,000 for a line extension. So, we do understand how important heritage railways are, and we'll look to support them in the future.

White Paper on Local Government Reform

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the white paper on local government reform? OAQ51890

Well, as I said, when the Member asked a similar question last week, the approach to strengthening local government is under consideration, and the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services will make a statement on the way forward in due course.

You mentioned that I'd asked this question last week. When I asked about the u-turn that your Government has made, you said that

'the situation hasn’t changed with regard to the way forward.' 

This suggested to me that you weren't aware of the recent statements made by your Cabinet Secretary Alun Davies, and this is shocking to me, and it suggests to me 1) that you're not taking a great deal of interest in local government, which is the net that safeguards our most vulnerable people, and 2) that there hadn't been any discussion within your Cabinet on the current change of direction. So, can you enlighten us a little further than you've done already on the direction of travel for you as a Government?

Well, as a former councillor, before I came to this place, I know how important local government is and the work that members carry out locally to represent their communities. But may I say, one thing that hasn't changed is that the status quo cannot continue? Secondly, it's vital to ensure that regional collaboration still happens. That has made a huge difference to education, for example, where we've seen the action taken in terms of learners improving very much in past years. But there is an argument, of course, to be had as regards what the way forward should be in the future. We can't stand still, and that is what the debate will be over the next few months, that is, what is the best way forward. And, of course, it's open to Members to give their views on that.

First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for local government has said that local democracy is all about participation—the usual pearls of wisdom we've come to expect from my friend Alun Davies. Alun Davies has also said that he wants councils to pilot innovative ways of voting that reflect people's busy lives, something that I would certainly agree with in principle. Of course, in practice, when you alter voting systems, it does open up the possibility of greater fraud. So, how are you going to make sure that the new system of local government elections that follows on from these reforms doesn't open the door to a greater amount of fraud that we can't keep track of in the same way that we can with the current voting patterns?

14:00

I think that, on the issue of electronic voting, the issue of security is an important one. We don't have a situation in this country where people have to produce ID when they vote, and I hope that that never has to happen in the future. So, when it comes to postal votes and when it comes to people voting in person, I think we have as robust a system as we can get. Now, in principle, I favour the idea of electronic voting, but I'm not convinced that the security yet exists to make sure that that system is robust, and I think that's where we need to go. So, I wouldn't object to electronic voting in the future, but I think the public would need to be reassured, especially in the present day, that there would be no prospect of systems being hacked or, indeed, any prospect of somebody impersonating another voter. That, I think, is where the work needs to be done over the next few years.

First Minister, as you've just said in reply, local government reform is under consultation at this point—or will be under consultation. But the boundary changes for ABMU were premised upon one local authority saying that they wanted a change to suit their services better. Do you think it's now wise to actually go ahead with any changes with that boundary change whilst we await the reconsideration of reform for local authorities, and therefore should it actually now be put on hold whilst the local authority reform is considered?

Well, the consultation has ended. We will look, of course, at the responses to that consultation, and that will form part of our thinking in terms of local government.

First Minister, I'm sure that one thing that every AM in this Chamber would agree on is the need to increase people's engagement in the democratic process and increase turnout at elections. I know that one idea that's been considered as part of the Welsh Government's package of reforms is electronic voting. In framing my supplementary today, I wanted to cite an example where electronic voting had improved turnout. But, actually, looking at the experiences of Norway and Estonia, electronic voting actually had little effect on increasing participation. Instead, it was noted that we need to emphasise why voting is important. What are the First Minister's reflections on this evidence, and how best can we highlight the reasons why political participation is so crucial? 

Yes, it's difficult to know, without looking fully at the evidence, why that situation occurred in Norway and Estonia. I think what's important is to offer people as many methods of voting as is reasonable, to give them as much chance as possible to vote. We have historically, in this country, voted on a Thursday—not always, as the Member for Alyn and Deeside knows. But, for example, other countries vote on the weekend. The reason why we've never had votes on a Sunday is that my grandfather wouldn't have voted on a Sunday, bluntly—Sabbatarianism. I'm not sure we are in a similar position to that now. So, I think we do need to look at whether weekend voting is the way forward. Of course, there are some people who are working on a Saturday or Sunday, but flexibility there, electronic voting, postal voting—it's important, I think, that we look at as many means as possible of enabling people to vote as long as those means are secure.

Women's Health Services

5. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve access to women's health services? OAQ51918

We expect Welsh health boards to provide a full range of safe and sustainable health services to women, taking account of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance and waiting-time targets.

Thank you for that response. More than three out of four abortions in Wales—nearly 80 per cent—are medical rather than surgical procedures, which involve taking two doses of tablets within 72 hours of each other. Currently, in Wales, both of these tablets have to be taken in a clinic, whereas, in Scotland, women are now allowed to take the second dose of misoprostol at home. Would the First Minister agree that women in Wales would be better off if they could take this second dose at home, avoiding unnecessary medical appointments and also the risks of travelling, often on public transport, after taking the second dose?

Well, I can inform my friend the Member for Cardiff North that clinicians have approached the Welsh Government about this issue. We are considering the evidence, in particular, of course, about the possibility for a more efficient service, and, of course, safer, improved outcomes for women, before committing to any future plans. She is right to point to what is happening in Scotland. There is a judicial review, by the way, in Scotland that is ongoing that challenges that policy. Obviously, we're taking an interest in that. So, what I can say to her is that we're looking at the Scottish situation, looking to see, in terms of safety, whether that should apply to Wales, and of course looking to make sure that the judicial review—looking to see what the outcome of the judicial review actually is.

14:05

First Minister, over the last decade, approximately 70 per cent of women who've been called forward to have breast test screenings have actually taken forward that invitation and have had the screenings that have sometimes saved their lives. However, there is a hardcore 30 per cent that we are unable to reach to persuade them of the benefit of taking up this kind of screening. Do you think it would be an appropriate time now, after a decade, that we actually conduct some kind of survey to try to understand what the barriers are to that 30 per cent accessing what could be potentially a life-saving screening service, and how we can then address their concerns so that we can have a better uptake for this very vital element of women's health?

I think the Member makes a perfectly sensible suggestion, and one that needs to inform the work that we are doing with public health teams, health boards and primary care clusters to improve the screening uptake. She is quite correct in the figures that she quotes. More worryingly, Breast Test Wales have observed a gradual decline in uptake since 2007, which is a worrying—not quite a long-term trend, but enough for it to be concerning in terms of our trend over the past nine years. More than 110,000 tests are conducted as part of the programme. There need to be more, and examining why women don't take the opportunity of going through screening has to be an important part of making sure we go past that 70 per cent figure.

Town and Community Councils

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future role of community and town councils in Wales? OAQ51912

Well, an independent review is looking at the future role of community and town councils and what needs to be in place to enable them to play that role, and it will be reporting later this year.

Thank you. Over the past seven years, I've had many concerns raised with me regarding the functions of community and town councils, and in that time also I've raised them here. There have been two other reviews, so we're now finding ourselves in the middle of a review going forward.

Now, the Wales Audit Office has found 65 community councils have not even yet adopted a code of conduct for members—99 unable to provide evidence that they maintain and publish a register of interests. Eighty-one failed to comply with the statutory timetable for publishing audited accounts, 260 submitted annual returns that were incomplete or contained simple errors, and 108 do not have a website and have not made other arrangements to publish information, and we know that 81 per cent of town and community council seats last year were uncontested or vacant.

Now, I and many others consider community councils to be a very important level in our five layers, currently, of democratic governance. How can we be assured, First Minister, that you will actually show some sort of involvement in this and that this review will actually deliver a new way of moving forward for our community councils so that our residents and our community councillors can be assured that all those relevant processes are in place in terms of transparency, democratic accountability and financial probity?

Well, as somebody who was once a community councillor, some time ago, I know how important community councils are. I think there are several issues there that the Member raises that will need to be looked at as part of the process. First of all, we have a lot of community councils. There are 700 of them. They vary wildly in size. Some represent barely more than 100 people, others many thousands of people. I don't think it's realistic for us to expect the same of all of them, given their differences in size. For example, Barry Town Council compared to Merthyr Mawr Community Council in my part of the world has an enormous difference in size, and there are some parts of Wales, the Rhondda, for example, where there are no community councils at all. So, as part of the review, I think it's hugely important to look at numbers, to look at capacity, to look at how we can give more powers to town and community councils—it may be asymmetric, because of the size difference—and how we can empower them in the future. All that will form, is forming, part of the review that's moving forward.

I think I'm right in saying—the Member for Monmouth will enlighten me on this—there is one, I think, community council in Monmouthshire where literally one in eight of the population have to be on the council in order for the council to have a full quota of members. That's what I've been told. Well, in those circumstances it is hugely difficult to have a situation where all seats are contested. And it's right to say that in a vigorous democracy—not necessarily on party political grounds, but, in a vigorous democracy, you want as many people to stand for community councils as possible. 

14:10

First Minister, in Taff Ely and Pontypridd, of course, we have six very well-run, exemplary community councils who've put forward this submission towards the consultations under way—that's Llantrisant, Llantwit Fardre, Pontyclun, Pontypridd, Taffs Well and Nantgarw, and Tonyrefail. They've put forward a number of recommendations in terms of how they see the role of community councils developing. I'm going to ask you about one of those, because one of the things they suggest is that well-run town and community councils could well be a very effective facilitator for local heritage, sport and cultural projects. Do you think this is an area that we should be examining with regard to community councils endorsing, supporting and upholding the local community, the local heritage, where they have real grass-roots knowledge?

Absolutely. I think active and activist community and town councils are a hugely important part of our democracy. Local knowledge can't be underestimated. For example, when I was a community councillor, we had people on there with an encyclopedic knowledge of the local footpaths. We were responsible for them and they were maintained as a result of that. That was very well felt in the community, because they could see the footpaths being maintained. So, it is important to see what we can do, first of all, to have consistency in terms of the sustainability of community and town councils, and then look to see what powers they can be given—as I've said, there are bound to be big differences in size—to see what powers are appropriate for whatever size community or town council they might be.

Maternity Network Wales

7. Will the First Minister provide an update on Maternity Network Wales? OAQ51916

Since its launch in 2015, the maternity network has brought together health professionals to work on three priority areas: reducing stillbirth, improving the quality and safety of services, and working in partnership with women and their families. There are plans this year to align this network with the neonatal network.

Thank you, First Minister. Stillbirth can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on families. The safer pregnancy campaign, launched by maternity network in March last year, has sought to reduce the risk of stillbirth. A study conducted by Emma Mills of St Woolos Hospital's clinical research and innovation centre found that interventional care led to a marked decrease in stillbirth rates. Emma was instrumental in bringing the study to Gwent and stillbirth rates dropped between 25 per cent and 50 per cent in the first year. The stillbirth rate in Aneurin Bevan health board last year was 4.3 per 1,000 births, notably lower than the national average of 5.8. Can the First Minister commend the work by Emma Mills and ensure that this work is disseminated to all health boards across Wales? And can he join with me in praising the excellent support provided by midwives and volunteers such as Sands, who help families from the early hours after a baby's death through to the weeks, months and years ahead?

We know the causes of stillbirth are multifaceted, with some factors still not clearly understood. So, the work done by Emma Mills and others is vital if we're going to achieve a significant reduction in stillbirths. There is collaborative work, involving the maternity network, Sands, and maternity services across Wales, and that has resulted in a range of interventions being taken forward. Early indications do show a reduction in the numbers of stillbirths—early signs yet, but they seem to give us a picture that is improving.

One thing I think is important as well is it's important that people who experience the effects of a stillbirth have bereavement support services available to them. I've seen this with my own eyes, where people do feel that they have lost somebody—they do not see it in terms of a stillbirth, they see it in terms of a child. It's hugely important then that bereavement services are available. It is now part of the core part of maternity services in Wales, and that is something I think is hugely important for those who suffer so much as a result of experiencing stillbirth.

Is it right for women so often to be guided to midwife-led birthing units as a default option, rather than to consultant-led labour wards?

Well, the women around me on the front bench have all said 'yes' to that. They're more than happy to be in the hands of a midwife, and midwives, of course, are fully qualified to deal with the vast majority of births. Where there are occasions when births are more difficult, then, of course, mothers are usually—it's planned, actually; this is usually planned—taken to maternity units that have more specialised services. But midwives provide us with a fantastic service.

14:15
A Preventative Approach to Ill Health

8. What further steps will the Welsh Government take towards a more preventative approach to ill-health in Wales? OAQ51891

Prevention will continue to be central to our approach for improving and protecting population health. What does that mean? Well, looking at programmes such as smoking cessation, immunisation programmes and healthy schools and workplace programmes.

First Minister, a few weeks ago, Sophie Howe as Future Generations Commissioner for Wales gave evidence in facing scrutiny to the committee I chair, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. She mentioned that she's proposing to Welsh Government that new money for health should be earmarked for the preventative agenda, and subject to joint work between health and non-health bodies in an attempt to get the health service in Wales onto a more preventative and proactive footing, in accordance with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. There seems to be a consensus that we do need to get onto the front foot in preventing ill health, while also, of course, meeting day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month health pressures that people rightly expect to be met. Would you support that proposal to use new moneys in that way?   

I don't think we can use all new money that way because, of course, there are pressures elsewhere in the NHS. Sensibly, of course, I don't disagree with what he's saying. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure, but we do also have to deal with the pressures that are put on the NHS, particularly pressures in acute services, and look to fund them. That said, £88 million has been allocated in the last financial year to Public Health Wales to provide—this financial year, I beg your pardon—a range of measures aimed at preventing ill health. That means smoking cessation—we know that smoking is a significant factor in ill health, particularly as people get older, and quite often where people stop smoking the effects are still there; it depends how long they've been smoking and on them as individuals. Screening—we've already mentioned screening in the Chamber, and how important screening is to prevent and detect the early stages of serious illnesses. Vaccination, childhood immunisation—that's hugely important. And also active travel—being able to give people the easiest opportunities to be able to walk, to be able to cycle. It's good to see authorities—if I can put in a plug for Bridgend here—investing in cycle routes, to make sure that people are able to cycle from the town centre in Bridgend all the way up the Ogmore valley and the Garw valley on the cycle routes that exist, without ever having to go on a busy road. And being able to encourage people to be active and to maintain that habit of being active is hugely important in terms of prevention. And I know that with him, I'm preaching to the converted. 

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. First Minister, the number of people living with diabetes in Wales has almost doubled in the last 10 years. Gwent has the highest prevalence in Wales, with research showing that 8 per cent of the population of the Aneurin Bevan health board area is living with diabetes. Can the First Minister confirm that the national obesity strategy covers both prevention and treatment, and will he commit his Government to particularly target funds at diabetes hotspots such as South Wales East?  

The Member will know, of course, that the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 does give clear legislative focus to action to address the priority public health issue of obesity, which, of course, is such a cause of type 1 diabetes. The obesity strategy will—. Type 2 diabetes, I think I'm right in saying. I'll be corrected by the medics in the Chamber, or, indeed, fellow lawyers. Our obesity strategy will bring together all the work the Welsh Government supports to tackle what is a major public health challenge and put it on a statutory footing. A strategy development board, chaired by the chief medical officer, is overseeing delivery, and a consultation will be launched in the early summer.  

