Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

29/06/2021

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

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary session, and in particular to members of the public who have joined us once again in the public gallery for the first time in 15 months. So, a warm welcome to you.

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 equitably. 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 all—to those in the Chamber and those joining virtually.

1. Nominations for Committee Chairs

The first item this afternoon is nominations for committee Chairs. A few points from me before we begin: I will now invite nominations under Standing Order 17.2F for the election of committee Chairs. Only a Member of the political group that has been allocated that committee may be nominated as Chair, and only a Member of the same political group may make that nomination. The allocation of Chairs to political groups has been agreed in accordance with Standing Order 17.2A. For political groups of more than 20 Members, the nomination must be seconded by another Member of the same group. For political groups with fewer than 20 Members, no seconder is required. If any Member objects to a nomination, or if two or more nominations are made for one committee, a secret ballot will be held. I will continue with the nominations for the remaining committees until all nominations have been made. 

We begin by inviting nominations for the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, which has been allocated to the Labour group. I call for a member of the Labour group to make any nominations. Jayne Bryant. 

Does any Member of the Labour group second that nomination?

Yes, it has been seconded. Are there any further nominations. No, I see no further nominations. [Interruption.] Yes, I can see that Alun Davies has indicated. Alun Davies, do you have a nomination?

I'd like to make a point of order on this procedure, Presiding Officer. 

I'm not taking a point of order in the middle of the nomination process, but I will take your point of order—[Interruption.] I'll take the point of order at the end of the nominations. There being no further nominations for that committee—

—is there any objection to that nomination?

Any objection to that nomination? No. 

Therefore, I declare that Jenny Rathbone is elected chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. Many congratulations to Jenny Rathbone. 

The next committee is the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, which has been allocated to the Welsh Conservatives. Are there any nominations for Chair?

You can nominate Mark Isherwood. No seconder is necessary. Is there any objection to Mark Isherwood's nomination? There being no objection, I can then declare that Mark Isherwood has now been elected the Chair of public accounts and public administration. Llongyfarchiadau, congratulations, Mark Isherwood.

We now go on to

—the Finance Committee. The allocation of Chair of the Finance Committee was given to Plaid Cymru. Are there any nominations for Chair of the Finance Committee from Plaid Cymru? Delyth Jewell. 

Thank you. There is no need for that to be seconded. Are there any further nominations for Chair of Finance Committee? Sioned Williams.

13:35

Rhys ab Owen is nominated. Again, we don't need a seconder for that. Therefore, as there is more than one nomination, there will be a ballot for Chair of Finance Committee, and that will be a secret ballot.

The next committee is the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, which has been allocated to the Labour group. Are there any nominations from the Labour group? Sarah Murphy.

Sarah Murphy, can you be unmuted? Yes, there you go.

Thank you. I'd like to nominate Huw Irranca-Davies, please.

Is that nomination seconded? Buffy Williams.

You're unmuted now. Carry on, Buffy.

Okay. Thank you very much. Are there any further nominations? Any further nominations?

Any further nomination? No, I don't see a further nomination.

Therefore, I declare that Huw Irranca-Davies is elected Chair of the Legislation, Justice—. No, before I declare that election, I must ask whether there is any objection to Huw Irranca-Davies's nomination. Are there any objections? There are none. Therefore, I can now declare that Huw Irranca-Davies is elected Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. I wish him well.

I now invite nominations for Chair of the Petitions Committee, which has been allocated to the Labour group. Jayne Bryant.

Jack Sargeant is nominated. Is there a seconder for that nomination?

Is there a seconder? Ken Skates. [Interruption.]

Okay. Thank you, Ken Skates. Can Members who notice that they're not muted either mute themselves or be careful in what they're saying? Okay. So, we have a seconder for—. I forget who now—oh, Jack Sargeant. My apologies, Jack. [Laughter.] Is there another nomination for the Petitions Committee? No, I see no further nominations. Is there an objection to the Chair of Petitions being Jack Sargeant? No, I see no objection either. So, Jack Sargeant is elected to the Petitions Committee Chair. Congratulations to you, Jack.

The next committee is the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee.

I think that's the longest title we've had for a committee thus far. It's a Plaid Cymru nomination. Is there a nomination from Plaid Cymru? Llyr Gruffydd.

Thank you, Llywydd. I wish to nominate Delyth Jewell to chair this committee.

Thank you. That doesn't need to be seconded. Is there any further nomination from Plaid Cymru? Further nominations? No further nominations? Okay, there are no further nominations for the Chair—. Rhys ab Owen.

Okay. So, there are now two nominations for Chair of the culture committee and, as a result, there will be a secret ballot for that post. 

The next nomination is for the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee, and this has been allocated to the Welsh Conservatives. Is there a nomination? Laura Jones. 

13:40

Paul Davies has been nominated. Is there a further nomination from the Conservative group for this Chair? I don't see a further nomination. Is there an objection to that nomination? I see no objection, and therefore Paul Davies has been elected to chair the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. 

Congratulations to Paul Davies. 

We now move to the Health and Social Care Committee, also allocated to the Welsh Conservatives. Is there a nomination? Laura Jones. 

It's very straightforward when it's done by the same person every time, I must say. [Laughter.]

We aim to please, Llywydd. I nominate Russell George.   

Russell George has been nominated. Is there a further nomination from the Conservative group? No, I see none. Is there an objection to that nomination? There being no objection that I can see, then I will declare that Russell George has been elected as the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. 

Congratulations, Russell. 

The next Chair is for the Local Government and Housing Committee. The Labour group to nominate. Jayne Bryant. 

John Griffiths has been nominated. Ken Skates to second? 

That nomination is seconded. Is there a further nomination from the Labour Group? Rhianon Passmore. 

Mike Hedges has been nominated. Is there a seconder for that nomination? Jack Sargeant. 

Thank you. Is there a further nomination—a third nomination? Yes, Hefin.  

Chair, I would have liked to have taken the opportunity today to have nominated Mike Hedges and Alun Davies as joint Chairs of this committee on a job share, and, I have to say, it is disappointing that Business Committee has decided today not to allow a joint Chair to go ahead. I feel that it's an opportunity missed, and I'd like to put that on the record. 

Well, it is on the record now. I suspect Alun Davies wanted to make the same point, so I might as well accept it now. Alun Davies, do you want to make the same point, or is it on—?

Yes, on a point of order, I was profoundly disappointed that Business Committee took the opportunity to block this candidature this morning and not to explore the potential to job share a committee Chair. It appears to me, and it appeared, I think, to others, that this was a very straightforward proposal and one which could have been accommodated within our existing Standing Orders. It appears to me that Business Committee did not give this the consideration that it deserved, and it appears to me that we're now in the situation in this Senedd where the most conservative Members no longer sit on the Conservative benches. 

Well, to respond and to place it on the record, and following the discussions on committees and Chairs that have been undertaken in groups and in the Business Committee over the past five weeks, I received an application yesterday afternoon from Mike Hedges and Alun Davies to job share for a committee Chair. I put that request to the Business Committee this morning. It was unanimous in the Business Committee that there was no support to do this. It would have been with quite considerable changes necessary, both to Standing Orders and to our procedures. The Business Committee is keen to undertake a review on all these issues, but to do so in such a short period of time was not something that the Business Committee could sign up to, given the fact that we were looking to elect our Chairs today, and, therefore, these are matters that can be taken in the future.

I would remind all Members that they are able to put their names forward for nomination and be nominated and seconded in this place, as we've done right throughout this afternoon. Nobody is being blocked from doing that by the Business Committee or this Senedd. This is an election for Chairs, and all Members are equal in their participation in that process.

I think we've said all we need to say on the record on that. I probably wouldn't have wanted to take that as a point of order in the middle of an election, but Hefin David caught me off guard slightly there. And we'll live and learn from that one. 

Felly, where am I? I've lost track of which committee I'm on. Have we elected the Chair for local government? No. We've had two seconded nominations. Are there further nominations? Anybody can be nominated at this time, if you have support. Any further nominations? No. Therefore, we have an election for that Chair for local government and housing, and that will be conducted by private ballot. 

We now move to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. It's a Plaid Cymru nomination this time. Any nominations? Mabon ap Gwynfor.

13:45

Are there any further nominations from Plaid Cymru? There are none. Is there any objection to Llyr Gruffydd as Chair of that committee? No. Therefore, Llyr Gruffydd is elected Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. I wish him well. 

We now move to the Children, Young People and Education Committee, which has been allocated to the Labour group. Are there any nominations? Ken Skates.

Ah, that's why you couldn't nominate that one. [Laughter.] And is there a seconder to Jayne Bryant?

Jayne Bryant has been nominated and seconded. Are there further nominations? 

