Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

22/06/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. [Interruption.] If I can have some silence from Plaid Cymru, I'll continue. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in Senedd proceedings, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are set out on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber and to those joining virtually.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Hefin David.

Coronavirus Restrictions

1. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government coronavirus restrictions in south-east Wales? OQ56667

I thank the Member, Llywydd, for that question. Restrictions in south-east Wales continue to reflect the state of the public health challenge provided by coronavirus. The delta variant is now the dominant form across south-east Wales. Prioritising the hard-won freedoms of recent months will be the task of the weeks ahead.

I've had a Facebook question from Rhian Jay, who raises the issue of the NHS vaccination app, and what she says is:

'Is there any idea of when the Welsh NHS vaccination app will launch please? I'm attending an event where I need proof of having had both vaccinations. Having raised it with the health board, they said that you can apply for a certificate in writing or by phone, and you can receive a certificate, but in England you can receive the vaccination through the app.'

Rhian says that she rang this morning requesting a certificate, but it's her feeling that it's archaic and slow compared to the process in England, and her question is when will we see the app in Wales. The Welsh Government said that they would be roughly four weeks behind England before it's launched, but that's about now. So, please can we have an update on that?

Thank you, Llywydd. Well, it is true that, for technical reasons largely connected to the reconfiguration of the English solution to meet Welsh requirements, it was not possible to launch the app in Wales at the same time as it was launched in NHS England. I don't agree that the solution that has been in place in Wales in the last four weeks is archaic. Over 10,000 people have received certificates through that way of doing things, and it's due to the very hard work of the team in the Swansea bay health board that that's been possible. Once the English system manages to do its job, and to make access for Welsh people available to it, I'm afraid, Llywydd it will not be available in Welsh. Despite repeated requests to the UK Government to respect the law here in Wales, they tell us they won't be able to do that for several more months, but, within the next few days, we do anticipate that it will be possible for Welsh citizens to use the same solution, albeit it not via the app but via a website portal. The journey thereafter will be identical to the app and Welsh people will be able to use it in real time in the way that the English system has been available in England since 17 May. 

First Minister, the latest figures for coronavirus in Wales reveal the stark contrast between case numbers in various parts of the country. Figures vary from 91.3 cases per 100,000 people in Conwy, 77.3 in Denbighshire and 73.7 in Flintshire to only 6.6 in Merthyr Tydfil and 7.2 in Blaenau Gwent. In view of these regional disparities, can you, First Minister, please clarify your Government's approach to local lockdowns, and is it still your policy to lift restrictions on an all-Wales basis?

Yes, Llywydd. It remains the policy of the Welsh Government that Welsh solutions that apply in all parts of Wales is the preferable way of dealing with the current state of the virus. The Member is correct, however, to point to those regional disparities. It's now very clear that the north of Wales has been particularly exposed to the very large circulation of the virus in the north-west of England. Nevertheless, while we continue to learn more about the way in which the delta variant is likely to spread and its impact on hospitalisations, we don't see the need currently to have a different level of restriction in any part of Wales.

13:35

First Minister, the British Red Cross has found that loneliness is one of the most significant impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. Worryingly, their research also found that 37 per cent of people in Wales wouldn't be confident in knowing where to go for mental health and emotional support. Could I ask what your Government will do to address this, to ensure that health boards have the capacity and the skills and the resources to meet the mental health and loneliness needs of their populations, and that everyone has access to advice and information? And finally, could I ask if you will commit to increasing the roll-out of social prescribing link workers? They can provide tailored support to people who are chronically lonely, to help them rebuild their confidence and independence. As we open society up, these people will really need our support.

Llywydd, Delyth Jewell is right that loneliness is regularly reported by populations across the United Kingdom as one of the impacts of coronavirus, not simply in the Red Cross survey but in the fortnightly surveys that we participate in as a Welsh Government. And that isn't simply connected to mental health, important as that is; it can simply be that people feel that those normal social interactions that they would be able to rely on at any other time have been much more difficult for them. Health boards are one of the ways in which we can respond to that, but we have relied a great deal on the third sector to provide those basic levels of connection with people, opportunities for people to have conversations with another human being, to link people sometimes to wider volunteer efforts in localities where people who have found this experience so difficult at that social level can be found new and different ways in which they can still have that level of human contact. And social prescribing, as the Member says, is certainly an important part of the way in which future primary care services for people with those sorts of low-level, as they're sometimes called, mental health and well-being needs can be met in the community, by facilitating access to that wider range of possibilities that already exist in the community, but where sometimes an introduction via a social prescription can break down the barriers that people can feel between their own needs and ways in which those could be met in the community. And a greater emphasis on social prescribing will certainly be part of the Welsh Government's response to the coronavirus impact in the months ahead.

Supporting the Economy

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support the economy in Preseli Pembrokeshire? OQ56626

Thank you very much to Paul Davies for the question. Dealing effectively with the threat of coronavirus remains the single greatest form of support to the economy of Preseli Pembrokeshire. That will allow businesses in the constituency to take advantage of all the other investments this Government makes in securing their future.

First Minister, bearing in mind that restrictions remain in place, it's important that you as a Government do everything within your power to support our businesses in moving forward, and to support local economies. Now, travel businesses in my constituency have contacted me because they are still having difficulties with the impact of the pandemic on their ability to do business. And one business told me, and I quote,

'We need financial support to help us through to the next phase. In reality, we've received zero income for the past 15 months. It's an impossible situation and it's unsustainable, and it's time, at a regional and a national level, for the travel industry to receive a targeted support package.'

First Minister, what's your message to this business and to travel companies across Wales? And will you commit to providing support to the sector in order to safeguard its sustainability for the future?

Thank you very much to Paul Davies for that question. I agree that the coronavirus crisis has had a major impact on small businesses in the travel industry, and that is going to continue over the coming months. So, the Minister for Economy has announced a package of additional support for business that have felt the impact of the fact that we can't continue with the reopening as we had originally intended. The Minister is still working with officials to prepare additional support for businesses, such as businesses in the travel industry, that can't reopen at all or that can't reopen fully. That work is ongoing, and the Minister will come to the Chamber to explain how we're going to provide additional support to businesses, such as travel businesses, as Paul Davies has suggested this afternoon. 

13:40

Paul Davies will know that businesses in Wales have received £400 million more in coronavirus support than they would have done had those same businesses been in England. That is what the Welsh Government has done to support the economy, both in Preseli Pembrokeshire and right across Wales. But, looking ahead, First Minister—I know that you talked about this in some detail last week—will you make sure that any consultation on a proposed tourism levy will take on board the views of local ratepayers in our tourist hotspots, as well as the brilliant businesses that served those visitors. Because they're the ones who bear the brunt of council budget constraints that pay for things like the toilets, rubbish collection and car parks, and I think it's only fair that they should be able to ask those who can afford to holiday in our beautiful region to pay just a little extra.  

Well, Llywydd, I thank Joyce Watson for both of those important points. And she is right, of course, that an enormous amount of help has already been provided to businesses here in Wales. In Pembrokeshire alone, nearly 7,000 grants have been paid out at many millions of pounds to go on supporting those companies and those businesses as we are committed to doing.

When it comes to the tourism levy, Llywydd, as I explained last week, the discussion we intend to have is one about a local power for local authorities to raise a levy where they choose to do so and think that would be right for their local circumstances. Where Joyce Watson is undoubtedly true is that the idea is a popular one amongst those indigenous populations who currently have to bear the full costs of all the services that are provided in their areas, even when those populations rise very considerably during a holiday season. And the purpose of a levy, were there to be a local authority that wished to use it, in my mind, is to make sure that visitors make a small contribution to the investment that is needed to keep the places that they visit thriving, and to have all those facilities—the car parks, the toilets and everything else that, if you visit somewhere, you hope to find. Making a small contribution to it seems to me to be an investment in the future success of those businesses and of those localities, and to do it in a way that is fair, where the costs involved are shared between people who live there permanently and people who are making a visit to those fantastic places we have here in Wales.  

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, yesterday I visited Tŷ Hafan in the Vale of Glamorgan—a wonderful facility that provides so much care and compassion for children with life-limiting conditions and their families as well. Tŷ Gobaith, obviously, does the same in north Wales. Do you recognise, as it's national Children's Hospice Week, the difference between a children's hospice and an adult hospice, and the level of funding that would be required for the hospice movement here in Wales? 

Wel, Llywydd, I too have had the privilege—and it is a privilege—in the past to visit both Tŷ Hafan and Tŷ Gobaith, and to see for myself the astonishing work they do and the commitment of the people who work there. The formula that we use to provide the help that we do to the hospice sector in Wales is a formula that was put in place through the work of Baroness Ilora Finlay in her discussions with the sector. We keep that under review with the sector and talk to them all the time, but it is not a Welsh Government formula that we devise and we impose; it's a formula that we derive through the discussions with the sector and the many needs that it seeks to fulfil. 

13:45

Do you recognise, First Minister, that regrettably in Wales that formula only delivers 5 per cent of funding to children's hospices, whereas in England it's 21 per cent of funding and in Scotland it's 50 per cent of funding? Now, I'm not for a moment saying that the Welsh Government should step in and jump straight to 50 per cent, but do you believe that there's a journey required to level up that funding stream, especially coming out of COVID and the devastating impact that that's had on fundraising activities for charities? Because it cannot be equitable that such a formula delivers such an imbalance in funding for children's hospices here in Wales at 5 per cent, 21 per cent in England and 50 per cent in Scotland. So, will you commit the Government to reviewing this formula, so that a more equitable formula can be put in place to support the compassionate work that hospices in the children's sector do here in Wales?

Well, I certainly agree with Andrew R.T. Davies, Llywydd, about the important work that the third sector has carried out in Wales during the pandemic. It's been strongly supported by a specific fund that the Welsh Government has made available and which has been put to very good use by the third sector in responding to a whole range of needs, the loneliness needs that we heard about earlier this afternoon, and in the work that it does in the hospice movement as well.

The comparison that the leader of the opposition draws is not a like-for-like one because it doesn't take into account the other forms of support that are available in Wales that are not necessarily available elsewhere. But we remain in a constant dialogue with the sector about both the quantum of money that we are able to provide to it and the way that it is dispersed. It's a fiercely and quite properly voluntary sector, isn't it? It absolutely wants to make sure that it goes on doing all the things that it does to raise its own funds, to draw on the generosity of people in Wales. Agreeing a way of making sure the money that we are able to provide arrives in the right place, arrives in a way that recognises the significant differences between the different sorts of services, the different types of hospice that charities provide in Wales, is quite a complex one. It's why we were reliant on the excellent work that Baroness Finlay carried out in her discussions with the sector, and we continue to try and move forward with the sector in partnership in that way.

Regrettably, I didn't hear a commitment to have a review of that funding formula, although I do accept that it's a complex area and I do accept the point that you make, First Minister, about the fierceness with which the sector protects its charitable status, and rightly so because of the money it raises.

But if I could raise a separate matter with you and that's around the football that's due to take place in the last 16 of the UEFA European Football Championship on Saturday. Yesterday, the health Minister, in my mind rightly, pointed out the restrictions that are being put on international travel for fans to go over to Amsterdam. However, this morning the Danish Government have come out and said that their fans will be able to travel to Holland, to Amsterdam, to watch their team play, provided it's within a 12-hour window. Now, very often fans in the stadium are classed as the twelfth man, helping their team on to victory hopefully, as we all wish next Saturday. Given the change in circumstances for Danish fans, and as I understand it the level of infection is the same in Denmark as it is here in Wales, will you be making any representations to the Dutch authorities to allow Welsh fans to travel, should they meet the travel requirements that are placed on travelling fans to watch in-tournament matches? Because I do believe that the ground has now moved, given that both teams were on the same field yesterday when it came to fans' restrictions, but today the Danish Government have moved to allow their fans to travel within a 12-hour window for Saturday's match.

Llywydd, well, first of all, of course, to congratulate the Welsh team on proceeding to the knock-out parts of the tournament and to wish them every success on Saturday when they face Denmark in Holland.

The advice of the Welsh Government has not changed, Llywydd. It's the same advice that the Football Association of Wales and, indeed, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have given to fans, that this is not the year to travel to watch Wales play abroad. I'm hugely grateful to those thousands of people who would dearly have loved to have been able to travel, and to have gone to support the Welsh team elsewhere, who have followed the advice that they have been given, which is that they are safer and the people that they care about are safer if they choose to stay in Wales and to support the team from here. We've seen, even in the last 24 hours, that there are players who have fallen ill as a result of coronavirus and won't be able to take part in the next stage of the tournament, and while we are in the position that we are in in Wales, with the delta variant rising and the vulnerabilities that that causes us, the advice of the Welsh Government has not changed. It remains aligned with the advice that comes from elsewhere; our advice is, 'Don't travel, enjoy the tournament, support your team from Wales.'

13:50

Thank you very much, Llywydd. First Minister, around a year ago, you were announcing that schools were to reopen again after a long lockdown, but, of course, we know how much feeling isolated, being separated from friends has had a heavy impact on the well-being and mental health of young people. Now, throughout the pandemic, the proportion of young people waiting over four weeks for an appointment after a referral to specialist child and adolescent mental health services hasn't fallen below a quarter. Is that good enough?

Well, first of all, I do recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on the health and well-being of young people. Every time I meet young people, through the Youth Parliament, for example, that is an issue that they raise with me. Generally speaking, they aren't talking about specialist services such as CAMHS, they are talking about things that they want to see in schools and in communities, things that they can access quickly and access when they are trying to deal with those day-to-day problems of growing up in such an uncertain time.

Now, with reference to CAMHS, of course, they, like every other department within the health service, are trying to deal with the impact of coronavirus on them. They can't see people in the way they did prior to coronavirus, and they are working hard to try and be flexible and creative to find ways of providing that specialist support to those young people who become so unwell that they need that specialist service.

There is, of course, pressure on specialist CAMHS services during the pandemic, but this isn't a new problem. Figures that have just been published demonstrate that in August 2019 almost half of those that received a referral for specialist CAMHS services were waiting over four weeks. I think in Cardiff and Vale it was 85 per cent. But where is the response to that? We see an increase and progress in the vaccination process, as a result of the delta variant. We see catch-up programmes being introduced in terms of education, but when it comes to mental health problems, serious problems, I don't see the same seriousness in the response. Now, as the health Minister in 2015, you said that it was important that the right people received treatment at the right time, but why, when it comes to mental health amongst young people, isn't that happening, even now, six years later?

I do think, Llywydd, that the Member doesn't give proper credit to the advances that were made in the CAMHS service in the two years prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, because the figures did improve, and they improved significantly across Wales. The service was on a path of real improvement. I've answered many questions on the floor of this Senedd, from the time I was health Minister, and it's always been my view that what you need for young people is a range of services so that not everybody ends up being referred to the CAMHS service as the first step in getting help with a mental health issue. Part of the problem with the CAMHS service has been that a very large number of people who are referred to it turn out not to be suitable candidates for that service. All of those young people have got to be assessed, all of those young people then get into the queue in front of other people for whom that service genuinely is the response that is necessary.