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James, to make the statement. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers, which are available to Members electronically.  

Leader of the house, could I ask for a statement on the Welsh Government's support for fair trade? It's currently Fairtrade Fortnight, as I'm sure—. I can see Jeremy Miles is nodding vigorously. I was pleased to offer my own support to the initiative by attending a fair-trade breakfast in Abergavenny Community Centre in my constituency last Friday. The breakfast was extremely well supported by members of the public, and also by community groups, such as Abergavenny's Love Zimbabwe, set up by Dave and Martha Holman—Martha is from Zimbabwe. This is a great community event, which I know many other AMs support as well, which brings together communities across Wales, and I would be grateful if we could have an update from you on how you're supporting that.

Secondly and finally, some time ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport's predecessor, Edwina Hart, committed during the last Assembly to a trunk road review. I wonder if we could have an update on where we are with that review or, I should say, the follow-up to that review. As part of that, I seem to recall that she said to me that she would be looking at the potential de-trunking of the A40 through Abergavenny. I know that there was supposed to be a meeting with the local authority about that. I'd be grateful if we could hear from the Cabinet Secretary on whether any progress has been made in that area on making our roads through that particular town centre a little bit safer.

14:20

On fair trade, I absolutely concur. It's a great initiative, and we're very supportive of it indeed. Indeed, Llywydd, I'll indulge myself by saying that, if it weren't for fair-trade products, my family would be very scarce on presents at Christmas as I'm very keen on supporting the fair-trade movement. Indeed, it's a very important part of being one of the advanced democracies of the world that we support people who are not in such a good economic position as ourselves with good, fair work practices in order to make sure that they have a better standard of living, and we, of course, have the huge enjoyment of sharing a lot of their creativity and productivity, which that brings. I will certainly make sure that the Government brings forward an update on where we are with our support for fair trade. Llywydd, I think the Commission has a fair amount to do with fair trade. We have events on the Commission estate quite often as well, so I'll make sure that we have a look at how we can bring more of those events forward in the future.

In terms of the trunk road review, the Cabinet Secretary is due to make a statement on transport matters generally during the summer term of this Assembly, and I'll make sure that he includes some of the specifics that you mentioned in that statement when it comes forth.

Just to remember, of course, that fair trade is not just for Christmas, but for Easter chocolate as well.

Can I ask for two items from the business manager? First of all, it's been widely reported in the press this morning that the terms of the inquiry led by Paul Bowen QC regarding the actions of the First Minister around the dismissal of Carl Sargeant from the Government have now been agreed. However, I haven't seen any letter or statement made to Members yet. I'd be interested to know what the timetable is for informing Members that the terms of the inquiry—if indeed they have been agreed—have been agreed, and a timetable for the inquiry as well. I'd be particularly keen to know whether the inquiry will include in its terms of reference not only the First Minister's actions but the actions of people acting on behalf and at the behest of the First Minister, as I think that's a very important element when we examine how the whole Government approached this issue. So, I'd like confirmation of what the next steps are in terms of informing Members around that inquiry.

The second matter has arisen today, as it happens, in the House of Commons, as well, which is a response by Greg Clark on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. He said that it is twice as expensive as Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. It's obvious that Greg Clark doesn't know his own department's budget. Otherwise, he'd know that he spends an awful lot of his own money on cleaning up after nuclear power stations, which isn't reflected in the electricity price at all, or the subsidy that's looked at from the point of view of the tidal lagoon. But also, Greg Clark's figures do not take into account the Welsh Government's own offer of capital support for this project. Now, we don't know publicly, of course, how much the Welsh Government has offered, though it's said to be considerable or substantial. We don't know how that is going to be progressed, but we do know that the Welsh Government is interested in getting an innovative development off the ground and embedding a tidal energy industry here in Wales, not just for the lagoon but for the industry going forward. So, in order for us to perhaps illuminate Greg Clark and others who are tardy in coming forward with a decision on this, could we have a Government debate, not only on the tidal lagoon but on the opportunity of the whole technology for Wales, led, of course, by the Government's own interest in this matter? I also note that Greg Clark also said to the House of Commons today that he thinks that the best way forward is to recognise the constraints—whatever he quite means about them—and then he says,

'That is what I have committed to with colleagues in the Welsh Government.'

However, we haven't heard, actually, whether there are serious discussions currently taking place between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government at a senior official level regarding this substantial offer that you have made. There was an initial discussion; however, I'm keen to understand whether that's now ongoing. In effect, is Westminster taking you seriously and are they seriously engaging with the offer that you have made? I think we've all come to a position where we don't care which Government takes credit for getting this off the ground at the end of the day. What we want to see is dialogue and commitment from both sides, and I think Welsh Government has shown that, to be fair. We want dialogue and commitment from both sides. So, can you confirm that talks are now taking place, that there is serious engagement happening and, as I say, perhaps table a debate so that we can all—? In the past, over a year ago, we joined together in our support for the lagoon. It would be good to reinforce that once again.

14:25

In terms of the QC-led inquiry, the Member has the advantage of me, I'm afraid. My understanding is that those are being agreed with the family, and I'm sure that once the family are happy and so on, we will be updated, but he appears to know more than I do, so I'll make sure the Chamber is updated as soon we're in a position to do that.

In terms of the tidal lagoon, I have to declare an interest, Llywydd, and say, obviously, that I'm a Swansea Assembly Member, and I'm absolutely enraged by the comments that were made today in the House of Commons. They are misinformed. The Government is ignoring its own report by Charles Hendry into the efficacy and efficiency of stimulating a tidal lagoon industry here in Wales. Clearly, it's about the energy. We have made the offer to support it, but, also, clearly, it's about the industry that goes with that and all that comes from having the start of a worldwide industry here in Wales. We have been having a robust conversation with Westminster, although it has to be said, it's robust on our side and not so much on theirs. The First Minister is, in fact, seeing the Prime Minister tomorrow and we'll be sure to get him to raise the remarks made in the House of Commons today.

But I would like to take this opportunity to say that they're clearly not taking into account the fact that this is also a pilot project and that it can't—. The Hendry report made it very clear that looking at it only as a contract for difference and not as a pilot project was clearly erroneous, and we'll be making those points again very forcibly. I also think that—the Cabinet Secretary is nodding—it would be very useful to have a debate around the whole issue of renewable and base-load renewable energy and its importance in world energy markets.

Firstly, I would like to ask for the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to provide a statement indicating how the Welsh Government is going to support medium-sized businesses in Wales to grow into large businesses. We know that, in Wales, we have very few large companies, and when companies become medium sized, they either sell or stay medium sized, whereas in the most successful areas of the world, they continue to grow.

Can I also raise the tidal lagoon as it's mainly in my constituency? Does the leader of the house think that we'd never have had nuclear energy if the same rules that we now have to meet for the building of the tidal lagoon had been set for Calder Hall in the first place?

In terms of SMEs, we're committed to supporting entrepreneurs, microbusinesses and SMEs, as well as social enterprises; that's why we're investing £86 million up to 2020 to ensure that entrepreneurs and businesses in Wales have access to information, guidance and business support through the European-funded programmes, through Business Wales and through Social Business Wales. We're including business support advice from Business Wales in investment for medium-sized entities through the Development Bank of Wales. We have a bilingual business support service, launched in January 2013 and refreshed in January 2016, to make it easier for Welsh businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to access the information, advice and support they require to start and grow their businesses. We've also enhanced the dedicated relationship management of specialised, targeted support such as succession planning, and we're also looking to ensure growth and stability.

Mike Hedges is quite right; there are two bits of growth—the first initial commercialisation and getting together as a business, and then when a business gets to somewhere just under 30 employees, when they need an injection of cash to grow at that stage. So, we'll be concentrating and looking very much at how we get businesses through those two crucial growth stages and, more importantly, make sure that they don't offshore at that point, which is a big issue for a lot of countries around the world, so that we have good access to equity investment for our businesses of that sort. So, we have a large number of schemes in place to do just that, as well as to commercialise some of our excellent scientific research in Wales.

In terms of the tidal lagoon, it's just one of the frustrations, isn't it, that a different rule is being applied to the tidal lagoon than has ever been applied to any other viable energy scheme, and yet the Government isn't prepared to take forward the Charles Hendry suggestion of applying a completely different funding model if they think that it's such a risky pilot. We've made that point repeatedly to them. I'll make it again here in the Senedd: this should not be being regarded as simply a scheme that needs a contract for difference; this should be regarded as a scheme that is a pilot of a worldwide industry that the British Government ought to be supporting. 

14:30

Cabinet Secretary, I would like to ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on the potential benefit of Welsh waterways on tourism in Wales. The Canal and River Trust has announced plans to reopen a disused part of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, between Five Locks in Cwmbran, to Barrack Hill in Newport. This is forecasted to increase visitors and tourists from aboard visiting the canal from 3 million to 4.5 million, and an increased number of visitors would spend from £17 million to nearly £25 million, which would be a great benefit to the area. Please could the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to capitalise on Wales's historic waterways as a significant tourist attraction?

The Member makes a very good point. I was delighted to see that a new section of the Monmouthshire, or the Mon and Brec, as it's affectionately known to canal aficionados—. Again, Llywydd, I seem to be declaring an interest all the time as a business manager, but those of you who know me will know that I'm a complete canal boat buff. I'm very fond of the Mon and Brec canal, and have had very many happy family holidays on canal boats in those parts. So, I'm very delighted to see the announcement of the reopening of a new section of the canal, and, indeed, one of the tragedies of us not looking after our history at the beginning of the twentieth century was the filling in of many of the canal routes when people didn't really understand what benefits they brought across many communities. I've fought a worthy battle in my own patch to keep the Neath and Tennant canal running, and I'm delighted to see that investment being made. The Canal and River Trust is to be applauded for it. 

May I start by supporting the comments made by Simon Thomas and Mike Hedges on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon? It’s about time that that project proceeded.

Leader of the house, in addition to thanking you for your statement, you will also be aware that the consultation on the location of the serious trauma unit for south Wales closed last month. This is a very important issue for people in south-west, west and mid Wales. There is a strong argument, as you will know, that as Morriston is in a central part of south Wales, that’s where the trauma centre should be located. Because of the importance of this decision for Swansea, and the whole of west and mid Wales, I’d be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary for health was willing to bring a debate forward in this Chamber, so that we, as elected Members, could have an opportunity to discuss the issue, and to discuss the Government’s vision for the Morriston Hospital site as a regional medical centre.

Thank you. Yes, the Member's quite right—the very important consultation on the siting of the new service for major trauma in south Wales has just closed, and I was very anxious to make sure that a very large number of responses was received by the Government. The Cabinet Secretary will be bringing forward a statement on the outcome of that consultation and the content of the consultation responses shortly. 

People in Cardiff, and in several other cities around the UK, received Islamaphobic letters yesterday about a so-called 'punish a Muslim day', inciting violence and verbal abuse. I understand that the police are treating this as a possible hate crime. What can be done to reassure people in Wales, as Cardiff was one of the places mentioned? Is there anything the Government could do, either to issue a statement, or something to reassure people who are perhaps now afraid to go out because of the fear of this so-called 'punish a Muslim day'?

It's an absolutely appalling campaign. The letter is horrific. Counter-terrorism police are investigating it and taking it very seriously indeed, and are calling on all recipients to hold the letter and the envelope and handle it minimally to preserve evidence and to get the police involved as soon as they possibly can, so that we can have the best chance of catching the perpetrators of this absolutely appalling communication. They should contact their local police force on 101, or contact Tell MAMA via their website or on 0800 4561226, Llywydd.

We take Islamaphobia and hate crime extremely seriously. We're working with all four police forces, and the hate crime criminal justice board Cymru. We have robust systems and legislation in place to investigate the hate crime, and we will be be pursuing this one vigorously, as it is a particularly appalling example.

14:35

Could I call for a single Welsh Government statement providing an update on the integrated autism service, following the Welsh Government's publication of 1 March 2018, 'Evaluation of the Integrated Autism Service and Autistic Spectrum Disorder Strategic Action Plan: Interim Report'? The findings in this include weaknesses and inconsistencies in both assessment and diagnostic services for adults with autism, and in support services for adults and children with autism. It says the focus upon co-production and prevention is expected to help improve effectiveness and reduce demand, and integration is expected to help maximise synergies and create more seamless services. However, evidence of the impact and efficiencies generated by integration remain weak. And a final quote:

'Success requires a co-productive approach involving staff, service users and carers in the design, implementation and evaluation'

of the service, but there are

'concerns that the "top down" approach...has stifled this.'

Recognising that people living in the autism community, whether they are on the spectrum, or their families or carers, are the real experts in their own lives, and although each is unique as an individual, as everybody else is, only they can truly deliver effective autism awareness to help public sector providers, and others, see the world through their eyes. I call for a statement accordingly, because this report is significant, and merits proper scrutiny by this house.

Yes, it's a very important report, and the Member quite rightly draws attention to the need for co-production for all services affecting individuals and their families. The Member knows that I have a nephew who's on the autistic spectrum, and so I'm very well acquainted with many of the issues that he raises. I'm sure that the Minister responsible will be looking very carefully at the report, and will be updating the Chamber on the Government's response in due course.

There is some concern about the timetable for scrutinising and voting on the regulations on Welsh language standards in the area of health. We’ve been waiting over two years now since the Welsh Language Commissioner introduced those regulations to the Government in the area of health. That happened, and the standards were published a fortnight ago. But the timetable from here on in is very tight indeed. We need to scrutinise them this week and then vote in this place next week.

There is a convention, but not a rule, that regulations are to be confirmed by the Assembly at least 28 days before the coming-into-force date, which means that the debate and vote will have to happen at least 28 days before then. Now, the date provided for these standards to be introduced is 29 June, which does therefore give a window of almost two months for proper scrutiny, and to take evidence from a broad range of experts in the areas, as well as service users. So, may I ask: will you be willing to reconsider the current timetable, in order to ensure that these important standards are scrutinised thoroughly and efficiently?

The Member makes a good point. I understand that there was some extensive consultation when Alun Davies was the Minister in charge of this. The scrutiny timetable is short. We are having some real business timetabling difficulties in the Senedd at the moment, but I will discuss it with the Cabinet Secretary for health, and, indeed, with the Llywydd and business managers, next Tuesday, to see what can be done, in view of the Member's comments.

Leader of the house, can I welcome again the statement made by Jayne Bryant, the Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee, last week on the dignity and respect policy? And can you clarify whether a date has been allocated for the debate on the policy, for all Members to support? And will the leader of the house consider funding a Wales-wide survey on sexual harassment, as proposed by Siân Gwenllian, as part of a national conversation on sexual harassment, which also Jayne Bryant welcomed last week in her response to her statement?