There being no further nominations, is there an objection to Jayne Bryant to chair that committee? I see no objection, and therefore, Jayne Bryant, you are elected to chair the committee for children, young people and education. 

The Standards of Conduct Committee now, allocated to the Labour group. Any nomination for the Chair of standards? Huw Irranca-Davies.  

Vikki Howells. Is there a seconder to Vikki Howells's nomination? Buffy Williams. 

Yes, thank you. That nomination has been seconded. Any other nomination for standards committee? No. There being no further nomination, I can declare that Vikki Howells has been elected as the Chair of our standards committee. Good luck to you with that work. 

All done? Yes. That concludes the nomination process, and, in the case of those referred to secret ballot, in accordance with Standing Orders, I inform Members that the secret ballots will be held in committee rooms 1 and 2 in the Senedd. Members will be e-mailed when voting opens. Voting will close at 16:30, or after the second changeover break, whichever is later, giving a window of approximately two hours for voting. The Clerk will be responsible for supervising the voting and counting of votes. Following the secret ballot, I will announce the results at the end of Plenary today, after voting time.

2. Questions to the First Minister

We now move on to questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Samuel Kurtz.

Educational Facilities

1. What support is the Welsh Government providing to improve educational facilities in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ56710

Llywydd, through our twenty-first century schools and colleges programme, we have invested £48 million in educational facilities for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. This will continue, with a further £12 million proposed in a second wave of programme funding.

Thank you, First Minister. I recently visited Cosheston VC School in my constituency, where I met with the headteacher and the chair of the governors. This is a happy school, with pupils eager to learn from enthusiastic and able teachers. However, concerns were raised with me over the lack of space available, which has been worsened due to COVID restrictions. Staff spend non-teaching time working from their cars or in corridors, and pupils have just one toilet to share between a class of 30 in a temporary portakabin. Whilst pledges have been made to provide additional portakabins as a temporary solution, a permanent solution is available, with ample classroom space found in the loft of the school building. Would you agree with me that a permanent solution is preferable, to ensure that Cosheston school and its infrastructure is conducive to providing a suitable and enjoyable learning and working environment? 

13:50

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that supplementary question, and, clearly, he raises matters of importance to parents and students in Cosheston. The way in which the twenty-first century schools and colleges programme works, however, is that it is for the local authority to prioritise their bids and then to submit them to the Welsh Government, which has the job of weighing them up across the whole of Wales and then allocating funding accordingly. As I said in my opening answer, Llywydd, Pembrokeshire has already had a significant programme of investment in the first phase of the twenty-first century schools programme, and, in band B, there's another £120 million going to be invested in the school and college estate in the Pembrokeshire county, and I'm sure that the governors and the headteacher of Cosheston school will be making their case, alongside the Member, to the elected members of Pembrokeshire council as they go about the difficult job of prioritisation. 

Diolch. I know Cosheston school well; I went there. But I do have a longer memory than the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. As a Pembrokeshire councillor from 1995, I saw the transformational impact of unprecedented investment in our schools by the successive Welsh Governments. And today, despite more than a decade of Tory cuts to Welsh budgets, I think I'm right in saying that the Welsh Government's fantastic twenty-first century schools programme has already funded 170 new schools and colleges in the first phase, and another 43 projects under way in the second. So, I'm assuming that all that is correct, First Minister, and I'm interested to know what your plans are for that programme going forward.

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that supplementary question. She is right to point to the transformational impact of the twenty-first century schools and colleges programme, and nowhere is that more true than in Pembrokeshire: a new Tenby Church in Wales primary school, Ysgol Hafan y Môr, a Welsh-medium primary school, a new secondary school, Ysgol Harri Tudur, £6 million invested in Pembrokeshire College in band A of the programme, and more to follow now in band B. And I think Joyce Watson makes a very important point, Llywydd: this is not just quantity—that very large number of new schools and refurbished buildings that the programme has been able to provide—it's the quality of the environment that the programme focuses on, the fact that every building has a distinctive character of its own, that every one of them provides facilities fit for learning in the twenty-first century, and every one of them sends a powerful message to students who attend for their education of the investment that this nation wants to make in them and their futures. That's the significance of the programme, and Joyce Watson was quite right, Llywydd, to draw attention to it.

Police Community Support Officers

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's target to fund additional police community support officers? OQ56683

Llywydd, I thank Jack Sargeant for that. The programme for government commits to providing a further 100 police community support officers in Wales. I chaired a meeting of the Policing Partnership Board for Wales on Thursday of last week, where this commitment was widely welcomed.

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. I recently met with north Wales's newly elected police and crime commissioner, Andy Dunbobbin, and we both welcomed the Welsh Government's additional PCSOs, on top of those already funded by your Government, but we were both extremely concerned about the UK Government's failure to deliver the 62 police officers that the Prime Minister promised for Deeside. In fact, the Home Office just recently were only able to talk about recruitment rather than additional officers, and it was completely, completely unclear whether this was to replace officers who have already left the force. First Minister, will you join calls from myself and Andy Dunbobbin for the UK Government to honour their promise, and will you also update the Chamber on how your Government will work with North Wales Police to get additional community support officers on the street?

13:55

Llywydd, I thank Jack Sargeant for that question, and for his long-standing campaign to make sure that his constituency gets the level of policing that it needs. He will know that, in 2018, the number of police officers across England and Wales was the lowest since 1981, and that is a direct result of that decade of austerity when, year after year after year, the Conservative Party inflicted cuts on police forces across England and Wales, and certainly here in Wales, where nearly 500 police officers were lost over that period.

Despite the promises that have been made, I understand why the Member goes on campaigning, because Alyn and Deeside had fewer police officers in the year 2020 than it did in 2017, despite the promises that have been made. So, I'm certainly happy to commit to work alongside him and the new Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales to make sure of the promises that have been made by the UK Government to undo some of the harm that they themselves have inflicted on the safety of communities, and to deliver on the promise they've made.

Let me give the Member one small spot of comfort, which is that we have received an assurance from the UK Government, from the Home Office, that, when they talk about additional police officers, they mean numbers over and above those needed to replace people who have retired or been promoted or for any other reason left the service. So, we must hold them to account on that as well. In the meantime, Jack Sargeant is obviously right, Llywydd, that our commitment not simply to sustain the 500 police community support officers that we've provided as a Government almost throughout the period of austerity, but to add another 100 to that, was popular the length and breadth of Wales. We have an operational group set up to work on how those new 100 officers are going to be recruited, allocated and financed. The group met on 15 June, and, when we get its advice, we will move forward, and I hope to see many of those new officers appointed and on the beat and in north Wales and in the Member's constituency before the end of this financial year.

With community safety being a devolved matter, the Welsh Conservative Party manifesto in May stated that we would increase funding for police community support officers each year, working alongside the UK Government to recruit an additional 20,000 officers in England and Wales by 2023. That's what's really happening. How do you therefore propose to ensure partnership working between the Welsh and UK Governments on this agenda, where the UK Government target to recruit 6,000 more police officers in England and Wales by March 2021 was dramatically exceeded, including 437 extra officers in Wales, 99 in north Wales, with further increases to follow in the next two years—remember, it's a three-year target—recognising that community safety in north Wales is entirely dependent upon North Wales Police's established, integrated working with their adjacent partner police forces in north-west England?

Llywydd, I'm glad to hear the Member's figures, which show that his party is finally making good some of the damage that they inflicted on policing in Wales over a decade—a decade in which, every time they cut the budget, he supported them in doing so. I agree with him, however, on the importance of working across boundaries to make sure that communities in Wales are kept as safe as possible. I said in my opening answer, Llywydd, that I chaired a meeting of the Policing Partnership Board for Wales on Thursday of last week, and I was glad to welcome the Secretary of State for Wales to that meeting and to hear his contribution to it. Where the UK Government is prepared to come to the table in that way, I welcome it, and it allows us to work together on areas where there are common concerns and clear interests of Welsh people in doing so. 

14:00

Brif Weinidog, the Welsh Government has funded CSOs, or PCSOs as they were then called, for nearly a decade. I can reiterate that Welsh chief officers are happy with that, they're glad for the additional funding, and it's raised their capability and their visibility, which their English counterparts don't have, but as policing is still a reserved matter and the funding therefore is discretionary in nature, how secure is this funding for the future? Diolch.

The funding is entirely secure, Llywydd, for the rest of this Senedd term. My party's manifesto committed us to that and it committed us to the extra 100 officers that will now be provided. Provision is already made in this year's budget to begin that process and, as I say, I look forward to seeing that appointment process under way so that we can begin to spend the money that we've set aside, and then to build that up so that we are funding the whole of the 600 officers to which we are committed as soon as that process is able to have them in place.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, two weeks ago in response to my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders, you said:

'the reason why low area statuses have moved up is because of the importation of TB by farmers buying infected cattle and bringing them into the area.' 