What we have to do is to draw the people who are referred to CAMHS when they should and could be very properly provided for by a school counselling service, or sometimes even by people who are equipped with first aid mental health knowledge and understanding in universal services like the youth service, to be able to help those young people who need help of that sort—the help, as I said, Llywydd, that when you talk to young people themselves, that is the help that they most often raise with you: things that are easily available, close to hand, part of the normal run of things with which they are engaged. And then the people who need a CAMHS service will be able to get to that service more quickly. The service was well on that journey. It is inevitably disrupted by coronavirus. And, as I said, the service is working very hard to try and find creative ways in which it can go on providing a timely service for those young people who need it, despite the limitations on the extent to which they are able to do that in more conventional face-to-face ways.

13:55

And of course we need to refer people to the right kind of support, but we can't play down the importance of specialist CAMHS services either. And there was an increase in referrals in the first four months of this year compared to last year. But the Senedd's Children, Young People and Education Committee did a lot of work on the impact of the pandemic, and in particular highlighted this problem of the missing middle—the significant number of children and young people who need mental health advice and support but who may not need acute or specialist services. So, I agree with the First Minister on that. 

You'll know that Plaid Cymru has put forward proposals for a network of walk-in centres across Wales, offering free and confidential mental health advice and support for young people. Now, First Minister, do you agree that such a network really could—now, in particular, after the pandemic, perhaps—offer a lifeline to the thousands of young people currently caught in that missing middle? And if so, would you and your officials meet with me to discuss pursuing that proposal further?

Well, Llywydd, I'm glad to hear that referrals have recovered. That's good news, and it's part of the general recovery of referrals to health services in Wales in the first months of this year, compared to the immediate post-crisis period in March and April of last year. Of course I am very happy to arrange a meeting to talk about whether that idea would be a contribution to the range of services that we currently provide. There are walk-in services for young people already in a number of different ways, some through the third sector, some through the counselling service that we have in schools. So, we would need to be confident that we were not duplicating something that was already there or undermining a service that was already succeeding in providing help to young people. But to explore the idea and to see what might be made of it, then of course I'm very happy to make sure that such a meeting is arranged.

A Deposit-return Scheme for Drink Containers

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the introduction of a deposit-return scheme for drink containers in Wales? OQ56625

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government is committed to bringing forward a deposit-return scheme for drink containers, and our preferred model was set out in the recent consultation. Alongside the work to review the consultation responses, a trial is currently under way in Conwy to pilot the digital delivery of a deposit-return scheme.  

Thank you. You'll be aware that, last November, I brought forward a legislative proposal for a Bill that would make provisions to introduce a deposit-return scheme and to reduce waste in Wales, and a majority of 34 Members backed my proposal. Now, whilst you abstained, the vote did go in favour of this legislative proposal and, as you can imagine, I'm really keen to ensure that we do not lose that momentum gained, especially at the start of a new—and it being the sixth—Senedd term. I was therefore somewhat disappointed, First Minister, that with such a worthwhile and proven piece of legislation forthcoming, there is no clear commitment in your programme for government, introduced last week, to develop a DRS.

You quite rightly mentioned that Conwy County Borough Council is working with Welsh Government, Polytag Ltd and WRAP to trial the new DRS. The intention is for interviews with residents and recycling crews after the trial to provide more information on how the scheme could be used across Wales. Should the trial go well in Conwy—as in the Wirral, where 91 per cent of tagged packaging was successfully recycled—by when would you expect to have an all-Wales DRS in place that is aligned to and interoperable with other systems across the UK? Thank you. Diolch.

14:00

I thank the Member very much for that question and for highlighting the pilot that is going on in around 500 homes in her own constituency, which is going to make a genuine contribution to our understanding of how a DRS could be taken forward. Ministers always abstain, Llywydd, on backbench legislature; that's the convention that we have. But I'm pleased to be able to say to the Member that we hope to secure powers for a deposit-return scheme for Wales through the UK Environment Bill. The latest information we have is that that is expected to complete its parliamentary passage in time to get Royal Assent in the autumn. We will then have the powers that we need to bring forward our regulations, and we expect to lay those in the autumn as well.

Can I welcome the response given by the First Minister? I think this is something that many people across the Chamber are very much in favour of. On Friday, I met with pupils from Glyncollen school online, who were unanimously in favour of a deposit-return scheme. I told them about the old Corona pop scheme, which I mention fairly regularly here. Does the First Minister agree that the Welsh Government doing it is massively positive, but an all-UK programme would be much better? It would make it easier for firms to make sure that they can be bought in Chester and taken back in Wrexham, making it much easier for the scheme to work. Yes, I think we all would like a Welsh scheme, but an all-Britain scheme would be so much better.

I thank Mike Hedges for that. The tradition in Glyncollen school of campaigning on these matters is a very real one. I remember a question on the floor of the Senedd here about the work that pupils in the school were doing to make sure that milk was supplied to the school in a reusable format, rather than in cartons that were thrown away. So, many congratulations for their continued interest in it. Had they been brought up in Carmarthen rather than Swansea, Llywydd, they would have been drinking Tovali Special rather than Corona pop. But the general point that Mike Hedges raised—and I think it was an echo of something that Janet Finch-Saunders said—is that we would like to see a UK scheme, because we think that that will work better for people here in Wales. It's easier for consumers, of course—a long and porous border, people shopping and living on both sides of it, an influx of people into Wales, during the summer months particularly. We want people to have a single system that they can easily understand. There is a fraud possibility if you have different systems on either side of the border, and a single system would help to eliminate that. And it would have lower implementation costs for businesses as well. For all of those reasons, we hope that the UK Government, who, a bit to our surprise and slightly at the last minute, put into their consultation, instead of the all-in scheme that we would like to see, an on-the-go scheme—Scotland are already committed to an all-in scheme; that is definitely our preference. We hope the UK Government will settle for that as well, as we originally believed would be the case, and then we will be able to have the UK-wide arrangements that Mike Hedges I think quite rightly advocates.

Economic Priorities for North Wales

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s economic priorities for North Wales? OQ56666

Our economic priorities for all parts of Wales, including those, of course, for north Wales, are as set out in our newly published programme for government.

14:05

Thank you for your response, First Minister. You will know that one of the biggest employers in north Wales is the tourism sector, which supports around 46,000 jobs and in usual times generates over £3.5 billion annually to the local economy. However, as you touched on earlier, we're aware of your plans to explore a tourism tax on visitors holidaying in Wales. The Wales Tourism Alliance has said that this would make the industry less competitive and make Wales seem more expensive. Would you agree with me that, rather than time, energy and resources being spent on seeking to introduce a tax that has been rejected by the experts in the field, now should be the time to support the sector to bounce back from the pandemic?

Now is the time for the Government that was elected by the people of Wales to fulfil the manifesto on which we were elected. The proposal to explore a tourism tax was absolutely and explicitly there in our manifesto and discussed during the election campaign. The people of Wales made their decision; they will get the party that they voted for and the proposals that we put in front of them. 

First Minister, the hard work of successive Labour Governments has led to the employment rate in north Wales reaching a record high, and we now have a record number of businesses in existence in north Wales. But of course, cross-border collaboration has been instrumental in driving the success story of the north Wales economy, and there are particularly strong ties in key sectors such as green energy and advanced manufacturing, and, indeed, life sciences. First Minister, would you agree with me that working together with our cross-border comrades makes us stronger, and it is absolutely necessary in order to avoid competition and to enhance cross-border transportation, too?

I thank Ken Skates for that, and for drawing attention to the strengths of the economy in north Wales, with its record high levels of employment, and with, as Members will have seen, the direct inward investment figures published today showing the ongoing strength of the economy in that part of Wales. I was very pleased recently to meet with very senior members of the board of Airbus, who came to tell me of their plans to go on investing in north Wales as that aviation sector recovers, and how determined they are that the very skilled and committed workforce they have in that part of Wales will go on being part of that global company's future. 

The Member himself, Llywydd, when he was the Minister for the economy, was a great champion of working with others to make sure that the economy in the north-east of Wales particularly is part of that wider ecology and economy. There's the Mersey Dee Alliance, which I know he championed—our colleague Vaughan Gething has attended a meeting today for the launch of a series of ideas for an economic and fiscal stimulus across the Mersey Dee area—the Offshore Energy Alliance, the possibilities for a cross-border carbon capture and storage economy in the hydrogen field, where we have investments in Ynys Môn and in Flintshire, and—and I know that this was an area where the Member particularly championed things—a metro programme in which we persuade the UK Government to make the necessary investments that they have to make in the road and the rail infrastructure to make sure that the economy of north Wales can go on thriving. 

Welsh-medium Education

5. How does the Welsh Government protect the right of every child in Wales to access Welsh-medium education? OQ56659

Thank you for the question. All local authorities in Wales provide Welsh-medium education. However, laying the foundations for expanding Welsh-medium education is a long-term campaign. We are breaking new ground with the 10-year Welsh in education strategic plans and I look forward to seeing the fruits of that labour. 

Thank you for that response, First Minister. May I draw your attention to Bridgend county for a second? Several families in my home town of Pencoed face a situation now where they won't, perhaps, be able to send their children to the closest Welsh-medium school. Instead, they'll have to choose between sending their children even further away to have their education, or choose English-medium education. Unfortunately, the record of the council on Welsh-medium education isn't positive. The council has failed over the past few years to ensure that Welsh-medium education is a realistic option in several communities, and a number of families have been forced to make decisions about their children's education that they didn't want to make. What work will the Welsh Government do with the council to change the situation significantly? If the Government is serious about reaching its target of 1 million, then the Government will have to take the issue seriously in those areas.  

14:10

Thank you for the question. I am aware of the issues that the Member has raised, because I've had an opportunity to talk to the local Member in Bridgend about the future of Welsh-medium education in that area. In all parts of Wales, I'm sure every Member here will be representing people who can't access a place in the school of their choice. I do it as a Member in Cardiff West virtually every year with children who want to access English-medium education in the city. We all work with such individuals, and we have been working hard and working closely with Bridgend council in order to develop the number of places that they have available in school in the area that are available through the medium of Welsh. They do have plans now that will increase the numbers that can access Welsh-medium education over the next decade—practical steps. For example, they want to do more in Ysgol y Ferch o'r Sgêr, they are going to move a school to the heart of Bridgend in order to give access to more people, and they are going to provide more spaces at Ysgol Bro Ogwr. There is more work to be done in Bridgend, I am aware of that, but I am sure that the council, with the plans that it has in place and the funding that we provide as a Government to assist them, are on the right track in helping us all to reach the point by 2050 where we will have 1 million Welsh speakers here in Wales. 

A number of governors from a vast variety of backgrounds is vital for the management of a school. Many pupils who attend educational facilities through the medium of Welsh come from homes where their parents don't speak Welsh themselves. What support is the Welsh Government providing to ensure that parents from non-Welsh-speaking homes are encouraged to stand for election as parent governors in Welsh-medium schools? 

I'm aware that across the whole of Wales, there are a number of children from non-Welsh-speaking households who do undertake Welsh-medium education, and I welcome that. It's an important part of the plans that we have. Here in Cardiff, eight out of 10 children who access Welsh-medium education come from non-Welsh-speaking households. The schools do work hard, with the resources that we've been able to prepare for them, to assist people who are non-Welsh-speaking but want to be involved with the school—for example, as a school governor—to do that in an effective manner, and they've managed to do it. We already have examples of how that can be done. In collaboration with local authorities and in learning from what has worked across Wales, I am confident that we can find ways for people who want to be involved in school life to do that, and make an effective contribution, too.

14:15

Would the First Minister agree with me that we have to invest in Welsh-medium education and Welsh-medium childcare as part of our ambition to create 1 million Welsh speakers? So, would the First Minister join me in welcoming the work that has begun in building a new childcare centre in Blackmill, in Ogmore, as part of the ambition of Bridgend County Borough Council to strengthen Welsh-medium education and childcare in the area?

I'd like to thank Huw Irranca-Davies, Llywydd, and I agree with him; the best way of attracting more children to Welsh-medium education is to start with young children in receipt of care. So, anything that we can do to provide enhanced facilities to welcome the youngest children so that they can access care through the medium of Welsh, then that will help us all in the longer term. The council in Bridgend has received almost £3 million from the Welsh Government in capital grants in order to deliver four Welsh-medium centres for those who are at the very beginning of their educational journey. This will bring more children forward into Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Calon y Cymoedd, and work is ongoing in the town of Bridgend, in Porthcawl, and in Bettws, too, to do exactly what Huw Irranca-Davies just suggested.

Town Centre Redevelopment

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on town centre redevelopment in South Wales West? OQ56651

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Amongst the different sources of support for town centre redevelopment in South Wales West, the Transforming Towns placemaking grant scheme, launched in April this year, will provide benefits for towns in the Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea areas.

Diolch, Brif Weinidog. When speaking to retailers and market traders in Neath town centre, it's clear that the town centre is struggling at the moment in terms of tackling anti-social behaviour and of reduced footfall. The development of the swimming pool, cafe, and library in the town will hopefully help bring in additional footfall, but there is a feeling that there's a need for more to be done to see a reduction in the empty retail units that we currently have in the town centre, and there is a need to tackle the anti-social behaviour; a need to tackle rent levels, business rates; and a need to expand the offer within the town. Will you therefore outline what further work you plan to undertake with Neath Port Talbot Council, and other agencies, on these issues during the Senedd term? Diolch.

Diolch yn fawr. I thank the Member for that supplementary question. She's right to point to the work that is already under way—major work, Llywydd—£13 million of investment in Neath town centre, £5.5 million of that provided by the Welsh Government, and as well as all the things that the Member pointed to—the swimming pool, the health suite, the library—there will also be new good quality commercial and retail space to try and draw businesses back into that town centre, and to do so with the sort of imagination that we have seen, in many parts of Wales, even during the crisis, where new businesses have opened on high streets. The future of retail cannot be an attempt to create things as they were in the past. The world has moved on, and consumer behaviour has moved on, accelerated in many ways by the pandemic. But nevertheless there are retail businesses that make a very particular offer, that draw people to them and trade successfully, and can—and I'm sure, will—trade successfully in the centre of Neath as well, strengthening that commercial core. And beyond the current investment, we will of course go on talking with that local business community and with the local authority, to see what other opportunities there will be; other funding streams that the Welsh Government will provide over the five years of this term, further to strengthen the essential vitality of Neath town centre that will give it a future and a sense that it goes on being valued by its local citizens and it's a place they want to visit.

14:20
Islwyn's Natural Environment

7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to utilise Islwyn’s natural environment to benefit its people? OQ56644

Llywydd, yesterday marked the reopening of Cwmcarn forest drive, one of the many environmental attractions in Islwyn. I thank the Member for her steadfast support of this and the wider environmental agenda in her constituency.