And, secondly, can you clarify with the Minister for Environment whether the environmental impact assessment has been instigated, which she agreed would be required for the latest planning application for the biomass incinerator in Barry? Residents were severely disturbed over the weekend by noisy pre-commissioning work at the incinerator, with a plume discharge. And has the biomass company replied to the letter of 14 February from the Welsh Government regarding the environmental impact assessment requiring response by 7 March 2018?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

14:40

Taking those in reverse order: the developer, I understand, has responded to the letter issued by the Welsh Government. Officials are currently considering the representations made before a final decision on the need for an EIA is made. Residents who have been affected by the activities that Jane Hutt has mentioned several times in this Chamber—our advice is for them to raise their concerns with the Vale of Glamorgan Council, who will be able to investigate them.

In terms of the statement by the Chair of the standards committee, I don't think we have a definitive date, but we are considering that as part of the Government timetable for the next term, as we're now only a week away from the Easter recess. I have actually commissioned a study into sexual harassment and misogynistic hate crimes via the police and crime commissioners of Wales. When we've had that back, we will be looking to see what we can do in terms of a wider survey around sexual harassment, and I'll be working very closely with the Chair of the standards committee to make sure that we can factor that into any of the actions that we take in the future.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on the dispute in our universities at the moment? Many Members will have attended a rally that was staged this afternoon by the University and College Union, and the Government has expressed sympathy and support for their case, but with the dispute now entering a new chapter—as happened in Cardiff this morning with local branches rejecting the latest deal—is it now time for the Welsh Government to move from a position of saying to doing, and perhaps offering to hold an urgent meeting of all vice-chancellors in Wales? We fund the sector, so we can have an influence on them and say, ‘What about showing more leadership than you have done to date’, and to do the same across the UK by convening such meetings across the UK. 

Yes, it's very much to be regretted that we're still in this situation. The Cabinet Secretary for Education has stated her willingness to facilitate any such meeting—to host it and to do anything necessary to bring it together. I'm sure she'd be able to restate that commitment in the light of what happened in Cardiff this morning, and I'll be sure to ask her to do so as soon as possible.

3. Statement by the Minister for Environment: Designated Landscapes

Item 3 on this afternoon's agenda is a statement by the Minister for the Environment on designated landscapes and I call on the Minister for the Environment, Hannah Blythyn.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Back in June 2017, this Assembly debated the role of areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, when Members spoke with passion about what these landscapes mean to them and to their constituents. We agreed unanimously that our designated landscapes should play their part in the sustainable management of natural resources to protect nature and support vibrant rural communities. 

During both that debate and preceding reviews, the future protection of these areas under this Government has been called into question. Today, I confirm unequivocally that all the existing designated landscapes will be retained and their purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty will not be weakened. 

I welcome the thorough and thought-provoking reviews and reports of Professor Marsden and his panel and Lord Elis-Thomas and the Future Landscapes working group. On behalf of both myself and my predecessors, I wish to place on record today my thanks to them and all stakeholders for their significant time and efforts.

Designated landscapes have been in a state of review since a draft policy statement was consulted on in 2013. Today I want to begin answering some of the key questions on the Government’s position and to give this Assembly the opportunity to gain a sense of my priorities. In the coming months, I intend to publish a policy statement that will bring the review process to a close.

Withdrawal from the European Union brings considerable uncertainty, but with it comes the opportunity to improve our land management and the resilience of our landscapes. It changes the context for our designated landscapes and how we must now interpret the findings of these past reviews.

The Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs has set out the Welsh Government’s principles for future land management support and there is an important role for both AONB partnerships and national park authorities. They need to play their part in supporting farmers and other land managers to remain on the land, as well as making a key contribution to the priorities within the natural resources policy.  

If we are to address the environmental challenges we face, we must recognise that designated landscapes must do more to identify, safeguard and realise the benefits from the public goods they protect for all the people of Wales. And when I say, 'for all the people of Wales', I mean for all the people of Wales; I want to see a more diverse and wide-ranging cross-section of Welsh society feeling they have a stake in these nationally important landscapes and recognising the benefits we derive from them.

I have been able to see first-hand how this can happen. The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB sits on the edge of my constituency and, with Welsh Government funding, they have supported the Actif Woods project. This partnership with the Alzheimer's Society and Macmillan has used woodland activities across Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham to improve the physical, mental and social well-being of vulnerable people who wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to engage with this landscape. This is only one example of the wide range of opportunities that can be realised and the importance of our environment's contribution to our health and prosperity as a nation.

All parks and AONBs can and must do more to reach out beyond their traditional audience and realise their full potential. It is in this context I have considered the proposals in Marsden and 'Future Landscapes', and I have based my consideration on three principles. First, any proposals must not undermine the standard of protection given to these valued landscapes and should provide for greater parity for AONBs with national parks. Second, any change should reduce the administrative burden on authorities and partnerships, letting them focus energy and resources on delivery. Third, they should support continued development of effective collaboration.

The weight of comment triggered by the review has been on whether there should be a change to the statutory purposes of Wales’s designated landscapes. This has led to a significant debate on the place of the Sandford principle. The Sandford principle, which applies only in national parks, gives primacy to the conservation of natural beauty in the event there is a conflict with the promotion of the enjoyment of the parks' special qualities. The debate has focused on the continued relevance of this principle in the context of our legal framework within the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the principles for the sustainable management of natural resources.

There has been widespread support during the review for the Welsh ambition on the sustainable management of natural resources within the legislation that is recognised as world leading. Designated landscapes are best placed to take this forward in their areas. The designated landscapes have a diversity of natural resources. They also have considerable expertise, experience and extensive connections with communities of interest, including people who live and work within their boundaries. However, no consensus has emerged on whether it is necessary to change the purposes of parks or AONBs to achieve this.

Whilst I do not discount the symbolism of a new economic purpose, I have seen insufficient evidence that the existing purposes are a barrier to practical delivery. For that reason, and given the uncertain context, I am not prepared to pursue a change of this nature now without broader support. Therefore, I intend to retain the existing purposes of national parks, along with the Sandford principle and retain the existing purpose of AONB. This doesn't mean there is not a need for park authorities or AONB partnerships to pursue activity that supports the social and economic resilience of communities in their areas. They should, and there is no barrier to them doing so within their existing purpose. That said, there is a need to improve the connection between the existing purposes, including biodiversity conservation and the framework within the environment Act.To achieve this, I am minded to introduce legislation at a future opportunity to require the park authorities and AONBs to apply the principles of the sustainable management of natural resources, in particular when preparing their statutory management plans.

I also wish to strengthen the status and scrutiny of the management plans, requiring the plans to identify the special qualities. I believe this approach will align the parks and AONBs with our legislation here in Wales, and the international obligations from which it is drawn, in a way that brings them fully on board with the contemporary understanding of ecosystems and landscapes whilst recognising the enduring value of their original purpose. It will strengthen the importance of the special qualities in decision making across all activities in both national parks and AONBs.

With a difficult financial settlement to manage, I am sympathetic to the argument put forward by the park authorities to reduce their administration costs, and I intend to remove some of this burden insofar as is consistent with good governance. In addition, I will support their efforts to maximise their revenue from appropriate commercial activity. Our national parks can do more to reach out without compromising their principles.

Parity for AONBs with national parks broadly exists in terms of planning policy, but is lacking when it comes to status, profile and resourcing. Both Marsden and 'Future Landscapes' observe this. Whilst I acknowledge that flexibility of governance and partnerships in AONBs may be a strength, it is also a potential weakness in terms of the stewardship of these equally valuable landscapes. I intend to continue the discussion with AONBs on what can be done here. My intention in the next few months is to set out the detail on improving delivery and accountability in ways consistent with the environment Act and the national natural resources policy in Wales.

The process of the review has ingrained a new way of working between parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and stakeholders, where they now share a much greater understanding of the challenges and priorities that they can help to address by working together, particularly bringing their collective experience to bear to halt the decline in nature, whilst recognising the need for economic resilience in our rural communities. 

Deputy Presiding Officer, I am committed to ensuring areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks are valued for their natural beauty by our people, our communities and our country, and that our designated landscapes deliver rich ecosystems, vibrant and resilient communities, and opportunities for outdoor recreation for all of the people of Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

14:50

Can I thank the Minister for her statement this afternoon? I'm pleased to respond to this statement, as a Member whose constituency lies in the heart of the Pembrokeshire coast national park area. Wales's designated landscapes are beacons of natural beauty and conservation. They host millions of visitors, promote and protect our culture, help foster more cohesive communities, and play a significant role in creating a more healthy and resilient Wales, as outlined in the well-being of future generations Act. Therefore, it's crucial that their management and oversight is considered carefully, and that the Welsh Government moves forward in conjunction with these landscapes and the communities within them. 

Now, today's statement rightly recognises that designated landscapes have been in a state of review since 2013, and so it's important that the Welsh Government now brings forward plans to manage these landscapes. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government's statement only confirms that another statement will be published in a few months' time. Therefore, my first question is to ask the Minister: why is this process taking so long, and does the Minister agree with me that the constant reviewing of designated landscapes in recent years has done nothing to help them plan and co-ordinate their activities for the medium and longer term?

Of course, I am pleased that the Minister has at least confirmed for the time being that the Sandford principle will continue to be applied across all designated landscapes. The concern over the removal of the Sandford principle has been overwhelming from stakeholders, and so perhaps the Minister could clarify the permanency of the Sandford principle, so that those stakeholders can be confident that the Welsh Government won't revisit this matter in the near future.

Today's statement also refers to the option of introducing legislation at a future opportunity to require the designated landscapes to apply the principles of sustainable management. Therefore, perhaps in responding to this statement the Minister will confirm what timescales she is currently considering to introduce legislation, and whether she intends to bring forward primary legislation or enact other regulatory measures to address this issue. 

The Welsh Government's consultation last year also considered enabling governance arrangements to better reflect local circumstances, including a wide range of delivery models, such as partnerships and shared or delegated responsibilities. Of course, designated landscapes must engage with a level of community consultation and representation, and it's important that any new governance arrangements work for each individual area and are not just a one-size-fits-all approach. In light of the views expressed by stakeholders on this specific issue, perhaps the Minister could tell us what initial plans she has to facilitate this local engagement further, and perhaps she could confirm whether the Welsh Government intends to implement a system of directly elected national park authority members as a way of strengthening local democracy and accountability.

Today's statement also recognises the need to support the national park authorities to reduce their administration costs insofar as is consistent with good governance. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain how she intends to go about reducing these costs, particularly if the Welsh Government is intending to bring forward legislation in the future, which could add more burdens on national park authorities. 

Now, the Marsden review also recommended actions in relation to the economies of national landscapes. For example, it recommended that national landscapes needed to better understand their local and regional economies, and especially their tourism economies, which is something I wholeheartedly agree with. In my own designated landscape area, the local tourism industry currently generates in excess of £570 million per year and underpins the economic viability of so many local services and businesses, which, in turn, are important to the sustainability and well-being of local communities. Indeed, that supply chain of business activity is an essential component of all designated landscapes, and so perhaps the Minister could tell us a bit more about her vision for the economies of designated landscapes, and also how her vision fits alongside other flagship Government policies and programmes.

I'm pleased that today's statement recognises the challenges that leaving the European Union could have for our designated landscapes and the opportunities it may present too. So, my final question, Deputy Presiding Officer is to ask what assessments have been made of the impact of Brexit on Wales's designated landscapes, and whether the Minister would be willing to share any new data with Members so we can better understand the Welsh Government's direction of travel.

Therefore, in closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, can I once again thank the Minister for her statement and reiterate that, moving forward, the Welsh Government must work with our designated landscapes and not simply seek to impose change for change's sake? The importance of our designated landscapes are critical to our health and well-being, our education and our economy, and I look forward to hearing more about the Welsh Government's vision for designated landscapes as these policies develop. Thank you.

14:55

Thank you for that wide range of questions. You started by recognising the national park within your own constituency of Pembrokeshire, and I was very pleased as, when I came into post, I committed to visit all the national parks, which is quite a hardship—to go on visits—but the first one was Pembrokeshire. When I was there, I saw the role that tourism played in that, and also the health and well-being, the Walkability Project, as well as the education and getting local schools in as well.

To answer your last question, perhaps, before your first, which was about the length of the process, I think a lot of that is related to actually where we find ourselves in terms of exiting the European Union. We know that there are going to be challenges, as well as opportunities, in terms of land management. What I'm keen to do now, in terms of this process, as I said today, is draw a line under it, and actually to provide stability for the national parks and the AONBs so we can work together to actually take that forward and actually enhance the nature we have at our fingertips.

In terms of the assessment on the impact on designated landscapes, as you can imagine, this is looking, in the whole, in terms of the impact of exiting the European Union on the entire environment portfolio and my colleague the Cabinet Secretary as well. It's a large piece of work, and designated landscapes forms part of this. I'm obviously more than happy to update this place and the Member in due course with any information and data we have in terms of the impact that exiting the European Union does have on our designated landscapes.

You're obviously right in terms of the importance of one size fits all and recognising the different unique qualities of each of the landscapes and making sure they work for the local community.

In terms of directly elected members of the board, at this point, as you said, there are financial pressures on the designated landscapes. I'd be minded not to bring in any proposals that would further impact on them financially, but we are, obviously, looking at how we can actually make sure in terms of actually—. I'm keen to make sure that there are designated landscapes for the whole of Wales and for different communities and, at the same time, to make sure that they are representative of those communities too, and that all boards of public life in Wales are representative of our diverse communities and our local communities as well.

I'd like to thank the Minister for her statement and say that many, I think, will welcome the fact that it appears now that there will be stability in this area from here on in. I note that it's five years since we started discussing the future of designated landscapes, and five years later we've ended up with nothing having changed. Not one of the main three recommendations of Terry Marsden being implemented. The hard work, I'm sure, that Dafydd Elis-Thomas did, I'm sure, looks more like an apprenticeship for a future member of the Government rather than anything that has led to change in this area. Because nothing has changed. Nothing has changed at all.

But, in turning to the content of the Minister's statement this afternoon, she, of course, has said that there will be a policy statement to follow. I hope that we can accept what's in her statement. She’s confirmed that the Sandford principle is to remain, and that the statutory principles of the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty will remain the same. So, can we just confirm that? If that is the situation, it gives people the green light to move forward.

She has mentioned possible legislation to ensure that national parks and AONBs manage natural resources in a sustainable manner, through their statutory plans. I have no opposition to that at all, of course, but are we talking here about stand-alone legislation, as has been asked for by this Assembly in the past, or is she going to include that in broader local government legislation, because national parks are a type of local authority? So, is this going to be with her fellow Minister, Alun Davies?

It’s also important to seek a response from the Minister as to how all of this interweaves with the broader consultation on sustainable management of our natural resources, particularly on the issue of access. Access is very important in that consultation and, of course, access to designated landscapes is a crucial part of the national parks and the AONBs. So, how does access fit in there?