That caused a huge amount of distress and hurt in the agricultural industry. Do you accept that's a misleading statement, First Minister?

Llywydd, I repeat for the record that assessment of disease report forms show that eight in 10 confirmed breakdowns in low TB areas—and it was a low TB area that I was being asked about—are primarily attributable to cattle movements. So, it's important to get that on the record as well.

I'm grateful to the Member for his question, though, because it allows me to say that, of course, farmers in Wales work very hard indeed through the biosecurity regimes that they put in place to try and protect their herds against TB. And they need to go on doing that, and they need to go on doing that alongside the Welsh Government and everything we've put in place in order to go on bearing down on the scourge of TB in cattle, the harm it does to animals themselves, but also the very real impact that contracting TB in a cattle herd has on those who've worked so hard very often to build up those herds, and to look after them. None of that can take away from the known facts that in low-incidence areas, it is cattle movement rather than, as I was being asked by Janet Finch-Saunders, badger-driven spread of the disease that lies behind additional outbreaks. 

First Minister, the distress of that statement is that you identified farmers as being part of the problem. You know and I know that the regulations that are in place from the Welsh Government require that all cattle, prior to movement, have to undergo a TB test, and that test is valid for 60 days. So, the farmers themselves are doing all they can, along with the Welsh Government, in fairness, with the regulations that they've put in place. We will disagree about the overall campaign that the Government are undertaking here in Wales, but that I hope you will recognise was a deeply distressing statement to make by yourself as First Minister, given that there is pre-movement testing of all bovine animals in Wales and animals that come into Wales from England. So, will you apologise today for that distress that you have caused by that statement to the farming community, accepting that we do have policy differences about how TB should be tackled? 

Llywydd, let me put it like this. It was never my intention to cause distress to anybody in the statement that I made. What I was pointing to was that the question I was asked sought to place the blame for rises in TB in north Wales in low-incidence areas and say that they would best be dealt with by badger culling. I make no apologies for repeating the fact that that is not the policy of the Government, nor would it be the right response.

Farmers themselves do have responsibilities. They have responsibilities for cattle movement, and they have responsibilities for discharging the testing regime, and I'm happy to repeat again that I know the enormous efforts that farmers make to keep their herds safe and to comply with those regimes. Where things break down, and we have undoubtedly seen rises in TB incidence in the Conwy valley, in Denbighshire and in the Pennal area, then it is right that the causes of that should be investigated and investigated with an open mind. That involves all the players who have a part to play in keeping those herds safe and reducing TB in those areas.

14:05

Well, I regret the fact that you are unable to put an apology on the record, First Minister, but I'm grateful for your more detailed explanation around the sentiments of your comments some two weeks ago. 

If I could address, in my third question to you, the change of policy within 72 hours around the Llandeilo bypass, which I appreciate was a policy agreed with Plaid Cymru in a budget deal in 2017. I happen to believe that there does need to be a bypass for Llandeilo, and I also believe there are other towns that require bypasses as well, such as Dinas Powys in my own electoral region, which has been campaigning for some 50 years. But what I have struggled to find out—. But where I have struggled to find consistency is in the remarks of the Minister on his feet here in the Chamber, who said,

'I think it would look very odd if we'd left Llandeilo out of the whole-Wales review and I would have certainly raised some questions.'

So, why, in 72 hours, did the policy position change or is this just pork-barrel politics?

Well, Llywydd, the Minister set out, subsequent to his statement on the floor of the Senedd, the position of the Welsh Government. Let me be clear: when this Government strikes an agreement with another party, it is our intention to honour that agreement. We had an agreement with Plaid Cymru in a previous budget round. That involved a bypass at Llandeilo, and the roads review, which is a very important policy and will be carried out in accordance with the transport hierarchy that we set out at the end of the last Senedd term, will honour the agreement that we made.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. The latest report of the Bevan Foundation, published today, is sobering for anyone. I hope it will awaken this Government to see the impact of poverty on our communities—issues that have come to the fore during the pandemic. It shows clearly the very deep inequality in our society: one in every 10 homes without certainty regarding the future of the roof above their heads; 80,000 having heard during the pandemic that they have to find new homes. And from tomorrow, the 'no evictions' policy will come to an end. Considering the findings of this report, will you reconsider that?

Well, Llywydd, of course I agree with what the Member has said about the way in which the pandemic has exaggerated the inequalities that were already far too evident in our society, and this Government continues to do everything we can to press against the rising tide of inequality here in Wales. But it is a tide that is rising because of the actions that are taken elsewhere.

When I met the Chancellor of the Exchequer some weeks ago, I took the opportunity to press on him the need not to row back on the £20 a week that families in receipt of universal credit have in Wales, as a response to the pandemic. The Chancellor extended that in his March budget to the end of September, but those weeks are ticking away, and once again those families face the none-too-distant prospect of losing £1,000 in a year—£1,000 that really makes an enormous difference every single week to the children who live in those families. I pressed that point as powerfully as I could with the Chancellor.

As far as evictions are concerned, let me just explain to the Chamber—and this will be set out in greater detail by my colleague Julie James—that the regulations that have suspended evictions are coronavirus regulations. They have to be justified in law on the grounds of the pandemic, and as other parts of our society see greater normality restored, then greater normality has to be restored in other parts of Welsh life. Had we not done so, I think there is no doubt at all that the Welsh Government would have been challenged in the courts by landlords who have a legitimate interest in defending their own interests in the bargain between a landlord and a tenant.

Now, we have done an enormous amount during the pandemic to strengthen the support that is available to tenants: extending notice periods, providing additional discretionary housing payments, funding the private rented sector debt helpline and the citizens advice bureaux, as well as the very significant millions and millions of pounds that we have spent through local authorities to go on dealing with problems of homelessness and stabilising people's housing situation. As the time comes when those regulations have to be lifted, the Minister will set out further assistance that we will provide to tenants in that position in order to minimise the risks that people run of becoming homeless and having to be rehoused in other ways by statutory authorities.

14:10

First Minister, one word struck me there: 'normal', 'normality'—something we all are looking forward to, in many ways, in the context of this pandemic. But poverty has become far too normal; child poverty has become far too normal, from way before the days of the pandemic. The Children's Commissioner for Wales yesterday said that children's poverty is the biggest challenge facing your Government. It was true before this pandemic. As we've argued for many months, the children's commissioner is arguing that free school meals should now be extended. You could speed up your review of that, you could just do what we've been calling for and extend free school meals to children in every family in receipt of universal credit. Given the sobering message in that Bevan Foundation report today, why don't you just do that?

Well, Llywydd, if only it were just that simple that the Welsh Government could conjure out of the air the many, many millions of pounds that would be required to bring about such a policy, with all the other opportunities to do important things in the life of children in Wales and other Welsh citizens that would have to be forgone by doing so. I'm afraid being in Government is a matter of choices, not of magic solutions where you simply say, 'Why not find £100 million to do something?' as though that had no cost to anything else that the Welsh Government could do. Nor is it possible, in the way that the Member suggested, to accelerate the collection of data that we need to carry out the review. The pupil-level annual school census data will become available and it will become available in the normal way. The Welsh Government doesn't have an ability simply to issue an instruction that would magic that data out of thin air either.

In the meantime, Llywydd, it's important to put some facts on the record as well. In the month prior to the pandemic, so when things were—to use the Member's word—normal, prior to the global pandemic, 66,000 children in Wales were in receipt of free school meals. Last month, the figure was 105,000, so that's nearly 40,000 extra children in receipt of free school meals in Wales in just over a year. Of course this Government wants to increase the number of children in Wales who are able to take up that offer, but we will have to do it in a way that is informed by the latest data and that is negotiated through the budget round, in which there will be many, many very important needs that his party and other Members of this Senedd will advocate for, and that, in the end, we will have to weigh up against one another and do the best that we can from the inevitably limited resources that will be available to us. 

14:15

That was a very long list of excuses as to why the Government hasn't taken the action, in over 20 years, that could at least show us that Wales is serious about tackling child poverty. But, from child poverty to the housing injustice that I was talking about, from economic injustice to lower wages in Wales—universal credit, then, has been a disaster to families in Wales. Devolution can and should be a line of defence between Westminster and Wales, if used to its maximum potential. But, given the catalogue of economic and social injustices that I have just mentioned—there are many more—as a result of Wales being tied to Westminster, compounded, yes, by the inaction of successive Labour Governments, can you honestly stand by your comments back in April that the benefits system is part of the glue that holds the United Kingdom together? And, in reality, can you genuinely say that there is no alternative to the continued entrenching of poverty that we are seeing for Wales as part of the UK?  