Thank you, First Minister. Yesterday, as you stated, the Cwmcarn forest drive reopened for the first time since 2014 after undergoing a multimillion pound investment. First Minister, there is a newly improved campsite, lake, several new all-ability trails with access for all, three new play areas, a woodland sculpture trail and a wooden cabin with panoramic—truly, actually—panoramic views of the communities of Islwyn, and that will act as a place for outdoor learning and a catalyst and hopefully, a forest school in the future.

First Minister, can I, on behalf of the people of Islwyn, thank you and the Welsh Labour Government, who saw the potential of the natural, stunning environment of the Gwent valleys, and prioritised Cwmcarn forest when initiating the Valleys taskforce project? And will you, First Minister, join me in thanking the friends of Cwmcarn forest drive—the Cymdeithas Twmbarlwm Society, the Oxford House Industrial History Society in Risca and the people in Islwyn—who championed and fought over seven long years with me for one of the crown jewels in Wales's natural environment to be made accessible to all again? First Minister, how, then, can the Welsh Government ensure that the legacy of the Valleys taskforce is safeguarded and also protected and nurtured for future generations?

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. Yesterday was a great day with the reopening of the forest drive. I have hugely fond memories of it, of taking my children there when they were growing up, and I was lucky enough, Llywydd, to be able to visit it again in March of this year, together with some families of people who had died during the coronavirus crisis, where trees were being planted in memory of loved ones. It was a stunningly beautiful day, and just the sheer wealth of that natural environment is an amazing asset that we have. It's gone through a very tough time, Llywydd, as you know—115,000 trees had to be felled along the drive because of sudden oak death syndrome, which affected the larch trees, in fact, in Cwmcarn, and that's why it's taken all these seven years for it to be reopened.

But the point that Rhianon Passmore makes is the important one: that, over those long years, those local groups, those very committed people and the genuine commitment of the local authority to that site is what has led to its reopening, not just as it was before, but with all those additional facilities to which the local Member referred, and I know will go on drawing many people now to the reopened site. And it is, as she said, part of that wider pattern of investment that we promised through the work of the Valleys taskforce—the money that we have invested in those destination venues. You can really make a journey across those Valleys communities now from one of those destination sites to another, each one of them with new investment in it, each one of them saying something special about the history or the environment of that part of Wales, and I think many, many visitors will rediscover the richness of those communities, and Cwmcarn will certainly be one of the jewels in that experience.

Air Pollution in Cardiff

8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to reduce air pollution levels in Cardiff? OQ56658

Thank you. Llywydd, under the local air quality management regime established through the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, local authorities have a duty to assess and manage public health risks stemming from air pollution. We have reviewed independent expert advice, and we have agreed a package of measures identified by Cardiff Council to ensure our compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits.

14:25

Thank you very much, First Minister. As you will be aware, on Clean Air Day, the Labour council in Cardiff reopened Castle Street in the heart of Cardiff, and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change described that as disappointing. Many Labour councillors in Cardiff have questioned the figures and the data used by the council. Every Member of this Senedd stood on a manifesto to promote a clean air Act, and pollution levels on Castle Street would be unlawful under that piece of legislation.

I know that it's difficult. There are complaints in Riverside, in Grangetown, and in Pontcanna about an increase in pollution levels. But, we must move people away from the use of private cars, and reopening a road isn't a solution to that. So, First Minister, could I urge you to please speak to Cardiff Council and to encourage them to consider this move and to close Castle Street once again to private vehicles? 

Well, I'm not going to do that, Llywydd. The choice that the council has made is a very difficult one. The plan that they are continuing with is the only plan that we agreed with them originally. That plan demonstrated that the figures could come back below what the law stipulates.

Llywydd, I don't disagree with what Rhys ab Owen said about the need for finding ways in which people do not need to use their cars. But, the closure of Castle Street did not simply lead to people leaving their cars at home. It led them to using their cars in other ways. It led them to using their cars to travel instead through some of the poorest parts of our city, where the air quality is already not what it needs to be.

So, my constituents in Ninian Park Road—a heavily congested road where, routinely in the summer, children are told not to go out and play outside because the quality of the air is not good enough to do so—found that the closure of Castle Street made their plight a good deal more difficult. The figures that the council have obtained, not from themselves but by independent analysts, show that the closure of Castle Street had that detrimental effect on residential streets in a way that Castle Street is not a residential street.

So, the choice facing the council was a genuinely challenging one. They have decided to revert to the plan originally agreed with the Welsh Government and that was funded by my colleague Lesley Griffiths at the time when she was responsible, to the tune of £19 million. It's not going back to four lanes of traffic in front of the castle. It's back to two lanes of traffic, as we had agreed, with bus and bike lanes added.

It will, for now, protect those people in those residential streets whose lives had been adversely impacted by the closure of Castle Street. That's the balance that the council has struck, and I think that, for me, until we are able to do longer term things to reduce the use of cars altogether, it is a balance that is entirely defensible.  

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement. I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement—Lesley Griffiths.

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:29:07
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. I've added two statements to today's agenda. The Minister for Health and Social Services will make a statement update on coronavirus, and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change will make a statement: 'Roads review'. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, can you make a statement on when the restrictive regulations for private dentists and, no doubt, all other dentists in Wales will be eased to allow them to deal with the huge and growing need for dental services following the last difficult 15 months?

Thank you. Well, this is something where, obviously, the health Minister will be talking to the relevant dental associations. I know that some dentists are doing increasingly more work, but as we see how the delta variant continues to unfortunately spread in Wales, I think some dentists have had to take a step back. But, at the most appropriate time, obviously, guidance and more information will be given.

14:30

Trefnydd, on 25 June, we will mark Go Green Day, and the focus of the campaign is on tropical deforestation. That might sound like something that's far away, but the planet, as I'm sure you are aware, loses an area of forest every year equivalent to nine times the size of Wales because of our consumption of palm oil, soy, coffee, the paper that we write with, the timber that we build with. So, I'd like a Government statement please setting out what steps the Welsh Government is taking to make our nation deforestation-free, because our shopping habits depend on supply chains that choke the lungs of the world? I'd like the statement to address whether the Welsh Government's economic contract will require signatories to commit to deforestation-free supply chains, whether you'll press the UK Government to require companies to follow due diligence legislation around their supply chains. And, finally, but by no means least, Trefnydd, I'd like the statement to set out what support will be made available to producer nations—those forest communities in the Amazon and across the world—who've seen their cultures nearly destroyed because of our greed and our ambivalence.

Thank you. The Member raises a very important issue, and certainly, when I had responsibility for this in the previous term of Government, it was a piece of work that we were doing with the UK Government to see what more could be done. 

You'll be aware that the Minister for Climate Change, along with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, are currently doing a deep dive around tree planting, which I know is a separate but obviously significant issue in relation to this. I'm not sure if this is an area that they are looking at, but, if they are, and they have further information, we can bring a statement forward. 

Trefnydd, please could we have a statement from Welsh Government on the action that's being taken to ensure period dignity, and in particular on when Ministers expect to be able to bring forward their period dignity strategic action plan? I welcome the £3.3 million that Welsh Government has again allocated to this issue, and also the commitment in the programme for government, but I'm keen to see publication of the action plan so that we can make sure we take a holistic approach to period dignity. 

Thank you very much. I think it's fair to say that progress on the plan has been slower than we initially hoped for, due to the impact of the COVID pandemic. But work is under way to ensure that we do have a draft period dignity strategic action plan refreshed, and that will be published again later this year.

There is a whole raft of cross-Welsh Government commitments in that plan, and that includes encouraging the use of eco-friendly period products, embedding period dignity in schools and in both further and higher education establishments—and that's through the provision of free products and appropriate learning resources—and also enabling provision in more health settings and setting out an ambition to progress provision of period products by employers, businesses and facilities to become the norm. And you'll be aware that, previously, the Welsh Government gave significant funding to local authorities, so that each local authority could do what was right for their local populace.

Business Minister, it's important that we now try to bring a sense of normality back to our country in terms of coronavirus restrictions and dealing with this pandemic. That sense of normality is particularly important for our young people, ensuring that they have as much in-school learning as possible, for all the benefits I've previously outlined in this Chamber. Yet, this week, in a whole school, in Greenhill School in Tenby, now the learners are being taught online due to COVID worries. We need a sustainable pathway, Business Minister, for dealing with coronavirus in our schools. So, can the education Minister make a statement on what new measures he'd be looking at, and Government are looking at, to ensure that children are in school learning for the maximum amount of time, as whole-school year groups going off and whole schools closing is not a sustainable way forward, due to the importance of in-school learning for learners and the disruption that being at home is causing parents? Thank you. 

Thank you. I absolutely agree that in-school learning is very important, and this is obviously the first time we've had a whole-school closure, unfortunately. I'm afraid, as this pandemic has gone on, I think, many times, the virus has been one step ahead, and, just when you think you are able to do things, we have not been able to do so. 

The Minister for education is obviously having a look at what lessons can be learned in relation to this school in Tenby, but I don't think it's the right time to bring forward a statement at the current time. 

14:35

Trefnydd, I'd like to ask for a statement on the significant fall in rape convictions in Wales. Compared to 2016-17, convictions for rape in 2020 were down by almost two thirds, bearing in mind that they were only successful by 5 per cent in the first place. That is with less than one in 60 rape cases recorded by police resulting in a suspect being charged. Now, I recognise this is a non-devolved area, but what is devolved is the consequence and the fall-out of that. There is never, of course, one person involved in an incident of rape. If that individual happens to be a parent, their children are affected. If they're children, their parents are affected, their siblings are affected. I remember reading an article, where one such case affects 47 different people. Of course, the other side of this, by lack of conviction, and also lack of access to justice that we've seen, through temporary and permanent court cases, does mean that, if you are unsuccessful in your conviction, you're very likely to be equally unsuccessful in the support that you and your family will need. So, I ask you, with respect, to bring something forward in the very near future, because this is a crisis, and it's a crisis that we need to take hold of.

Thank you. As you recognise, the criminal justice system is not devolved to Wales, but of course we work very closely with all police forces in Wales and with our criminal justice partners here in Wales. You'll be aware of the significant support that has been provided by the Welsh Government over the past decade at least, and if not before. And we won't be bystanders to abuse, and we have our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, as you know. That's been informed by global and national evidence that women and girls are disproportionately affected by all forms of abuse. Everyone has the right to be safe, and we have our Live Fear Free line, and anyone experiencing violence or abuse at home can obviously access that free, confidential help, 24/7, via the Live Fear Free helpline, either by chat, by call, by e-mail or by text. And I would urge all Members to ensure their constituents are aware of that.

The visitor season is fast approaching, and there will be many people visiting our communities over the next few weeks. Already, the coastguard, the mountain rescue teams, paramedics and other emergency services have been very busy indeed. The demand for these services, particularly health services, increases substantially during the summer months, and this year is likely to be busier than usual, and we are on the verge of a third wave of coronavirus. We therefore need to consider how we fund health services in areas that see great increases in population—up to 10 times—during the holiday season. Can we have an urgent statement from the Government as to how they expect emergency services and health services to cope during this holiday period that we are facing? Thank you.

Diolch. I think the visitor season is well under way here in Wales. This has always been something that has been talked about and thought about when conversations are held around budgeting. So, I don't think there's a need for a statement, and I don't think there's a need for a specific budget—it is part of the overall budgets that are received by our health boards and by our services.

Minister, with the increase of people using our road network as we start to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, speeding is becoming one of the biggest issues in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. So, Minister, will you ask the Deputy Minister for Climate Change to make a statement on the work of the GoSafe partnership and if more money can be provided to fund average speed check cameras in hotspot areas for speeding across our communities to help save lives and to keep people safe and also to reduce emissions? Diolch, Llywydd.

Thank you. The GoSafe service is certainly something that is very valued. I'm not aware of any ongoing discussions around further funding being required, or how the Welsh Government would support that. But I will certainly ask the Minister if there is anything specific, and, if he has any further information, I'll ask him to write to the Member.FootnoteLink

14:40

Trefnydd, this is Children's Hospice Week, so could we have a Welsh Government statement on support for our two children's hospices in Wales: the excellent Tŷ Hafan and Tŷ Gobaith, which together provide respite and palliative care for more than 400 families with children with life-limiting conditions? And they want to be able to assure those children and families, and others in future, that they can guarantee, with Welsh Government support, a fair and sustainable future where they can offer more support and care for children with life-limiting conditions in Wales. And a statement of this sort would enable Welsh Government also to expand upon the welcome commitment to fund regional residential services for children with complex needs, ensuring that their needs are met as close to home as possible and in Wales wherever practicable. And the Government could outline, then, how it will work with Tŷ Hafan and Tŷ Gobaith to ensure this additional funding and services reach those most in need of support. So, I'm sure we'd all welcome a statement in this timely moment. 

Thank you, Huw Irranca-Davies, for highlighting the wonderful work that our hospices do, and they do provide incredibly important services, and they provide enormous support for patients and families and carers. You may have heard the leader of the opposition raise this issue with the First Minister and the First Minister's answer. And we do continue to invest more than £8.4 million every year to support specialist palliative care services across Wales, and much of this does go to our adult and children's hospices across Wales. We've also allocated £12.3 million of emergency funding to support our hospices since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that funding has been used to support clinical services and strengthen our hospice bereavement support. I'm sure the Member is also aware of our programme for government commitment to review the patient pathway planning and hospice funding, and we will continue to work with the end-of-life-care board so that we can review the way in which that specific funding is allocated to both health boards and our voluntary hospices. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I have two suggestions. According to the Wales Governance Centre, the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution is delivering a speech on 5 July to outline plans for a national conversation on our constitutional future. Could the business Minister schedule a statement here, before his speech, so that he may share his plans with us first?

Number 2: during the pandemic the public have rightly recognised the work of the NHS and key sectors in doing all possible to keep people safe. However, it is the leadership and delivery of local government that has been largely overlooked during the past 15 months—a sector that has demonstrated innovation, local solutions and leadership in delivering for the communities they serve. Can you schedule a debate in Government time for the Minister for Finance and Local Government to outline her vision for local government as we build out of the pandemic? Thank you. 

Thank you very, very much. And I'm sure—. I hear what you say about the Counsel General's speech, and I'm sure he will share his speech with us at the most appropriate time, but we won't be able to bring forward an oral statement ahead of the speech, but I will—and he's sitting in the Chamber with me—I will make sure he shares his speech with you.

In relation to your comments around local government and public services and their response to the pandemic, I absolutely agree with you, and I do think that people recognise the amazing work they've done, if you think how they've supported with the test, trace, protect, for instance, and with delivering of food parcels. And certainly the Welsh Government is very appreciative of all the work that local authorities have done, and we've worked very closely with our partners in local authorities throughout the whole of the pandemic. 

Thank you, Trefnydd. That concludes that item. We will now take a short break to allow changeovers in the Chamber. And the bell will be rung two minutes before we reconvene. Thank you. 