And I must note that, if we do want to see these landscapes performing as the Minister wishes to see—not only in terms of conservation, not only in terms of biodiversity, but also in terms of tourism and economic development—then we have to have appropriate resources to deliver that. The funding for the national parks this year, in the financial year that’s about to start, is the lowest it’s been since 2001. You can’t ask national parks to carry out this work of developing their areas unless you’re willing to invest in what they deliver. Of course, one of the solutions to this is that the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty should work together more closely to get better value for money. But, you also have to invest. So, Minister, what are you going to do to ensure that the funding is going to be sufficient to implement your proposals?

And the final point that I want to ask about is: it’s clear, looking across Wales, that there are partnerships already in place that are already successful, that are working with private landowners, national parks and statutory bodies. The Black mountains land-use partnership in my own area springs to mind, but there are a number of others that Members could mention. So, how will you ensure that these partnerships can also prosper under the new regime that you set out this afternoon?

15:00

Thank you for your questions.

I just want to start by reiterating my gratitude for the work of Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas on this. You did start by saying that, five years later—you know, it started, five years ago. It's, in fact, prior to me actually even being an Assembly Member. But, you said nothing has changed. While nothing has changed at a statutory level—[Interruption.] Yes. You know, you say that this is 'no change', but actually, arguably, we have seen change in terms of, actually, what we've seen happen in practice is that the national parks and the AONBs actually work together much more collaboratively and in partnership. I think that that is something that is going to be very very important going further.

My second external meeting as a Minister was with the national parks, and they said themselves to me then, and have reiterated that since, that they have seen the value of that collaborative and partnership working. So, hopefully, that's something we can continue, both in terms of sharing expertise, but actually trying to work with some of the challenges around funding as well.

I actually missed one of the responses to my colleagues sat over there, in terms of the Sandford principle. I can't read my own scribbles now. I would just like to place on the record here that we don't expect to revisit a review of the Sandford principle or revisit the statutory purposes, and offer stability to our national parks and to the AONBs.

What form the legislation could take: obviously, there are a number of options, as you said. That's what we will look at going forward over the next couple of months, whether these things could stand alone, or we could actually look at how it fits into area statements. We could look at even the plans for a Valleys landscape park.

In terms of the sustainable management of natural resources, you raised the issue of access. There's two parts to access, really: there's the literal, physical access to access our parks and AONBs, and then actually making them more accessible in general to more people across the communities of Wales. Both are equally as important. You'll be well aware that we've had an overwhelming number of responses to the sustainable management of natural resources consultation, over 16,000, and some of the responses I expect to be published by the end of this month. 

15:05

I can give a broad welcome to this statement. There is very little in it with which anybody could disagree. I'm certainly very pleased that the Minister has confirmed that the Sandford principle will be at the heart of Government policy in relation to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. After all, what's the point of designating areas as being of outstanding natural beauty, or as national parks, if not to give precedence to the principle of conservation? That was the founding principle upon which the initial legislation was introduced, with all-party support, and has been sustained even to this day.

But I would like to make a plea in this respect, which I've made before and will no doubt make again. Everybody appreciates that sometimes policy objectives from governments are in conflict with one another, and we can't preserve national parks forever against all change, but although I fully understand that the Government is committed to the principle of renewable energy, and that windfarms are a big part of that, I would make a plea for the principle of proportionality to be observed with the Sandford principle in mind, in as much as the contribution that wind can make to the Government's overall policy in the national parks is relatively small, but once a windfarm is built, for 25 years or more, it's there, a blot on the landscape. Only, I think, eccentrics could regard windmill farms as an enhancement of the natural landscape. So, if the contribution of windfarms to the achievement of the Government's overall policy objective in relation to renewables is relatively small, but there's damage done to the other policy that the Government's committed to—which is the preservation of beauty in the countryside, et cetera—then I would just hope that the Government would lean in favour of the latter rather than the former, in order to give practical expression to their commitment to the Sandford principle.

The second point that I would like to make is in relation to the opportunities that come from our leaving the European Union, referred to in the Bill, in particular in respect of improving land management and the resilience of our landscapes. In this respect I'd like to draw attention to the problems that have been created by the habitats directives in relation to the wilding of the hills of Wales, as a result of which we've seen a catastrophic increase in most predators and declines, sometimes towards extinction, in many vulnerable prey species. Leaving the EU does give us an opportunity, as the environment is obviously one of the devolved issues of greatest importance, and gives us powers here, as we hope, to take a very different approach to the one that has been adopted hitherto.

In particular, we've seen a rise in rank and unpalatable grasses infested with ticks, as a result of unburnt mature heather, which also becomes infested with heather beetles. Out-of-control bracken has also created sterile landscapes that are unsafe both for tourists and walkers, and are also vectors of Lyme disease. So, I hope that, as a result of the opportunities that are now presented to us, the Government will come forward with a plan to address these issues, and to recognise that the natural landscape that we want to see is not likely to come about without some human agency as well. The Government's policy in this respect is going to be of vital importance. Reforms to agricultural policy generally are inevitably going to focus upon the farmers' contribution to land management. We're moving away from blanket subsidies based on area, and they will in future be supplied for the beneficial things that farmers do in the countryside. So, I wonder if the Minister could make some statement on the wilding of the hills and the opportunities that are presented to us to improve land management in our wild areas.

I thank the Member for his broad welcome and his questions. He started by talking about the Sandford principle again, and the possibility of a policy objective in conflict. Well, we know the Sandford principle only applies when there is irreconcilable conflict between the existing purpose of national parks, but actually when we're looking at things in the whole, in the round, and our commitment to renewable energy, we also have our commitment to the sustainable management of natural resources, and that's the context in which we will look at this.

In terms of what he said about human agency, well, actually, a lot of our natural landscape has been influenced by humans over hundreds and thousands of years. So, in terms of looking to address the decline in biodiversity in our natural habitats, which of course is a central feature of our natural resources policy and our sustainable management of natural resources, as I said in the statement, it will be part of our policy direction going forward and how we best align the designated landscapes and our work there with our ambitions in terms of the sustainable management of our natural resources across the whole of Wales.

15:10

I also welcome the statement on designated landscapes by the Minister. I am very pleased that the Minister has confirmed unequivocally that all existing designated landscapes will be retained and their purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty will not be weakened. I also welcome the acknowledgement of the importance of areas of outstanding natural beauty and the national parks. I join with everyone else in welcoming the retention of the Sandford principle.

I have, however, two questions. What action is being taken to protect the areas of natural beauty and the national parks from invasive, non-native plants? And, in 2014, the Welsh Government considered merging three national parks into one. Will the Minister rule this out and confirm a commitment to local control and management of national parks?

May I thank the Member for his two questions and for his interest in this issue and his commitment? Because I know your constituency is very close to an area of outstanding natural beauty, just as is mine.

In terms of invasive species, actually very soon it is Invasive Species Week—next week, I believe—when we're looking at how—. Again, that's going to be part of actually how we take forward and align us with the environment Act and the sustainable management of natural resources, and actually not only sustain our biodiversity but actually we need to halt the decline. That's a fundamental part of that and part of the Welsh Government's commitment in that area. 

In terms of, you mentioned a merger of the three national parks—

Thank you for the help with that one. There are no plans to merge the national parks.

Minister, for a considerable length of time now in this Chamber, national parks have been central to the idea of sustainability, the vision of the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly as part of the constitution of this place. I'm pleased that the Sandford rule is being followed through.

Two things I wanted to ask you about. Firstly, in terms of the Brecon Beacons national park, in my time as an Assembly Member, we managed to get that geopark status some years back, to make sure that the western part of the park was open to tourism in the same way that the eastern part was. That was immensely successful. 

Secondly, the dark skies initiative, which I brought forward to this Chamber in a short debate, I think, after bumping into Cardiff astronomy club in front of the Senedd. Some years after that, we then achieved dark sky status for the national park, which drew more astronomers into that park from across Europe. Both of those initiatives were far from incompatible with sustainability and with the Sandford principle. In fact, the two went hand in hand. So, what are you going to do to make sure that, following on from this statement—much of which I agree with—you will be encouraging that type of tourism that does work hand in hand with the Sandford principle and does meet all of the Welsh Government's targets in terms of sustainability?

I never thought I'd say the words 'I absolutely agree with Nick Ramsay on this one.' The two initiatives you mentioned, I was actually in the Brecon Beacons national park just last week—that's the geopark, and also the dark sky status, which we know actually some of the AONBs also have as well. It's about actually looking at how the parks can reach out. There are massive opportunities there to align the tourism opportunities and eco-tourism and to attract new visitors to our parks, but at the same time actually making sure we sustain and manage them for the future.

So, that is definitely something—. We may not be changing the purpose of the national parks or the AONBs, but that does not mean—. In fact, they'll be actively encouraged, and we'll work with them, to make sure that we can actually look to identify and actually share best practice. One of the things, from the collaborative working and the partnership working we've seen as part of this process, is that there are opportunities to not only share resources, but also to learn from one another and to see actually what we can do. One of the things I've noticed when I've been visiting parks is the acknowledgement now of the need to evolve in terms of what our offer is, but at the same time staying true to those principles of protecting the natural beauty of our parks.

15:15

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and, again, without sounding too repetitive, I'd like to thank you for your considerations. The one thing that's stuck in my mind on this is not only have you listened to Assembly Members, but you've listened to the genuine and general concerns out there. Of course, I have Snowdonia National Park within my constituency of Aberconwy, and there you've had conservation, but we've seen economic development as well. But, overall, the overarching principles of the concerns raised with me were about sustainability, conservation and those kinds of things going forward. 

Now, throughout these deliberations, a lot of representation was made by volunteers, members of the public and, indeed, the Snowdonia Society, who in themselves are a valuable resource. And I just wondered how you intend to move forward, working perhaps with our national parks and with these groups that really do give their time on a voluntary basis, and they are so knowledgeable, actually. The evidence that they provided to me was able to inform me to make representations on their behalf. So, I'd like to put that on record—the gratitude to the people who've written in, our societies that work really hard and want to work with Government, and want to work with us as AMs. It's how you will feed that in, and actually value and work with that valuable resource.  

Diolch. Thanks, and you spoke very eloquently there of the passion of people across Wales in terms of how much our national parks and our designated landscapes mean to all of us, and I think it's testament to that in this Chamber that nearly everybody that's got up and spoken has spoken about the designated landscape either near to their constituencies or that their constituencies are within, so we know what an amazing and cherished asset it is to all of us. 

You mention the Snowdonia Society. I've recently exchanged correspondence with the Alliance for Welsh Designated Landscapes, of which the Snowdonia Society are members, and obviously I look forward to working with them and others to take this forward. I will be, if I get the dates right, on Monday at Pen-y-Pass to launch the Snowdonia partnership there.   

Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm most grateful for your indulgence, and can I also broadly welcome the Minister's statement, particularly the way she's listened on the Sandford principle, and the more nuanced approach I think that we have heard compared to previous statements? Something that's not been mentioned this afternoon—and here I do think we need greater ambition, and we need to push the national parks in the areas of outstanding natural beauty—and that's around equality of access. These are wonderful environments. They belong to us all. We all pay for them in one way or another, and I do think there should be much greater access from groups that traditionally find that difficult. This can also link, I think, into the general management of land post Brexit, when we will be attaching whatever support we give to those that manage land more directly to public goods, and it does seem to me that these areas of public policy could come together quite elegantly.  

Can I thank the Member for your contribution, and I think the points you made are absolutely eloquently made, as usual, and absolutely spot on? Thank you for your broad welcome and recognition of the retention of the Sandford principle. Equality of access is—you're absolutely right, these national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty belong to all of us in Wales, and it's actually, like I said in the statement, making sure we reach out beyond perhaps who traditionally we might perceive might use our national parks. I think it's working with the parks and working in partnership, and learning from examples like the Walkability project, which is bringing people—not only it is bringing access to the parks for people that may not normally access them, but actually helping their health and well-being at the same time. I think linking in more with schools, as somebody who—. And actually making sure we work with the parks to link in with and build on the work they're doing in linking in with schools actually within the area, because I think what often you find is schools will come and visit from elsewhere, which is to be welcomed and to be encouraged, but making sure that schools that are in and on the periphery and boundaries of the national parks and the AONBs are fully part of that and fully opened up to enjoy the parks, and actually understand and see that it is actually for everybody, the parks are for everybody—. I think it's actually making them as accessible as possible, and as relevant as possible to all the communities and people of Wales.  

4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: Update on the UK Inquiry on Infected Blood

Item 4 on our agenda is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on the update on the UK inquiry on infected blood. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething. 

15:20

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm making this statement following the written statement on 8 February this year made by the United Kingdom Government Cabinet Office.

I welcome the appointment of Mr Justice Langstaff as chair of the UK inquiry into the infected blood scandal. As we're all aware, the infected blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s is a tragedy that should never have happened and must never happen again. Many of those affected in Wales have campaigned long and hard for a meaningful inquiry to take place. Haemophilia Wales and the Assembly cross-party group have worked closely together in supporting all those affected by hepatitis C and/or HIV here in Wales and they're key stakeholders in ensuring that the voices of people affected in Wales are heard. 

I'm pleased to note that, in accordance with the wishes of those affected, the inquiry is to be judge-led. Mr Justice Langstaff will be the full-time chair of the inquiry from 1 May this year, following his retirement from the High Court. However, he has already begun his work in writing last week to those affected, their families and other stakeholders to consult on the inquiry’s terms of reference. The consultation on the inquiry's terms of reference is now live on the inquiry’s website. It is www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk, and everyone who has been affected or has a view is encouraged to respond. The closing date for the consultation is the 26 April this year. 

It is important that the inquiry will lead to a full report within the shortest possible timescale, taking into account the need for appropriate care and diligence. There are balances and trade-offs to made in both the terms and the length of the inquiry.

I have written to Mr Justice Langstaff to reiterate my previous concerns and those of the cross-party group and Haemophilia Wales. I've made it clear that I want those affected in Wales to be certain and feel assured that the inquiry will take full account of their evidence and provide answers to their long-standing questions.

It is our collective expectation that the gathering of information and the hearing of the evidence will take place at suitable locations within each UK country and that the inquiry fully considers any Welsh language requirements in doing so. Many of those affected are elderly and infirm, and travel to London, for example, could be difficult, inconvenient and stressful. I am therefore pleased to hear that he has made contact with all scheme recipients in Wales. I've just received a copy of the letter direct from him as well. My officials and staff from our Wales infected blood service will provide advice and support to the inquiry team to ensure that the needs of those affected in Wales are best met.

While the inquiry takes its course, it is essential that we continue to support those affected. So, it's timely for me to take this opportunity to update Members on the Wales infected blood support scheme, or the WIBSS. Working with our stakeholders, we designed and implemented the WIBSS in November last year. The scheme was administered by Velindre NHS Trust through the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership.    

Following my attendance at the cross-party group, chaired by my colleague Julie Morgan, I heard first hand the personal stories of those present. This, together with stakeholder events across Wales, proved invaluable in helping to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the tragedy on people’s lives and, in many cases, of course, their families. That was crucial in influencing the nature and scope of our new arrangements. Our scheme provides assistance over and above financial support to both those affected and their families. Early feedback suggests that this is improving our beneficiaries’ sense of security, quality of life and care and that they are treated with the dignity they have the right to expect.

