Y Pwyllgor Craffu ar Waith y Prif Weinidog

Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister

09/12/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David Rees MS Y Dirprwy Lywydd, Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Deputy Presiding Officer, Committee Chair
Jack Sargeant MS
Jenny Rathbone MS
John Griffiths MS
Laura Anne Jones MS yn dirprwyo ar ran Paul Davies
substitute for Paul Davies
Llyr Gruffydd MS
Peter Fox MS yn dirprwyo ar ran Russell George
substitute for Russell George

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adam Price MS Arweinydd Plaid Cymru
Leader of Plaid Cymru
Claire Bennett Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dr Rachel Garside-Jones Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Mark Drakeford MS Prif Weinidog Cymru
First Minister of Wales
Nicola Edwards Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Stuart Evans Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Bethan Garwood Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Božo Lugonja Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Claire Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Meriel Singleton Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:03.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:03.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau a dirprwyon
1. Introductions, apologies and substitutions

Good morning and can I welcome Members to this morning's meeting of the scrutiny of the First Minister committee? And can I remind Members the meeting is bilingual? If you require translation, for those who are remote, translation is available via the interpretation button on the screens. For those in the Chamber, translation is available on Channel 1, on the headphones. Channel 0 is there for amplification for those who require amplification. Can you please ensure all your mobile devices are either on silent or off, so they do not interfere with the meeting this morning? And to let you know that, those in the room and in the building today, and I'm sure for those in other official buildings, if a fire alarm goes off, please follow the directions of the ushers or staff in the building to a safe location.

We move on now to the first item, which are apologies and substitutions and we've received apologies this morning from Paul Davies and Russell George, and can I welcome Peter Fox to the meeting and Laura Anne Jones, who are their substitutes this morning? Does any Member wish to declare an interest at this point in time? I see none; that's fine.

2. Cydraddoldeb a hawliau dynol
2. Equality and human rights

This morning, we have two evidence sessions with the First Minister. The first will be focused upon equality and human rights, and the second evidence session will be on the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, and we'll be joined at that point by the leader of Plaid Cymru. So, on the first session, First Minister, do you wish to introduce your officials for the record, please?

10:05

So, Chair, I'm joined for this session by Stuart Evans and by Claire Bennett, who are the deputy director and the director in the part of the Welsh Government that covers the material we will be talking about this morning.

Thank you, and, because of our timings, we will go straight into questions. I'm going to be a bit strict, if I can, today, and ask the First Minister in both sessions, the second session in particular, if we can have as succinct answers as possible so we can get through as many items as possible. So, over to Jenny to start the questions on the equality and human rights session today.

Bore da. First Minister, I wondered what discussions you may have had with the UK Government about the constantly moving feast of the UK Bill of Rights Bill.

Well, Chair, thank you. We've had a succession of contacts with the UK Government on this subject. I myself took the very first phone call on it, which was a call from the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, Dominic Raab, who was responsible for the development of the Bill. As Jenny Rathbone has suggested, since then the Bill has been in and out of successive legislative programmes. The most recent contact with UK Government came on Monday of this week. Lord Bellamy, who is a junior Minister with responsibility for the Bill of Rights Bill, came to Cardiff, and he offered to do that, to talk about the Bill of Rights Bill, so let's be positive about the fact that that offer was made, and he has undertaken to make a further visit to Wales once the Second Reading of the Bill has been completed.

The meeting was attended by my colleagues the Counsel General and by the Minister for Social Justice. I think, to be fair, we didn't learn a great deal from the meeting. Lord Bellamy said we were to expect the Bill to be introduced in short order, but I see since then there have been a series of media reports that the Bill is to be delayed and that Downing Street hasn't denied—it hasn't confirmed that either, but it hasn't denied—the delay. And certainly we didn't learn anything about content. So, while there has been contact—recent contact and promises of more—I don't think I could say that we're much further forward in understanding what the Bill of Rights Bill, the latest version of it, will be intended to do or how its parliamentary passage will be planned.

Okay. Two brief supplementaries on that. One is: any indication from Lord Bellamy, or anybody else, that, were they to actually produce what they're going to put before Parliament, there might be due consideration given to any amendments from either devolved Governments or devolved Parliaments.

We continue to work with the Scottish Government, Chair, on potential amendments to any Bill. I don't think I could say that we got an indication from Lord Bellamy on that issue, because, as I say, I don't think he was in a strong position to explain to us what the content of any latest version of the Bill would be. But we will pursue an amendment strategy if the Bill is introduced. The Counsel General is due to be in the House of Lords on, I think it is 9 January, and that is a meeting that has been partly organised through Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, cross-bench peers. It'll be open to all peers with an interest in Welsh matters, and it'll be an opportunity for the Counsel General to let peers know of our concerns with the Bill and to prepare the ground for any action we may wish to stimulate and support in the House of Lords, should amendments be necessary.

Well, that's very useful to know. I just wondered what your assessment is of the impact of this suggested Bill on UK-EU relations, given that we've got the Home Secretary openly saying that she wants to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, and the Secretary of State for Justice saying that there is no intention to do that. It seems that—. Two very high-level Ministers with contradictory views. What impact is that having on our relations with the EU? 

10:10

Well, on one level, Chair, I think you could argue that it shouldn't have much of an impact. The Human Rights Act 1998 is not contingent upon membership of the European Union; it comes from the 1951 convention that the United Kingdom was a founding signatory of, and it's the Strasbourg court, not the European Court of Justice, that is responsible for the judicial oversight of it at an international level, and the TCA—the trade and co-operation agreement—that was reached when the United Kingdom left the European Union contains a commitment on both sides to respecting human rights as a shared principle. So, on that level, I think you could argue that the two things ought not to have a connection directly one with the other. The problem is, as I think Jenny Rathbone was suggesting, that the UK Government's recent willingness to breach international law and to say that that's what they intend to do, and to challenge the TCA, means that there is a cloud of suspicion that hangs around the UK Government's actions in these international arenas. So, I think that's how it intrudes upon UK-EU relations—that the actions of the UK Government in the human rights field will be seen through the lens of its recent behaviour in relation to international matters and the damage that has been done to the reputation of the United Kingdom as a country that, when it enters into an agreement, has every intention of sustaining that agreement.

What impact do you think it will have on human rights if the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill goes ahead and all EU law automatically expires at the end of next year?

Well, Chair, here I think it probably does depend upon—. Sorry to sound as though I'm back in an academic seminar, but it depends what we mean by human rights. So, if what Jenny Rathbone means is the broad swathe of consumer rights, environmental rights, workers' rights, that those are the things that, in the end, make up what we mean by human rights, then we should be very worried about that Bill, because the pace at which it is being taken forward, and the recklessness, I believe, that is inherent in the UK Government's strategy in relation to retained EU law, every day, every time that we look at it, has the potential to do harm to the rights that Welsh citizens have in those areas. If you took a narrower definition of what do we mean by human rights—if we meant the article rights, the convention rights—then, actually, I don't think that the EU retained law Bill really does bite on that. There's an indirect relationship between the things I've just mentioned—the consumer rights and the environmental rights and so on and the convention rights, the article rights—but I don't think that that piece of legislation directly has an impact upon the ability of Welsh citizens to exercise their article and their convention rights.

But—. Yes, it's more all the other rights that you've described. I'll pass it over to another Member.

Could I just ask one question on that, First Minister? I'll go to Peter in a second. You've indicated that you don't think the revocation Bill will have the impact upon the convention, but, therefore, would you expect a UK Bill to include the aspects that will be revoked, to build upon, so that all of those rights will be put into a UK bill of rights, full stop? 

Oh, I wish I did. As I think you indicated, Chair, in an earlier question, the UK Government doesn't always speak with a single voice on lots of these things. There are messages that come out of Whitehall that what is planned is a transposition into domestic law of the rights that Welsh citizens and UK citizens have enjoyed through their membership of the European Union. That's the point of the Bill—it's not to do away with those rights, it's just to restate them in domestic law rather than relying on retained EU law. But there are plenty of other voices that you hear coming out of Whitehall that talk about this as an opportunity to deregulate the United Kingdom, to roll back the things that are there in the retained law, and that we shouldn't expect that there will be a straightforward transposition of those rights from retained law into domestic law.

It's a huge undertaking, Chair. It's why I said earlier that this is such a reckless course of action, to be doing this at the speed and with the consequences that the UK Government currently continues to say it intends to carry out this exercise. This is all to be done by this time next year, and there are literally thousands of individual strands of retained EU law that will have to be transposed by then or will simply fall away at the end of the next calendar year. I think that that is an effort that will overwhelm many Whitehall departments. I should probably, particularly in this forum, just sound a warning note to say that, if all this did proceed as the UK Government currently suggests, then it would have an overwhelming impact upon the ability of both the Welsh Government and the Senedd to take forward our own legislative programmes. There simply will not be enough lawyers and civil servants to be able to do the transposition work that will be necessary while continuing to do all the things to which the Government and the Senedd is already committed. That's why I think we must hope very much that the UK Government will not stand back from the intention—I don't expect them to do that—but to stand back from the timetable that they've currently declared in order to allow the whole effort to be carried out in a way that gives it the time that it's going to need. 