Plenary was suspended at 14:44. 

14:55

The Senedd reconvened at 14:55, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

3. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Update on Coronavirus

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services—update on coronavirus. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan.

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. For the first time this Senedd and for the first time in many months, I must tell Members that cases of coronavirus are, unfortunately, rising in Wales. We are once again facing a serious situation and we are at the beginning of a third wave of the pandemic. In the space of a few short weeks, the delta variant, which was originally known as the variant of concern originating in India, has spread from three small clusters in north and south-east Wales into our communities in every part of Wales.

Over the last fortnight, the coronavirus case rate and the positivity rate have more than doubled. Today, the case rate is 31.3 cases per 100,000 people. Cases are rising in almost every local authority area in Wales, driven by this fast-moving, highly transmissible variant. In Conwy, the rates are now approaching 100 cases per 100,000 people, and in Denbighshire and Flintshire they are higher than 50 in 100,000 people.

Dirprwy Lywydd, eight out of 10 new cases of coronavirus identified in Wales are cases of the delta variant. It is estimated that the R rate for Wales is now between 1 and 1.4, which is a further sign that infections are once again rising. All of the evidence suggests that the delta variant is more transmissible than the alpha variant, or the Kent variant, which was responsible for the majority of cases during the second wave over the winter.

Wales is not alone in seeing a rising tide of coronavirus cases caused by the delta variant; if anything, we are a few weeks behind the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom. In England, there are now more than 70,000 confirmed cases of the delta variant, and some 5,000 cases in Scotland. In both England and Scotland, increasing numbers of people are being admitted to hospital with coronavirus again, and, very sadly, Public Health England has confirmed 73 deaths linked to the delta variant. Fortunately, we have not yet reached this stage here in Wales. We are some two to three weeks behind what is happening beyond our borders, but this provides a sobering vision of what may come.   

In the past week, the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister have both paused their plans to relax coronavirus restrictions because of concerns regarding the delta variant. And here in Wales, the First Minister has confirmed that we will not be going ahead with any new relaxation of alert level 1 indoor restrictions this week or over the next three-week cycle. We will use this four-week pause to focus on speeding up vaccinations to help prevent more people falling seriously ill as we face this new wave of infections.

Even though cases are rising, we still have the lowest coronavirus rates in the UK, and, thanks to the enormous efforts of everyone involved, we have some of the best vaccination rates in the world. All of this will help us as we face this third wave. The modelling work suggests that a four-week pause now will help to reduce the peak number of daily hospital admissions by up to half, at a time when the NHS is very busy responding to all of our healthcare needs, not just treating coronavirus.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I want to pay tribute to our fantastic vaccine programme and everyone who has made it such a success. The very latest figures show that 88.7 per cent of adults have had their first dose and 60.2 per cent have had their second. Between now and mid July, we'll be putting an extra 0.5 million vaccines into the system. We'll be focused on offering a second dose to everyone in priority groups 1 to 9 over the next four weeks. That's everyone over 50, all healthcare workers, social care workers and other vulnerable groups, including, of course, care home residents. And, subject to supply, we’ll be bringing forward appointments for the people over 40 so that they don’t have to wait longer than eight weeks between their first and second doses. Now, to achieve this, we will need everyone’s help to encourage people to come forward and complete their two-course course. One vaccine is not enough; we need everyone to have two.

Dirprwy Lywydd, although there will be no substantial changes to the coronavirus regulations for the next four weeks, we have made some small amendments to make sure that the rules are easier to understand. And these include changing the regulations so the size of a venue—together with a risk assessment—will determine how many people can attend an indoor wedding or civil partnership reception or wake. We've begun reopening residential outdoor education centres, starting with primary school-age children. We have amended the regulations to bring grass-roots music and comedy venues into line with the rules for hospitality. And we've also updated the regulations so that they reflect the latest evidence about how businesses can take all reasonable measures to reduce risk on their premises and clarify the rules about 2m distances for groups of six people.

We will continue to run our programme of pilot events in theatre, sport and other sectors during June and July, testing large numbers of people to see how and when they gather safely and what the effect of that is.

We have also issued updated guidance in a number of important areas, including hospital visits and for places of worship. And we've published a statement by our scientific advisers about the use of face coverings in schools, although there'll be no immediate change in their use.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I'll close by saying that we're once again at a crucial point in this pandemic. Vaccinations offer us real hope of a different relationship with the virus. It may be possible to respond to this wave without having to introduce stricter lockdown measures, if we can break the link between infection and hospitalisation. Vaccination may also help us move beyond the pandemic phase and end this cycle of imposing and unlocking restrictions. But, for the time being, we will continue with our cautious, data-driven approach to responding to this ongoing pandemic. Diolch.

15:00

Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, can I thank you for your update this afternoon? On the delta variant, although we're looking at higher numbers of infections in Wales, there are still relatively low numbers of hospitalisations, fortunately, standing at 116 with COVID in general in acute beds, and one with COVID in an invasive ventilation bed. I of course appreciate, and I think you said it yourself, that there's always going to be that time lag, isn't there, between weeks of infection to severe cases.

But I turn now to what I asked you on 8 June about your research on vaccinations, to which you responded at the time that early analysis of the data was looking very positive, and there were actually still very few cases of the delta variant at the time, but it was growing exponentially. So, at that time, you said you needed an

'extra two weeks for us to analyse that data',

so that it was the right call—you said at the time—for the Cabinet to make the decisions of phasing in the restrictions. Now, I know last Friday the First Minister couldn't give any particular update in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccination. We're now two weeks on today, and there's nothing in particular on that in today's statement. So can I ask: are you able to provide any further update on how the vaccinations have worked against the delta variant in Wales? And if you aren't able to answer that today, can you perhaps give us an indication of when you will be in a position to give us that analysis?

Turning to the restrictions, I note—. As far as my perspective is concerned, we've been told, haven't we, by health professionals, that COVID is likely to be with us forever, and I'm sure you would agree with that analysis, sadly. And we have to live with COVID. So, I think, from my perspective, I certainly don't want to see us in any further lockdowns; I'm sure we all would agree with that position. The First Minister has said that he won't rule out any further lockdowns at the present time. I'm assuming you agree with the First Minister's position on that. You've said that there will be a pause, effectively, over the next four weeks, but can I ask you about any considerations in Cabinet that you have given to having further restrictions or further lockdowns? That's not what I want to see, but I'm asking you for your analysis and your thoughts in terms of what your considerations are as a Cabinet in that regard. Are you looking at further restrictions now and, effectively, are you seeking to have a situation where Wales has a zero COVID death rate? Because that position, I think, would be almost impossible to achieve. But I'm trying to understand here the balance that you are bringing and when we're going to get that information on hospitalisations for the delta variant in terms of your thinking in terms of potential further restrictions as well.

You've mentioned a couple of areas that you have relaxed. I was very pleased that you've relaxed visits to those in hospital; you've relaxed restrictions there. You've permitted singing in churches, which is another area I welcome as well. The outdoor education centres is, again, welcome, but I think the concern there is—and I'll perhaps ask for your thoughts on whether there are some lessons to be learned here—that for certain industries, they do need to have much prior notice, because for outdoor educational centres that take weeks to prepare, and schools then have to make arrangements, it's just too late in the day for them to alter their arrangements. We know that, once perhaps a school has changed their location—perhaps they were even coming into Wales and going to somewhere else in the UK—then in future years they may not go back to coming to Wales. So, it's very important that decisions are made and released to certain sectors with urgency, and with time for them to be able to plan in order for that restriction lifting to make the difference.

Clinical experts have warned that, because cases of the flu have been suppressed so much in the last 18 months, presumably because of the lockdowns, our immune systems will be lower, leading to stored up problems, potentially, for the winter. Now, here in Wales, Public Health Wales has noted that the flu GP consultation rates were 0.7 per 100,000 practice population—that's as at 17 June—well below the seasonal average of 11 per 100,000. So, its own surveillance data is suggesting that the flu has not circulated over the winter months, so there remains the potential for unseasonal activity or higher than usual rates during the 2021-22 season. And globally, the World Health Organization has also expressed concerns that influenza, or flu, activity remains at a lower level than expected for this time of year. So, looking at last year's uptake of the flu vaccination, just over 51 per cent of those under 65 years of age in a clinical risk group received their vaccination for the flu. So, what efforts are you making now in order to ensure that those most at risk will be given their vaccination, and, most importantly, take it up? And I wonder if you could also let us know what your discussions are with your UK counterparts in terms of another COVID booster programme, and how you are supporting the Welsh NHS to prepare and cope with what will inevitably be a greater winter pressure that's going to come, sadly.

15:05

Gosh, lots of questions there, Russell. Thank you. I'll do my best to try and answer them. You'll be aware that we are just entering a third wave, and that is why now is not the time to put our foot down on the pedal, especially when we are still learning about the delta variant.

There are some really encouraging early signs, but obviously it's really difficult for us to measure from Wales, because our levels are so low, so we are looking at what's happening elsewhere, particularly in England. There are some very interesting papers that have been published, but they haven't been peer reviewed, so we're waiting for that analysis to be carried out so that we can have real confidence in what we're seeing as early indications of the potential for the two doses of the vaccine to significantly reduce the chances of hospitalisation. So, once we've seen that peer-reviewed document, I think we'll be in a better place to make a judgment. Certainly, that's why we've paused our unlocking system.

We don't have any plans for the time being for further lockdowns, but I've got to tell you that this will be data driven, as it's always been in Wales. We will follow the science and follow the data, and what we won't do is to give false promises. We won't have a freedom day in Wales; we won't have a terminus date that we will work towards. We will do what's right given the circumstances before us, and we will read the data and respond to that.

We were pleased to see that we were able to relax visits to hospitals, but I think it's probably worth emphasising that it is important for those decisions to be made at a local level. So, we know that the delta variant is very significant now, or it's building in areas of north Wales, so the judgments they make there may be different from the judgments that are made in health boards elsewhere.

We were pleased to relax the restrictions in relation to outdoor visitor centres, particularly for young children. And of course, what we tried to do was to give them the opportunity to use up the very few weeks that are left before the end of term. So, of course there's a balance to strike here; we've got to watch the data, but when we see that it's in a place that we are comfortable with, then I think a lot of those centres would be happy for us to open, rather than give them another three weeks to prepare. So, of course it's a balancing act.

In relation to flu, we are very concerned about potentially what could happen this winter. I know that the respiratory syncytial virus situation, in particular in relation to children, is something we are very concerned about, and we are putting very comprehensive organisational plans in place. That is quite far advanced already, and we will be listening to the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in terms of our ability to roll out booster doses alongside flu vaccines for the future.

15:10

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I have four or five questions. First of all, following on from that final point you just made: do you have an update for us on the work that is being done in order to ensure that the booster vaccine can be provided in the autumn in accordance with what the JCVI has suggested is required?

Pushing that second dose out there as quickly as possible is crucial now, of course. I'm aware that there are different ways that people are to deal with their health boards: some are to expect a letter, others a phone call, others have to go online to make their own appointments; and that's what I did, ultimately, and I got my second vaccine yesterday. Do we need some consistency here or do we need to strengthen comms at a national level in terms of how people are meant to access that second dose as soon as possible? Because I have to admit that I was a little confused myself, and have been over the last few weeks.

Now students: many students of course will have had their first vaccination where they are at university, and then will return home to other parts of Wales or to England. So, can you explain what work is being done to facilitate that second dose, so that it can be provided without barriers, where people have changed addresses and letters have been lost, and so on?

The growth in the delta variant is a threat to our hospitals once again, and we very much hope that the vaccine will prevent a great increase in the numbers attending our hospitals. But what are you as a Government doing to strengthen the shift towards having more COVID-lite sites, so that other NHS activities aren't placed under unnecessary threat? Getting these COVID-lite sites is something that the Royal College of Surgeons has requested a number of times over the past few months, and they're still not seeing the move in that direction that they have requested.

One final question on asthma specifically, and the need for asthma sufferers to receive an additional vaccination. There's concern among Asthma UK that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have gone missing from NHS systems across the UK, and haven't been able to access that early vaccination. There is a list for flu vaccinations held by the NHS, so it strikes me that we're reinventing the wheel slightly here. So, can you look at the possibility of just going off that asthma list for flu vaccination in order to ensure that asthma sufferers do get boosters as soon as possible when we get to the autumn? Thank you.

15:15

Thank you very much. In terms of the consistency of communication, I think that the guidance is very clear on the websites of the health authorities in terms of where people should go. I think it's difficult, because people do receive their information now from so many different sources, and I think that what we're trying to do is to respond to what is appropriate, particularly where we see that fewer people are coming forward. There is a specific issue at the moment with black African and Caribbean communities, and the 30 to 49 age group; there is a problem there. We have to focus on where they go for their information. So, we do a great deal of detailed work where we see there is an issue. I was up in Wrexham on Friday, and it was interesting because we'd seen that there was a problem in one area of Wrexham. They'd moved the vaccination centre into a leisure centre in the middle of that area where fewer people were coming forward, and on the weekend they were going to go to the centre of the town, so that they went to where people would be passing by. I think that is something that we're making progress on.

In terms of students, it's clear that it is possible for people to walk in and receive their vaccine. It's important that people understand that, be it the first or second dose. My son came home over the weekend and the first thing I did was to ensure that he went for his vaccination, and it was interesting to see he wasn't offered the vaccine in England, where he was a student. So, I'm pleased to see that we are in the vanguard in that regard.

In terms of those COVID-lite settings, what we're trying to do is discuss at the moment with health boards, and we're eager to see whether we can see health boards working together a bit more, and having those more regional centres. You'll be aware that, if you have a hot area and a cold area, it's difficult to have an A&E in that area. You try to close down an A&E department in a hospital. I don't think you're asking for that, but that is a restriction on the possibility of changing one hospital into a COVID-lite centre.

In terms of asthma, I know that, in the first instance, people who had serious asthma were in that first cohort of people who were prioritised. I was aware that there was a different group in terms of the flu vaccine. There was a restriction on how much stock we had of the vaccine at that time, and as we go into the booster phase we'll see whether we'll have additional supply, and then perhaps it'll be easier for us to go back to that report and the list that we had for the flu.

15:20

Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon. I'd just like to raise a point with you about the flow of information and the way you bring that information to Parliament. Today, this statement was a last-minute statement added to the agenda. I didn't hear anything different in that statement to what I heard at your press briefing yesterday and, indeed, the First Minister's press briefing on Friday. I fully understand the pressures of this information coming out, but it really is important that Members are shown respect and that this information does come to Members first, so that they can communicate with their constituents. At the height of the pandemic, I realised the sensitivities about putting that information out via public broadcast and media sessions from Cathays Park. But could I ask how exactly you bid for time in the Government scheduling of parliamentary business? Because I would urge the Government in the strongest possible terms, and seek the support of the Presiding Officer in this, to ensure that these statements do come and this information does come to Members first, rather than press briefings that are currently undertaken at Cathays Park. 