Well, Llywydd, of course there are alternatives to the policies that entrench poverty, and my party has consistently advocated for those policies. Devolution is the line of defence against the worst impacts of those policies. Our policies are supplementing the social wage of families here in Wales—all the things that we collectively provide, which otherwise people would have to find from their own pockets. Free prescriptions is just a single example of that.

We've forgotten what it's like in Wales to have to weigh up which of three prescriptions you can afford to pay for because you cannot afford to pay for them all, because families in Wales no longer face that dilemma. Families in Wales are up to £2,000 every year better off because of that string of decisions that successive Governments have made here in Wales that leaves money in people's pockets.

That's a real defence. That's a real defence that, every single day, families in Wales feel, because they have money to do things that, in other circumstances—were it not for the actions that the Senedd has taken, that money would not be there for them to make those decisions. So, I don't think that it helps anybody to act as though devolution had been no help to anybody, because it has been an enormous help, year in and year out, to families in every part of Wales.

Llywydd, I do believe that, properly run, the benefits system should be part of what binds the United Kingdom together. The fact that pensions are paid in Wales in the way that they are does not depend for a moment on Wales alone. It depends upon that far bigger pool of risks that are placed into that pool, and then rewards shared out between us. That's just one example of the way in which a UK-wide benefits system continues to be to the advantage of Welsh people.

It could be far more to our advantage, of course, if there was a Government with a genuine commitment to redistribution, to using the engine of redistribution that the social security system should be. But, the fact that a temporary occupation of Government by a single party doesn't deliver that should not be mistaken for the potential that that system has to deliver those benefits for Welsh people.  

Broadband Services

3. What additional support will the Welsh Government provide to enable communities to access better broadband services? OQ56711

I thank Llyr Gruffydd for that question. Responsibility for broadband services is not devolved to Wales. However, this Government continues to invest in better access through our local broadband fund, our Access Broadband Cymru scheme and our fibre roll-out.

Thank you for that response. I would be very pleased if you could confirm that those funds are all open and live at the moment. I have been contacted by some communities, including Llanrhaeadr-yn-Nghinmeirch and Cyffylliog in Denbighshire, who have agreed to work with a company to bring fibre broadband to the area, taking advantage of the funding that is available from the UK Government, and the intention then of benefiting from the additional funds that come from the Welsh Government. Before the election it was said that that funding would come to an end because of the electoral period. Since then, they're still awaiting assurance that those funds are open again, and that, of course, as you can imagine, is the cause of some frustration, because there are over a 1,000 homes in the area I'm talking about—the majority of them have poor access to broadband. And we know about other areas in Wales, mostly in rural areas, that are facing the same situation. So, can you confirm when these communities will have confirmation that funds are available to tackle a problem that continues to be a problem more than any one of us would have wished?

14:20

I'd like to thank Llyr Gruffydd for that supplementary question. The problem is that the UK Government has changed the programme that they have in place. They've just launched a new scheme to help people in the position that Llyr Gruffydd made reference to. We have agreed with the UK Government on that new plan, and we are still determined to provide additional funding over and above the UK programme for people here in Wales. I think, today, the UK Government has published a statement that provides more details about the new scheme and does confirm that the funding provided in the past from the Government here in Wales—which is £3,000 for the individuals and £7,000 for businesses—will remain in place. I'm not quite sure when the UK scheme will open for individuals, but from what I've seen today, that isn't too far away now.

First Minister, it is estimated that around 75,000 older people in Wales have noted that they feel lonely almost all of the time or often, and it’s clear that we have to consider isolation as a priority for public health. So, for older people, access to broadband is vital. This has helped people to stay in touch with family and friends and to access online services that are useful for them, particularly during the pandemic. So, what is the Welsh Government doing to help to increase digital inclusivity nationwide? How will the Government ensure that older people, in all parts of Wales, have access to suitable broadband services to safeguard their mental health and their well-being?

I’d also like to thank Paul Davies for that supplementary question. I saw the research that he referred to on the impact of the pandemic on those living alone and on older people in particular. We are driving forward with the investments that we have provided as a Government. As I said in my original response, it isn’t our responsibility to provide broadband services here in Wales, but we have invested millions of pounds in order to provide access to those services in all parts of Wales. The pandemic has shed light on the importance of this. We will continue with all programmes that we have in place and will provide additional funding for that. In addition to the funding that we’ll provide to help people who will pursue the new UK Government scheme, we are proceeding with a local fund that provides £10 million to local authorities and businesses to help them. There will be more funding for the Superfast Cymru successor programme. It's the Government's intention to build on everything that we have done in the past, and to do it in a way that assists people in all parts of Wales, and focuses on people who've not had access to broadband and who live alone.

14:25

May I send my best wishes to the First Minister and his family?

In a survey at the beginning of this month, more than 50 per cent of respondents from rural areas in Wales felt that the internet was not fast and reliable, particularly people in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Only 36 per cent of people in rural areas had superfast broadband, compared to 67 per cent in urban areas. I wonder if the First Minister could just comment on the roll-out of superfast broadband, just helping us all, as well, to be clear about the responsibility for the roll-out of superfast broadband. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

I'd like to thank Jane Dodds and thank her for her opening remarks.

In terms of responsibility, it is completely clear that this is not a devolved matter; it is the responsibility of the UK Government. In the fashion that you would expect, given their ideological predilections, they thought that they could rely on the market to provide a service of this sort. Clearly, the market has failed, and the market will always fail in those places to which Jane Dodds has referred. The market will take care of densely populated areas where there's money to be made and will never provide a service in remote and rural Wales, where the cost of delivering fast broadband to a particular property will always exceed the money that is to be recouped from the people who live there. That is why the Welsh Government stepped in. That is why we were part of Superfast Cymru in the previous Senedd term—over £200 million invested and 733,000 premises provided with fast, reliable broadband.

Access to full fibre broadband, at 21 per cent of premises in Wales, is higher than in England or in Scotland. It was, I think, disappointing that the UK Government's plans, which were to provide gigabit broadband to all premises in the UK by 2025, have since been scaled back. Instead of it being a 100 per cent commitment, as first announced, it's now been reduced to 85 per cent, and the problem is, as Jane Dodds was suggesting, I think, that those extra 15 per cent will continue to be those people in those rural and remoter parts of Wales where the costs involved are very significant. We will go on, with our successor programme to Superfast Cymru, and with the other programmes that I have outlined in my earlier answers, Llywydd, to supplement what is available from the UK Government, spending Welsh money where UK money ought to be more generously invested, in order to go on trying to find ways of providing the sort of high-speed, reliable broadband connections that we've all learnt to be so important over the last 15 months, and which are particularly significant in those rural communities.

The Delta Variant in Clwyd South

4. What is the First Minister's current assessment of the spread of the Delta variant in Clwyd South? OQ56670

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The delta variant is now widespread both in Clwyd South and elsewhere in Wales. Our vaccination programme continues to offer the best means of combating the spread.

Thank you, First Minister. Being fully vaccinated against COVID is clearly a citizen's best defence against this terrible virus and the many variants of it. Could you just outline how, in addition to being amongst the world's very best performing nations in terms of the first dose, Wales is so successfully accelerating the roll-out of the second dose of the vaccination?

I thank Ken Skates for that. He makes an important point, of course—that one dose is not a sufficient protection against coronavirus, particularly the new delta variant. We're in a very good position in Wales, Llywydd, because we completed our offer of the first dose of vaccine to all adults in Wales well ahead of our original plans, and well ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom. This means that we've been able to switch the focus of our programme even more now to accelerating the take-up of second doses of the vaccine, and the figures are very encouraging here in Wales. We have over nine out of 10 people already having a second dose of the vaccine amongst care home residents, people aged over 80, people aged over 70, healthcare workers, and, as from tomorrow, I believe, we will go above 90 per cent for everybody in their sixties as well.

Today's figures show that 87 per cent of people aged 55 to 59 already have both doses of the vaccine in Wales, and what we are doing with the half a million doses of the vaccine that we will provide over the four weeks before we next review the coronavirus restrictions is to reduce the length of time between first and second doses of the vaccine to no longer than eight weeks for everybody aged over 40. That means that by the time we come to review our regulations, people over 40 in Wales will be very well placed indeed to have the full protection that vaccination provides.

And I'll echo what Ken Skates said, Llywydd, about the importance of that, and our central motto here in Wales, that it's never too late to come forward for vaccination in Wales. Whether that is a first dose, or whether you've missed out on a second dose, all you have to do is to contact your local health board and arrangements will be made for you to catch up on what you have missed out on. And that's very important for the individual, but it's very important because the more people we have vaccinated in a double dose, the greater protection we all have from the virus and for any future variants that it may throw our way. 