10:15

Good morning, First Minister. I just to ask a couple of questions around UN conventions in Welsh law. Obviously, the Welsh Government made a commitment to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the convention on the rights of disabled people into Welsh law. I just wondered how we're getting on with that, and when they will be incorporated. 

I thank Peter Fox for that. There is a bit of history here that I'll very briefly rehearse for colleagues. In the final part of the last Senedd term we established a group to give us some advice on all of this, to review the different conventions and how they could be incorporated into Welsh law. It then reported in 2021, published its research report, and we published the Welsh Government's response to all of that in May of this year. We then established a human rights advisory group to oversee the five different strands—of which legislation is only one—in the work of that research group. We took the steering group that was working on all of this, and it has morphed into, if I can put it that way, the human rights advisory group. One of the big changes in that is that it is now ministerially chaired, so the human rights advisory group is ministerially chaired by the Counsel General and by Jane Hutt as the Minister for Social Justice. It meets quarterly. It last met in November. It will meet next in February. It has created its own legislation options sub-group, chaired by Charles Whitmore of the Welsh human rights consortium [correction: Wales civil society forum]. The legislation group, particularly, is populated by people with legal and academic expertise, and they will be providing advice to us on how we can take that commitment forward. I'm sure colleagues here will know that that work goes beyond the two dimensions that we identified in my party's manifesto and in the programme for government to look at other human rights conventions that we may wish to be able to take forward here in Wales. What I'm trying to convey, Chair, is that a lot of work is going on. It's going on purposefully, it's ministerially led, and it will produce the advice we need as to the best way in which we can take forward the commitments that Peter Fox has asked me about. 

10:20

Thank you, First Minister, for that. That was helpful to understand where we are in the journey of that. I wondered how you might respond to concerns from contributors to the ‘Strengthening and Advancing Equality and Human Rights’ report who commented that the existing selective incorporation of human rights was denying protection to some groups. Do you have any reflections on that comment? 

I understand the basic point that is being made, but I probably don't see the argument in quite the same way. If the argument is that by helping some people, where other people aren't getting helped, that somehow that's a denial of rights to people not being helped, I probably see the world slightly differently. I'm just trying to grapple with an example I could offer you, really. Imagine that you were walking down a pavement and you saw a car accident and there were two people hurt, and you could only attend to one of them, what would you do? Would you go and help the one person you could help, or would you not help them on the grounds that to help one person is to disadvantage the person that you haven't been able to help? I think I know what I would do. I wouldn't stand back and help nobody because I couldn't help everybody. I think that's where that argument gets you in the end if you're not careful.  

We want to do more. We want to draw within the human rights ambit more examples of human rights in Wales. But do I think we were wrong earlier in devolution to focus on children's rights, because we weren't at the same time able to attend to all the other strands in the human rights panoply? No, I don't. I think in the end, in Government—and in the work of the Senedd, really—you take forward the work that you are able to take forward, and then you try and strengthen it in areas where you haven't been able to make the same progress. But it's not an argument, I believe, for not doing the things you can do. 

Thank you. If you were to add further convention rights, which ones would the Government plan to do, or which might be your priority? 

Amongst the additional strands that the group that is helping us are looking at will be older persons' rights. I met with the Older People's Commissioner for Wales in the last couple of weeks, alongside the publication of her annual report. She has a strong focus on the rights of older people and is a powerful advocate for us doing more to incorporate the rights of older people into this agenda. We will publish our LGBTQ+ action plan early next year, and, again, that's another strong candidate for being included in an expanded range of human rights strands that we will take forward together. There will be more, I'm sure, that the group will want to advise us on where there are underrepresented groups, alongside the two groups that we have already committed to taking forward. 

10:25

First Minister, before I move on to Jenny, I'm going to talk about another recommendation from the advisory group. You mentioned in an earlier answer to Jenny Rathbone the capacity the Welsh Government would have to undertake a variety of its own legislation if the EU revocation—. Even if some of that came through, it would obviously impact upon capacity. Where would the capacity be to be able to ensure that any convention is included in the legislation of the Welsh Government? 

The capacity comes in two main ways, Chair. I probably will ask Claire to set out for you some of the new arrangements regarding the way the civil service that works with the Welsh Government on this has been structured to support it. The two basic strands are, first, legal services, and a huge amount of the analysis that has to be carried out on the EU retained law front draws on our legal services. They did a heroic job, I think, in making sure that the transposition of that EU law earlier in the Brexit process was successfully carried out here in Wales. And as, Chair, you will remember, certainly from some of your previous chairing roles, that involved a very high volume of secondary legislation having to come in front of the Senedd. Our legal services colleagues have demonstrated in the past their ability to do this job successfully. It's just the volume of it; that's the point that I was trying to emphasise. I think I saw a note that, in advice to UK Ministers recently, civil servants were saying to them that they had discovered another 1,400 pieces of legislation within retained EU law that would have to be redesignated by December next year, if the current timetables are to be sustained. So, it's whether we would have to take people away from other pieces of legislation that they're currently working on in order to cope with the volume of EU retained law that we would have to deal with within the timescale that we have to work within. That was the point I was trying to make, that—

I was just trying to make sure that, if recommendations came forward for inclusion in legislation, you would have the capacity to make that happen. 

Well, no. I just want to be clear: the only way we would have that capacity is by making choices. There's no spare capacity sitting around waiting to do this. There is a capacity there already and, as I said, it has demonstrated its capability, but if the floodgates were to open and we suddenly had to deal with this huge volume in a very constrained time frame, there is no spare capacity for that, it would be diverted capacity—capacity diverted away from all the other things that we as a Government are trying to bring to the Senedd and that, very regularly, individual Senedd Members and Senedd committees ask us to do more. So, that's where the direct impact would come. 

The second strand in that, Chair, is, as I said, the way in which we've organised civil service capacity to support this agenda. I don't know whether you want Claire to just very briefly say something on that. 

If you don't mind, Claire, I'll come back to you if I need to. I'm just conscious of the time. Jenny. 

I just want to move to a slightly different focus, which is on the quality of equality impact assessments. Earlier this year, the Equality and Social Justice Committee did an inquiry into the childcare policy, and there was a concern that no equality impact assessment had been done of the impact on the child, as opposed to the situation of the adult. Those who are in work get childcare, but those children whose parents are not in work, or latterly now in training or education, don't get that valuable quality childcare. So, I wondered if you could just tell us what your overall strategy is on improving equality impact assessments, whether it's in relation to childcare or anything else.

10:30

Well, first of all, Chair, to recognise that there is always work that we need to do to improve the impact assessments that go alongside major policy developments and legislation, and the recently published report of the Auditor General for Wales is very helpful to us in this regard. He has a series of recommendations as to how we can improve particularly the integration of different strands in equality impact assessments.

So, the current focus of Welsh Government's efforts to improve the way that impact assessments are made is to draw on the recommendations of that report. We are organising additional training sessions with our civil service colleagues on all of that, and within it, as I say, there's a focus on improving impact assessments in general, but particularly in the way in which we produce integrated equality impact assessments, so that we don't have—as the Auditor General says can happen in the less successful cases—a series of stand-alone assessments without recognising that all of these come together and have a single combined impact, whether that is on children, or whether it's on families, or whatever other aspect we are looking to assess. And that's where the focus of our current work to improve the system currently rests.

Okay. Thank you. In light of the time, I just want to move on briefly to talk about European citizens' rights, and particularly to focus on the 38,000 Europeans living in Wales who've only got pre-settled status and they need to make a second application if they want to stay beyond the five-year period, and I just wondered how the Welsh Government plans to ensure that these people are supported to understand that they must make that second application.

First of all, Chair, just to be as accurate as I can, it isn't really in the capacity of the Welsh Government to ensure that outcome, and it's not actually our responsibility to do it at all; this remains a responsibility of the UK Government and the Home Office, who continue to say that they will take all necessary action to make sure that those thousands of EU citizens in Wales who have pre-settled status, which expires after five years, will be contacted and reminded and offered assistance to make sure that they can apply for full settled status. And actually, it is only the UK Government that has access to the data about who those pre-settled citizens are; the UK Government will have and has a legitimate right to have the names and the addresses of those people, and we don't. Data protection reasons probably quite properly mean that we don't have access to that level of detail.