Thanks very much. Certainly, we were very anxious to make sure that you heard this information in the Chamber. We were very aware that that statement was made on Friday by the First Minister, and further information given yesterday by myself. That's why we were very anxious. Don't forget that we are making decisions here in real time with data that is coming at us very last minute, and we are having to make very quick judgments. Some of those judgments have to be made on a Thursday, with an announcement on Friday, and this is the earliest opportunity we can have to come to you to let you know exactly what's going on. We will continue with that commitment to let you know, but there are times during a pandemic where we actually just need to get some information out there quickly, and make sure that the public know how serious the situation is, in particular when we're entering a third wave. 

Minister, while the Welsh Government's briefings and statements on coronavirus have covered a wide range of areas, one area that's not received much attention, certainly lately, is dentistry. Clearly, emergency treatment has been available throughout the COVID period, but figures provided by the British Dental Association show that dentistry in Wales is currently operating at around a fifth of pre-pandemic levels. We know that regular preventative oral health checks are important, and some constituents of mine in the Swansea valley have contacted me expressing their concerns they have not had a routine check-up now for quite some time. There is an understanding, of course, that resuming routine check-ups must be done safely, but at the same time, there are also concerns around the potential widening of the oral health inequality gap. Will you therefore outline the Welsh Government's thinking on this, and the discussions that are taking place with the profession, and provide an indication of when you expect routine dental services to resume? Diolch.  

I'm very aware that dentistry is one of those sectors where we have to be very careful, because the danger of aerosol spread is real and more significant there than in many other sectors. That's why we are still in a situation where we're on an amber warning in relation to dentistry. That means that those restrictions are really quite severe. We have to make sure that there is very significant cleansing in between each patient after treatment. So, we are very aware that this is a difficult situation. I've already had a meeting with my officials on what we can do to speed up the situation when we are able to. There's some very interesting research that's come out from Bangor University to demonstrate that dental assistants can be as accurate in their analysis of check-ups, and so we'll be looking to see if it's possible for us to use dental assistants and to train them up so as to clear some of that backlog. I was just asked about how to get time in the Chamber; I've asked whether it would be possible to come to the Chamber and give an update on the situation in relation to dentistry, because I am aware that this is a particular issue across the whole of Wales.  

Minister, can I thank you for your statement? You made reference to outdoor education centres and the opportunities now that can be afforded to primary school children as a result of some of the changes that you've made. I've been contacted by the head of the Army Cadet Force in north Wales, who has said that unfortunately these ongoing restrictions will affect around 1,000 cadets in Wales, aged between the ages of 12 and 18, who were really looking forward to the summer camps and activities that have been programmed into their diaries now for many months. Can I urge you to review these restrictions as soon as possible, with a view to lifting them for army cadet camps in particular, and of course for other activities, particularly given that many of these youngsters will come from deprived backgrounds and will not have the opportunities to get together or go away, perhaps, even on a family holiday, whether that be in Wales or other parts of the UK? Can I ask you for an update on when you expect to be in a position to review that position as soon as possible? Thank you.

15:25

Diolch yn fawr, Darren. I know you've been a champion of the armed services for many, many years, and it's great to see you continuing in that role. You'll be aware that if we allow people to stay in the same accommodation overnight, then the chances of viral spread is significantly increased. We're able to do that in relation to primary school children, partly because we know that if they are affected the impact is very low, but also because these children are already in bubbles. That would not be the case with army cadets, and that's why it won't be possible for us, at this time, to allow that to happen. We will, of course, be making a judgment on this in a month's time, in terms of how much indoor mixing will be allowed, but I think we're a bit of a way from a situation where we will be able to allow adults to mix indoors over a long period of time—that is, overnight stays. I think that will take a little bit of time, I'm afraid, Darren.

Diolch. I also wish to comment on your reference to residential outdoor education centres, some of whom contacted me yesterday, which was how I found out about the Welsh Government statement, as we hadn't been notified directly as Members. I first raised concerns expressed by residential outdoor education centres regarding Welsh Government coronavirus guidance with the Welsh Government here in March, after the sector had stated they had 'reached a critical point', unable to trade for 12 months, yet the Welsh Government, they said, had failed to provide the financial support and constructive dialogue they needed to survive. That was a letter, I think, sent to all Members. 

Last week, I received e-mails from residential outdoor education centres stating, for example, 'This industry is being permanently decimated. The result of this is creating a huge deficit in the local economy, both in the long and short term. Currently, outdoor education residentials are being managed safely in England, and money that should be coming into the Welsh economy is being lost. The rules are inconsistent, and, frankly, flawed. Put simply, Wales is about to lose one of the most joyful ways in which its heritage and culture is shared with young people'. And, a final quote: 'The loss of Welsh centres is a disaster for Wales from a financial and cultural perspective, but can be easily dealt with'.

Although you announced yesterday that overnight stays in residential outdoor education centres are now allowed for primary school children, centres have responded stating, for example, 'If only these advised changes had been just a few weeks back, the chances of some centres being saved would have been much improved' and, 'It seems to many of us who provide residential outdoor education that crisis has only been responded to with crisis'. How will you now engage in the constructive dialogue with them that they've long been calling for?

Diolch yn fawr, Mark. I think the first thing to say is that we are very aware of the importance of this sector to Wales. I think it's one of the areas, in particular in parts of north Wales and the Brecon Beacons, where, actually, people can have life-changing experiences—taking people outside of their normal environment and exposing them to life outdoors. Of course, we understand how important it is in particular for mental health and well-being as well. We have actually provided support for this sector. It's all very well saying, 'If only we knew a few weeks before'. Well, if only we knew about the virus a few months before. It's a very strange way of suggesting that we make decisions. [Interruption.] No. We have always followed the data. We will continue to follow the data. We know that transmission within residential areas where adults are mixing over a long period of time is likely to spread the virus. We are not going to be pushed around on this. We will stand our ground. Our role is to protect the people of Wales, and that's where we will stand. But, of course, we will continue to give support to sectors that are experiencing a difficult time. 

15:30
4. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice: Eradicating racism and building an anti-racist Wales

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Social Justice: eradicating racism and building an anti-racist Wales. I call on the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt. 

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible. These words, which were spoken by Maya Angelou more than 30 years ago, still echo as loudly today. Today marks the fourth national Windrush Day, a day that recognises and celebrates the contributions of men and women across the Commonwealth who helped to build a modern Wales and made this country their home, and I am delighted the Welsh Government has been able to fund a number of organisations to mark this event across Wales, to retell those stories and to celebrate those contributions to our nation.

Migrants have long formed an integral part of our nation before and since the Windrush arrivals. And it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to remind our EU citizens in Wales that the stories of your contributions, that your desire to call Wales your home, is something that we wholeheartedly support. And that's why we have worked tirelessly to remind those EU citizens in Wales to apply for settled status and to do so before the application deadline on 30 of June.

As a Welsh Government we have also long supported and offered sanctuary to refugees and asylum seekers. We continue to work towards Wales being a nation of sanctuary, and last week I published a written statement marking the remarkable contribution of refugees to the fight against COVID-19 in Wales.

Dirprwy Lywydd, if we take a moment to reflect, 2020 was, without a doubt, the year we confronted racism like never before, where we were forced to face up to the past and to the present state of our race relations. The impact of COVID-19 paralysed the world. Amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic were our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The brutal murder of George Floyd sent shockwaves across the globe and sparked worldwide protests against racial injustices and inequalities, including here in Wales. These are some of the events that changed our world and they will be remembered in our history books as a wake-up call for racial justice and change. 

The 25 of May 2021 marked one year since the death of Mr Floyd. For his family, a form of justice came when a jury of 14 found police officer, Derek Chauvin, guilty of his murder. For us, George Floyd’s death is a reminder that we must take steps to address racism in all its forms and move forward. Here in Wales, we have strived to do that: to move forward. 

In March 2020, I discussed with the Wales Race Forum the development of a race equality action plan and the events of 2020 accelerated our determination to deliver a plan by the end of the last Senedd term. And last year, the Senedd supported a motion to wholeheartedly root out racism and racist ideologies and strive towards a more equal Wales, tackling systemic and structural racial inequalities. And we have made remarkable strides since then in our attempt to work towards eradicating racism and achieving our vision of an anti-racist Wales.  

On 24 March, we launched the draft race equality action plan for Wales, an anti-racist Wales, for consultation. I am proud that we are the first nation in the UK to call for an anti-racist country.

The testimony from black, Asian and minority ethnic people as we co-constructed the action plan made the scale and pervasiveness of the racism people face every day very clear. This reinforced the need for the action plan to promote an anti-racist Wales. It is not good enough to be ‘non-racist’. The entrenched detrimental impacts of racism and resulting inequalities require proactive, anti-racist action. 

Anti‑racism is a call for individuals, organisations and institutions to commit to thinking actively and responding to the potential impacts of their existing structures, processes, policies and practices on black, Asian and minority ethnic people. It is time we shift the burden of tackling racism from the recipients and victims of such acts to everyone in society. And that's how we will truly achieve a Wales which is more equal, fairer and accessible for all our citizens. And I'm grateful for the efforts of so many people and organisations across Wales who gave their valuable time, knowledge and expertise and to those who shared their lived experiences of racism in co‑creating the action plan.

Together, we've achieved a draft plan that is clear in purpose, grounded in action, and championed by the people who will hold the Government to account. It is an action plan that is unashamed in its determination to eradicate racial inequalities by 2030, and it is a plan we can strengthen further.

To ensure the opportunity to participate in the consultation is available to everyone, I have extended the consultation period to 15 July 2021. It's crucial that the consultation has a broad reach into diverse communities, provides opportunities for flexible dialogue, which can take many forms. I launched our race equality action plan community consultation grant to ensure consultation opportunities are made available to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and groups, to enable them to respond to the plan. Their voices are crucial in this process, as we want to ensure that we take the time to engage with individuals and communities facing racial inequalities, to include those views in our plan. And we will take the learning from this process to inform how we work with black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the future.

Hearing from the public, private and third sector is equally vital too, as this is not just a plan for the Welsh Government, it's a plan for the whole of Wales and its people—we all stand to gain from an inclusive and anti-racist Wales. Together, we must keep talking about tackling racism in Wales, and use opportunities presented to all in this consultation process. We must join forces as political parties with business associations, trade unions, public bodies, third sector and civil society. It's only through our collective effort to recognise and stamp out racism that we can truly eradicate racism and achieve our vision for an anti-racist Wales.

June is also Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month and Pride Month. And these events are key milestones that give us the opportunity to celebrate our diversity and the strength that that brings to educate and raise awareness. And marking important anniversaries such as Windrush Day, Refugee Week, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month and Pride Month serves to reinforce a basic truth: we should not, and we do not, take our communities for granted. Instead, we will redouble our efforts to make Wales a country where equality for all is assured and not seen as something that is earned.

So finally, I call upon everyone here to pledge to work with us on our vision to achieve an anti-racist Wales. Dirprwy Lywydd, together we must commit to eradicating all forms of racism. Together, we must strive to create a fair and just society. Together, we must match our hopes for our country with a determination to change. Diolch yn fawr.

15:35

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, thank you, Minister. Racism is not easy to spot, grasp or denounce. If it was, the task of anti-racism would be simple to identify it. People feel that it's not racist if a racist attack has not occurred, or the word 'N' or 'P' has not been uttered. We think that good people can't be racist, we think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people, we think that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival of the system of power. The hidden nature of structural racism is difficult to hold to account. It slips out of your hands easily, like mercury from your hands—you can't spot it. Reni Eddo-Lodge chooses the term 'structural' rather than 'institutional', because she thinks it is built into spaces much broader than in our more traditional institutions. Structural racism is impenetrable and goes unnoticed, it is not just about personal prejudice, but collectively affects our bias. It is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically impact people's life chances. The national picture is grim, and it affects groups within the black, Asian, minority ethnic communities differently.

We also see the routine accusation of racism levelled against anyone who offers to endorse, to teach, to uphold the values of western civilisation. Fear of a charge of racism has led commentators, politicians and police forces all across the western world to refrain from criticising or taking action against many overtly criminal customs that have embedded themselves in our midst. Customs such as forced marriage, female circumcision, honour killing and a growing intimidation from religious groups of any one remotely critical of their faith. Research from a number of different sources reveals how racism is weaved into the fabric of our world. This demands a collective redefinition of what it means to be racist, how racism manifests and what we must do to end it. 

I am concerned that nearly 79,000 racial hate crimes were reported in 2019, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year. As outlined in our manifesto, our vision is a Wales without racism, prejudice and discrimination, which is why I want to press Welsh Labour to lead by example and take a zero tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination throughout the Welsh Government. You cannot expect others to act unless your own house is in order. So, will the Minister explain what her own Government will do? In developing a new race equality action plan, what assurance can you give the Senedd that the document will mean something beyond the warm words that are often associated with tackling racism, and, that in building an anti-racist Wales, you are clear about what that actually means for the people? Thank you. 

15:40

Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr, Altaf Hussain. Thank you very much for those very important words. And, as you say, it is difficult to address and challenge our structural racism. It can go, and has gone unnoticed for too long. It's been hidden, and, of course, it has affected the chances of so many. So, eradicating racism and promoting race equality—always been a priority for the Welsh Government. And we have shared in this Chamber—we've supported together—as all the parties represented last year, on more than one occasion, our abhorrence of racism and racist ideologies.

I think you do set an important challenge for us as Welsh Government. It cannot be just warm words. It's actually—. That's why the plan is so important, because it's built on the values of anti-racism. It calls for zero tolerance, as you say, for racism in all its guises, but it's been developed collaboratively, and I think that's its strength, because it hasn't been the Government saying, 'This is what we think is right.' This has actually been about those who are affected by racism, and those who work in our professions and who live in our communities have worked with us to get this plan to the point where then we can implement it, and we do intend it to be a practical plan. If you look at it, and we look forward to your responses, it does have very specific actions to be taken, and it's across all policy areas. So, in developing the plan, I met with all the Ministers in the Welsh Government. Every part of the Welsh Government has a responsibility, and their actions across it—. And, once finalised, the Welsh Government will be committed to and held accountable for it. 

Just a couple of points I wanted to follow up, in terms of the key issues, and I think education is crucial, as you say, because this affects the chances of everyone. And the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities' contributions, and Cynefin, in the new curriculum working group, which was chaired by Professor Charlotte Williams, commissioned by the First Minister and working to the education Minister—that was established last August. And it did oversee that development of learning resources crucial for our schools. It identified gaps in current resources or training related to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, their contributions and experiences, and, as Members from that Senedd at the end of March who were here, you will recall that the former Minister for Education accepted all 71 recommendations in the new curriculum working group's final report on 19 March. So, the Welsh Government now is already implementing the recommendations. The Minister, Jeremy Miles, is taking this forward as Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, looking at it as part of the new curriculum implementation, and the Welsh Government's race equality action plan has a set of very early recommendations put forward by the group on learning resources. But then, of course, it means it has to engage with Estyn, regional consortia, race equality action plan stakeholders and, indeed, Professor Charlotte Williams, supporting the Welsh Government's implementation of the recommendations in an advisory role.