14:30

Thank you, First Minister, for your response to Mr Skates there. May I join you and the Member for Clwyd South in the encouragement for everybody to get hold of this vaccine as quickly as possible because, as you say, it makes such a difference to everybody? I recently had the privilege of visiting a community pharmacy in my region, in which there was a COVID clinic and they were administering the COVID vaccine to those who were able to access the community pharmacy. And it struck me while I was there that, actually, community pharmacies have such an important role to play, and perhaps a bigger role to play in the future in administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

So, in your desire, and all of our desires, to see the acceleration of the vaccine, both in Clwyd South and across Wales as a whole, will you commit to working with community pharmacies to see how they can play a bigger part in supporting the acceleration of the vaccine in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, I certainly agree with the Member about the part that community pharmacies have played in the whole vaccination effort. It's been the strength of the way we've done things in Wales that we've had a multi-dimensional way of delivering the vaccine, through primary care, through community pharmacies, through mass vaccination centres, through mobile vaccination centres.

What we've tried to do is two things, I think. One is to calibrate the delivery mechanism to the geography of a particular part of Wales, and then, secondly, to calibrate the delivery to the different age groups that we are targeting, and to provide opportunities for vaccination in a way that meets the life circumstances of different age groups. And in that, community pharmacy has played a very important part, and will, I know, be part of the mixed repertoire of vaccine provision for the future as we look to go on making sure that we provide offers of vaccination in a way that are the most convenient, the most easily accessible, and the most readily available to people in order—and, again, I thank the Member for what he said, and echo what he said—in order that we get the maximum number of people possible vaccinated in Wales. 

Safety on Trains

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on safety on trains during the pandemic? OQ56708

Thank you very much to Siân Gwenllian, Llywydd. The COVID pandemic has posed major challenges for all train operators. Safety for staff and passengers is a key concern. Balancing demand, capacity and safety is a daily challenge, as society emerges from previous levels of restrictions.

14:35

Constituents in Arfon understand why cafes and restaurants are concerned that their customers maintain social distancing and adhere to test and trace protocols. And that of course is a requirement under the law, to prevent the spread of COVID. But my constituents don't understand why similar guidance aren't provided for Transport for Wales trains, where there is no social distancing on carriages, and no track and trace in force, so there is a genuine risk that the virus is being spread across the nation. Could you give an explanation about this difference, please?

Well, I could attempt to do so, of course. Because the context is different. And those issues that Siân Gwenllian has raised, and those experiences that people have had, of course I'm aware of that, and I have seen what's been happening. But these are difficult practical challenges. Passengers on trains do enter and leave trains in every station, which is utterly different to the situation in a cafe of course. And what the people running the system are endeavouring to do is to assess a number of different factors that could lead to risks within the system. It would be possible to run more trains, and in so doing reduce overcrowding. But that would mean that we would have to cut down on the current hygiene regime, which in itself reduces the risk of infection, particularly for the staff working on those trains. So, there are no simple solutions to these problems. What I am convinced of is that everyone working in this area is working every day to try and run the system in a way that keeps people safe—those working on the railways and those train passengers too. And they're doing it in a scenario that is very challenging indeed, when we are trying to reopen society. We are trying to find more possibilities for people, and when they do travel in increasing numbers, then that's going to be challenging for the people running the systems that we have in place.

First Minister, I want to just agree with you on exactly what you said—that I commend all of the transport operators who have been working under such difficult circumstances. But I also welcome the announcement that Transport for Wales is to receive £70 million to help in meeting operating costs during the pandemic. It comes on top of the £153 million of emergency funding provided to TfW last year. Could you advise me, First Minister, how much of this funding was and is required for safety measures on trains, such as social distancing, new notices, extra cleaning and sanitisation? And also, First Minister, when do you expect to know how much additional funding TfW will require to meet operating costs as restrictions ease in 2021-22? Thank you.

Thank you very much for that important supplementary question, and indeed for pointing to the millions of pounds that have had to be invested, not simply to keep the train system safe, but to keep the train system running at all. If during the last 15 months, the train system had had to rely simply on the fare box, as it's called—the amount of money that it raises from the travelling public—then there wouldn't have been a train running anywhere in Wales. And yet we know how vital public transport is to so many of our fellow citizens. So that, I think it's £177 million that was made available last year to keep the railways working, and the Member is right that there is another £70 million set out in the first supplementary budget that we will provide to go on supporting the system, through until the autumn. And it is exactly as the Member said. Of course, it supports all those safety measures that are taken every day, but it also supports a simple revenue base of the system, while passenger numbers are still suppressed because of the public health emergency. 

I think the Member is right as well, Llywydd, that beyond the autumn we are likely to have to provide further assistance to our public transport system—trains and buses—to allow them to expand the number of passengers they are able to carry safely and to go on operating under the continued restrictions that coronavirus will bring. We'll work on that together with the industry, and we'll bring forward further proposals later during the year. In the meantime, the system does have the confidence that comes with knowing that additional funding has been identified that will help them to continue to operate from now right through until the autumn.  

14:40

First Minister, I recently met with Transport for Wales to discuss the Treherbert line service. I know how difficult it's been for commuters and Transport for Wales staff with reduced services and the need to keep a social distance. I left the meeting feeling optimistic. There are plans to increase the number of carriages and services from September. So, last weekend, I was really disappointed to receive complaints from Rhondda residents who were stranded in Cardiff due to services being cancelled with no alternative transport provided back home. Will the First Minister meet with me and Transport for Wales to address the problems on the Treherbert line, and to discuss future plans for the Pentre Barracks site recently acquired by Transport for Wales? 

Well, Llywydd, I thank the Member for what she said about the meeting that she had had and the plans that Transport for Wales does indeed have for additional services. The additional services, including services to Treherbert, are planned to begin at the end of August, so that they are in place prior to the restart of the school term in September.

Look, I completely understand the frustration of people who were caught up in what was a signal failure around Cardiff Central station late last Saturday night, but it was just one of those technical things. A signal failed, trains weren't able to run, and, while Transport for Wales made efforts to find at absolutely short notice replacement bus services, only two of the 16 buses they had originally ordered were able to turn up at the time when people needed to travel further afield, and by the time further buses arrived many people had made their own way home, and I know that TfW has apologised to people who were affected as a result of what was an unforeseeable technical issue.

I'm very glad that the Member has mentioned the purchasing by Transport for Wales of the Pentre Barracks site. That will enable the closure of the level crossing there, which has been assessed to be one of the highest risk crossings on the Wales route, and the Pentre Barracks site will also now be able to be used as a construction compound for the continuation of the metro transformation programme. And I'll certainly ask the Minister responsible for Transport for Wales to meet with the Member to explore further some of those developments and the issues that she's identified in her question this afternoon. 

Support for Businesses

6. What support is the Welsh Government providing to businesses affected by social distancing during the pandemic? OQ56712

Well, I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Throughout the pandemic, we have provided £5.7 million of funding to support town centre businesses directly in carrying out adaptations to meet social distancing requirements.

Diolch, First Minister. Many businesses have reopened following the last lockdown. They have done so with a reduced capacity. This invariably means a reduced income. I've had representations from a yoga studio in South Wales East that has reopened in the last couple of months, but can only welcome a third of their usual clients through the door. Their overheads remain the same. They received a bounce-back loan last year, and they received Government support in March of this year. As a result of all this, they are on the brink of closure, with only £100 in their business account at the end of last week. Places that encourage an active and healthy lifestyle are vital for well-being and good physical and mental health. How will the Government support businesses like the yoga studio in my region to survive the economic challenges posed by social distancing?

14:45

Well, Llywydd, can I absolutely recognise the challenges that are caused to businesses unable to operate in the way that they would have done if it were not for the need to protect their users from the risks that coronavirus provides to staff and to users alike? I'm glad that the business was able to benefit from some Welsh Government support. Members will have seen that the economy Minister has announced a further sum of money specifically to help those businesses who continue either not to be able to operate at all, or operate in the circumstances that Mr Griffiths has just outlined. And there will be more help from the Welsh Government while this emergency persists and while businesses are trying to get back to being able to trade in the way that they once were able. In the meantime, to go back to the Member's original question, all that additional investment that the Welsh Government has provided does mean that, through those physical adaptations—the outdoor seating, the awnings, the street-front adaptations, the outdoor serveries, the electrical connections—all those many things that we have been able to assist businesses with in Wales, including in the Member's own region, do mean that businesses have been able to adapt to those new circumstances and at least trade to the maximum extent that is commensurate with the ongoing dangers that coronavirus provides.

3. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:47:19
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. 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.