What we will do, Chair, is to do the things that we did when we supported EU citizens in Wales in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. And I think some of the figures that Jenny Rathbone quoted demonstrates some of the success we had. We managed to get tens of thousands more EU citizens registered in this way than was originally anticipated, and that was partly because of the efforts that we took. The publicity efforts, the way in which we mobilised, for example, the Catholic school sector, where we knew there would be a disproportionate number of people—parents who have children from Poland—there to reach them, and the investment that we made in providing general advice services through the CABx, specialist legal advice services through Newfields Law. We've extended the contract with Newfields Law into next year so that that specialist advice will be available for people who already find themselves needing to reapply, because the clock has ticked away; they've had pre-settled status, now the have to apply again, and we'll continue to play our part in making sure that that happens

The other thing that we will do, Chair, is to support the IMA, the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens Rights Agreement, based, of course, in Swansea, and with a Welsh member on that authority. There may be some colleagues—I see John Griffiths on my screen, John will certainly remember Ronnie Alexander, who was the chief environmental officer for Wales in the first decade of devolution. Ronnie is the Welsh member on the IMA. It has recently received permission from the High Court to proceed with its judicial review claim against the Home Office. So, the IMA believes that the Home Office is acting illegally in its conclusion that people who failed to upgrade their pre-settled status to settled status will automatically lose all their rights. So, we support the IMA in that effort, and that's a slightly separate strand in the efforts that we will be taking to try to make sure that people with pre-settled status don't just allow that status to lapse and then find themselves in a very, very difficult position indeed. These can be people who have lived in Wales for decades and decades, so this will be very serious stuff indeed.

10:35

The committee I chair works very closely with the IMA and, in fact, I'm hosting an event in the Senedd in the first week back after Christmas. So, just one final thing on this, which is that many families took the decision back in February or March last year to stay in Ukraine, particularly if they weren't in the immediate line of battle on the east side of Ukraine, but given the impact of the war on basic services throughout the whole country, there are concerns about the EU settlement scheme family permit now being closed to Ukrainian family members unless they meet very narrow late application criteria. I just wondered if the Government has raised this with the new Prime Minister, given that this may become a really acute problem.

I've had two conversations with the new Prime Minister, and Ukraine was certainly touched upon in the second of those meetings and in the council of Ministers that the new Prime Minister chaired as part of the new inter-governmental relations machinery. We didn't, though, dwell on the issue that Jenny Rathbone has just raised with me.

Again, Chair, Claire will correct me if I've not got this right, because Claire has led lots of the work we have done in Wales to welcome people from Ukraine. If I've got this right, while the EUSS family permit scheme is now closed to Ukrainian family members, they are still able to come to the United Kingdom under the Ukraine family scheme, and the Ukraine family scheme very significantly mitigates the loss of the EUSS route into the United Kingdom. So, of all the many things that we are right to worry about in relation to the awful circumstances in Ukraine and our wish to go on providing what help we can, I don't think that the EUSS family permit closure is the biggest issue, because that alternative route has opened up for families instead.

10:40

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, Prif Weinidog. Jest i ddod nôl at y pre-settled status yma, mi wnaethoch chi, flwyddyn ddiwethaf, wneud llythyr agored i ddinasyddion Ewropeaidd yn esbonio bod yna groeso cynnes iddyn nhw yng Nghymru, ac, wrth gwrs, mae hynny'n rhywbeth rŷn ni i gyd yn awyddus i'w gyfleu. Ond gan fod y rownd gyntaf o geisiadau nawr ar ddiwedd y pum mlynedd o'r pre-settled status yma'n dod, wel, fwy na thebyg ganol y flwyddyn nesaf—y rhai cyntaf—oes yna fwriad gennych chi i anfon neges debyg eto er mwyn tanlinellu cymaint rŷn ni'n gwerthfawrogi presenoldeb dinasyddion Ewropeaidd yng Nghymru? A hefyd, wrth gwrs, os ydyn ni'n licio fe neu beidio, mae'n debyg bydd rhai—[Anghlywadwy.]—symud, ac mi allai hynny ddod â goblygiadau i rai sectorau yn yr economi, er enghraifft. Dwi jest yn meddwl a ydych chi fel Llywodraeth yn dechrau meddwl am unrhyw fath o contingency? Rŷch chi eisoes yn ymwybodol pa sectorau rŷn ni'n ddibynnol arnyn nhw o safbwynt dinasyddion yr Undeb Ewropeaidd, felly pa feddwl sy'n digwydd nawr, cyn ein bod ni'n ffeindio'n hunain â diffyg mewn rhai sectorau mewn misoedd i ddod?

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, First Minister. Just to return to pre-settled status, last year, you wrote an open letter to European citizens explaining that they were warmly welcomed in Wales, and that is something that we're all eager to convey. But as the first round of applications at the end of the first five years of pre-settled status will come most likely at the middle of next year, do you have an intention to send a similar message again to underline how much we appreciate the presence of these groups in Wales? And also, of course, whether we like it or not, it's likely that some people will move, and that will have implications for some sectors of the economy. Are you as a Government thinking of some sort of contingency plan, or are you aware already what sectors we're reliant on in terms of European citizens? So, what thinking is going on now, before we find ourselves with a shortage in certain sectors in months to come? 

Wel, Cadeirydd, diolch yn fawr i Llyr Gruffydd am y cwestiynau. Ar yr un cyntaf, wrth gwrs, rŷn ni eisiau gwneud mwy i dynnu sylw at y ffaith y bydd rhaid i bobl gyda pre-settled status wneud cais arall i aros yma yng Nghymru. Mae'r sefyllfa ddim cweit yr un peth. Pan oedd y llythyr gwreiddiol yn cael ei gyhoeddi, roedd pob un bron ar yr un amserlen, so, roedden ni'n gwybod pryd i gyhoeddi'r llythyr i dynnu sylw pobl at beth roedd rhaid iddyn nhw ei wneud. Y broblem gyda pre-settled status yw bod y cyfnod yn wahanol i bob un. So, dyw e ddim cweit mor hawdd i gyhoeddi un llythyr sy'n cael yr un effaith i bob un. So, wrth gwrs, rŷn ni yn mynd i wneud mwy i dynnu sylw ac i weithio gyda phobl. A ydyn ni'n gallu jest ei ailwneud trwy un llythyr agored? Dwi ddim cweit yn siŵr, achos mae'r sefyllfa lot yn fwy cymhleth achos mae'r amserlen i bob person yn gallu bod yn wahanol. 

Un o'r ffyrdd sydd ar agor inni i dreial helpu pobl yw, fel roedd Llyr Gruffydd yn ei ddweud, trwy weithio gyda'r bobl sy'n gweithio yma yng Nghymru mewn gwsanahaethau cyhoeddus. Roedd hwnna'n un o'r pethau roedden ni'n gallu ei wneud y tro diwethaf. A dwi'n siŵr, yn y maes iechyd, er enghraifft, bydd y byrddau iechyd yn ymwybodol am bobl sy'n gweithio gyda nhw nawr ble bydd yn rhaid iddyn nhw wneud cais arall pan mae'r cyfnod o pre-settled status yn dod i ben. Dwi'n fodlon, wrth gwrs, ar ôl y cyfarfod, i danlinellu hwnna gyda'r gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yma yng Nghymru i fod yn siŵr, pan fyddwn ni'n gallu gwybod pwy sydd yn y sefyllfa yna a beth gallwn ni fel Llywodraeth neu awdurdodau lleol ei wneud i helpu pobl i ddod ymlaen i ailymgeisio am settled status, i wneud popeth rŷn ni'n gallu i weithio gyda phobl i'w helpu nhw ar y daith yna.

I thank Llyr Gruffydd for those questions. On the first one, of course, we do want to do more to draw attention to the fact that people with pre-settled status will have to make another application to remain in Wales. The situation isn't quite the same. When the original letter was published, everyone nearly was on the same timetable, so we knew when to publish the letter to draw people's attention to what they had to do. The problem with pre-settled status is that the time period is different for everybody. So, it's not quite as simple as publishing one letter that has the same impact for everyone. So, of course, we are going to do more to draw attention to this and to work with people. If we can do it again through another open letter, I'm not sure, because the situation is a lot more complex because the timetable for every person can be different.

One of the ways open to us to try to help people is, as Llyr Gruffydd said, working with people who are working here in Wales in public services. That was one of the things that we could do last time around. And I'm sure that, in the area of health, for example, the health boards will be aware of people who are working with them now where they will have to make another application when the pre-settled period comes to an end. Of course, after this meeting, I'm willing to emphasise that with public services here in Wales to ensure that, when we do know who is in that situation and when we as a Government or local authorities can do more to help people to reapply for settled status, that we will do everything that we can do to help people along that journey. 