Through the WIBSS advisers, they're able to receive support in accessing healthcare services and other appropriate financial benefits and public services. We've reduced the need for scheme recipients to apply for discretionary funding by including in the regular payments amounts towards additional expenses, such as increased winter fuel costs, costs associated with travel and any overnight accommodation required when accessing treatment, and help with insurance premiums. That came from listening directly to people affected during the consultation.

The scheme also provides support to those who are bereaved, especially during the early years when distress and financial difficulty are likely to be at their greatest. Now that the scheme is administered in Wales, we should be able to gain a better understanding of the needs of the individuals affected. This will help ensure the arrangements can be kept under regular review.

It was also very clear to me when meeting with individuals and the families of those affected that an inquiry was very important to them. They had been lobbying for many years, individually and through Haemophilia Wales and our own cross-party group, and, indeed, cross-party groups across other Parliaments in the United Kingdom as well, to get to the truth of what happened. I hope that they can now take some comfort that their efforts have paid off and the inquiry they have long fought for is going to happen. I also want to reassure them that I'll be following the inquiry’s progress closely and I'll be seeking assurance that the views of those affected in Wales are being fully taken into account.

I will, of course, update Members further when more information is available and the terms of reference have been agreed.

15:25

Cabinet Secretary, thank you very much indeed for bringing forward this statement today. It's very welcome, and I would like to also pay tribute to the campaigners who've worked so hard to bring this inquiry about, and particularly Haemophilia Wales and the cross-party group led by Julie Morgan.

I just have a couple of questions that I'd like to ask you on the back of this statement, because it obviously builds on the topical question that we had last year. I'm so pleased about the Wales infected blood support scheme and what the staff who work for that scheme are able to provide. You may recall that, last year, one of the questions I asked was what support we'll be able to give those who wish to give evidence to the inquiry—will you be able to widen their remit so that WIBSS are also able to support those who go to them in going forward to the inquiry? Because I'm sure that, actually, just the whole business of giving evidence to an inquiry, even though it may be on our home turf here, is going to be quite traumatic and bring up all sorts of dreadful memories. So, I just wondered if they'll be the ones who'll be able to provide that support.

In our joint letter of 19 July 2017 to Jeremy Hunt, a letter that you orchestrated, Cabinet Secretary, we asked what steps would be put in place to ensure that NHS Wales, NHS England and the NHS across the UK will co-operate fully with the inquiry. I just wondered if you'd be able to give us an update on what steps we can take here in Wales to ensure that NHS Wales co-operates in every conceivable way in terms of giving evidence, finding any paper trails that may be in existence, et cetera. I know that Mr Justice Langstaff has only recently been appointed, but are you able to say whether or not he will have the power within this inquiry to compel witnesses to come forward to ensure that there is full disclosure of documentation?

My final point is one that you've raised yourself about it being a timely inquiry. You'll be aware that the Lord Morris of Manchester inquiry took over two years, and I just wonder if you might be able to expand on what would you think is a reasonable length of time, especially as this whole scandal, one of the worst scandals the NHS has ever seen, is over 30 years old, and those affected cannot wait endlessly for time to pass for the justice they so desperately require.

Thank you for all those comments and questions. I'll start with your first one about how people can be supported to give evidence. The Wales infected blood scheme wasn't particularly set up to support people to give evidence to an inquiry, but I do think we need to consider the needs of people who will need to give evidence and where that evidence can be given. What I'd like to see is that the inquiry operates on a basis where it will take evidence across different United Kingdom nations to make it easier for people to attend.

To be fair, I indicated earlier I've had a response from Mr Justice Langstaff to my earlier letter and I think that it's constructive. I think there's an indication there that they will consider how they meet not just the language requirements of people from Wales, but, in particular, ensure how they hear from people in devolved nations, thinking about how they do that whilst going about considering the terms of reference. So, it is—. The letter certainly doesn't close the door in saying, 'No, everyone must travel to a central point,' and I think we need to continue to pursue that. He's also indicated that he would wish to meet the cross-party group in this place, which I think is a very helpful and constructive offer from the chair as well. I hope that the chair of the cross-party group would—I expect—welcome that too. 

So, we need to consider with individuals, but also with Haemophilia Wales, as the largest support group, how best we can work together to support individuals. So, I don't want to cut anything off, but, equally, I don't want to give an open-ended commitment that I may not be able to meet. And, actually, I think the best thing is to make sure that we get the inquiry to move around the country to make it easier for people to attend in the first place.

You referred to the letter that had cross-party sign-off that previously went to Jeremy Hunt. I think that was helpful in reiterating that this is a genuine cross-party attempt to get at the truth. In that, we indicated that NHS Wales co-operated, and that position remains unchanged. I expect NHS Wales to co-operate. If there is any particular issue about information being made available, then I'll certainly consider the ability of the Government to direct information to be made available, but I do not anticipate there being any organisational barriers to documentary evidence being made available. Indeed, that would include documents that the Government held. I think, previously, for example, journalists have been given access to documents that exist that the Government holds and they didn't find anything of particular interest, but the access is there and it is available. And that goes into some of the points about the terms of reference and what is a reasonable timescale.

As far as compelling witnesses is concerned, my understanding is that the judge that has been set up under the inquiry does have the ability to compel witnesses. But the terms of reference and the timescale are linked, because the conversation about what the terms will cover will help to determine what is likely to be a reasonable timescale. And there'll be differences of views. Some people would rather see a short and sharp inquiry that focuses on a couple of issues to get to the truth quickly. After all, this has been going on for a long time and some people may not wish to have a long time of going over history that is painful and difficult. Some people may wish to see an inquiry that concludes within their lifetime. And others will say 'You have to have the fullest inquiry possible, and if that takes a longer period of time, then so be it.' That's why the consultation on the terms really do matter, and in setting out those questions—. You may not have had an opportunity to look at the website, but I think it's very helpfully set out to focus people's minds on what to ask for and why, and it gives people a steer that if it's a more focused inquiry, it can be shorter, but if it's broader, then it will necessarily be longer. So, people need to think about what matters to them most in responding to that consultation, and in helping to draw up the terms of reference. But I think the fact that the inquiry chair starts off with that open-minded approach and asks people what they think is a good marker of the way we should expect the inquiry to be conducted. 

15:30

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that statement. I would like to express my gratitude to and admiration of the group of campaigners who have worked so hard over far too long a period in presenting their case with determination and dignity that there should be the inquiry that we are about to see. I’ve got to know many of them through the cross-party group, and I’d like to pay tribute to those individuals who have spoken through their pain, because of what they've had to live through over the past decades. I will name Lynne Kelly specifically for the work that she has done in leading and co-ordinating the campaign. And I’m pleased that you, as Cabinet Secretary, have been able to come to the meeting that perhaps most individuals attended, and where the message was conveyed so clearly that as Cabinet Secretary you could not but join them in their campaign. And I’m pleased that we have been able to take action on a cross-party basis, not only through the cross-party group, but also yourself and us as spokespeople speaking with one voice on the issue.

It’s also worth emphasising that the cross-party group of the Assembly has been determined from the outset, because of the lead provided by the campaigners, that there should be a member of the judiciary—that there should be a judge leading the inquiry. Others didn’t feel that that was crucial, and I’m sure they had very good reasons for taking a different view, but these campaigners were determined, and I was pleased to hear this statement on the appointment of Mr Justice Langstaff.

Two questions. First of all, are you as a Government going to be considering yourselves as stakeholders in the process that is happening now? Because all the stakeholders, including, I hope, the Welsh Government and ourselves as Members of this Parliament, need to try and contribute to the work that will take place through the inquiry, and I would like to know how you will feed in to the work of assisting Mr Justice Langstaff to draw up the remit.

And in terms of that remit, one specific question: do you believe that we should look beyond what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, which is the core of the scandal? Yes, what happened then in terms of infected blood was a scandal, but it has been a scandal in terms of how we haven't got to this point until the year 2018. So, I'd be interested to know how you're going to try and influence the remit as a Government. But once again, we are moving in the right direction and the campaigners in Wales are still working hard and are keeping the pressure on as they seek the solutions that they deserve.

15:35

Thank you for the comments and questions. Indeed, I did attend the cross-party group with a large attendance of people recounting their stories. As I indicated in my statement, I also met a number of stakeholders from Haemophilia Wales twice in my office in the discussions that led up to the creation of the Wales infected blood support scheme. So, we really have listened to what people have said, and as I indicated, the scheme that we now have in Wales came from listening to people. We had initial proposals and they changed during the course of that consultation, because we listened and we shifted around the way money would be used in that scheme, because the majority of the individual families affected thought that there was a more appropriate way of prioritising the use of money. So, I think that's important about how the Government expects to behave, how NHS Wales expect to behave and how we also want the inquiry to behave, as well by actively listening to, and then acting on, the views of families. I guess this relates to what I said to Angela Burns about the Government being ready to make sure that information, if it's sought from us, is provided, and that goes too for the national health service in Wales, but also our contribution to the inquiry to try and make sure that the way in which the inquiry is conducted—to make sure that it really does give people real opportunities to take part in providing evidence, and also that we can be a helpful conduit for information that is provided to be understood and as widely disseminated as possible.

But I think it is well worth Members having a look at the consultation document. It's simple, but, I think, important. I think it's very well written, actually, in asking people about how they wish to contribute to the inquiry, and it deals with your particular point about the time period as well, and it asks people over what time period should the inquiry focus. That goes into the length of the timescale of the inquiry. People want to get to the truth of the matter, not just about what happened in the 1970s and the 1980s, but also what then happened when the Government and the national health service—as there was a UK Government at the time; we didn't have devolution at that time—what they knew, or should have known, and what then happened with that knowledge that should have been there, or was there, and whether it was acted on, and what then happened at that time. That's clear, I think: that the inquiry will have to take account of that, and that will obviously lead to an inquiry that isn't going to be done in a period of a few weeks. So, it will take a significant period of time. In the letter to stakeholders, just as Langstaff has set out—even before oral evidence is heard, there will have to be a great deal of work undertaken already, and the need to go through documents and understand what already exists and is available, as well as listening to stakeholders, as well as listening to people like Haemophilia Wales, individuals, and the cross-party groups in the different parliaments and assemblies around the United Kingdom.

From the Welsh Government's point of view, we expect to be consulted formally on the terms of reference. I'm interested in doing the right thing for people here in Wales, which is why, when we've made our interventions on a cross-party basis, or, indeed, the Government writing to the United Kingdom Government, we've done so by listening to people in Wales first as opposed to deciding for people what we think is right for them. We have such an obvious and directly affected group of families and individuals; it must be right that we do our best to be advocates for them and try and make sure we get to the truth of what happened. So, I will listen before the Welsh Government responds formally to the terms of reference. I'd find it useful to hear from the cross-party group and, indeed, from Haemophilia Wales and other interested parties about what they think, and to see the answer given, and the Government, of course, then to provide a comment. And as I said in my initial statement, I am more than happy to update Members on any information we have and about the progress of the inquiry, but I sincerely hope that there are direct contributions, not just at the terms of reference point, but through the life of the inquiry, so that Members are informed directly about timescales and progress.

Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary, and thank you to the individuals who have suffered and campaigned avidly on this topic.

I welcome the appointment of Mr Justice Langstaff and the fact that he will be a full-time chair of the inquiry. The contaminated blood scandal is one of the darkest periods in the history of our NHS. The fact that people who sought help from the health service were exposed to deadly viruses is shocking enough, but the fact that they've been denied a proper explanation as to how this was allowed to happen is inexcusable. Mr Justice Langstaff clearly intends to right this wrong. He has promised a thorough examination of the evidence behind the major scandal. I also welcome the fact that he has indicated that the process needs to lead to a full report within the shortest timescales that such thoroughness can accommodate. This is very much welcomed. It's disappointing that it has still taken nearly a year to get the inquiry up and running after the Government made the announcements. Victims of the scandal are still dying, and the longer this goes on, the more victims will be denied answers and justice. In fact, in the same time since the inquiry was announced, another 60 victims have sadly passed away. I am grateful that Mr Justice Langstaff acknowledges this and has started the consultation on the terms of reference before he takes up the full-time role on 1 May. I'm also grateful that he's consulting the victims and their families—those like my friend Faye Denny, whose brother has now sadly passed away. That means that Owen Denny will not get the answers or the justice he deserves, but I hope Faye will.

I have just a couple of questions, Cabinet Secretary. We don't know how many others who received contaminated blood contracted an infection but remain undiagnosed. What is the Welsh Government doing to help identify these victims, and have you discussed this with Mr Justice Langstaff? What assistance can the Welsh Government give in publicising the inquiry and facilitating evidence sessions in Wales? What can the Welsh Government do to assist the inquiry in investigating the role of Professor Arthur Bloom and the Cardiff haemophilia centre in exposing haemophiliacs to HIV and hep C? Professor Bloom was well aware of the risks of administering contaminated factor. He said:

'It is therefore very important to find out by studies in human beings to what extent the infectivity of the various concentrates has been reduced. The most clear-cut way of doing this is by administering those concentrates to patients requiring treatment who have not been previously exposed to large pool concentrates.'

He is believed to have experimented on patients at the Cardiff haemophilia centre that now bears his name. Professor Bloom cannot be called to give evidence as he passed away in 1992, but can you assure us that all his notes and records from the centre will be made available to the inquiry?

Thank you once again, Cabinet Secretary. I appreciate all that you are doing to ensure that the victims and their families get both the answers they need and the justice they deserve. Thank you.

15:40

Thank you for the comments and the two particular areas of questions. With regard to the Cardiff haemophilia centre and its practice, I reiterate what I said to both Angela Burns and Rhun ap Iorwerth: that any records and information that NHS Wales holds will be made available to the inquiry. There's no attempt to try and hide away from any of this, and it must be for the inquiry and individual stakeholders who will give their evidence to place that in front of the inquiry, and for the inquiry then to reach conclusions.

On the point about undiagnosed victims, given the length of time that would've elapsed from potential exposure, I would expect that it would be fairly unusual for people not to be symptomatic at this point and not to be diagnosed. You can't necessarily avoid the prospect, but given that we're talking about a specific community of people who will have had blood products, I would expect that people would be aware. If others do come forward, then we'll know, but there isn't a particular programme at this point to try and run through and look for undiagnosed victims. That's not a matter I've discussed with Mr Justice Langstaff. I actually think that, given what we know has happened and the number of people affected, we have a significant job of work to do already, and any lessons from this inquiry would equally apply to anyone who comes forward at a later date who may have been affected but undiagnosed from the scandal that took place in the 1970s and the 1980s.