Business Minister, it's all very well the education Minister announcing a seismic change in education's handling of the biggest crisis that they've faced to the press first—announcing this massive shift in responsibility and any chance of blame for getting rid of the masks, bubbles and social distancing to individual schools. Could the Minister ask the Minister to please make an urgent statement on this floor of the Chamber, rather than to a press briefing, outlining how exactly he is going to ensure that there is now not going to be a postcode lottery in regard to the provision of education in Wales?

And on the back of that announcement also, Llywydd, may I ask the relevant Minister for urgent clarity on mask wearing, and with a particular emphasis on the stance on masks in classrooms, where the Government's own scientific advisers have said that they do more harm than good? How can this Government tell everyone you're being a 100 per cent led by science, and then shift accountability for decision making on something you claim to be so important, such as wearing a mask, to people not privy to the same scientific advice? This is not fair to the headteachers of our schools. And I would also warn that this sends a confusing message to the public of Wales, as to whether the scientific advice actually needs to be adhered to. Can I urge the Minister for some clarity from the Minister on this change on this floor in this Chamber? Thank you.

I think the press conferences—and you referred to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language's press conference yesterday—have been very good in getting information out to the public, the people who are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the regulations that we've brought in place, and the Minister comes before this Chamber most weeks in relation to his portfolio.

In relation to masks in classrooms, again, as a Government, we haven't just given out the decisions that we've taken; we have made sure that people are aware why we've taken those decisions, and I'm sure the leader of the opposition will be aware. I know you've had meetings with our chief scientific adviser and our chief medical officer when we've made those decisions, and the science behind them. So, that evidence and that science is absolutely available.

I'd like to raise a matter that the Trefnydd will be familiar with in her ministerial role. Over the past few weeks and months, her counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England have worked with partners in the sector to create a catch-and-release programme for Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has become prominent in the seas around Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion coasts, which is good news, of course. Similar programmes, which combine marine science and commercial fishery, have brought dual benefits in terms of gathering data on the one hand and an economic boost for coastal communities on the other. Similar programmes are already in place in countries such as Sweden, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland. Unfortunately, in Wales, we are a little bit behind on this, and it appears that Welsh Government officials have not included in discussions important partners, such as the Welsh Federation of Sea Anglers, who could provide expertise and important information if they had an opportunity to contribute. So, even though I wrote this morning to the Minister outlining the case in greater detail, may I ask, as a matter of urgency, for a statement from the Government before the summer on their plans to introduce a similar catch-and-release tagging—CHART—programme in Wales? With the tuna season starting in August, we don't want this ship to sail across the UK with Wales left behind onshore, losing out on the benefits that could be significant for our coastal communities. Thank you.

14:50

Diolch. I haven't had sight of the letter that you wrote to me this morning, but I do know there is some advice sitting on my desk upstairs that I will certainly clear before the end of this week, and I will ensure that I write to the Member with a response to his letter, with my decision.

Can I ask for an urgent Government statement on cladding on buildings? In Swansea East and the SA1 area, there are several buildings with cladding and a large number of very concerned individuals, regarding the cost of removal and making it safe. I know this problem is replicated in other constituencies, including Swansea West and including Cardiff—I'm not going to make a list of them because I'll probably get some wrong. But people require help and an answer to dealing with this problem. People are having sleepless nights. We often talk about people's mental health being damaged. When you find you've got a £100,000 or £150,000-building and you find that it's now worth nothing and you're still paying for it, I can't think of anything worse to affect your mental health. So, I think it really is important that we get a statement of what the Welsh Government can do, what negotiations they're having with Westminster about it, because there are a lot of people who are very, very worried.

The Member raises a very important point, and, of course, this Government wants to ensure high-rise buildings are well equipped to protect life and limb if we have the unfortunate event of a fire. Of course, cladding is not the only concern for high-rise residential buildings. What we're doing as a Government is we're advocating a holistic approach to remediation of buildings, and that also includes fire alert, evacuation and suppression systems. I know my colleague the Minister for Climate Change and her officials are working to develop a funding programme that is designed to target the right support in a very complex issue, but a very important matter.

In relation to your question around the UK Government, I know, as a Government, we've already committed £32 million this financial year, but I know the Minister for Finance and Local Government is continuing to press the UK Government for any consequential funding following their recent announcement.

I'd just like to start by declaring my interest as a county councillor on Conwy County Borough Council. Minister, as you'll be aware, north Wales has an exceptional reputation for delivering world-class events and being a world-class destination. Over the past few years, Conwy County Borough Council has developed an innovative new culture strategy that places culture at the heart of all economic developments and regeneration, harnessing all that culture has to offer. I'm sure like you, I was delighted to see that Conwy County Borough Council are bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2025, and this bid will make connections across Conwy and across north Wales, between rural and urban communities, between older and younger generations, and between both our mountains and the sea. With Conwy at the helm and working with partners across north Wales, achieving the UK City of Culture award would deliver long-lasting benefits for all of Wales and would, again, put our country on the international radar for all the right reasons. I would welcome a statement from the Government outlining their support for Conwy's bid to secure the UK City of Culture title and to hear how the Government would work with the local authority to ensure that we are successful in this bid. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

14:55

Diolch. Well, knowing the history of the events that Conwy council have managed to produce over the past few years, they've certainly been exceptional, and I will certainly ask the Minister for Economy to bring forward a written statement. 

I have two requests to Government, related to the same issue. First of all, I would kindly ask the Trefnydd to ensure that the First Minister writes to the Football Association of Wales to congratulate the national squad on what they've achieved at the Euros. There's always some frustration, perhaps, that, on another day, we could have gone a little further in the competition, but when we see some of the major teams, as they're known, who have gone out in the same round as us, I think we're in good company, and that reminds us just how well the squad has done and just how proud we are of what they've achieved.

May I also ask Government to write to UEFA to to ask them not to adopt the same format for future competitions, because it has created some unfairness on this occasion—the fact that some nations have had to travel many thousands of miles to play their matches whilst other nations haven't travelled at all because they've played all their group games at home? That's given an unfair advantage to some nations and has put other nations at a disadvantage, and that is contrary to the spirit of the competition in my view. A letter from Government to UEFA expressing that point on behalf of this Senedd, and certainly on behalf of Welsh football supporters and the Welsh football squad, would be something we would appreciate. 

Yes, I absolutely agree with you around the achievements of the Welsh squad in getting to the final 16 for the second time—I've waited all my life for them to get to a major tournament for the first time, only for them to do it twice. And if somebody had told me a couple of weeks ago that we would go out the same time as France, I would have thought that we'd have at least got to the semi-final. So, I think, as you say, they did a great job. And it was very frustrating on Saturday, but we all enjoyed the journey to the last 16 that took us up to last Saturday. So, I will certainly ask the First Minister, if he hasn't already done so, to write to the FAW.

I think your second point around the unfairness—. Certainly, when you have a tournament that goes around 11 countries, I don't see why any country, personally, should play in their home country. And, as you said, it was very unfair that some countries—and ones playing tonight—went no miles, and our country went, I think, 5,500 miles. So, certainly, if UEFA are going to take it out of more than one country, I think there needs to be some equality that we certainly didn't see this time. 

Trefnydd, I very much welcome yesterday's announcement that, if you've been vaccinated in Wales, you can download a Welsh COVID pass online to demonstrate to whoever needs to know that you are protected by two jabs. And this seems to me a really good example of how we use artificial intelligence and online data to ensure that we're not tying up the resources of health professionals on something that can be done electronically. So, that's an excellent thing. I wondered if we could have a statement from the health Minister about the arrangements for vaccination certificates for those who've had one jab in Wales and another in England. There are many, many of my constituents who, for example, study in Cardiff but reside in England or elsewhere, and we need to ensure that they're not put off having the vaccination at the quickest possible time without having the complication of not being able to demonstrate they've had that. So, that would be great, if we could have that statement—a written statement would be fine. 

Secondly, the pandemic hasn't gone away, and there continue to be many restrictions on freedom of movement. I'm not talking about the Home Office aversion to asylum seekers, but about the public health emergency that requires us to control the freedom of movement from one country to another. But language schools in my constituency have been hugely impacted, obviously, by the inability of foreign students to come and study English here. They simply have no customers whatsoever, which they had before, so I wondered if we could ask the economy Minister to consider that, instead of handing out grants to an organisation that's simply unable to operate under the normal model of business, they could be commissioned to deliver services to people in this country who need English for speakers of other languages classes—for example, people who have recently been given refugee status—so that they can become much more economically effective members of our community. Similarly, I think you could have the same analogy for, say, musicians, for whom it simply isn't viable financially to run concerts, because of the restrictions on numbers in any given place, but who obviously have wonderful skills that we could be commissioning them to deliver services in schools or in care homes or elsewhere.