Thank you. That takes us quite nicely on to the next topic of refugees and asylum seekers, and I will hand over to John Griffiths.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, Prif Weinidog. Thankfully, Wales is a nation of sanctuary now, with a progressive plan from Welsh Government to work with communities, local authorities and the third sector to make sure that it is a positive experience and a welcoming experience for asylum seekers and refugees coming to our country. But, I'm sure you're aware, First Minister, there is a deal of concern at the moment that the UK Nationality and Borders Act will adversely impact on that experience here in Wales. I wonder whether the Welsh Government has made an assessment of the impact of that legislation on the ability of the Welsh Government to realise the ambitions in the nation of sanctuary plan.

10:45

Well, we have made an assessment, Chair, and, unsurprisingly, given the discussions that we've had on the floor of the Senedd on this matter, we believe that the Nationality and Borders Act will have a detrimental impact upon on our ambitions to be, as John Griffiths said, a nation of sanctuary. Our analysis is pretty bleak of all of this, because of the way in which the Act treats people coming to the United Kingdom. It will increase destitution; it will create more people who have no access to public funds and no way of meeting their most basis needs. When you have a group of people who are in that desperate situation, then the second detrimental impact of the Bill will be to increase the risk of exploitation of those people, because, unfortunately and very sadly, there are people out there, we know, who prey upon the most vulnerable. The Act creates new vulnerabilities for people who find their way to the United Kingdom, and they will be on the lookout for people to exploit them. The figures of reports from Wales to the modern slavery authorities are really very concerning. We've had, I think, over 80 children reported to the modern slavery authorities in Wales in the last 12 months. Our fear is that the Nationality and Borders Act increases destitution, increases exploitation of migrants and increases homelessness because of the way people don't have access to public services.

I find myself baffled, really, at the way in which the UK Government has forgotten the lessons it learnt so fast during the pandemic—that all of that increases the danger to public health, because where you have populations that are fearful of coming forward when they need help, then, if those people have communicable diseases, they're not going to get the treatment that they need. To be fair, in the early stages of the pandemic, the UK Government worked hard to make sure that people who were in this position, fearful of coming forward to authorities, were able to do so without fear of reprisals, and they did that because they didn't want those people to be a risk to everybody else. In the Nationality and Borders Act, they recreate that source of potential harm, not simply for people who've arrived in the United Kingdom, but for everybody else who is here already. So, I'm afraid, for all of those reasons and more, we think that the effect of the Act is to undermine the ambitions that we would have in Wales for the way that we would respond to the needs of those people and live up to our ambition to be a nation of sanctuary.

Thank you for that, First Minister. If I can move on, then, again in terms of asylum seekers and refugees, and the experience here in Wales, I think many people, many groups, involved in showing a good welcome and a good experience have been quite impressed by what we've been able to offer to refugees from Ukraine. But, they're concerned that we're not always able to offer that level of assistance and help to asylum seekers and refugees from other countries, and they would like to see us ensure more equality of experience, really, no matter which country people are coming from. Is there anything that you could say, First Minister, in terms of Welsh Government's ability, working with others, to ensure a more equal experience for all in those circumstances?

10:50

Chair, the first thing I would say is that a more equal response doesn't mean treating everybody the same, because groups of people who arrive in the United Kingdom come here from very different contexts, and you need to be able to calibrate a response to their experience that tries to be sympathetic to the circumstances that bring them here in the first place. So, we have, in the last 12 months, we believe—there's an important point there that I'll come to in just a moment—about 1,000 people from Hong Kong now living in Wales. The circumstances in Hong Kong have been pretty horrific in many ways, but they are very different from the circumstances that have created 6,000 people from Ukraine coming to live in Wales. So, saying that we're treating people differently and that means that that's unequal, I would just have a slightly different take on that. In some ways it's right to treat people differently when their needs are different, and treating everybody the same is not my idea of equality. But one of the reasons why we have been able to act differently in relation to people from Ukraine is that a space has been created for us to do that. So, I can tell you exactly how many people have arrived from Ukraine, exactly how many people have come through the family route, exactly how many people have come through the Welsh platform, exactly how many visas there still are in the system, and so on, because we had an agreement with the UK Government that we would have that level of involvement in the response to the Ukrainian emergency. 

I said to you that we think about 1,000 people have come from Hong Kong, because that space has not been opened up for us in relation to that group of people. There we are making estimates, because there are no figures available from the UK Government as to exactly how many people are in Wales. It is true—and I understand the anxiety that people express—that we have in some ways been able to do more for people coming from Ukraine, but that is because the space for us to do more has been available to us, and it isn't available for every person who comes to Wales, because immigration, refugee, asylum seeker responsibilities are not devolved to us, and the space we have to operate depends upon what agreements we have with the UK Government, and they vary from different group to different group. 

Okay. Thank you for that, First Minister. It does raise a lot of issues, which I'm sure we'll return to in different fora in due course. If I could move on to free expert immigration advice, there is a report from the Refugee Action organisation that said that, outside the main dispersal areas, our cities in Wales, it's difficult to access legal aid because of lack of good transport links, very often. And in fact, in all of mid and north-west Wales, there's no provision at all. So, I wonder what action Welsh Government would take to address that situation. 

Well, Chair, first of all let me say that the Welsh Government does do whatever we can in these areas. I spoke earlier about the millions of pounds we invested in making sure that EU citizens had access to properly qualified advice to help them with the settled status applications, and I'll come back in a moment to what we are doing specifically in the area that John Griffiths has asked me about. But I think it's really important that I make two points. First of all, the Welsh Government is not responsible for legal aid and it's not responsible for these advice services. The Thomas commission did some detailed analysis of the extent to which Welsh Government funds are now used to fill gaps in UK provision, and it comes to many, many millions of pounds. And I've got two hesitations always about that. No. 1 is that every time we divert money to pay for a responsibility that isn't ours, that's less money to pay for the responsibilities that are ours. So, these things are never cost free. To do more of the sort that John Griffiths has just outlined means there is less to do the things for which we are responsible. And I worry about that every time. We've come to the conclusion, as the Thomas commission report said, that sometimes those needs are so compelling that we have to do that, but I don't think we should think of it as some sort of free hit—it's not at all. If we find money to provide expert immigration advice in mid and north-west Wales, which is not our responsibility, then we will have less money to do things elsewhere. And the second worry I have is that I think there's a real moral hazard. Every time we step in to fill a gap created by somebody else, the risk is that the message it sends to the UK Government is that when they fail to meet their responsibilities, they needn't worry because the Welsh Government will step in and do it instead. And that's not a lesson I think we would want them to draw. I'm just trying to say, Chair, that doing what John has suggested isn't straightforward, and we should think hard about it and make sure we've weighed up the costs as well as the benefits of it.

But we do, as I say, and as the Thomas commission vividly illustrates, step in a lot in this area because services are so thin on the ground. Earlier this year, we awarded funding to the Welsh Refugee Council to deliver our Wales-wide sanctuary service. That is funded now until the end of March 2025 at least, and that does provide free immigration legal advice and advice casework teams across Wales. It doesn't make up for the gaps that have opened up in the legal aid system and the specialist advice system in many parts of Wales, but it is a service that we fund and it is available everywhere. 

10:55

Jack Sargeant wishes to ask us a supplementary to this question. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. First Minister, what John said and what other colleagues have said already clearly shines a light on the need for individuals and groups to access advice, and to seek justice. Perhaps from what was naively hoped for following the Lord Bellamy report, which I think was a good report, from Lord Bellamy, who now is the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, but if we see now—. These are words from the Law Society that I'm going to read. Dominic Raab, the now Secretary of State for Justice, has completely rejected the advice of the UK Government's own independent review on the crisis in the criminal justice system. Now, given that has happened to its own Government review—they completed rejected the advice—does that not call—. I understand the Welsh Government's position and that you agree with the Commission on Justice in Wales that justice should be devolved to Wales. Do you agree with me that, perhaps, that should happen sooner rather than later, so that we can have Welsh legal aid? We then would have control over legal aid in Wales. And perhaps until that journey takes place, First Minister—. I understand what you've said to John about the difficulties with plugging those gaps, and I very much welcome that we have found ways to do that. But we have to strengthen, perhaps, our resource through the single advice fund.

11:00

Chair, I just lost the very end of Jack Sargeant's question, but I think I'd heard the full gist of it. Of course, we have invested considerably more money in the single advice fund, and there is always more we know that we could do if we had more money available to us. The budget round, which will culminate in the draft budget that we will lay in front of the Senedd next week, is the most challenging that I've ever been involved in, and I've been involved, I think, in every single one since the start of devolution, one way or another. And it has undoubtedly been the most difficult. The debate has almost never been about where we can find more money; the debate has almost always been about how we can manage to sustain the level of investment that we currently make in different public services in Wales. So, I mustn't hold out any false hopes for Members this morning that there will be much new money for even the most urgent of purposes. 