I just also want to say something about hate crime. You talk about hate and how we have to address and tackle the intimidation and the fear that's been woven into the fabric, as you say, of our world. Yesterday, I met with BAWSO—really important to hear from them about the work that they've been doing to support black, Asian and minority ethnic women, particularly through the pandemic, and the ways in which they have fought against very difficult situations for those with no recourse to public funds, which, of course, we feel should be addressed—we're working on it in the Welsh Government, but it also needs UK Government support as well. But just to finally say, to raise awareness and understanding of hate crime and encourage reporting, the Welsh Government invested £180,000 in the development of Hate hurts Wales, and that's a campaign to help tackle hate crime and incidents. And to do that, to develop that campaign, again, we consulted with people from ethnic minority backgrounds to actually get the right kind of communication campaign and to ensure that we had addressed it in a culturally sensitive way but that we also looked at the tone and the message for the campaign, and that was launched on 9 March. And we continue to fund the national hate crime report and support centre run by Victim Support Cymru. I would very much advise, especially our new Members, and returning Members, to visit the national hate crime and support centre, which is working so hard in this field. So, I'm very grateful for that support from yourself, Altaf, and obviously from the Welsh Conservatives today.

15:45

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, as a newly elected Member in the Senedd, I'm very pleased to respond to this statement on such an important issue within my first few weeks as a Member and as Plaid Cymru spokesperson on equalities and social justice. Eradicating racism and creating an anti-racist Wales is crucial to Plaid Cymru and it is an issue that I'm determined to see progress on by the end of this Senedd term. Given that the creation of a race equality action plan was part of the Plaid Cymru manifesto, I clearly welcome this statement very much.

The Minister opened her statement by quoting the Afro-American author Maya Angelou, and it's a cause of pride, of course, that one of the greats of Afro-American literature, Ralph Ellison, came to the Swansea and Morriston area in my region as a GI and noted that Invisible Man, his famous novel of 1952, was actually started here in Wales. The reactionary Tory Government in Westminster wants Windrush and the multicultural history of these isles to be invisible—it is our duty here in Wales to not allow that to happen.

We must give everyone a presence in our history, a role in imagining our future and a voice and visibility in the present.

First of all, then, on the plan and the consultation, can you explain how the recommendations made by Professor Ogbonna have been incorporated into the plan? You're also extending the consultation period in order to ensure greater input, so what is your process in ensuring that cross-cutting voices can feed into this? And finally on the plan, you're eager to include a number of public and private organisations in the vision of an anti-racist Wales, so what's the system of accountability built into the plan in order to ensure that this vision does become a reality?

Secondly, leadership pathways need to be clear to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. What is your impression of how reforming the Senedd could have an impact on an anti-racist Wales? Clearly, there are policy areas, such as education and housing, where the Senedd could make positive change. But I also believe that there is so much more that we can do if we devolve policing and justice. It's a cause of sorrow that Wales is tied to a reactionary right-wing Government that is led by a politician who has made racist statements himself, that makes it more difficult for people to insist upon sanctuary and equal rights—for example, given the current threats to the European Convention on Human Rights—and that has cut unconscious bias training to Border Force officials.

There's no time today to list the whole host of other examples that have done nothing to eradicate racism and discrimination. Do you therefore agree with me, in light of this plan, that the Welsh Parliament is far better placed to make decisions on justice that impact on equalities, and that devolving them would be an additional boost in our journey to reaching an anti-racist Wales? Thank you.

15:50

Thank you, Sioned Williams, and thank you very much for your questions.

I'm also really delighted to welcome you—and congratulate you, which I haven't had the opportunity to do—to be the spokesperson on social justice for Plaid Cymru, and to respond to your questions on this very important statement, which I know Plaid Cymru has fully backed. Indeed, it was very good, in the previous Senedd, when the committee that was chaired by John Griffiths, which obviously had Plaid Members, had Members from across the Senedd—. There was such strong support for the race equality action plan, as we were developing it, and the evidence that they were taking, particularly of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic people, but also looking at the socioeconomic impacts as well—. And what was really important was that, as we looked at the disproportionate impact, we were able to get benefit from Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna, who worked with people with lived experience as they were living it, looking at the socioeconomic impacts. That's why the race equality action plan looks—and, indeed, the programme for government, which is so important—. If you look through the programme for government, it's not just equality that's addressing these issues. There are actions in terms of housing, in terms of employability, in terms of improving access to apprenticeships, and also in terms of education, as I've already said.

Now, one of the most important issues in the early starting work of those who were co-constructing the plan was to look at what should the priorities be: yes, of course, health and social care, but also education, employment and income and leadership and representation, which is where we will make the changes. The criminal justice system also came in, even though it's not devolved. It was very clear, from the discussions and also looking at the evidence from reports like the David Lammy report, that we needed to look at the impact of the criminal justice system and, indeed, what we can do with our powers, but also looking at, again, the programme for government, looking at policing and devolving policing and justice and how we progress that, but looking at housing and accommodation, culture, heritage, sport, local democracy, Welsh language, environment, all of it—everything that we are responsible for as a Senedd—but of course much more than that.

I just also want to say that there is a chapter in the plan, and I'm sure that you will respond to it fully, in terms of the criminal justice system and how we can take action to support and respond within our powers and then look further to what we can do. Some of that will be in partnership as well, in terms of non-devolved policies. The chapter is called 'Crime, Justice, Hateful Attitudes and Community Cohesion', and community cohesion, of course, is crucial in terms of how we address the impact of racism on people, individuals and communities.

Building cohesive and integrated communities is very much part of the actions, recognising that there's underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system as well, that we need to ensure that that's reflected, particularly in relation to our criminal justice agencies, but also recognising that this is part of how we refresh our Wales hate support centre, and I've already commented on those points. So, with your support, I think there are real opportunities, as committees start forming, and moving forward, to not only engage with how we respond to the race equality action plan, but how we take it forward.

But I have to say that we did provide funding, not only for groups to contribute to the development of the plan, but, as I said in my statement, we wanted to also, within this consultation period, reach out to more groups to really dive deeply into communities. So, we’ve given out more grants to say, 'This is the plan' so that they can respond and contribute to it. So, it’s been a commitment from across the whole of the Welsh Government.

But I think as the values—. If you look at the plan, our purpose is to make a meaningful change to the lives of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities by tackling racism, and we believe that minority ethnic people are asking only for their rights, as opposed to favours in decision making, in the workforce and service delivery and in all aspects of everyday lives.

Thank you also for commenting on Invisible Man and what started in Wales, and Maya Angelou. When I went to—. I spoke to the Windrush elders today, and they spoke of 73 years, when they came on the Empire Windrush. They came because they were asked to come. As they said, 'We answered': 'Britain called—we answered.' That was on the flag, and to hear Roma Taylor, a veteran of the 203 Welsh field hospital, speaking today was very powerful.

15:55

I want to thank the Welsh Government and all the stakeholders, of course, involved in all the work that they've done in developing this draft race equality action plan. It's certainly bold, it's ambitious, and it's what we need to help eradicate racism here in Wales. As you said earlier, Minister, it covers all areas, and we can't cover all areas here today, so I'm going to focus very much on culture, heritage and sport, particularly sport, because you would expect sport to be one area where people would be united, regardless of their ethnicity, with us all sharing a common desire to see our team or our country doing well, whether that be at a local or at a national level, yet it’s an area where we see competitors from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds experiencing some of the most vile abuse. Earlier this year, Welsh footballers Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo received abusive racial messages on social media following a Wales versus Mexico game in March. These young men are just two of many sportspeople of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who experienced horrendous abuse online this year alone. I’m keen to know what discussions Welsh Government have had with organisations about tackling online racism in sport.

I noted that one of the key actions in the plan for tackling racism in culture, heritage and sport is to take action to increase ethnic diversity in the workforce at all levels, and specifically in leadership teams and on boards. I was particularly pleased to see that in light of the report from Wales This Week that showed the shocking—

—lack of diversity in Wales's larger sports governing bodies. Okay. The figures revealed that, of 765 employees, only 19 were from those communities. Do you agree with me, Minister, that, for things to change, we have to change them on the board, and we have to lead from the top?

Thank you very much, Joyce Watson, and thank you for drawing this to our attention today—this key area of racism in sport, and the blight, the shameful way in which so many of our sportsmen and women are treated to racist abuse, and the racist abuse that’s there on social media. We don’t all see that. They see that racist abuse after performing brilliantly in their sport and showing their talent and their skills, and for their teams, and that racist abuse that is so abhorrent to us. And thank you for drawing this to our attention in this debate today. It's clear that we have to do more to tackle racism in sport. That's why there is that policy theme in the race equality action plan—culture, sports and heritage—and I'm glad, again, that it's very clearly highlighted in the programme for government. It's a key priority for this Government.

We have to do something about those national governing bodies of sport in Wales, highlighted by that ITV programme, Wales This Week. And you draw attention to the policy theme, leadership and representation. We've made our commitment, Deputy Llywydd, to hold all leaders of public bodies personally accountable for delivering a representative workforce, and inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces. We are supporting the work of Sport Wales and they are working with UK Sport, Sport England, Sport Scotland and Sport Northern Ireland to tackle racism and racial inequalities, but they are now expected to respond in terms of the actions outlined in the race equality action plan. I think it's very important, also, that we just do acknowledge the work of Sport Wales who've produced the—and this has come through as a result of information from that programme—#TellYourStory campaign, asking people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to share their knowledge and understanding of what it's like to be involved in or even be excluded from sport, and that racism that has actually driven people out of the sport because of the intolerable impact on their lives.

This is also why it's so important that we do invest in Show Racism the Red Card in our schools, that anti-racist educational charity. We've got to start with our children and young people. And, of course, they're role models; they're predominantly, but not exclusively, footballers, but they present an anti-racist message to young people and others in schools. Some of you also might have been in schools whilst they've undertaken their work, and it is so powerful and so important.

But let's address this, and thank you for drawing attention to this and calling it out, which is what we must do, and we must all do that today in terms of racism in sport, as we think of our players as they move forward. Diolch yn fawr.

16:00

Thank you for your statement, Minister. It's four years ago this week that the Welsh Government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism—a decision that I and all Members on these benches very much welcomed. I think that taking leadership in stepping forward like that, and taking hold of that definition and applying it to an organisation is a really very important thing to do. But, regrettably, there are many organisations, which are funded by the Welsh Government, which have still declined to adopt that particular working statement and definition of antisemitism, including many of our universities. Just down the road here, Cardiff University still has refused at the moment, unfortunately, to adopt that particular statement.

Can I ask you, Minister, what action will the Welsh Government take to proactively not just encourage people to adopt this statement, where they are funded by the Welsh Government, but to actually require them to adopt the definition, going forward? Because I think it is time now to start taking a more radical approach to deal with the sort of anti-Jewish hatred that we're seeing, unfortunately, on some of our campuses.

Well, certainly, that is something that we would do anyway. The Wales race equality action plan has a whole range of actions relating to education, including higher education, and looking at these issues in relation to the expectations we have of our higher education institutions clearly is part of that in terms of the importance of that definition. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for this statement. I'm very pleased to see the steps that are being taken in this regard.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to note specifically the fact that it is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, and I was very pleased to hear you referring to that in your statement. Unfortunately, it appears that racism against these communities continues to be accepted in our society, and that is based on a lack of knowledge. But, because of that lack of knowledge, that's the basis of the fact that there is nothing done to celebrate the contribution of these communities to our history and our growth as a nation. If you consider that without the Roma and the Gypsy, we wouldn't have, for example, our folk songs and our folk dances here in Wales today, as Dr Meredydd Evans noted. When you think specifically about people such as Abram Wood and the huge contribution made by his family; when you think about the language of the Roma in Wales—the Kale here. In Dolgellau, people continue to refer to each other as 'chavi', which is 'child' in the Roma language in Wales. And as somebody who was brought up for a time in Swansea, I'm very familiar with the term 'mush'—people referring to each other as 'mush'—which is the word for 'man' in the language of the Roma here in Wales. But there's no recognition of the role of these communities in our growth as a nation, nor even official status given to the language or their culture. So, what do you want to do to ensure that these communities, which have played such an important role in the growth and development of our nation and our culture, that they receive the acknowledgement that they deserve, as well as every other community here, and to get rid of these racist attacks against them? Thank you.

16:05

Well, I'm very grateful for that question from the Member. The Welsh Government does provide funding every year to TGP Cymru to deliver the Travelling Ahead project, which provides advice, advocacy and support for participation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in Wales. And we do have a stakeholder group, which we work very closely with, particularly over the pandemic, tailoring our public health responses for these vulnerable communities, but also engaging with those communities to look at the recommendations for tackling racial inequality. But I think a really important point made is about the fact that we can learn so much more from our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I'm sure that Mabon's aware of the Romani Cultural and Arts Company. They've recently produced—and that's supported by us—a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller LGBTQ spoken archive resource, because, obviously, there are connections, intersectional connections as well, in terms of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month as well as Pride Month. We've got a competition running during Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month with community cohesion teams across Wales. In fact, they're designing masks, with young people engaged. And I'm very pleased to say that Professor Charlotte Williams has engaged through the groups that we're working with. They're looking at the inclusion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture and values within the curriculum and school support mechanism, because it is with our children and young people that we will start to make that difference.

We will now suspend proceedings temporarily to allow changeovers in the Chamber. If you're leaving the Chamber, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart. Any Members arriving after the changeover should wait until then before entering the Chamber.

Plenary was suspended at 16:08.

16:20

The Senedd reconvened at 16:21, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

5. Statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language: Qualifications in 2021

The next statement is from the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language on qualifications in 2021. I call the Minister to make his statement—Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Llywydd. In my statement on ‘Renew and reform’,  I confirmed that we would be putting learners first, supporting their well-being and confidence and providing opportunities for them to develop key skills and knowledge to enable them to make progress. These are principles that have informed our approach to the qualifications this summer. I want to wholeheartedly thank teachers and lecturers who have supported their learners through a new approach, working under time pressure to enable them to make progress. I understand that this has been very challenging. I also want to thank the design and delivery advisory group, chaired by Geraint Rees, bringing together headteachers and college principals from across Wales. They have come together weekly to co-construct an approach, responding with agility to new challenges. They have relentlessly focused on the needs of learners, their well-being and their progression. Today, I published a letter from the chair of the design group, which highlights the collective role of the education sector as a whole in delivering a system where learners feel that they fully deserve the qualifications they receive. The approach for 2021 puts trust in the holistic judgment of centres. Learners will receive a grade based on evidence of their learning that will only have been assessed on the content covered by their school or college. Centres have been asked to consider equalities issues as part of their approach. They can draw on a range of assessment evidence, reflecting the variation of experience at learner and local levels, and a clear route has also been developed for private candidates to achieve their qualifications.