15:45

I thank the Cabinet Secretary very much for this statement, which is very welcome. I've been campaigning for a public inquiry for 20 years, and the fact that it's actually happening now is a matter of—you know, I'm so pleased it's happening. And the key thing now is to make sure that something comes out of it, so that it brings an end for all those people who we've listened to so many times in this building, and all the emotion that there's been that makes you realise, really almost with despair, what they've been through. And I thank the Cabinet Secretary for sharing that with the members of the cross-party group, because I think we have been able to work in a truly cross-party way, and it's very good, I think, that the Government and the cross-party group, and Haemophilia Wales—as, I think, Rhun did say in his contribution—have all taken a united stand, and I do think we have been very instrumental in ensuring that it is a statutory inquiry and that it is judge-led, and I certainly do welcome the appointment of Mr Justice Langstaff.

Already it's been mentioned that so many people have died during this period—70 people in Wales—and Haemophilia Wales will be going up to Westminster tomorrow to meet Mr Justice Langstaff to put forward their case. In looking back at the history of Haemophilia Wales, it was actually started in 2003, but in 2010, it had to end because the six founding members had all died, and that has been the history of the people who I've seen during this campaign who have died on the way. But then, of course, it was re-established in 2014 by Lynne Kelly, who has led it inspirationally since, I believe.

So, I think we're at a crucial point and now we've got to do all we can to see that the right things come out of this inquiry. I know that some of the issues that Haemophilia Wales are concerned about—some of these have been touched on already—very concerned about the role of the Welsh Office at the time; the Welsh Blood Transfusion Service; the Chief Medical Officer for Wales; Welsh language considerations, which you've specifically mentioned, must be taken into consideration; the missing documentation; medical records; the misconduct by responsible bodies and organisations; conflicts of interest and commercial interests held by responsible bodies. These are some of the issues that Haemophilia Wales will be raising with the chair, Mr Justice Langstaff.

So, I don't know whether the Cabinet Secretary has got any more to add about how those particular issues will be addressed. I'm pleased that we're going to have another cross-party group on 24 April, when I hope that we will get all the details of what the people who are most affected by this have got to say about how we should move forward in this inquiry. And I'd just like to end, really, by saying I think it's absolutely right that they are the people who should guide and lead us in what we do, and I think, so far, that's happened, and we want that to go on happening while this inquiry goes on.

I completely agree with the point you finished on, Julie Morgan. It must be that we need to listen to and be led by the views of those people directly affected. This is about what has happened with their lives, including the families that have been left behind, as well as what we do in the here and now. The point about the fact that people have already died is well made and understood, and it's something here about thinking about the terms of reference again, and in fact, in his letter to me, Justice Langstaff said he's highly conscious of the need to balance a thorough inquiry against what can be achieved in a reasonable period of time. This is especially important for this inquiry, given the poor health of many of the people affected, and we have to think about that point, actually, putting forward views on the length of time of the inquiry, on the breadth of the terms of reference. But the best way to understand how to balance those is to listen to the people directly affected, and if they would rather have a longer, more thorough inquiry, then that is what I believe we should be asking for. If their view is, though—and there will be variance in this view, as I've said earlier; you can't expect everyone to agree on all aspects of the terms and the length of time. If the alternative view from the majority of our stakeholders here in Wales, the directly affected families, is that they would rather have a sharp, focused inquiry that will take place over a briefer period of time, highlighting a smaller number of issues, clearly that's what we should ask for. But my own fear is that we are likely to have a community that will want to understand the truth. Having fought so long to get to this point, I think they are more likely to ask us to go and ask for a fuller inquiry rather than a shorter and sharper one. And I think that is an entirely reasonable choice to make.

Again, when I say the role of actors here in Wales will be part of this inquiry, we will make available the information that we have and can make available to the inquiry. Part of what the consultation asks—it does ask about the potential risk of commercial conflict in the decision making that took place in the past. So, those areas of inquiry have already been seized on, and the challenge is how those get written into terms of reference in a way where they're meaningful and the inquiry can then pursue, because, of course, anything that isn't within the terms of reference can't then be easily pursued. We'll have to amend the terms by agreeing again with the Minister at a later date, and I think that's difficult. So, we do need to take some care about it.

Again, I'd reiterate to people that the consultation on the terms of reference is something that I would certainly expect the cross-party group to be engaged with, and to provide a submission on. The Government will make a submission to the inquiry as well. The cross-party group you're holding on 24 April—of course, the terms of reference consultation closes on 26 April, so it may be that the cross-party group is able agree a consultation response at its meeting on 24 April. That would appear to be appropriate to do with a full number of people around a table from parties and external stakeholders too.

I reiterate my commitment to continue to be as helpful and positive, from the Government's point of view, to continue to provide information on a regular basis to Members, but in particular, as you've said, Julie Morgan, to make sure that we work alongside people who have done so much to make sure that the inquiry we are now going to have actually took place in the first place.

15:50

I would like to also thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement, and welcome the very positive outcome, after years of campaigning. Indeed, I recall the campaigning starting when I was health Minister all those years back. I've been supporting, as many have, across this Chamber, constituents, and I want to just mention Pat and Tony Summers—supporting them over the years, following the tragic and untimely death, in 2008, of their brilliant son, Paul; and, of course, their dignity through all their grief, but their commitment to supporting justice, not only in terms of their son and his family, but for all of those who have been so tragically affected by this scandal.

I want to particularly thank Julie Morgan, now the Assembly Member for Cardiff North, but formerly Member of Parliament for the constituency, which she served for the past 20 years, because she's chaired the cross-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. I think, Rhun ap Iorwerth, you're absolutely right that the expectation was that it should be truly cross-party, and that's how Julie has led it, but with that important outcome, working very closely with Haemophilia Wales.

I'm pleased that Tony Summers is part of the delegation with Haemophilia Wales tomorrow to meet judge Justice Langstaff, who will conduct the inquiry into the infected blood scandal. I do welcome your response today, Cabinet Secretary, that you're aware of the next cross-party group, that you want to consider the feedback, and I would ask you just to confirm again that you will want to meet to hear from that delegation and not wait until the next cross-party group, because I'm sure they will want to update you and write to you. And, certainly, they will be informing Julie Morgan and members of the cross-party group. Can I also thank you for mentioning in your statement all the other parts of the work that's been undertaken by that cross-party group, including the Wales infected blood support scheme? Perhaps you could also say something about how that scheme has supported bereaving relatives as well.

Yes, you're right, it has been a long campaign, thinking back to the days when I was an even younger man—even younger: no grey hairs in my beard—when this place was first created. The campaign has been going on for a very long time. As Julie Morgan indicated, when the founder Members were gone, the campaign had to be restarted. Julie is perfectly right that a number of people have mentioned Lynne Kelly and the work that she has done—again, a good example of someone who has not been afraid to be difficult, from time to time, to make sure that the issue doesn't get forgotten—and the incredible commitment of individuals to make sure that the issue doesn't get forgotten and overtaken by history and no longer matters. A lot of people are still living with what happened, and living with the legacy, directly as individuals, or their families, certainly, as well. I know that most of us, if not all of us, in this room will have constituents who have been affected. I certainly do, and I think that almost everyone in this room would find someone as well. Again, people like Julie Morgan and others who are still in Parliament now will continue to campaign for this issue, and, again, it is a strength that it is a genuine cross-party campaign that has been mounted.

On the meeting with Haemophilia Wales, of course, I expect officials to continue to meet with Lynne Kelly and Haemophilia Wales. I expect to meet them again before the Government responds to the terms of reference of the consultation too. That's consistent with the way that we have tried to behave over a number of years, but in particular since I have been in post. We have tried to make sure that we talk and listen. It doesn't mean that we have always agreed on every single issue, but we've listened. Bereavement support is a good example of an area where we changed original proposals in our scheme to make sure that people recently bereaved receive more support. That was a deliberate choice that we made because there was such a strong and uniform view, including by people who weren't directly affected—they though that that was the right way to try and make sure that the money was prioritised in supporting people. So, supporting people is where we started from on that particular part of the journey. It's the way we ought to continue to behave as we continue to move towards the formal hearings of this inquiry. But, progress to date—and I'm sure we'll look forward to hearing more active progress once Justice Langstaff starts properly, once the terms of reference have been agreed.     

15:55
5. Debate: The General Principles of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill

Item 5 on our agenda this afternoon is a debate on the general principles of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.

Motion NDM6686 Mark Drakeford

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 26.102:

Agrees to the general principles of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I would like to start this debate on the general principles of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill by acknowledging the significant challenge facing Assembly Members in trying to tackle such a complex piece of proposed legislation in such a brief period of time.

Can I begin, against that background, Dirprwy Lywydd, by paying tribute to the work of both Assembly committees who have had a chance to undertake some consideration of the Bill? I was very grateful to David Rees, the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee and its Members for being willing to explore a series of very important issues in the Bill on the basis of the draft Bill that was published. I think that consideration will assist Members this afternoon, and I was very glad of the opportunity to discuss it with them. 

Could I say, Dirprwy Lywydd, that I think this Assembly has been remarkably well served by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in relation to this Bill? Not only did it undertake a detailed set of scrutiny yesterday, but it has managed to produce a report for the benefit of Members fewer than 24 hours after those hearings took place. I'm asked in that report to respond on three matters in particular during this Stage 1 debate. I'm very happy to try to do that. There are a number of other recommendations. With officials and with Cabinet colleagues, I will be looking at those recommendations very rapidly. I will write to the Chair of that committee setting out the Government's response.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Llywydd, having said that the Bill is a complex piece of law, I should also say that, in its broad aims—indeed, in its general principles—I believe that it is clear and simple. It is intended to deal with the inevitable consequences in domestic law of withdrawal from the European Union by preserving EU law covering subjects already devolved to Wales. It will enable Welsh Ministers to make necessary adjustments to ensure that legislation covering these subjects works effectively at the point of withdrawal. 

Llywydd, the time available does not permit a detailed explanation of every provision in the Bill, but in the interests of trying to inform today's debate, I will briefly outline some of the principal propositions laid out in it.

Sections 3, 4 and 5 are critical to understanding the Bill. Their collective product is referred to as 'EU derived Welsh law', which would be the devolved Welsh equivalent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill's 'retained EU law'. Section 3 enables regulations to be made that contain provision corresponding to direct EU law. The power in section 3 would, for example, involve taking EU regulations and adapting them so that they work in a domestic context, and then setting them out in a Welsh set of regulations.

Section 4 provides for the restatement of domestic legislation that has derived from the European Union. For example, Part 5 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 makes amendments to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 to ensure the continued protection of European maritime sites. Under section 4, we would restate the relevant provisions of that Act, which derive from the European Union. Again, there may be some necessary adjustments to be made as part of that process, and in response to recommendation 1 of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee report, I can confirm this afternoon that the power in section 4 to make modifications or further provision can only be used to ensure the effective operation of the restated enactment.

I could also say, Llywydd, that as far as recommendation 2 of the CLAC report goes, we carefully reflected on the views of the committee and the Assembly more widely in preparing our Bill. This included narrowing the scope of the powers, taking specific account of the concerns raised on the breadth of powers in the EU withdrawal Bill. So, to answer directly the question posed in that second recommendation, in general, the powers in this Bill are more restrictive than the powers in the EU withdrawal Bill.

Section 5 of the Bill deals with legislation that has been under EU-related powers. The main power used for implementing EU obligations being section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. That Act is being repealed by the EU withdrawal Bill. The power in section 5 will enable all legislation made under section 2(2) in devolved areas to be preserved.

Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill then make provision in respect of EU derived Welsh law created as a result of sections 3, 4 and 5. They include provisions on legal challenges in respect of that law, interpretation of that law, and rules of evidence to assist courts when considering that law.

I turn now, Llywydd, to section 11 of the Bill. This provides a permissive power to enable us to maintain regulatory alignment with the European Union. Businesses have consistently told us how important continued access to the European Union market is to them, and our policy, set out jointly with Plaid Cymru in our foundational document, 'Securing Wales' Future', is well known. That is to advocate ensuring continued regulatory alignment after Brexit in order to ensure full and unfettered participation in the single market. Section 11 of the Bill will enable that to happen smoothly in the case of law within the devolved competence.

16:00

Yes, I'll give your voice a rest; it's a medical intervention.

But referring to recommendation 3 of the excellent CLAC report, can I ask you to follow the wording in that recommendation 3, and ask you to justify, during this debate, why primary legislation cannot be used to deliver regulatory alignment on a case-by-case basis, instead of the subordinate legislation currently envisaged under this section 11?

16:05

Can I thank Dr Lloyd for that intervention? I'll address that point directly and immediately, Llywydd, because in terms of recommendation 3 of the CLAC report that asks for a justification of the powers in section 11 of the Bill, a major justification for needing these powers at this point in time lies in the volume of subordinate legislation that we are likely to face.

This Assembly will be aware of the number of statutory instruments that are made each year in Wales to implement EU directives. If you then add the numerous EU regulations, EU decisions and EU tertiary legislation adopted each year at EU level, then we will quickly have a better picture of the large number of legislative changes that would be required each year if we are to succeed in our aim of maintaining full and unfettered access to EU markets for Welsh businesses.

In order to be certain that we can deliver that continuity and that continued access to EU markets for our businesses, I believe that the powers in section 11 are necessary in the immediate future. I see further recommendations in the CLAC report about placing a time limit on those powers, and I can envisage a point in the future at which, as Dr Lloyd said, it may be possible through primary legislation to keep in line with those changes in EU law that we would wish to remain in step with in the future. In the immediate term, however, there will be a volume of work to be done where I think the powers in section 11 are justified.

Sections 13 and 14 of the Bill, Llywydd, are intended to address the issue that has come to the fore in the EU withdrawal Bill debate, namely the risk that Ministers of the Crown can be given Henry VIII powers to alter legislation within devolved competence without any input from Welsh Government Ministers or the National Assembly. These sections create a default position in which UK Ministers would have to seek the consent of Welsh Ministers when making subordinate legislation on devolved matters within the scope of EU law. As the EAAL committee correctly pointed out, we have been making this legislation over the past 20 years. Therefore, the knowledge is held here to make the sensible corrections that will be required to EU law in devolved areas. 

Can I come finally to the issue of scrutiny, Llywydd? I think I am right in saying that Schedule 2 to the Bill provides for the highest levels of scrutiny that has ever been contained in an Act of the National Assembly. Not only does this highlight the unusual circumstances that we find ourselves in, but it also demonstrates our continued commitment to the essential role that scrutiny plays in ensuring that the best possible legislation is created here.

Of course, there is another way in which legal certainty could be achieved and confusion avoided: this would be for the UK Government to legislate in a way that provides legal continuity while at the same time properly respecting our devolved settlement. The Welsh Government has made it clear throughout that this would be our preferred outcome, but Members will need no reminding that the UK Government's EU withdrawal Bill currently falls disappointingly short when it comes to respecting devolution. In conjunction with the Scottish Government, we have worked tirelessly to make the UK Government understand and focus on the importance of the devolved settlements and to agree the necessary amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill, and we will continue to work in that way right up to the last possible moment.

Llywydd, finally, in terms of this general principles debate, I wonder if I could simply read out, for Members who may not have had a chance to see it yet, just three paragraphs from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee's report, which I think sum up the reason why I believe this National Assembly should be prepared to offer its support at this stage.