On Jack Sargeant's first point, Chair, about doesn't all of this highlight the case for the devolution of justice services to Wales, well, just two points. One, yes it does, and the policy of the Welsh Government, of course, is that criminal justice should be devolved to Wales—a policy endorsed in the Thomas commission and by many, many other independent commentators. But there is a very important caveat to that, which is that, alongside the transfer of responsibilities must come the transfer of the funds needed to discharge those responsibilities. Being offered responsibility for a completely denuded legal aid service would be a very big challenge for any Government taking on that responsibility. So, I regard the Gordon Brown report's proposals, that an incoming Labour Government should transfer responsibilities for youth justice and probation—. Of course, I regard that simply as the first steps on the journey to full devolution, but one of the advantages of starting in that way is that it would allow us to test that second requirement of any transfer of responsibilities, that they come with the funds that would be needed to discharge them. I don't imagine that that will always be an easy conversation with any Government, and starting with youth justice and probation will allow us, I believe, to develop the ground rules around the financial transfers alongside the responsibility transfers. And we will learn a lot and make sure that, then, as I believe, we will move on to the transfer of policing and then the courts, and so on, that we will have developed a template for the funding side of those things in those more modest services of youth justice and probation. And that will be a useful thing for us to have done. 

Laura, did you want to ask a supplementary on this question?

I absolutely agree with you, we need to get some clarity on this, because Lord Bellamy, when he was talking to the legislation and justice committee—the committee chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies—on Monday, he was talking about the Visiting Mum project as if that was something that was funded by the UK Government. Equally, the Welsh Government has committed to house all prisoners leaving prison, on completion of their sentence, and there seems to be a huge gap there between what Lord Bellamy told us, that that happened to all prisoners, and actually it not happening when it related to women leaving either Styal or Eastwood Park. So, how can we make some advances even on the current situation, which seems to be a complete muddle?

Well, Chair, making advances in the current climate has been very difficult. The Thomas commission has a whole series of recommendations that are for the Welsh Government and Welsh authorities to take forward, and we are making progress on those, and we publish information as to the progress we are making. And I don't want to sound as though it is impossible to make progress on some things with the UK Government. We've made genuine progress in youth justice, which is a shared responsibility, and the blueprint approach has underpinned that, and I think that has helped create a strong case for the transfer of those responsibilities here in Wales, because we've been able to demonstrate the success we've made. And the blueprint for women offenders is a shared document, and we have said many times, and I'll say it again this morning, that we are genuinely appreciative of the fact that the UK Government has looked to create the first women's centre here in Wales. And again, I think that's founded on the good relations that there are at official level and at the front line of these services. But Jenny is also right that many of the other advances we've seen in Wales—a drug and alcohol court, a family dispute court—there wouldn't be examples in Wales if the Welsh Government wasn't putting funding into making those things happen, whereas they're fully funded by the UK Government when they happen in England. So, that takes me back into that sort of moral hazard territory; we do it because it's the right thing, we do it because we know it will make a positive difference to families and to the system in Wales, but we are paying for things that, in other places, the UK Government pays for fully and properly, whereas here in Wales, the Welsh Government finds itself always being expected to not just play our part in terms of joint working and so on, but funding things that really are not for us to fund in order to make them happen.

11:05

I want to move on to the next theme now, which is children and young people, and the first question will come from Laura Anne Jones, and then Jack Sargeant will follow on.

Thank you, Chair. If I may just have two quick ones, including this one. First Minister, the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 imposes a duty on our Welsh Ministers to give due regard to children's rights, but it does not in turn impose any duties on public bodies, through which many ministerial functions, of course, are discharged. Given the increasing financial pressures on public bodies, such as health boards and local authorities, are you confident that they can deliver services to ensure children get their rights to education, health and social care, and will they be protected in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? Thank you.

I thank Laura Anne Jones for those two questions, Chair. I probably should have said in answering an earlier question about the human rights advisory group and the way they're taking forward the research report is that it also offers us an opportunity to revisit that debate that lay behind the 2011 measure, which is that due regard debate. The Senedd—or the Assembly as it was then—decided that the due regard approach was the right one to adopt here in Wales, because it means that front-line workers are not put in a position of carrying the responsibility for those conventions on their shoulders when they knock the door of a family or are dealing with a young person, and back then we decided that that would not be a fair or a proportionate responsibility to place on them, and it was placed better with Welsh Ministers and, through them, public authorities. But the work of the human rights group gives us a chance to revisit that a decade later: is that still the right answer to that debate? So, I thank Laura Anne Jones for drawing attention to that, because I think we have an opportunity to revisit that and to see whether we would come to a different conclusion now, over a decade later.

In the current circumstances, how do we try and ensure that young people and children get the rights to which they are entitled in very tough times? Well, we will rely on the mechanisms that we have in place. So, we were the first country in the United Kingdom to have a children's commissioner. I think that office has demonstrated time and time again the authority that it brings to its work, and the seven-year tenure of Professor Sally Holland, I thought, was an outstandingly successful period in the history of that office. The commissioner will be there to report on, speak up for, hold to account public bodies in exercising those responsibilities, even in these very tough times.

Chair, I attended—was it last weekend? I think it may have been—a conference of care-experienced young people here in Wales, and I was struck, being there, at the very big difference in the way that young people's rights are understood and talked about by young people compared to what is, I know, now, a long time ago, when I was a practising social worker and would have been working with young people in the care system, when the idea that these were young people who had rights was a very small part of the way in which we thought about things. They were the objects, if they were lucky, of the benign concern of the people who looked after them—the passive objects of that concern. Whereas the young people at that conference, the care-experienced young people, used the language of rights all through the day. They are much, much more aware of it, and the children's commissioner's office was there as well. So, I think we shouldn't lose sight of the ground that has been gained over the last 20 years and how young people themselves will play a part in asserting their continued rights.

In other parts of the spectrum, Chair, we have taken recent action—[Inaudible.]—the landscape here. The Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, passed in the current Senedd, placed a duty, as colleagues will know, on governing bodies and headteachers to promote knowledge and understanding of rights in schools. So, that would be another place where new guardians of children's rights will be created for the future.

11:10

Yes. Thank you, First Minister. If I may just talk to you about—going on the theme of, as you say, in schools, and equality and children's rights—something that was highlighted on the floor of the Senedd yesterday, actually, with the proposed British Sign Language Bill. Due to the great numbers of children requiring to be educated in British Sign Language and our unfortunate inability to hold those BSL exams in Wales, I know that, yesterday, Qualifications Wales said that they were looking into an exam, as did the Government, in the future, but that's quite some years in advance. I'm just thinking about those children's rights and, in the meantime, how we are going to protect those children's rights to an equal education and the right to do those exams in British Sign Language. Thank you.

Well, again, thank you for the question. I wasn't able to be in the Chamber during that debate, but I will definitely be reading the transcript of it and discussing with my ministerial colleagues what more we can do to uphold the rights of the Deaf community, people who choose to live their lives through the use of BSL and other aspects of their lives. I'm familiar with it, to an extent, from the time that I was the health Minister, where we did our best to advance the way in which very basic services—. Sitting in the GP's waiting room, where a very squawky box in the corner of the waiting room tells you who is to come forward next for treatment, well, for Deaf citizens, that didn't work at all.

I think there has been, over the last 10 years, an increasing understanding of the need and the right of those citizens to receive services in a way that makes them accessible to them, and I'm very happy to take up the point that was raised in the debate about the way in which children in those circumstances have access to basic things like examinations in the language that they are best able to use.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. First Minister, I'm wondering if you have a response to the calls from the Auditor General for Wales, who's called for a national strategy for alleviating poverty. If the Government is considering this—and we'll tempt that from your response—will there be a focus directly on young people that isn't included in the child poverty strategy?

11:15

Chair, my recollection of what the auditor general said was that what he called for was an update of the existing child poverty strategy, and that's the way in which we are taking forward that recommendation. So, in that sense, it will definitely answer Jack Sargeant's point about it having a focus on young people, because it will be an updating and an extension of an existing strategy that has children and young people at its heart. We are working on that new strategy. It will be published next year.