15:00

Thank you, Jenny, for those two points. In relation to your first point around the ability to get the certification online, I think, as you say, it's very welcome. And as you know, the Minister for health does a weekly update in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I will certainly ask her to consider updating Members in her next weekly update.

In relation to your question around English as a second language and language schools, it's been an incredibly difficult and uncertain time, as you say, for businesses and obviously the English-language teaching industry as a whole. We do support businesses who are—. Obviously, a business like that would be eligible to access business rate relief, for instance, and any associated grants to which you refer, and, of course, we've got the economic resilience fund, which is unique to Wales. Any businesses with a turnover of less than £85,000 who meet the eligibility for the latest round of ERF—and it's a good opportunity to say this today—it's the closing date for applications tomorrow, so it could be that they could be encouraged to apply by tomorrow and, alternatively, we do have funds from the Development Bank of Wales that they can access also. I should also point to the EU transition portal and the Business Wales portal for advice as well.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Climate Change on measures to encourage people to switch to electric vehicles here in Wales? The UK Government's grant scheme for electric cars, vans and trucks has been updated to target less-expensive models and reflect a greater range of affordable vehicles to people. This allows the scheme's funding to go further and help more people make the switch to an electric vehicle. From 18 March, the UK Government will provide grants of up to £2,500 for electric vehicles or cars priced under £35,000. The plug-in car grant was introduced 10 years ago to stimulate the early market for zero-emission vehicles. Could we therefore have a statement from the Minister on what plans the Welsh Government has to encourage people here in Wales to switch to electric vehicles? Thank you.

Thank you. I know the Minister for Climate Change—and certainly, in the last term of Government, the Minister for economy and transport —had some significant funding going forward to make sure the infrastructure is in place, because, of course, we don't need people to switch to electric cars without having that infrastructure in place, so that is where some significant Welsh Government funding has gone. I'm unaware if we are looking to replicate the scheme that you referred to by the UK Government, but I will certainly ask the Minister to update the Member if so.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Minister, Neath Port Talbot Council is looking to enlist £5 million from its reserves into the local area as we build out of the pandemic. We all know that councils across Wales have shown local leadership and innovation during the pandemic, and, as we now emerge from it, would the Minister arrange a statement for the Senedd to examine how the capacity of local government working more closely together could be further harnessed to drive our economic recovery? Thank you.

Thank you, and I absolutely agree with the Member that local authorities have worked incredibly hard and in partnership with Welsh Government, not just during the pandemic, but prior to the pandemic, but really stepped up to the plate to help us with our test, trace, protect and our deliveries of food parcels. The Minister for Finance and Local Government is in the Chamber and has heard your request and is happy to provide a further statement.

I thank the Trefnydd. That concludes that item, and we will now take a short break in order to allow for changeovers in the Chamber.

15:05

Plenary was suspended at 15:05.

15:15

The Senedd reconvened at 15:16, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

4. Statement by the First Minister: Reforming our Union

The next item is a statement by the First Minister: reforming our union. I call on the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I am grateful for the opportunity to make this statement today, as we publish an updated version of 'Reforming our Union', our practical proposals for shared governance in the United Kingdom, which we first issued in 2019.

As I have said repeatedly, before, during, and after last month's election, this Welsh Government believes in a strong and durable union. A voluntary association of nations working together in partnership is good for Wales. At the same time, the United Kingdom is better for having Wales as one of the partners within it. Our citizens derive tangible benefits from that partnership. We benefit from the pooling of resources and from our common history of social progress. The United Kingdom has been a powerful engine of the redistribution of resources, and it can be again.

Now, Dirprwy Lywydd, when the union acts in that way—creating the NHS, implementing the minimum wage, passing the equal marriage Act—it strengthens the bonds that bind us together. Sadly, the present UK Government fails every day to help make the case for a union of solidarity between the peoples of this multinational state and the benefits it can all bring to us. The result, as Sir David Lidington, former deputy Prime Minister only two years ago, said in a lecture last month, that the union, he said,

'is in greater peril than at any moment in my lifetime.'

Now, Llywydd, that position makes the case for the re-publication of 'Reforming our Union' even more significant.

During this Senedd term, Members here will have to grapple with a series of constitutional questions, from the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol, to the declared intention of the Scottish Government to hold another referendum on Scottish independence. Now, Dirprwy Lywydd, I have been told forever that nobody ever raises these issues on the doorstep, and that is true in terms of pure constitutional theory, but as a matter of practical consequence, it certainly does matter and it makes a difference every day to each of our fellow citizens, whether that is Welsh food producers trying to export to Northern Ireland or families seeking justice in a court system that the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas concluded was letting them down. And that means that there is a leadership challenge for every party and every single Member of this Senedd to grapple seriously with these complex and challenging issues.

Simplistic assertions that independence offers a magic solution by which all problems will be resolved just doesn't meet that challenge. But those who have nothing more to offer beyond flag-waving renditions of the British song are even more culpable. The United Kingdom will not be saved by that sort of vacuous symbolism. Still less can it be secured by the deliberate provocations of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, the removal of powers and funds, the repeated overriding of the Sewell convention, the whole destructive repertoire of the aggressive unilateralism that is too often the hallmark of the present UK Government.

But, Dirprwy Lywydd, it does not have to be like this, as 'Reforming our Union' demonstrates. It revisits and restates our propositions for a successful, strong and durable United Kingdom. It casts these arguments in the new context created by events since its original publication in October 2019: the leaving of the European Union, a general election, the experience of navigating a global pandemic, the work of the radical federalism group, the establishment of a constitutional convention to be led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and our own Welsh election in May of this year. And despite the complex and contested arena into which it is launched, at heart, 'Reforming our Union' sets out a formula for a union that can thrive and prosper, not in spite of devolution, but because of devolution.

It proceeds from the radical but simple proposition that, nearly 25 years into the devolution project, sovereignty is now dispersed amongst the four elected legislatures of the United Kingdom. That the United Kingdom can go on existing, not because there is a single sovereign body at Westminster, capable of overturning anything and everything that peoples in the four nations have decided for themselves, but because, as that highly distinguished constitutional reform group suggests, the peoples of the United Kingdom have chosen to continue to pool their sovereignty and to protect the social and economic rights that citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom have won—and hard won—for themselves.

Now, once this central proposition is grasped much flows from it: the permanency of devolution, other than by the decision, in our case, of the Welsh people; the redrawing of the reserved, devolved border; the codification and reduction in the scope of the Sewell convention; the reform and entrenchment of new machinery of government to bring the four nations together for common purposes; and a replacement of the Barnett formula with new arrangements, based on need and stripped of the arbitrary power of the Treasury that continues to mar the current settlement.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I want to say again today, as I did in 2019, that the 20 proposals set out in our document are not put forward on the basis that they contain all the answers. Publication is our contribution to a debate, a debate that is unavoidable and urgently needed. Here, the Welsh Government will set out before the summer recess how we will go about engaging directly with civil society and Welsh citizens on these matters, and 'Reforming our Union' will now be available in its updated form to inform that debate.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I want to end on an optimistic note. I am convinced that it is possible to renew and revitalise our union in ways that will allow it to thrive and prosper for the longer term. Doing so requires careful thought, the use of our imagination and co-operation. We have to work together in partnership, and we have to treat each other with mutual respect.

Those who believe in the benefits of the union cannot take it for granted. A positive case for the United Kingdom has to be made, and remade time after time. That case should be based on a capacity for reform and we must look to the future. We must not retreat into the past or the manifestly misguided belief that the existing system works well. That positive case is set out in this document that we have published today, and I very much hope that Members will respond to the document in that same spirit. Thank you very much.

15:25

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon. I do find it slightly ironic that, when I woke up this morning and looked at the headlines on WalesOnline and the BBC website, the Welsh Government were accusing the UK Government of aggressively ignoring the Welsh Parliament, when today I look at the order paper and there's no education statement here, despite, obviously, the press conference that was held yesterday by the education Minister, and there has been no statement from the health Minister about tackling waiting times, which are the big issues that people want to talk to me about, as a Member of this Senedd. I think that those are the issues that we should be focused on, rather than a constitutional debate and discussion only six weeks after the election—or seven weeks after the election.

But, you are the Government, and it is your right to table the business of the day, and we discuss and debate the business of the day. It is a fact that, time and time again, the Welsh Labour Government talk about powers that have been stolen. I would be grateful to understand what powers you think have been stolen from this institution since the Brexit referendum and debate. I, for one, haven't heard a Minister come forward and say what's been stolen.

I'd also be grateful to understand why, in your written statement, you talk about tea towel-waving Tories of the 2021 intake. Is that really helping the debate? I find common ground with you on the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, and inter-governmental relations, but I don't find common ground when insults like that are thrown around.