First of all, the committee accepted

'that there is a need for the LDEU Bill.'

It pointed to the fact that

'Exiting the EU has raised serious constitutional questions'.

It notes that

'In its current form, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill fails to protect the powers of the National Assembly in devolved areas.'

And, against that background, the committee says,

'we accept that there is a need for the LDEU Bill to protect the powers of the National Assembly in devolved areas.'

Finally, the committee

'note that the LDEU Bill provides a means of filling the legislative void in the event that the National Assembly does not provide consent to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.... In our view'—

the committee say—

'in the absence of any alternative plan for dealing with a decision of the National Assembly to withhold consent, this'—

Bill—

'represents a sensible and responsible approach.'

I hope Members will be willing to support it this afternoon.

16:10

I call on the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, David Rees. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Since the publication of the White Paper on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by the UK Government in July of last year, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee has undertaken some detailed scrutiny of the withdrawal Bill and its implications for Wales. In our report on the White Paper, we concluded that the Welsh Government should prepare a continuity Bill as a fallback position if the UK Government did not respect the devolution settlement in the Bill itself. We did, at that time, hold the sincere hope that this would not be necessary. It's deeply regrettable that this fallback position has now become necessary, due to the failure of the UK Government to actually draft a withdrawal Bill in a way that respects devolution and, further, following the rejection of amendments to the Bill as it proceeded through the Commons.

The external affairs committee has previously set out six objectives for amending the withdrawal Bill, which it considers necessary for the Bill to receive the consent of this institution. The task ahead of us this afternoon, of course, is to give consideration to the principles of the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. Llywydd, to assist Members in their deliberations, I would like to briefly compare some of the objectives we identified, and how the Welsh Government proposes to match those. 

The first set by the external affairs committee is that the Bill should be amended to remove the restrictions on the Assembly’s competence contained in clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill. Our second objective was to ensure that Welsh Ministers and the Assembly are given responsibility for correcting EU derived laws in all areas of devolved competence.

The Bill under consideration this afternoon goes some way to delivering these two objectives, in that any EU laws converted into EU derived Welsh law by this Bill will fall outside the remit of the withdrawal Bill and the restrictions it imposes. However, the Bill as drafted does not automatically offer this protection to all EU derived Welsh law. It is reliant upon Welsh Ministers choosing to use the powers provided to them by this Bill to convert, retain or restate EU laws so that they are protected. That is a different approach taken in Wales to that in Scotland, where they're looking to see all EU laws in areas of devolved competence being automatically transferred. I would be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary this afternoon could reassure the Assembly that the Welsh Government would use the powers provided by this Bill to transfer all EU laws in areas of devolved competence into EU derived Welsh law, and I'll give you the reasons as to that shortly. 

The powers provided to UK and Welsh Ministers by the withdrawal Bill are extremely broad and far-reaching. For example, they include the power to amend primary legislation via subordinate legislation, called the Henry VIII powers, as the Cabinet Secretary has identified. Whilst we accept the need for these broad regulation-making powers to be given to Ministers, we also called for those powers to be more tightly drawn for Welsh Ministers, and controlled. This Bill does goes some way to meeting those stringent requirements, if they wish to change EU law when transferring it into Welsh law under sections 3, 4 and 5 of this Bill, as the Cabinet Secretary has highlighted in his opening remarks. However, there remain ways in which these could be more tightly drawn, and I urge the Welsh Government to consider this issue a little bit further.

The powers provided to Welsh Ministers in sections 9 and 10 of the Bill mirror the powers provided to UK Ministers by sections 8 and 9 of the withdrawal Bill. They would allow Welsh Ministers to do anything they consider appropriate to implement the withdrawal agreement, and to prevent breaches of international obligations. In the committee’s objective 3 on the withdrawal Bill, we concluded that the language should be tighter and amended to 'do what is essential', rather than 'consider appropriate', although I do recognise that many other experts also comment upon 'as necessary', but that still gives you tighter control than 'as appropriate'. 

Objective 4 of the committee’s report stated that the withdrawal Bill should be amended to prevent UK Ministers from amending EU derived laws in areas of devolved competence. As with objectives 1 and 2, this Bill does go some way towards delivering this objective, but it is ultimately reliant upon Welsh Ministers choosing to convert all of the EU laws into EU derived laws, because if they don't do all the laws, those they don't do will come under the remit of the EU withdrawal Bill. That means that they will then not have the powers to amend them later, because they will have been passed over to the powers under the EU withdrawal Bill. 

I welcome the inclusion of sections 13 and 14 in the Bill, which would require Ministers of the UK Government to seek consent of the Welsh Ministers before amending EU derived laws in areas of devolved competence. However, as the committee has stated on many occasions, it would be constitutionally preferable if UK Ministers required the consent of the Assembly and not that of Welsh Ministers.

Objective 6 of the committee's report called for the Assembly to be given responsibility for setting its own scrutiny procedures for subordinate legislation emanating from the withdrawal Bill. Having this Bill before us for consideration does not address that issue. However, it does allow the Assembly to decide on scrutiny procedures for subordinate legislation under this Bill. I welcome the fact that the negative procedure would not be used at all for the regulations made under this Bill and believe it's a significant improvement on what is offered by the UK, which had many, many, many negative procedures, which did not allow us an opportunity to actually scrutinise those aspects.

I welcome the Government inclusion of a superaffirmative procedure in the Bill, and I'd be extremely attentive to the views of colleagues from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on the appropriateness or otherwise of the proposals in that regard. And can I also put on record my thanks to that committee for the work it's done in a very short timescale on this Bill before us today? 

Nonetheless, I note the requirements for providing the UK Parliament with additional information in explanatory memorandums to assist scrutiny of statutory instruments—it's actually now stronger within the withdrawal Bill. In this Bill, I ask the Welsh Government to consider emulating that point.

Llywydd, I sincerely hope that the UK Government takes heed of this Parliament's continued view on the deficiencies of the EU withdrawal Bill and acts quickly to make the necessary amendments to that Bill, though recent comments and actions do not give me much hope that that will actually take place. Then, if not, the Bill we're debating this afternoon is critical to protecting the devolved competencies of this institution, and I ask Members to support this Bill.  

16:15

I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw.

Thank you, Llywydd. And thank you for the comments that have been made by the Chair of EAAL. I do find that, after the very detailed comments that have been made by the Cabinet Secretary and by the Chair, it's a bit like being the best man at a wedding when you find that the groom has stolen your speech and made all the points that you wanted to make. But can I say that, in our committee, we treated this Bill as we would any other, and that is to maximise the scrutiny and the focus on the intention in the Bill and in terms of it achieving what it is intended to do? For that, I'm very grateful for the considerable work that's gone in from the clerk and the members of support staff of the committee and indeed the legislative drafters, because this has been a matter that's been turned around within a very, very short space of time. But I do believe the report is detailed and deals with all the key scrutiny issues that we wished to raise.

I should say at the outset that our report was not unanimous. One Member did not agree to it, and I won't pre-empt any comments my fellow Member wishes to make, so I won't say any more on that particular point. We made eight recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and the report, as I said, I hope proves helpful to Assembly Members in taking the necessary decisions on this particular Bill.

Exiting the EU has raised serious concerns as to which legislature should exercise powers in devolved areas once the UK leaves the EU. Until we see changes to the EU withdrawal Bill, we have accepted that there is a need for this Bill, as the Cabinet Secretary has already mentioned, and we see this Bill as providing a means of filling a potential legislative void.

In our view, the absence of any alternative plan for dealing with a decision of the National Assembly to withhold consent means that the introduction of this Bill represents a sensible and a responsible approach. We agree with the Welsh Government also that the preferred option should be to continue to protect devolution via the EU withdrawal Bill, and we do urge all parties to continue to work together to achieve an outcome whereby the National Assembly could be in a position to give its consent to the withdrawal Bill. Should agreement not be reached, this Bill becomes one of the most important Bills ever to be scrutinised by this National Assembly.

The same issues of principle apply to the regulation-making powers in the Bill as apply in relation to the EU withdrawal Bill, and these are that regulation-making powers must not be used to shift the balance of power excessively towards Governments and away from legislatures, Henry VIII powers must be clearly justified and, at the very least, be subject to the affirmative procedure, and that regulation-making powers are considered in the context of how they could be used, not the intention of their use. 

I'll just return briefly to some of the conclusions and recommendations we have made. The Cabinet Secretary has referred to some of those, and we will consider carefully his written response in due course within the course of the coming days.

Sections 3, 4 and 5 form the heart of the Bill by giving Welsh Ministers broad powers to make regulations that retain direct EU law, restate EU derived enactments, and ensure that provisions made under EU-related powers continue to have effect. We raised a number of questions with the Cabinet Secretary around the use of these powers, and, in the light of his responses, we recommended that he confirms our understanding of the use of the powers under section 4 of the Bill is correct, and he has done that, and whether the self-limiting ordinances contained in the Bill are more restrictive than those contained in the EU withdrawal Bill, and he has given assurances in respect of that.

Turning to section 7, we welcome also that the charter of fundamental human rights influences the interpretation of all regulations made under sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill. I'm grateful for the clarification that has been given there as well.

Section 11 contains a very wide power, allowing the Welsh Ministers to mirror EU law after exit day using subordinate legislation subject to the enhanced affirmative procedure. Section 11 therefore gives the Welsh Ministers powers, by regulations, to mirror EU law that is passed by both the European Parliament and the EU Council but that will no longer be subject to influence by the UK. Section 11 is arguably a constitutionally novel approach and one that we had concerns about as to whether or not it was satisfactory.  

In the circumstances, to first justify and then strengthen the approach, we made recommendations: first, that the Cabinet Secretary justifies why primary legislation cannot be used to deliver regulatory alignment on a case-by-case basis, instead of the subordinate legislation envisaged under section 11—and, of course, these were the points that were raised by Dai Lloyd and there's been a response, which, again, we will give further consideration to in due course—secondly, that the Cabinet Secretary should consider an amendment to section 11, if retained, to narrow its scope solely to matters that maintain regulatory alignment with the European Union, as set out in the explanatory memorandum. I'm grateful for the comments that have been given, and, again, we'll give further consideration to that. Finally, the Cabinet Secretary should table amendments to the Bill to provide a sunset clause requiring that section 11 is repealed with effect after five years from exit day unless regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure, provide otherwise. Before such regulations are made, we recommend they are informed by a review undertaken by an Assembly committee. 

Sections 13 and 14 do not provide a consent role for the National Assembly, even where UK Ministers are amending primary legislation, including Acts and Measures of the National Assembly. For that reason, we recommended in our report that he justified this approach and explained how the consent role fits with the statutory instrument consent process set out in Standing Order 30A. That's recommendation 6.

All regulations made under the Bill are subject to the scrutiny framework set out in Schedule 2, which provides for three different scrutiny procedures: the standard affirmative procedure, the urgent procedure and the enhanced affirmative procedure. We recommended that the Cabinet Secretary should table amendments requiring explanatory memoranda accompanying regulations made under the Bill to be clear and transparent in explaining, for example, why the affirmative and urgent procedures should apply, what changes are being made by the regulations and why, and the impact that the regulations may have on equality and on human rights. We look forward to the written and the detailed responses in due course, but I'm also grateful for the extent to which the Cabinet Secretary has been able to deal with some of those matters in advance of this particular Plenary session.

16:20

Presiding Officer, there is no emergency, there is no need for this Bill, and it's the opinion of us on this side of the house that this is, in fact, a bogus Bill. I have to observe that, when the Cabinet Secretary was making his speech on the principle of this Bill, seven members of the Labour group were here in the Chamber, or six apart from him. There's been a vast influx since of one additional Member coming in. Perhaps this is an emergency Bill after all—the evacuation of the Labour group from the Chamber was certainly comprehensive and efficient. But I think this really does show you what's going on here in an attempt, a pale attempt, to ransack—[Interruption.] 

16:25

Yes, well, the Minister—. Okay, okay. The Cabinet Secretary—

Cabinet Secretary, you can't just turn around and speak to the Member when he's on his feet. 

Well—. [Interruption.] No, I'm going to answer him first. The Cabinet Secretary turned around and said, 'Well, you've not got much to say, have you? Look how many of your colleagues are here.' We realise this is bogus: I've given them, my colleagues, time off because I didn't want them to have to sit through this parody produced by the Welsh Labour Government.

Can I thank the Chair of the CLAC committee for acknowledging that the report they made was not unanimous? Let me say: it's the first report of this, the fifth Assembly, not to be agreed on a consensus basis, and, in the fourth Assembly, every CLAC report was agreed by consensus. I do not agree that there has been full or proper scrutiny by CLAC. There was as adequate scrutiny as could be made in the available time, but, really, to just have the Minister in for an hour and then to spend half an hour on a report that is then not digested in draft and considered over several weeks, which is what we do to routine legislation—and we are proposing to pass constitutional, fundamental constitutional law in this manner. We're not going to have any part of this.

And, anyway, the constitutional protection we have in this delicate procedure—you know, I acknowledge exiting the EU causes many constitutional challenges within the United Kingdom, but the protection we have is the LCM process and the Government has made a great mistake in shifting from that and shifting onto the ground of the Scottish Government, where nationalism—

—is their primary concern, not the integrity of the United Kingdom.

I did see David first. I mean, I will attempt to give way to Simon later.

I'm sure you can give way to my colleague immediately after myself, but you identify—. And thanks for the intervention. You identify the fact that you said that you don't see the need for this Bill, that it's constitutionally not appropriate, you talk about Scotland and you appeal for Scotland, but isn't it the reality—? If an LCM is defeated in this house, then what is the alternative you're suggesting to happen? Because, if I understand it right, our LCM is defeated and the UK Government accepts the LCM, we could be leaving without any kind of protection for our laws whatsoever. So, what is your recommendation that we do afterwards?

The fact of the matter is, if an LCM is rejected in the National Assembly for Wales and, presumably, at the same time in the Scottish Parliament, the United Kingdom will be in a constitutional crisis. That's why the LCM process is a proper protection of our rights and our position. What you're engaged in is a negotiation tactic, and we should not be part, as the legislature, of these games. Can I just say—? The EU withdrawal Bill is the appropriate UK legislation to proceed with this matter. It is the UK state that is withdrawing from the EU, not the home nations individually, and, as I said, this legislation at a UK level requires an LCM process. So, we do not believe that the Welsh Government's Bill can be effectively scrutinised, and we will obviously vote against the motion this afternoon. Can I just say, Presiding Officer, we have decided—

We have decided to take the extraordinary step of not proposing any amendments should this Bill proceed to its next stage, because we do not want to engage in the parody that inevitably would then follow. Does Dai Lloyd want to intervene?

I'm disappointed by your contribution, really, because obviously legislative committees down the years in this place, we've just been scrutinising the process. Regardless of what you think about the legislation, lots of us have been involved in scrutinising the process of a Bill that we don't actually agree with. I was disappointed that, actually, you withdrew yourself from that scrutiny process because of this preordained decision that you don't like the idea of a continuity Bill.