I'm going to take the chance to just repeat something that I think I ended up being drawn into on the floor of the Senedd this week, though. If I was back working in the university and looking at the history of devolution, I think I'd be inclined to say that we spent an awful lot of our time strategising and maybe are more aware today than we once were of the implementation gap between having a strategy and what actually happens on the ground. We have had a Cabinet group meet every week since the start of the autumn term focusing on poverty issues in the context of the cost-of-living crisis. And what I have said from the beginning and repeat every meeting is that I want those meetings to be about practical ideas—things that we can actually make happen that then have an impact in the lives of people who are facing such a difficult and challenging winter here in Wales. And lots of those practical actions are, of course, in the field of poverty alleviation. If I had to choose between asking my civil service colleagues to spend their time writing another strategy, or helping us to identify those practical actions and working with our colleagues in the third sector, local government and the faith communities and so on to make those actions happen, I know that my preference is for a focus on the things that make a difference. The strategy work goes on alongside it, but strategies are not a substitute in the current context for a focus on the things that actively can happen and make a difference to people who are struggling every day.

Can I thank the First Minister for that answer? We've had many a conversation, First Minister, where I seek practical solutions to things, rather than too many discussions around tables—perhaps that comes from my own personal background. Can I say that I'm particularly proud to hear about the summit with care leavers, because it is important that we speak to those on the ground where the decisions we make in the Senedd and the decisions you make in the Welsh Government have the biggest impact? With that in mind, it's obviously important to speak to young people, and the young person's guarantee—. I'm aware there will be a statement next week to the Senedd from the Minister for Economy. I'm just wondering if I could tempt you—and perhaps I'm being a bit cheeky here as it's towards the end of the year and near Christmas—is there anything you can tell the committee today about the content of that statement?

Chair, thank you. I'm happy to help as much as I can, because the Cabinet has had a paper from Vaughan Gething, as the Minister responsible for the young person's guarantee, which has looked at the different strands in it. And what I think you will hear from the Minister next week is how we are going to place some different emphases on some of the strands within the programme to make sure that it reaches those people who are still the furthest away from the labour market in Wales.

There's a paradox, Chair, isn't there, about the young person's guarantee? The original idea was quite definitely discussed in a context where we believed that, coming out of the pandemic, the problem would be finding work for people who found that the jobs they had done prior to the pandemic were no longer available—that the problem would be a shortage of work. Well, as you know, as we've come out of the pandemic, the problem has turned out to be exactly the opposite. The problem with the Welsh economy is a shortage of workers and not a shortage of work. So, we need to readjust the focus of the young person's guarantee so that it is meeting today's challenge and not necessarily the challenge we thought we would have when the guarantee was first devised. So, it will be about finding ways in which that stubborn group in the Welsh population, including young people, who find themselves without the skills or capacity that they need, take up the jobs that are there and where employers struggle to get people to take them up, and we do more through the guarantee to help those young people to become equipped to take their place in a very tight labour market, where those young people are real assets—they could be and we want them to be, real assets—to the Welsh economy. So, I think you're likely to hear things from the economy Minister about about how the young person's guarantee can be adjusted; it is certainly not a matter of tearing it up and starting all over again, because it's been very successful. But we can recalibrate it in some ways, so that it is focused on helping with the challenge we face today, and rethink some of the ways in which we had originally thought of it as being a vehicle for creating loads of opportunities in an economy that was short of them.

11:20

Jenny Rathbone has got a short supplementary, and then we have three minutes left.

Okay. Basically, I just wanted to look at the rights of the child to an education. A recent inquiry that the Equality and Social Justice Committee has done is on the numbers of people with communication and speech and language difficulties who are involved in the youth justice service. And the overwhelming evidence is that a lot of this goes back to the poor communication skills that children establish from birth, that are present when they're three, and then that lead to exclusion from school when they get to secondary school. So, I wondered if you could just say something about the rights of the child to an education that's tailored to their needs.

Well, children in Wales have a right to an education. In the youth justice ambit, one of the reasons I think we have succeeded as we have in that radical reduction in the number of young people from Wales who end up in custody is that it was a very early adopter of a trauma-informed approach to working with those young people. So, it very early on recognised what Jenny Rathbone has highlighted in her question—that many of those young people who end up in the jaws of the criminal justice system, that the roots of that lie very for back in their very early experiences. A strong psychological focus and specialist services to help those young people address those difficulties have been part of the way in which we've persuaded the system that a criminal justice response is not the right answer to those young people.

More generally, I have always been concerned—I remain concerned—that we have a system in Wales in which schools do not respond to young people in difficulty by excluding them from education. I think huge efforts are made around Wales in that regard, but, in a way that would be familiar to all members of this committee, those efforts are more successful in some schools and in some authorities than they are in others. And there is still work to be done in Wales to make sure that the techniques and the commitment that some schools demonstrate, where children are almost never excluded, are learnt by schools whose records are less successful. I definitely don't want to underplay the enormous commitment that is shown by the system, but I want to as well recognise what Jenny said, that those children who find themselves excluded have not lost their right to an education, and we need a system that strains every sinew to prevent exclusion happening in the first place, rather than funding new ways to respond to it after it's happened.

11:25

Thank you, First Minister. That brings us to the end of the first evidence session we have with you this morning. Can I thank you and your officials for attending this first session? We will now take a five-minute break to prepare for the second session. So, if everyone's okay, five minutes, and we'll continue then.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:26 ac 11:32.

The meeting adjourned between 11:26 and 11:32.

11:30
3. Sesiwn i graffu ar waith y Gweinidog—y cytundeb cydweithio
3. Ministerial scrutiny sessions—the co-operation agreement

Can I welcome the public back to this morning's meeting? We now move on to the second session. Can I welcome Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, to this meeting this morning, in relation to the co-operation agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru? In this final session, we will go into those questions. First Minister, do you want to introduce your officials for this session?

Thank you, Chair. So, with me for this session, I have Rachel Garside-Jones and Rebecca. They both work in the co-operation unit, which draws together civil servants to help us make the progress that we need to on the 47 items [correction: 46 items] contained in the agreement. 

And we have Nicola with us as well. Good morning, all. Okay, I'm going to ask the first question, and then I will go to my colleagues. This co-operation agreement was established 12 months ago. We have only just recently celebrated the first year of it, and you've published a report on that first year. But it was developed prior to the crisis in Ukraine, prior to the inflationary crisis that we are now seeing, and prior to the cost-of-living challenges that are now being faced by all Governments. Therefore, perhaps the question that I want to ask is—as with all Governments, priority is the important thing—have you changed your priorities in this co-operation agreement, and what may have to go by the wayside as a consequence of those pressures that you are facing in the years ahead of us? I will go to the First Minister, and then I'll come to Adam Price.

Well, Chair, we haven't changed the priorities in the agreement. They were hammered out in a lengthy period of negotiations, and they remain the key things that we are committed to working on together. But that doesn't mean that we don't keep them regularly under review. There is a system that we have developed—meetings between the relevant Ministers and the designated members on the Plaid Cymru side, and an oversight board that is jointly held between me and the leader of Plaid Cymru. We are always watching all of our commitments and asking ourselves about how we sustain them, and that is particularly true in the context of budgets. We have been working together in recent weeks, and will continue, in the period between the draft and the final budget, to make sure that we are confident that the aspects of the agreement are being taken forward, and that they continue to represent the key priorities that can be agreed between the parties.

11:35

Yes, the commitments in the co-operation agreement are set out very clearly, aren’t they? And they’re over a course of a three-year agreement, and they remain the commitments that we’re agreed upon. And many of them, of course, are very relevant in the context—even more relevant now—of the cost-of-living crisis that you referred to, David. So, I’d point particularly to the rolling-out of universal free school meals for primary age children, which has already, by September, benefitted 45,000 children and will be extended further over the course of the delivery of that commitment, and is making a huge difference already to those many families that are struggling across Wales as a result of the crisis to which you refer.

Sori, wnaethoch chi fy ngalw fi, yntefe?

Sorry, did you call me?

Sori. Ocê, diolch. Ie, diolch yn fawr. Bore da. Un elfen sydd yn y cytundeb cydweithredu, wrth gwrs, yw’r gydnabyddiaeth o ran yr argyfwng ansawdd a bioamrywiaeth, ac, er gwaethaf y ffactorau mae’r Cadeirydd yn sôn amdanyn nhw, sydd wedi newid yn y cyfnod diwethaf, wrth gwrs, mae’r ffactorau yna yn dal i sefyll, onid ydyn nhw? Mae hwnna’n dal i fod yn argyfwng. Nawr, mi ddywedodd y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd wrth y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd ac Isadeiledd cyn yr haf ei bod hi’n trio’n gryf—bidding strongly, dwi’n meddwl, dywedodd hi—i gael deddfwriaeth mewn i ail flwyddyn y rhaglen ddeddfwriaethol ar osod targedau bioamrywiaeth ar sail ddeddfwriaethol. Felly, gaf i ofyn pam na chafodd y Bil yna ei flaenoriaethu yn y rhaglen ddeddfwriaethol y cyhoeddoch chi ychydig o fisoedd yn ôl?