To promote fairness and consistency, this flexibility has been scaffolded by guidance, by exemplar materials and professional learning. The Welsh Government has provided over £9 million to support schools and colleges as well as allocating a national inset day. There are both internal and external quality assurance mechanisms, including professional dialogue with the WJEC on grade outcomes at centre level, a feature that was requested by the sector in 2020. I can reassure Members that the WJEC will not change any outcomes as a result of this dialogue; those remain decisions of centres. Reflecting the different delivery model this year, the WJEC has been able to reduce its fees by 42 per cent, releasing a further £8 million to schools and colleges. Recognising the role of centres, I'm providing a further £1.6 million to enable fees to be reduced to 50 per cent.

Schools and colleges are now managing centre reviews of grades requested by learners as part of the appeals process. I am confident that learners will have access to a fair and workable route of appeal. Where a centre review has taken place, should the learner wish to pursue further, a second route is available via WJEC. This approach, which is unique to Wales, has been developed to minimise the burden on schools and colleges during the holidays. I am today confirming that appeals will be free.

This year is distinct from previous years. Some learners prefer exams, and some will do better in continuous assessment. These learners have experienced significant disruption as well as adapting to a new approach to assessment. I am confident that we have developed a system that is transparent, fair, equitable and credible. Learners can have confidence in the grades awarded, and so too can the wider education system and employers, within and beyond Wales. We have supported schools, colleges and higher education institutions to support learners in transitioning to their next steps. 

Wales was, of course, the first to cancel the summer examinations, but all four UK nations are now on a broadly similar path. We remain closely engaged with our counterparts to achieve a level playing field for learners across the UK, and this is particularly important for higher education admissions. Universities in Wales and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol have collaborated under the leadership of the Open University to introduce University Ready, an online platform of resources ranging from study skills to support for mental health and well-being.

Finally, I would like to update Members on vocational qualifications that are regulated jointly with other administrations. For qualifications similar to GSCEs and A-levels, for example BTECs, grades will be determined by schools and colleges in a similar way to general qualifications, and will be awarded no later than GSCEs and A-levels. For other vocational qualifications used for progression or licence to practise, qualifications have been adapted and assessments can continue where it is safe to do so. Further education institutions have been awarded £26 million to allow for the safe return of learners to ensure vocational programmes are completed.

In closing, I would like to reaffirm my gratitude to teachers and lecturers, the design group, Qualifications Wales, the WJEC and partners across the education system for their collective effort to ensure a generation of learners will be awarded qualifications, marking their hard work and attainment during a period of unprecedented disruption. These efforts have required a significant contribution from our workforce and strong, ethical leadership from our school and college leaders. I thank them for their efforts. I would also like to congratulate learners for their resilience and their commitment during what has been a truly challenging year.

16:25

Can I start by also paying tribute to our schools, colleges and teachers across Wales for everything that they have done to support our children and young people through this extraordinarily difficult 15 months, under enormous pressures? I, too, would also like to wish the very best of luck to our learners, who have shown remarkable understanding and resilience, as you said, Minister, in the last year or so.

Llywydd, I welcome the Minister's statement and recognise the hard work of everyone involved, from designing, delivering and assessing to trying to ensure that learners across Wales receive the fairest grades possible this year following last year's unacceptable fiasco. Working hard to design a system using assessments to better support and evidence the grades given to learners was a necessary step to ensure that this year's cohort don't share the same experiences as last year's. It is my sincere hope that these potential centre-determined grades, which are starting to be delivered to learners already, fairly reflect the hard work and potential of our young people, and that the appeals process is robust and proves fit for purpose.

Last year, the grade inflation was massive, Minister, and entirely unsustainable. There is undoubtedly going to be a degree of grade inflation this year, Minister, due to the nature of the process in place. But what proportion of students would you expect to see achieving A* to C grades this year, Minister? The potential grades being delivered between now and 2 July seem to be a sensible adaptation that Wales has adopted, which does differ from the rest of the UK, giving learners that time to appeal before the recess, and before the official result stays. This is, of course, to be welcomed, I'm sure, across the Chamber, so that students can actually celebrate their hard work on those results days. I also welcome the process being free, as you've announced today.

Obviously, there was some understandable concern, Minister, over stage 1 of the appeals process. The last thing that any of us want is to put a significant extra burden on teachers and schools after what they've been through with the pandemic, where they've gone above and beyond for us. It does, however—if it doesn't prove to be overburdened—seem to be a natural and sensible first step to appeal to a learner's own school before the WJEC. It seems, through early indications, talking to stakeholders, Minister, that so far, so good in terms of the number of appeals coming forward, but obviously there's a long way to go yet. Minister, could I ask you to please publish a rolling update on the number of appeals? And could you also please share with this Chamber today, Minister, what you'll be doing to support learners that are using an English-based exam board, to highlight the different process that they have in place, compared to the WJEC process that you've outlined, ensuring that all Welsh learners across Wales have the full support from us that they need? 

Also, can I ask you about the costs of awarding qualifications that you've now touched on today in your statement? Schools are still paying 50 per cent of their usual exam fees despite not getting any exams from the WJEC, and having to access and internally moderate grades themselves. The workload for school staff is far greater than in a normal year, and the WJEC has a lesser role. So, surely, Minister, Welsh Government should be covering most if not all of the costs this year, given the pressures that schools are facing. Also, I want to touch upon the particular circumstances facing private and home-schooled candidates, and wondered if you were able to provide to them the certainty they need going into the summer. 

And generally, what has this Government done to ensure that learners, parents and carers are 100 per cent clear on the appeals process, if they feel the need to appeal their grade? Are you happy that clear guidance has been given to these learners and support networks? 

Vocationally, I welcome the extra funding announced today that will go to further education institutions to allow them to adapt to allow the safe return of learners, but I also share some of the concerns of colleges about the delay in some practical assessments for vocational courses, such as health and social care and childcare courses. Adding to the delays already experienced last year, delays to date have put even more strain into the system, creating a number of bottlenecks that need to be addressed now, particularly in the vital areas that we need to increase employment in, like health and social care. I know colleges have worked hard as they've reopened to prioritise practical assessments in these areas, that weren't possible during the pandemic, and there is some degree of catch-up now. And the funding announced today will have some sort of impact. But what numbers are we talking about, Minister? Will you make a statement on the number of people currently left waiting to take assessments please, so we can monitor the process? 

Finally, Minister, whilst we're discussing this year's qualifications, it is also important to start looking ahead to next year's assessments. I'm sure that you'll agree with me that schools, teachers and young people need clarity on future arrangements, so that they can plan with some degree of confidence. And whilst necessary during the pandemic, this year's arrangements are not sustainable with so many variables in the long term. So, Minister, would you be able to confirm whether it's your intention to return to a fairer and consistent exam-based system next year? Diolch. 

16:30

I thank the welcome that the Member gave to that statement. She's posed a series of questions; I'll do my best to try and run through them as comprehensively but briefly as I can. I don't think it's helpful to talk about grade inflation. We will see that some learners prefer and perform better with exams, and some will do better in continuous assessment. There has been an equalities lens that has been applied to the design of assessment at a centre level. What I can say with certainty is that learners this year will have provided evidence of attainment, and that we've supported schools to deliver a consistent, fair and fairly-applied approach so that learners can have confidence in the grades that they will be awarded.

In relation to the first step, as she calls it, I actually think that's an important step because it gives learners an early indication of their prospective grades, and provides them with the opportunity of seeking a review, and provides them with an opportunity of taking that forward to appeal if they're not content with that. And I think the fact that that first step is happening during term time has the effect of meaning that in Wales—I think uniquely—that work will be done during term time rather than during the summer holidays, and gives students that assurances of the direction in which they're going. If students are given grades now that they are content with, those will be the grades that they have, just to be clear. I've read speculation in the press about a sense of limbo. If learners have got the grades and if they wish to review them, that's a matter for them and they're obviously entitled to do that, but if they're content with their grades, those are their grades. 

In relation to students doing English exam boards, there are reciprocal arrangements, and in relation to private candidates, either those will be assessed with centres with which they have existing relationships, or by the WJEC in centres that have agreed to host them.

In relation to the fees, a 50 per cent discount is a significant discount. Teachers have worked incredibly hard to deliver the assessments required for this summer, but the WJEC also has had a very significant role in providing guidance and resource and quality assurance and materials in order to enable that to happen. They are themselves a charity and therefore they need to ensure that their costs are reflected in that. The announcement I've made today will release significant further moneys into the system. 

In relation to guidance to learners, Qualifications Wales has published a guide to learners about the appeals process.

In relation to vocational arrangements, there are some qualifications where, because of the very nature of them, they may be qualifications in sectors, for example, that because of COVID have been under restrictions. Social care would be a good example of that. We have invested £26 million in the sector to support the sector to address that, and a further £41.5 million to support learners who are transitioning through those qualifications, but there will be examples where that has not been, obviously, as straightforward, unfortunately.

In relation to 2022, Qualifications Wales has already indicated that the assessments for next year will need to be adapted so that the content of the course reflects the disruption that has occurred already in the system. WJEC is consulting on that, and I understand that their intention is to make an announcement before the end of the summer term.

16:35

I'm very pleased to have listened to this afternoon's statement, and I'm pleased that you've listened to the suggestion that I made in the Senedd last week, namely to reduce exam fees for schools. As a former chair of governors, I am highly aware that paying for examinations is an important element of a school budget. It didn't appear to be fair that schools were facing bills similar to ones that they would have faced pre COVID, given that much of the burden of assessment this year has fallen on our teachers and our schools.

Last week, I quoted one school that was facing a bill of £100,000 for examination fees, so they will certainly welcome this news that that's to be halved. But most school leaders in Wales do believe that the exam fees should be reduced more than that. I don't think you answered the question raised earlier on that issue; is there more good news in the pipeline for schools? Is there scope to reduce these fees further? I think the Association of School and College Leaders would be calling for another 25 per cent reduction.

The hope, of course, is that the funding released from the exam budget line will remain in schools and can be used by schools. So, will you ensure that this additional funding does remain within our schools? And will you be providing guidance for schools to use these funds directly as bonus payments for staff? That's the intention in Scotland, and we should give direct remuneration to teachers who have taken on these additional tasks because of changes in assessment practices. Providing a bonus of hundreds of pounds would be a clear signal and would turn warm words into acts in thanking the teaching profession that has given so much during this period and has gone that extra mile for our children and young people.

The system has created great challenges and heavier work burdens. So, I would like to know what mental health and well-being support will be available to teachers who have taken on that additional burden on top of the bureaucracy that they're required to deal with on a daily basis.

In terms of pupils, and of course they are the most important people here, there is uncertainty as a result of what's happening this year, and those hoping to go on to university will have to wait until the official A-Level results day, which is 10 August, to know exactly what their fate is to be. I hear what you've said, but I would like an assurance that your Government will lead in this area and that there will be sufficient support and information available for our pupils. So, I would like some further detail on that.

Just one final point from me: there will be some pupils who will need to resit examinations. There are still some who are being assessed—the process hasn't concluded yet, has it? Unfortunately, there will be an increasing number of people who will be affected by the third wave that is happening all around us at the moment in terms of COVID. So, what support will you provide to that particular cohort of pupils? Thank you.

16:40

Thank you to Siân Gwenllian for those questions. In terms of the questions on fees, well, the provision that we have ensured today as well as what the Welsh Joint Education Committee has provided, ensures that the examination costs are halved. I think it is important, as I have already said, to acknowledge and recognise the work that teachers are doing to ensure that pupils and learners are assessed, but in addition to that, the WJEC has had a role in providing support, resources, and advice in that context as well, and I think that what has been stated today reflects that too.

In terms of budget, that's a budget in the schools for them to use. As my predecessor stated in the first support package for the education system to deal with the impact of this summer, the budget is available to support dealing with assessments and appeals, acknowledging that there are pressures on schools in terms of teachers' time, administrative resources, and so on. So, that provision also enables schools to make decisions to ensure that resources are used in a way that reflects the needs of their workforce and their local needs in that regard.

In terms of mental health support, as part of our holistic, whole-school approach framework, we stated that there is support available for teachers and school leaders, and one-on-one mentorship has been provided already to ensure that there is capacity in the system to support teachers with their own mental health, as well as the ability for them then to support their pupils who have been through a very hard time over the past year.

You talked about uncertainty. I'll just say one thing again if I may. If a pupil has received the grades they need for the offer they have received from university, well, those grades are consistent now; they have been stated, and if they are content with those grades, those grades won't change. We need to be clear about that, because I don't want them to feel any uncertainty in that context. With regard to access to university more widely than that, we are working with HEFCW, with UCAS and with universities in Wales to ensure that communication with students is clear and appropriate. And Qualifications Wales has also set up a higher education stakeholder group to ensure that people understand, in that sector, the process that is ongoing in Wales this year.

Minister, I agree wholeheartedly with pupils receiving teacher-based assessments throughout this difficult time. But having met with teachers in Rhondda, the new system has put tremendous strain on the profession. How will the Minister support teachers through the next academic year? Also, what support will be made available for students who do not receive the grades they were expecting?

I thank the Member for that question. In relation to what the next academic year looks like, she'll be mindful of the announcements I made yesterday in relation to categorisation and in relation to school performance measures and their suspension for the 2021-22 academic year, and also in relation to the approach that Estyn will be taking to inspections over the course of the next year, which I hope—and it is certainly intended to—create space in the system to enable teachers, in the way that she wants, to be able to focus their energies on supporting students, both in responding to COVID and in terms of their progression, and also preparing for the new curriculum. In addition to that, there will be support that is available to support teachers themselves in that process, as part of the Renew and Reform programme that I announced a few weeks ago.

In relation to students who don't get the grades that they need, in the same way as every year, there will be support available to those to provide them with advice for the options that they have as a consequence of their results. But I want to be very clear that I think it's very important that we acknowledge that the system that has been put in place, in very, very challenging circumstances, is one that is designed to achieve both fairness, but also consistency, so that learners and employers and the education sector at large can have confidence in it.

16:45

Thank you, Minister.

I'm very sorry to tell the Chamber that the Minister who is responsible for making the next statement is not present, either on Zoom or in the Chamber. I know that a number of Members want to ask questions on this highly trailed statement, but the Minister is not present at this point. I'll pause the meeting for a few minutes to see if the Minister can be found.

Plenary was suspended at 16:46.

16:50

The Senedd reconvened at 16:51, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

6. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change: Roads review

The next statement is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on a roads review, and I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement. Lee Waters.

Diolch, Llywydd. The world's scientists are telling us in very clear terms that we urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, Welsh emissions have fallen by 31 per cent, but to reach our statutory target of net zero by 2050 we need to do much more. As the UK Climate Change Committee reminded us last week, if we’re going to keep temperature rises within safe limits, in the next 10 years we need to more than double all the cuts we’ve managed over the last 30 years.