Can I just say, Presiding Officer, I did not withdraw myself from any process? I attended all the public session of CLAC and all but the last two or three minutes of your deliberations. I withdrew when I said that, in principle, I could not support the report. Therefore, I was leaving so that the other committee members could then proceed and agree to the parts that they then indicated in their report, and which was quoted by the Minister. I did not intervene on him to undermine, perhaps, some of the points he was making that that was a report that was unanimous—because he had not made that clear, though he didn't need to. So, I'm not accusing him of anything inappropriate. I have co-operated effectively. We all know this Bill cannot be scrutinised in anything like a proper, full fashion, and we should not be playing with legislation, certainly not constitutional legislation, in this way.

I also fear, Presiding Officer, that this emergency Bill risks undermining the negotiations that have been ongoing for several months with the UK Government. Now, I'm not naive about what goes on—I'm sure there's great resilience both sides of the M4—and I hope that does genuinely continue, because we do need an agreement at the end of this, and let's hope that we will forget this afternoon's sad episode when we get proper agreement in the future. At the moment, the UK Government is seeking agreement on UK frameworks and that process post Brexit. It's very important that the Welsh Government's case is heard fully, because establishing shared governance arrangements over common frameworks is a fundamental principle, and it's one that we do accept here. We realise that you've had some struggles in winning those particular battles, and I do not think what you're engaged in here is particularly helping. And there have been some real successes. I'd have to say the Welsh Government has already achieved a lot in terms of the amendments that were laid in the House of Lords yesterday. Now, I realise they don't go as far as you would like, and some of what you want has not yet been delivered. But it's an ongoing process that indeed continues tomorrow with the First Minister meeting with the Prime Minister, and that's the appropriate time to take things forward and see if we can reach a full agreement. 

Our position, to conclude, as I'm rapidly running out of time, is that a UK Bill is the only way to proceed; the only we can have proper clarity in this process. And we have the protection afforded by the LCM process. To have two competing statutes governing Brexit would create wholesale confusion. We need clarity, not confusion; this serves no-one's purpose. I regret that the Welsh Government has allied itself so closely to the Scottish Government. I fear this may deflect the Welsh Government from pursuing the interests of Wales to secure a clear Brexit that will strengthen the governance arrangements of the UK. I also fear that if the Welsh, and, presumably, the Scottish Bill, proceeds, then the success of the EU withdrawal Bill in Westminster will be threatened, and it's likely this matter will then appear before the Supreme Court. Confusion, confusion, confusion; let's stop this nonsense and vote against this motion.

16:30

I'm again encouraged to speak this week on the general principles of the continuity Bill following its introduction last week. Plaid Cymru will of course be voting for the general principles of this Bill, and we've been consistent in calling for this Bill. We've been calling for this Bill since at least last summer in anticipation of a Westminster power grab. In terms of content, the emergency procedure will now move very quickly, so any amendments will have to be considered over the next few days. I note the report laid by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, and I hope that the improvements to the Bill can be made on issues like including a sunset clause, whilst maintaining the need for this Bill to become law.

Since last week's debate, where the Bill was introduced, the UK Government has admitted in an internal memo that it has been unable to rebut the claims of a power grab. In effect, UK Government officials have conceded that the argument that there isn't a power grab has been ineffective. And we know that the UK Government's amendments, which have been tabled without the agreement of the Welsh and Scottish Governments, facilitate a power grab. They do so by giving the UK Government a power to impose restrictions in areas that are devolved. When imposing those restrictions, the UK Government will have to consult with devolved administrations. The devolved administrations and Parliaments, including this Assembly, would have no final say over the UK Government's use of those powers. The UK Government would use those powers to create new UK frameworks. Those frameworks would not be co-produced, to be truly multinational frameworks, but would be made in Westminster with some devolved consultation—and that is not good enough.

16:35

I'm grateful. She will have heard, as I did, David Melding say that the LCM process that relates to the Bill would be a protection in here, but of course that gives us no protection with all these regulations made by Henry VIII powers, which only have to be consulted on with the Welsh Government—not even the Assembly. This Bill before us today is not bogus at all. It's a fundamental constitutional act of protecting our devolved settlement here, which will strengthen the Government's arms, hopefully, for negotiation. But if not, we are setting out, very clearly, how we would protect Welsh devolution. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have turned their back on that.

Absolutely correct.

The frameworks designed in this way could cover areas of critical importance, of course, to the Welsh economy. The UK Government's analysis of EU law also suggests that frameworks would be required in a host of areas related to food, farming and the environment. They could also include state aid, public procurement and geographical indicators. These are the real bread-and-butter issues at stake, on top, of course, of the issue of democracy.

The need for a continuity Bill is therefore growing rather than receding. It's critical that we develop a strong and and effective Bill to protect our two referendum victories and to keep control over our own devolved powers. And in the coming days, it is vital that the Welsh Government does not back down. The position here has overwhelming Assembly support, and there should be no concession that turns back the clock on devolution. This is a debate about where power lies in this state after Brexit. Will UK frameworks be set centrally from Westminster or will they be co-produced by equal Governments, by equal nations? Plaid Cymru hopes that we in Wales continue to hold the line, because this issue is far bigger than any single political party.

This continuity Bill has seen our country, with the support of at least three of the four parties, become relevant in a UK debate. And it's worth pointing out that this isn't about whether you support remain or leave, otherwise it would not have secured the support of UKIP. This is about Wales. It's essential that the Welsh Government does not throw that supported position away, and that this National Assembly stands up for itself and for our nation.

I listened in some perplexity to the speech that David Melding gave. He seemed to be speaking in a kind of vacuum, as though the reason why we're here today has nothing to do with the United Kingdom Government. This is not a bogus Bill, and if there is a constitutional crisis looming, it comes about because something that was entirely predictable has happened because of the neglect of the United Kingdom Government to take this process seriously. We've been waiting for three months for amendments to this EU withdrawal Bill, and nothing had arrived until the last few hours. Of course, in these circumstances, the Welsh Government and indeed the Welsh Assembly must provide against the possibility that an LCM does not pass this Assembly and there is then a legislative void. It would be absurd if it were to behave otherwise. We are an Assembly that is here to pass laws and to repeal them, not to allow legislative voids to come into existence.

Theresa May and her administration have, of course, achieved the most remarkable feat of uniting parties as diverse as Plaid Cymru on the one hand, the Labour Party and UKIP in this Assembly. As the leader of Plaid Cymru pointed out a moment ago, this is not about remain or leave, because we come from the polar opposite in our views on the desirability of remaining within the European Union. The last time that this was raised in the Assembly just a week or two ago, both the leader of Plaid Cymru and I made the fundamental point that this is not just about the EU referendum; it is also about the two referenda that established devolution and brought this Assembly into existence. My position has always been that referenda are to be respected, or the results of those referenda are to be respected, whether they refer to internal United Kingdom matters or, indeed, external, and it's respect for that process that goes to the very heart of what this Bill is about. It is a Bill about democracy—again, as the leader of Plaid Cymru said a moment ago.

The reason why, overwhelmingly, I've always been in favour of leaving the EU—indeed, I opposed going into it in the first place—was because the processes of legislation within the EU are democratically deficient. As a result of repatriating these processes to Westminster or to Cardiff, Edinburgh or to Belfast, the opinion of the people, as represented by those who are elected by them as proxies, will be fundamental to the creation of law, or the repeal of law, in future. The European Union, as it has developed, created a corpus of law that was immune from the democratic process. The European Court itself, in judgments going back as far as 1963, gave itself the power to override democratic processes, and in a case in 1970—the Internationale Handelsgesellschaft case—it gave itself the power even to override national constitutions, which has never been accepted by the German constitutional court, or the Dutch, but which the European Court of Justice has always held to be fundamental to the internal workings of the EU. As a result of that, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, whether it's a constitutional measure, which is what David Melding was concerned about, or whether it's any other form of legislation, then those who are elected to represent the people will be able to provide the scrutiny that presently cannot be applied to the laws that we have to observe, because they are made either by bureaucratic processes—because the European Commission has the sole right of legislative initiative in the European Union—or as a result of cases in the European Court of Justice, which cannot be amended or repealed by any straightforward process.

Therefore, as a result of the European Union withdrawal Bill, we will be repatriating those powers to the parliaments of the United Kingdom—and by that I mean the devolved parliaments as well as the UK Parliament at Westminster. I see that as a wholly benign process. There are, of course, short-term constitutional difficulties that this process brings about—and clause 11 of this Bill is one of them, with the issue of Henry VIII clauses. I am prepared to accept, for the short term, that this clause is necessary in order to provide ourselves with the legislative certainty that we need for the future, but it is an undesirable principle to set, generally, and I hope that there will be a sunset clause, or something akin to it, which will ensure that this will not be perpetuated for longer than is necessary.

The legislative task before us, to consider or reconsider 44 or 45 years of legislation, is vast. That cannot be conducted in a meaningful way without these extraordinary powers. Over the course of many years ahead, we'll have the opportunity to repeal and amend as necessary, but I consider this to be a vitally necessary Bill to protect the interests of the Welsh people, as well as of the British people. I see no contradiction or conflict between the two, and I regret that the United Kingdom Government has created a wholly unnecessary degree of friction in what otherwise, I should have thought, would have been regarded by most Conservatives as a wholly beneficial process of restoring democracy to the British people and the Welsh people.

16:40

I'm pleased to speak today as the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. We have been considering the human rights implications of leaving the European Union over the past year. In December, we outlined a number of core principles that we identified. Our overriding priority is that there is no regression in equality and human rights protections once we have left the European Union. We called for the charter of fundamental rights to be preserved in some form after withdrawal, and note the Equality and Human Rights Commission's legal analysis, published earlier this year, which refuted the UK Government's claim that all charter rights are already protected by UK domestic law. Therefore, Llywydd, I am pleased to see the inclusion of section 7 in the Bill before us today, requiring EU derived Welsh law to be interpreted in line with the charter of fundamental rights. It is also important to us that as well as preserving the rights that currently exist, Wales continues to be a global leader and that the level of protections continue to keep pace with developments across the EU after we have left. We called for a formal mechanism to track future developments in human rights and equality in the EU to ensure Welsh citizens benefit from the same levels of protections as EU citizens. I'm therefore pleased to see the inclusion of Section 11 in this Bill, which would allow Welsh Ministers to make regulations introducing new legislation, or to modify existing legislation, to enable Wales to keep pace with any new EU legislation following our departure.

Further, Llywydd, we would call on the Welsh Government to use all available levers to ensure continued protection of equality and human rights in Wales, including considering commencing the duty in the Equality Act 2010, which requires public bodies to make decisions in a way that tackles the inequalities arising from socioeconomic disadvantage, and looks to incorporate international human rights treaties into Welsh law. As we are all aware, this was successfully achieved with the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011.

Llywydd, I am pleased that the Welsh Government has used this Bill to help provide protection of equality and human rights. Going forward, as a committee, we will continue to follow keenly this element of the negotiations and withdrawal process. Diolch yn fawr.

16:45

The Finance Cabinet Secretary's statement on the JMC European negotiations last week, I thought, was very helpful, and we realise how important, in fact, the JMC plenary will be tomorrow. The Cabinet Secretary said in his statement that there was a positive spirit on all sides of the JMC(EN), but that the UK Government would still be tabling their amendments. And it's in that vein that we are debating the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill—the continuity Bill as we are calling it—here today.

It was very helpful to again have those recommendations from the CLAC report spelled out, giving the case for supporting the Bill, taking account, of course, of David Melding's reservations, which he's expressed today as a Member. But I also noted that Geraint Talfan Davies said this week—and I quote—that the continuity Bill is designed to ensure that a huge legislative sinkhole does not emerge under the Government of Wales if the National Assembly for Wales is not able to give its consent to the EU withdrawal Bill going through Westminster.

So, Llywydd, although I accept the political backdrop to the continuity Bill, and hope, like the Welsh Government, that the UK Government will see sense and support our amendments—the amendments of the Welsh and Scottish Governments—so favourably received in the Lords, I would also like to follow John Griffiths and welcome section 7 of the continuity Bill, which sets out how the body of the EU derived Welsh law created by the Bill should be interpreted by the courts. Section 7 states that the continuity Bill makes similar provisions to the EU withdrawal Bill, but with one notable difference, and that is that it allows for EU derived Welsh law to be interpreted in line with the charter of fundamental rights, which is not being transposed into UK law by the EU withdrawal Bill. As is clear, the continuity Bill does not purport to transpose the rights contained in the charter into Welsh law as free-standing rights, but it would ensure that, where the courts in England and Wales are considering provisions of EU derived Welsh law, they continue after Brexit to interpret those provisions in line with the rights and principles set out in the charter.

We recently took evidence in the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee—as, John Griffiths, your committee did—on the equality impacts of Brexit. Expert witnesses drew attention to the EU charter of fundamental rights. One of the main concerns about Brexit's impact on human rights and equality is the potential loss of the charter. If the EU withdrawal Bill goes ahead as planned, the UK will not have to comply with the charter in making laws and administrative decisions in areas previously within EU competence, such as consumer protection or workers' rights. The charter rights go beyond those in the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act, including a range of social and workers' rights, such as the right to fair working conditions, protection against unjustified dismissal, and access to healthcare, social and housing assistance. In giving evidence to the EAAL committee, Professor Simon Hoffman said he couldn't see any reason why the EU charter can't be incorporated into UK law, as was suggested by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with any necessary amendments to make it relevant to the UK post Brexit. In his evidence to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, I note that Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin described equality and human rights protection in the UK on exit day as a 'freeze-frame', while protection in EU countries could increase at a faster rate than in the UK. So, we must work to avoid that.

I'm grateful that John Griffiths has highlighted section 11. We must continue to progress with equality protection and enhancement in Wales, and I'm sure that our human rights and equalities witnesses, and the people of Wales, will welcome those provisions in our Bill today. I'm also clear that raising these issues is in line with the spirit of the clauses in our Government of Wales legislation in terms of abiding by equality of opportunity.

So, I support this stage of the Bill and I'm grateful for having the opportunity to make these points in support of section 7 of the Bill.

16:50

Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance addressed the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee about this Bill. I would like to thank him for his very open and constructive engagement with the committee.

I, too, have very strong concerns about section 11 and I do hope the Cabinet Secretary will clarify why primary legislation cannot be used to deliver regulatory alignment on a case-by-case basis instead of the subordinate legislation envisaged under section 11 as it currently stands.

One of the recommendations in the report released today by the committee is that section 11 is repealed after five years from exit day unless regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure, provide otherwise. The committee also recommends a review as to the continuing need for the powers provided by section 11—this review to be conducted by a committee of the National Assembly and involve full public consultation.      

I support this Bill in principle, but I do suggest that we as an Assembly have not had an opportunity to discuss this Bill and its implication in enough depth. Overview and effective scrutiny should never be compromised and are a vital part of our decision-making processes here in the Assembly.

Member
Mark Drakeford AM 16:53:18
Cabinet Secretary for Finance