Sorry. Okay, thank you. Thank you very much. Good morning to you. One element in the co-operation agreement is the recognition of the climate and biodiversity emergency, and, despite the factors that the Chair mentioned, that factor remains. It’s still a crisis and an emergency. Now, the Minister for Climate Change told the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee before the summer that she was bidding strongly—those were her words, I think—for legislation on biodiversity targets in the second year of the legislative programme. So, can I ask why that Bill wasn’t prioritised in your legislative programme, which you published just a few months ago?

First Minister, I think that one’s more directed to you.

Yes, I guess so, Chair. Well, look, I’ve never known the Minister for Climate Change not bid strongly for anything that she is involved in. The legislative programme is a bidding process, and there are always more bids than there are spaces in the programme, and actually the Minister for Climate Change did exceptionally well in that bidding round, because in the last 12 months she has taken the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Act 2021 and, last week, the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill, through the Senedd. She also won time in the legislative programme for the coal tip safety Bill and the air quality Bill. So, it is just a reflection of the process that you go through, and there are always more bids than spaces, and there are only so many Bills you can expect any one Minister to take through the Senedd at any one time, even if it’s for very simple things like being able to timetable committee sessions so that they don’t end up clashing with each other all the time. So, I’m absolutely sure the Minister will return with further strong bids for legislation in the biodiversity field. Llyr Gruffydd, Chair, was absolutely right in what he said—this is an emergency that hasn’t gone away. A great deal of work goes on without legislation and the Minister will return to it, but the reason it didn’t get into the second year was not because of any lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue; if was just the number of other Bills that got there ahead of them, including a long list of Bills for which that Minister herself has been responsible.

Diolch am hynny. Hynny yw, efallai fyddai rhai o bobl yn chwilio am esboniad pam mae'r Biliau eraill wedi bod yn fwy o flaenoriaeth nawr; efallai allwch chi’n sôn yn fyr am hynny. Ond, os dwi’n deall yn iawn, rhan o’r ddeddfwriaeth hefyd fyddai i fynd i’r afael â’r governance gap o safbwynt yr amgylchedd yn dilyn gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd. Nawr, yn amlwg, mi oedd yna drafodaeth yn y Senedd ar hynny'r wythnos yma, a’r cwestiwn mae pobl yn ei ofyn, felly, yw: pryd welwn ni’r ddeddfwriaeth? Yn amlwg, rŷch chi yn mynd i ddweud, ‘Wel, bydd yna bidding process arall ar gyfer blwyddyn nesaf’, ond dwi yn credu bod hwn nawr yn haeddu fod yn un o’r prif flaenoriaethau wrth symud ymlaen, a byddai rhyw fath o indication ynglŷn â lle mae hwn yn eistedd yn y darlun mawr yn cael ei werthfawrogi gan nifer, dwi’n siŵr.

Thank you for that. Perhaps some people would seek an explanation as to why the other Bills were more of a priority, and perhaps you could briefly mention that. But, if I’m understanding this correctly, parts of the legislation would seek to tackle the governance gap in terms of the environment following exiting the EU. Now, clearly, there was a debate in the Senedd on that this week, and the question people are asking is: when will see that legislation? Clearly, you'll say, 'There’ll be another bidding process to go through for next year', but I do think that this does deserve to be one of the main priorities as we move forward, and some sort of indication as to where this sits in the bigger picture would be very much appreciated by many.

11:40

Diolch am yr ail gwestiwn. Does dim amser gyda ni, Cadeirydd, ond, wrth gwrs, fe allaf i esbonio pam, er enghraifft, roedd hi'n bwysig i gael y Ddeddf single-use plastics o flaen y Senedd yn y flwyddyn hon. 

Am y ddeddfwriaeth i'w rhoi yn ei lle ynglŷn â phethau i ddelio â beth mae pobl yn dweud yw'r environmental governance gap ar ôl dod mas o'r Undeb Ewropeaidd, wel, mae pethau gyda ni yn eu lle, ac mae'r gwaith mae Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones wedi ei wneud ac yn mynd i'w wneud yn y flwyddyn nesaf, fel yr aseswr yn y maes hwn, wedi llwyddo ac wedi rhoi amser inni ddyfeisio beth rŷm ni eisiau ei weld am y tymor hir yn y maes yma. Ac rŷm ni'n dal i fod yn benderfynol i ddod ymlaen o flaen y Senedd Fil yn ystod tymor y Senedd hon i lenwi'r bwlch sydd wedi codi. Ond dwi jest yn pwysleisio dydy'r bwlch ddim jest yn fwlch lle does dim byd yn digwydd; mae pethau dros dro gyda ni, a dwi'n meddwl maen nhw wedi bod yn effeithiol. 

Thank you for that second question. We don't have time, Chair, but, of course, I could explain, for example, why it was important to have the Act on single-use plastics before the Senedd during this year. 

Regarding the legislation to put in place things to deal with what people describe as an environmental governance gap following our departure from the European Union, well, we do have things in place, and the work that Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones has done and is going to do next year, as the assessor in this area, has been successful and given us time to devise what we want to see for the long term in this area. And we're still determined to bring forward before the Senedd a Bill during this Senedd term to fill that gap that has arisen. However, I just would like to emphasise the gap isn't one where nothing is happening; there are interim arrangements in place, and I think that they have been very effective. 

Adam, do you want to put the position of Plaid Cymru and the co-operation agreement as to how you will look to prioritise legislation, even though I understand legislation is Welsh Government's responsibility? 

Ie, wrth gwrs. Mae'r cytundeb, wrth gwrs, yn cynnwys yr ymrwymiad i gytuno ar dargedau o ran bioamrywiaeth a hefyd i greu corff llywodraethiant amgylcheddol, ac yn cydnabod y rôl i hynny o ran gwarchod ac adfer bioamrywiaeth. Felly, dyna rŷm ni wedi cyd-gytuno arno fe o ran y cytundeb. Fel mae'r Prif Weinidog yn dweud, rŷm ni'n ymwybodol o'r gwaith datblygu polisi sydd eisoes ar y gweill. Mater i'r Llywodraeth, wrth gwrs, yw penderfynu wedi hynny ar y rhaglen deddfwriaethol ac o ran yr amserlen ar gyfer hynny, ond, o ran y cytundeb, wrth gwrs, mae'n gytundeb tair blynedd ac mae yna commitment clir i ddelifro o ran y targedau ac o ran y corff llywodraethiant o fewn amserlen y cytundeb o ran y dair blynedd. 

Yes, of course. The agreement does include a commitment to agree on biodiversity targets and also to create an environmental governance body, and recognises the importance of that role in terms of protecting and restoring biodiversity. So, that's what we have jointly agreed as part of the co-operation agreement. As the First Minister has said, we are aware of the policy development work that is already in train. It's a matter for Government, of course, to then decide on the legislative programme and the timetable for that, but, in terms of the agreement, of course, it is a three-year agreement and there is a clear commitment to deliver in terms of these targets and the governance body within the timetable for the agreement, which is three years.  

Thank you, Chair. I want to talk about social care, and I was really pleased to see in the co-operation agreement that focus on social care and that you're setting up an expert group. I'm anxious, though, that there is a huge amount of recommendations from the expert group wanting pace—and that was also reiterated by the Welsh NHS Confederation—to make sure we move at speed. And I see no crisis heavier at the moment than the health crisis, and the fact that social care is the unblocker to a lot of that. Do you think that we are making enough progress in regard to delivering on the expert group recommendations, certainly around parity of pay? How can we get urgent solutions, short-term solutions, because when I look at some of the other priorities—second homes, for instance—you've done instant things? The First Minister talked earlier about not wanting to strategise, about practical ideas to do things quickly. Where are the practical ideas to do things quickly in social care? 

I think the commitment to the creation of a national care service is one of the most historic commitments in the entire agreement. It is a radical, progressive commitment, which I think has the potential to have some of the most significant long-term, literally, intergenerational impact. In terms of the principles that are set out as to what a national care service would mean, you referred, Peter, to parity. Parity in terms of pay structures is one element of that between the national health service and the national care service, and, of course, extending the NHS principle of providing care free at the point of need.

So, this is an incredibly significant commitment, and what we are attempting to do, I think, is lay the foundations that will be there for the long term. And that has to be done, of course, carefully and in detail; that's why we wanted to have expert advice. We're very grateful for the work of the expert group. Since then, of course, the UK context, which does have some important consequences, has changed again, and I think that one of the things that we have said, both myself and the First Minister, is we now need to consider ourselves what impact that has and potentially take further advice, with a view, then, to providing the implementation plan, which, as we've set out in the co-operation agreement, we will present by the end of next year. So, we're doing something that we plan to stand the test of time for decades. It is really a generationally significant commitment. We've got to get it right; we've got to lay the foundations properly. Obviously, the other matters you raise in terms of the short term are more probably the responsibility of Welsh Government Ministers.