To hit the 2050 target, the Climate Change Committee has told us we need to cut emissions in the next decade by 63 per cent, and by 2040 they need to fall by 89 per cent. On our current trajectory, we will not achieve net zero until around 2090. The challenge is stark and will require everyone, including the Government, to consider the impact of their choices.

Transport makes up some 17 per cent of our total emissions and so must play its part. Earlier this year I published the Welsh Government's new Wales transport strategy, 'Llwybr Newydd'. It sets out a bold vision for transport in Wales over the next two decades. It included, for the first time, a modal shift target, which requires us to aim for 45 per cent of journeys to be by sustainable forms of transport by 2045, up from 32 per cent currently. To achieve these targets we need a shift away from spending money on projects that encourage more people to drive, and invest in real alternatives that give people a meaningful choice.

Our programme for government commits to introducing a far-reaching bus Bill in this Senedd term to make it easier to integrate the timetables of buses and trains. Bus operators have said that the main barrier to increasing patronage is reliability and journey times, so we will take action to give buses greater priority on our roads and we will look too at bus fares.

This year we'll be spending more than any other part of the UK per head on active travel investment to encourage people to walk or cycle for local journeys. Two out of three journeys in Wales are under five miles in length. With the right investment, and with encouragement, there's huge potential to get most people using sustainable transport for most everyday journeys—not all journeys, not all people, but the majority. It's do-able, and there are many countries where it is already done.

Understanding the data in relation to transport also gives us headroom to make choices, and, as the data and the science change, the choices we have to make alter. We must use the headroom we have wisely if we are to meet our climate change targets. To this end, we are announcing a pause on all new road schemes while we review our existing commitments.

Officials are in the final stages of establishing a roads review panel, which will include some of the UK's leading experts on transport and climate change. The panel will consider setting tests for when new roads are the right solutions for transport problems, in line with the new Wales transport strategy. And I want the review to consider how we can shift spending towards better maintaining our existing roads, rather than building new ones, as was recommended by the cross-party Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in the last Senedd.

We'll publish the full terms of reference for the review and the full membership in due course. It'll be for the panel to review all of our proposed road investments, whether funded directly by the Welsh Government on the strategic road network, or indirectly, by grants, on the local road network, so that all future projects align with the three priorities of the new transport strategy: to reduce the need to travel, to allow people and goods to move more easily from door to door by sustainable forms of transport, and to encourage people to make the change.

The new Wales transport strategy embeds the use of sustainable transport planning hierarchy, and the panel will use this to make sure we are encouraging travelling by walking, cycling and public transport ahead of private motor vehicles. To make sure this approach is fully embedded in our investment decisions and those taken by other delivery partners, we're also reviewing Welsh transport appraisal guidance, our decision-making framework for transport projects, so that it is consistent with 'Llwybr Newydd' and uses the five ways of working set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The review will provide an initial report to Ministers within three months of appointment, setting out how it'll go about its task, and the final report shall be provided within nine months of that, setting out the findings of the review.

All parties in this Senedd have committed to taking the threat posed by climate change seriously, and that means acting now to reduce emissions. This will not always be comfortable or easy, Llywydd, but it's what the science requires us to do and what future generations demand of us. Diolch.

16:55

Deputy Minister, this statement today will be met with dismay and disappointment by businesses and road users alike. It's a fact that, after 22 years in power, successive Welsh Labour Governments have failed to build an adequate road network. From 2000 to 2019, the Welsh road network has increased by less than 3 per cent, despite the fact that the volume of road traffic has increased by nearly 30 per cent over the same time period. But you have today confirmed Welsh Labour has no plans to deal with the growing traffic on our roads.

You broke a manifesto commitment to deal with the congestion problem on the M4 by building a relief road, wasting £157 million in the process, and you've let road users down again today. Road transport corridors are the arteries of domestic and international trade and boost the overall competitiveness of the Welsh economy. In 2017, there were over 30,000 traffic jams on Welsh roads, which cost the Welsh economy almost £278 million. A proper policy for roads should include ambitious plans to improve our road infrastructure by delivering an M4 relief road, upgrading the A55 in north Wales, and to progress the dualling of the A40 to Fishguard. It should include the bypass for Chepstow and—I apologise for my pronunciation in advance—Llandeilo that residents have been calling for. Instead, these issues have been kicked into the long grass.

Can you advise me, Minister, whether the improvements to the A40 between Llanddewi Velfrey and Penblewin, due to commence this week, will now go ahead or will be delayed due to this review? The roads review should also address the contradictions in the Welsh Government's approach to alleviating air pollution levels. Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK. It's a fact. Cardiff and Port Talbot both have higher PM10 levels than either Birmingham or Manchester, while Hafodyrynys has the most polluted road in the UK outside of London.

The Welsh Government must commit to reviewing speed limits on major roads in Wales. A constant flow of traffic will not only reduce the amount of particulate matter released by brake wear and tear, but also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that the acceleration of cars produces. Although the Welsh Government has implemented 50 mph zones in some areas of Wales to keep traffic flowing, and reduced nitrogen dioxide limits, some traffic safety experts have said that permanent 50 mph limits could put motorists in danger. There is evidence that increased congestion leads to driver frustration and reduces their awareness and concentration. Will you agree to address this issue, Deputy Minister? Because you seem hell-bent on letting our roads deteriorate and forcing everyone on to public transport, despite major doubts over the ability of the network in Wales to cope after years of poor management and underinvestment. Welsh workers and businesses urgently require more information about the scope of the review and your long-term intentions for our transport infrastructure, as do we. Thank you.

Well, I just flatly disagree with that analysis of the problem. Natasha Asghar has set out the traditional predict-and-provide approach to road building: traffic is predicted to increase, therefore we will increase the supply of roads. We've pursued that route for 50 years and that has produced more traffic, longer journeys, people working further away from home, higher levels of air pollution and greater levels of obesity, where we have the most obese children in Europe. That's what that approach has produced. It doesn't work, and I don't intend to keep doing the same thing over and over again. It may make for an easy headline, but it is wrong on the evidence, and it is certainly not aligned with what she was saying last week about the need to take climate change seriously. Both she and Janet Finch-Saunders said in the Chamber last week, 'You need to take bold action', and were fully behind the target of achieving climate change, and she has set out a way of doing the exact opposite.

She is quite wrong to say that we are not maintaining roads. In fact, the whole point of this announcement is to reallocate resources towards road maintenance as, as I said, was recommended by unanimous decision of the cross-party committee on the economy in the last Senedd, which recommended we stop building new roads and we prioritise money for maintaining the ones we have—under a Conservative Chair, I might add.

On the specific question of the Llanddewi Velfrey to Redstone Cross scheme, as we've said, all schemes where there are currently diggers in the ground will continue, and that is one of them. So, that's one thing at least I hope we can agree on the facts on.

17:00

Minister, thank you for your statement.  We have an opportunity, after the pandemic, to build a nation that will benefit future generations, and investing in public transport, active travel and green infrastructure will be a crucial part of this. However, it is vital that we ensure that communities that have been waiting a long time for investment in infrastructure are not left behind.

You noted that we need a shift away from spending money on projects that encourage more people to drive and spend more money on maintaining our roads and invest in real alternatives that give people a meaningful choice. May I ask what real alternatives the Welsh Government hopes to invest in? I would welcome greater clarity and detail on that point. 

And, with regard to electric transport, how is the Welsh Government ensuring that every area in Wales has a fair share of electric car charging points?

Minister, modal shift is going to be so significantly important in all of this, so what role will areas like fast lanes for public transport and electric vehicles on future roads—how important a role will that play?

And, with reference to your point on maintaining existing roads, I'd like to draw your attention to the most recent UK climate change risk assessment. It points to a number of challenges facing Wales's transport infrastructure, including a greater risk of slope failure due to increased rainfall, and the associated risks with ground subsidence and collapse of pre-existing cavities in the ground from changes in the soil's water content because of climate change. So, could I ask you what your Government will do to ensure that road infrastructure in Wales is part of this, and is going to be resilient to the effects of climate change?

And the final thing I'd ask you, Minister, is about how you'll get buy-in and support from communities who are going to be particularly affected by this. Again, think again of communities who've been waiting a long time for investment in infrastructure. What engagement will you be having with those communities who are most likely to be affected by these decisions, please?

Thank you for the comments, and I would hope that there's a great deal of common ground between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru on this issue. I note during the election campaign we were criticised for not being bold enough, not moving fast enough on climate change. I believe your party had a commitment to achieving net zero by 2035 and said that we were too slow in going for 2050. Now, already to achieve the 2050 challenges, as I said in my statement, there are considerable challenges for us to act further and faster than we have. So, as you think we should go faster than that still, I would have hoped that you'd be on side with us in at least recognising what the problem is and what some of the solutions are. So, I hope we can work together as constructively on that agenda.

These aren't easy issues and they do throw up tensions, and some of the things will be difficult and unpopular, and I don't resile from that; I think we have to confront that. We can only bring people with us if we show people there is a better alternative. In all behaviour change dynamics, people will do the easiest thing to do, and we need to make the right thing to do the easiest thing to do. We've seen that through recycling, we've seen it through smoking in public places, in drink driving. There is precedent for how we can do this, but it's not going to be easy.

You're absolutely right about the issue of adaptation, from the carbon emissions that are already baked in, and we're already seeing, in the last couple of years, the impact of wetter winters and drier summers. So, there is going to be an impact on our existing infrastructure, and, as you said, the Climate Change Committee set that out in quite stark detail. We've set aside money this year and last year for a resilient roads programme to try and address where infrastructure is collapsing. As I said in the statement, I want us to move money towards maintaining the roads we have, and, as we maintain them, to improve them, to put in measures that encourage bus use, to put in bus lanes, to put in segregated cycle lanes, to upgrade the infrastructure to encourage sustainable transport. That is part of the agenda that we have.

I think we need to work through this systematically. There is a bus Bill that we're committed to introduce; I want to make that bus Bill as ambitious as possible. The challenge we have, I think, if we're all honest about this, is that the pace of change that science demands, there's a tension with that and the pace at which we can bring about change, given how complex the landscape is and how long it takes to get infrastructure projects through the process. So, this is not easy.

On the question of communities who have been waiting a long time for improvements, I think that is a very fair challenge, and I think we just have to have an honest conversation about what change looks like. Because I think we've told people that simply putting in highways gets rid of the problem, when the truth is it shifts the problem, and it creates a different problem. The one thing we're asking this review to do is to come up with a set of rules for us as to when highways will be the right thing to do, because we're not saying we're not going to build roads again, but we are saying they'll need to be in specific circumstances—this headroom concept: it's limited, and we have to spend it wisely. So, I would anticipate them looking at schemes that have a particular safety focus or an air-quality focus, or for access to new industrial or housing estates, for example, there'll be a case for saying that road building is part of the solution. Simply tackling congestion and building to the predict-and-provide model we've heard from the Conservatives, I don't think the evidence backs that up as providing a long-term solution, and all of us have to focus on short-term difficulties against doing the right thing for future generations.

17:05

Minister, with an increase in the number of people walking, running and cycling closer to home throughout the pandemic, and with the difficulties for parents in keeping a social distance outside school gates, I was really pleased to see funding to introduce more 20 mph zones in my constituency, Rhondda, to keep residents safe. I think it's really important that we build on this work, as well as the active travel routes work already under way by Welsh Government and local authorities, over the next Senedd term.

One area I'd like to further discuss with the Minister is Rhondda Fach. We currently have a bypass that runs from Porth to Pontygwaith, leaving residents of Tylorstown, Ferndale, Blaenllechau and Maerdy in long queues of traffic at peak travel times. Air pollution is a very real threat to us and future generations, so will the Minister meet with me to discuss potential travel solutions for residents in Rhondda Fach, incorporating public transport and safe travel space for cyclists and pedestrians?

Thank you. Yes, of course, I'd be happy to meet, and that's an interesting example of where a bypass was built, what, 10 years ago now—I remember going to the opening ceremony—where that has created a set of solutions, but simply adds pressure further down the road network, leading to demands for further bypasses. That's the kind of predict-and-provide solution that I was describing earlier that we simply can't keep on doing that approach to transport if we are serious about meeting our climate change targets.

That said, there is clearly a problem in her constituency that is a very real one for people's health and for their ability to move around freely, and that is the dilemma we face. Finding a way through that is going to be the challenge of this Senedd term, and I hope the panel we've set up will help us to do that.

In terms of the 20 mph point, from two years' time, we are committed to introducing default 20 mph speed limits for all residential areas, not just for small schemes, but for a whole area, because we need to reduce the speed of traffic to save children's lives, and as part of the whole changing of the environment, to shift the power away from the car being the king in the community to people being king. And that, I think, will improve people's quality of life overall.

Deputy Minister, what assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of not proceeding with plans that were already proposed for construction, supply chain and local economic benefits? Which developments reliant on new roads, junctions or bridges will now be stopped as a result of this announcement, in particular, the impact on the proposed new cancer centre in Cardiff, which can only be accessed by new Welsh Government-funded roads and bridges? And in my own region, the development of the windfarm at Margam mountain requires solutions other than going through the town of Maesteg.

In May, the BBC reported that the UK Government was reviewing its road-building programme because more people were working from home. It would be interesting to see if this is the basis on which this Welsh Government statement is also being made. Welsh Government is responsible for trunk roads and motorways, whilst the local authorities are responsible for local roads. There are some schemes already in progress and planned for development; does this review potentially cancel any of these out? In any review, we did want an assurance that local government would be properly resourced to maintain and fix existing roads to ensure that they are safe and that councils participate in that review. Thank you.

17:10

Well, I think quite a number of the points that Altaf Hussain mentioned were actually addressed in my statement, so I'll just give him a chance to reflect on that, and if he has further questions I'm happy to answer them.

On the specific question of the cancer centre, that is not covered within the scope of this review, because that is a scheme to give access to a project; it is not a local authority or Welsh Government highway scheme. And similarly access roads to windfarms. Again, we are not being fanatical about this. There is a case for road building, I'm not saying there isn't, but it can't be the default response to every single transport problem we have, which it has been often.

He interestingly mentioned the UK Government. Of course, as well as committing to reaching net zero by 2050, they've announced a £27 billion road programme. They seem to think those two things are compatible, I don't. But they are indicating a change of thinking, as he mentioned, because of the fact that people are commuting less to work and that is likely to continue. So I'd very much welcome a change of heart by the UK Government. I think we have been quite consistent in our approach: we've set out a Wales transport strategy, that has a commitment to modal shift, and that requires a shift of resources and focus.

We're not stopping building infrastructure—in terms of his point about the economic impact—we're just building different infrastructure, infrastructure that is resilient to the changes of climate change, which all parties say they want to tackle. But again, when it comes to the particulars of making the difficult choices necessary to make that real, people resile from it. We will not.