11:45

Can I ask then that—? Come this time next year, would you expect to be in a position that the co-operation agreement will actually come forward with a plan for a national care service, so that we are able to understand what the implementation will be?

Yes. We set out, in the co-operation agreement, that we will be producing an implementation plan for the creation of the national care service at the end of next year.

—be in a position to understand—in all contexts, because I understand the challenging context we're now operating in, but—we should be in a position this time next year, if we came back to this meeting, with yourself and the First Minister again, we should be able to scrutinise that plan, do you think?

Yes. We've set out that we will be producing an implementation plan by the end of next year, and, obviously, as I've said, there are important considerations now, given the changed context, and both myself and the First Minister have talked about, for example—it's not the only consideration, but—the need to revisit some of the work done previously by Professor Holtham in terms of creating a sustainable financial foundation for a national care service, which will require that long-term financial stable footing, and we'll want to revisit some of those ideas, as well as other ideas that are out there. The trade unions themselves have recently produced their own proposals as to the shape and structure of a national care service, and we'll want to consider those as well.

The only reason I've been pressing this is because, every week, we see the questions, and every week we get the same answers: that the pressure is on the back end, getting people out of hospital, and the social care system is not delivering to allow that to happen. And you saw last night again—we all saw, if you watched the news last night—the ambulances were stacked up outside because they couldn't get people out into social care. So, the timing and the urgency is critical, so I'm pleased to hear that we'll have a plan that's actually scrutinised this time next year. Jack.

Thank you, Chair. I was going to go on to mental health, but I think childcare is particularly important here, and, given what we've said at the start about priorities, and the co-operation agreement is the co-operation agreement, even in the current context, perhaps you could let the committee know what the latest position is on the commitment to expand free childcare to two-year-olds, and I'll look to Adam there first.

Yes. I'm very grateful to do that, and, again, it's another example, I think, of a commitment that was already in place when we signed the co-operation agreement, but, which, given the challenging circumstances that many families find themselves in, has even more relevance, I think, to helping as far and as fast as possible, providing that affordable childcare to families that are struggling. And so, some of the—. Obviously, work is ongoing and is going on at pace, but, in terms of what we're able to report so far in terms of progress, then, from September this year, the Flying Start programme, which Members will be familiar with, was expanded to reach up to 2,500 more children aged nought to four, essentially by increasing the Flying Start target areas in every local authority in Wales. That will have had an impact throughout Wales, using the Flying Start programme as the basis for that.

We've also committed through the agreement £100 million extra investment in childcare. That includes £26 million for the expansion of part-time Flying Start childcare, £70 million for improvements and essential maintenance to childcare settings, and £3.8 million to support more childcare providers and the sector to improve their Welsh language provision, because that was also a dimension that we were very keen to see as part of the overall commitment. So, there's further work ongoing, but those are the steps that we've been able to do immediately, recognising that as we build forward to meet the overall commitment in the co-operation agreement, we were keen wherever possible to make some immediate progress that would be of direct benefit to those families that are facing very challenging times at the moment.

11:50

Thank you, Adam. Chair, if I may, I welcome the immediate work that has taken place already, but, given the immediate work, given the ongoing work that you've described as well, are you confident that that commitment will be delivered by the end of this Senedd term?

Yes. It is a priority area for us. We do receive regular reports and we've asked for regular reports of the oversight board, because we've identified it as a priority area. We get monitoring in terms of the roll-out and in terms of different aspects of the commitment. That happens on a regular basis. Obviously, we have update reports across the whole range of the 46 different areas in the commitment, but the First Minister and I have recognised that this is a key area in terms of its potential positive impacts on families. That's why we've asked for regular reports. As in all of the commitments, of course, we're always keen to satisfy ourselves that the necessary investment is there in order to achieve those commitments.

First Minister, I'll only bring you in if you want to add anything, because we're very short on time. Can I go to Laura Anne Jones for the next question?

Thank you, Chair. I'd just like to bring you to the visitor levy. Firstly, of course, the consultation will be closing next week, but there's some uncertainty, firstly with the timescales of developing and implementing the legislation, and secondly, the tourism industry has called for there to be more transparency on how the money from the tourism tax and the 182-day threshold will be redistributed into the industry. However, I know, Adam, you stated that this money will go into projects connected with the co-operation agreement, such as free-school-meal schemes. Do you regret not being clear in your intentions for this levy and taking more money away from a struggling sector? Thank you.

One of the discussions that I've been having with representatives of the sector and people who are active in the sector is how the visitor levy could work positively for communities that decide to avail themselves of this opportunity, but also could benefit the sector as well. I've had positive discussions on that basis. Obviously we look forward to considering the response to the consultation and ideas that the sector and others have as to how a visitor levy could be used in a positive manner, not just to help communities but also potentially to help the sector as well. So, those are conversations that I've been having, and I'm happy to continue to have those conversations with the sector and with others.

11:55

Chair, to be clear, the consultation says that the purpose of a levy is to reinvest in those conditions that make a success of tourism. How we do that is part of the conversation with the sector. But the point of the levy is to make sure that those places that depend upon tourism go on thriving and have a thriving industry into the future, and that visitors make a very small contribution that they can make to ensuring that success.

We have five minutes left. The last questions are from Jenny.

[Inaudible.]—Chair, I'd be grateful, particularly building safety. Just an update, really, on the commitments in the co-operation agreement to building safety, including the timetable for a Bill.

Thank you, Chair. I'll start off on that if I can. There are two aspects, as colleagues will know, to the work on building safety. We have an existing stock, and we have to make sure that we address fire safety issues in it. We've already done that successfully with publicly owned high-rise buildings, and Members will be familiar with the programme of work that we have to help the privately owned buildings to be brought up to a fire safe standard. But the other strand in the work is a fundamental reform of the building safety regime, to ensure the safety of residents in the future, and that is where legislation will come into it. There is already a very developed set of proposals as to how that new regime can be put in place, to make sure that the difficulties that have been uncovered in the Grenfell context aren't repeated. We've already used some secondary legislation to strengthen aspects of that building safety regime, but the Minister has already committed to a building safety Bill in this Senedd term. I know it is tempting, always, to anticipate what will be said, but Members here will know there is a very established agreed process with the Senedd. It culminates in a legislative statement that the First Minister makes, normally in July, that sets out the Bills that will come forward in what will then be the third year of this Senedd term. There will be, between now and then, a fiercely contested bidding process in which all Ministers will come forward with potential legislation, and a ministerial group, chaired by the Counsel General, does the heavy lifting on all of that. We test each proposal against how well prepared it is, how ready it is to be brought in front of the Senedd, and the building safety Bill will be, undoubtedly, one of the things that we will consider in that process. That's no guarantee it will get into year 3, because there will be many other demands, including the impact of the EU retained law Bill that we discussed in the earlier session. But I'm absolutely certain, from my discussions with the Minister, that it will be a candidate in that process.

I've got one minute left, so I'm going to be very quick on this. The free school meals, I know, has been one of the solutions we've all welcomed very much—universal free school meals—but it's focused on primary schools, and we are committed to completing that by 2024. Adam, you have indicated that you'd like to see that extended. Have you had, yet, discussions as to how this agreement could extend that free school meals agenda into secondary schools, also understanding the challenges we face financially across local authorities?

We haven't had those discussions in the context of the agreement, but the First Minister and I, outside of the context of the agreement, have previously had the opportunity to discuss that. Our position as a party is very clear, that we would like to see it extended to secondary-age pupils. But that isn't currently part of the agreement. It's something that we continue to push for, and we're happy to discuss it with colleagues in all parties on that basis, but it isn't part of the agreement at the current stage.

12:00

Thank you. We are out of time, unfortunately. I know the First Minister has to leave us. So, can I—[Interruption.] No. The First Minister has to leave us. Therefore, we thank you both for attending. I think what I've learned from this is perhaps we need a longer session in future to be able to discuss some of these issues. Perhaps next time, we'll do a longer session on the co-operation agreement. If you're both available to come to the next meeting, we'll do that then. So, thank you both for attending. First Minister and Adam, you'll know that you will get a copy of the transcript from today's meeting; if there are any factual inaccuracies, please let the clerking teams know as soon as possible that that is the case. So, thank you very much and we look forward to our next session with you. 

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Now, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, we resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to do so? We are. We'll now move into private session for the rest of the day.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:01.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:01.