The argument for the union constantly has to be made and debated and discussed. The vaccination programme, the investment of £8.2 billion, two Government of Wales Acts that have come forward: all of these are positive developments in the constitutional debate. But, we don't accept that there is a need for criminal justice and policing to be devolved. Indeed, when the Silk commission looked at this, they said that it would come in with a £100 million price tag. Can you update us on what the price tag would be if these powers were devolved to the Welsh Government, because that figure is nearly 10 years old now?

I want to have a constructive debate with the Welsh Government when it comes to constitutional change and development. But, as I said in my opening remarks, I do think that it is important that we focus on the day-to-day issues of the health service, the education and the economy of our great country. I passionately believe that the union is better by having a strong Wales within that union, and I do believe that, as I said, there is a debate around the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, and inter-governmental relations. But, this Government here in Cardiff Bay will not achieve success when it talks about towel-waving Union Jack—or tea towel-waving Tories—which I notice the First Minister didn't use in his address to the Parliament today, but it is in his written statement. So, I'd be grateful for answers on those questions that I have put to him.

But, I can confirm, from these benches, that we are proud of, and passionate about, our great nation of Wales within the United Kingdom and we will argue constantly for its place within the United Kingdom, in a strong union of nations, equal and respected. We do not believe that the argument that the Welsh Government is prosecuting when it comes to criminal justice is one that is current and is one that the people of Wales want to see happen, but we do believe that there can be progress in other areas.

15:30

I thank the leader of the opposition for his contribution. He starts by saying that the people of Wales would rather us be talking about education and the health service, and yet, I notice that when he had the opportunity to ask me questions, he chose not to deal with either of those matters. Indeed, I cannot help but notice that in the weeks that have now gone by since the election, he's not chosen once to ask me a question about the global pandemic in which Wales is still gripped. So, we all make choices, and the leader of the opposition makes his. 

I don't agree with him in his general suggestion that we shouldn't be focused on constitutional matters. We have no choice but to be focused on them. We're dealing with them every day. When I meet, as I do every week, with Michael Gove and the leaders of the other Parliaments in the UK, I see absolutely close up the stresses and strains that there are in Northern Ireland, and the impact that the Northern Ireland protocol is having on relations between the Government there and the Government in the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government was elected on a platform of another referendum on Scottish independence. If that happens, it will happen during this Senedd term. How can we not grapple with those issues here if we are not serious about them? I'm sure the leader of the opposition is serious about his commitment to the continuation of the United Kingdom. The point I'm trying to make this afternoon is that we won't be able to make that case if we don't spend some time now thinking about what that case should be. We have to persuade people in every part of the United Kingdom that it is in their best interests to remain part of the United Kingdom. We won't do that without having the arguments that convince them of that, and that's what our document is designed to do. It's designed to show that there is a different way of organising the United Kingdom, which I think would add up to a compelling case for its continuation. You don't make that case by taking decisions away from the Senedd that was elected to make them.

If the Member can't think of any, let me just give him these three. The UK Government decided to take away from us the powers that we have to design a compensation scheme for fishers here in Wales. That's been devolved to us since the very beginning of devolution, and yet, in the post-Brexit era, instead of us being able to design a system that would fit Wales, and then using the funding to implement that scheme, the UK Government decided that it will make the scheme for Wales, and it avoided any scrutiny here in the Senedd by doing so. The UK Government regularly threatens—the Secretary of State was at it again only last week—to impose a free port on Wales without the agreement of the Welsh Government. And just to be clear, the Welsh Government has always said we will be prepared to agree a free port on the terms that we set out in our letter of February of last year, a letter to which we have never received a reply. 

And here's a third example for him: the overriding of the expressed view of this Senedd when it comes to the Sewell convention—not just now in relation to major matters of state. While I don't agree with the UK Government's use of the Sewell convention, I could at least understand why it felt it needed to do that in those circumstances. But during our election, we had an example where a most routine matter, where this Senedd ought to have been able to be asked for its consent—because it was convenient to a UK Government, they just went ahead and did it anyway without that ever coming to Members here as the constitutional settlement required. That is a casual level of disrespect for the devolution settlement, which has got into the way of thinking of the current UK Government. It's bad for devolution, it's bad for the United Kingdom.

There is a better way. It's set out in our document, not because we have all the answers, but because we believe in a serious debate. I was heartened by some of the things that the leader of the opposition said about his commitment to that serious debate. I didn't make the remarks that he repeated several times in his questions, because every statement a Government Minister makes says 'check against delivery' at the end of it. The Member was checking, and yet he didn't think that he would follow what I had said rather than a document that I didn't follow. I didn't do it for some of the reasons that he himself outlined.

Let's hope that, across the Chamber, we are able to go on having these absolutely necessary discussions—those of us who believe that there is a case for the United Kingdom that's there to be made but can only be made on the basis of a different sort of future, a future that regards our collective interests as a voluntary association—I'm quoting Mrs May, his previous Conservative Prime Minister—of nations, where we stay together because we know that the case for doing so is compelling.

15:35

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First Minister, thank you for your statement, but let me tell you where I think this plan of yours starts to unravel. To me, it's in the very first sentence of the foreword. The question you ask in that first sentence is this: how can our union be made strong and durable? Surely, the key question a First Minister of Wales should be asking is how can the interests of Wales and the interests of the people of Wales be best served in future, how can we build a nation that can best fulfil the aspirations of the people of Wales, that can plan for a fairer, more just, more open, more prosperous future. To insist, whatever the arguments you put forward around the edges, that our future must be best served as part of this United Kingdom, come what may—this UK of entrenched inequalities, of COVID corruption, of Eton elitism—and that preservation of this UK has to be at the heart of all constitutional solutions, quite apart from failing to grasp the current state of the debate on Wales's future, ignores the ample evidence that UK Governments, of whatever colour, will never put Wales's interests first, or indeed will barely take them into account when making some key decisions.

You describe your rejection of what you call this UK Government's aggressive unilateralism. But whilst this particular UK Government, yes, may well be more explicitly jingoistic, more eager than many Governments before to herald some sort of rebirth of empire, the truth is that even as devolution, the process itself, blossomed, UK Government always had that ultimate power to take back unilateral control. We've seen that now in the way this Conservative Government at Westminster is systematically trying to undermine Wales's national Parliament and Government. And to the Conservatives here, saying they'd rather be talking about health and education than focusing on constitutional affairs, apart from reminding you that you chose to spend an hour last week talking about a Brexit referendum of five years ago, I'll remind you that it's because we want to be able to take better decisions on health and education and jobs that we need to be having the best platforms on which we build this new nation.

First Minister, your report gives us the context—your guiding principles, if you like. You say that you've always believed in solidarity between the people of the constituent nations of the UK. I also believe in the power of that solidarity, in many, many ways. But that solidarity can come in many forms. An independent Wales could also—and I dare say would want to, I'm sure—be part of a wider association of countries within these islands, and beyond for that matter, choosing to co-operate and support each other, in a host of voluntary ways. People like me are often called separatists, but I'm not driven by wanting to separate anything, I'm not driven by wanting to break things up, I'm interested in wanting to build things: to build a new Wales and, in so doing, to build new relationships between the countries of these islands and beyond. 

We need to have a proper blinkers-off debate. It's true on both sides of the independent discussion. No-one should pretend that taking ultimate control of our own destiny will be a walk in the park from day one. Most serious changes come with serious challenges. But if you, as First Minister, are serious about strengthening Wales's hand, you have to embrace all options too—blinkers off—even if, as we know, your instinct is to try to preserve the union. 

What we have in this report is a rewriting of previous Labour proposals, and you have every right to do that. There are elements of what you propose that we in Plaid Cymru have been encouraging for many years as a means to strengthen devolution in the short term. But surely, at this point in our national journey, and with such a real and present threat from this UK Government to the integrity of our nation's democracy, we can't let this be a substitute for the kind of debates that I know we, as a nation, are mature enough to have. So, let's not tinker, and as we collectively offer to contribute towards redesigning what we now know as the UK, in all our interests, let me ask you this: why not place a discussion on the potential of an independent, agile, fair, aspirational Wales as a priority, not merely settle for the preservation of the UK come what may? 

15:40

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that. I am not going to criticise the Member for making the case of his party. He has made it eloquently this afternoon, and he's got every possible right to do that. But what I have to say to him is this: he asked me why not find this moment as the moment to place in discussion the prospect that he set out. I just have to say to him that we had that moment; we had that moment only a short number of weeks ago. In studio after studio I stood alongside his party leader while he placed the prospect that he has just outlined in front of the Welsh people. Time after time, at the very centre of that party's campaign was the prospect and the prospectus we have just heard. That was the point at which it was discussed, and we saw the verdict of Welsh people.

That is why I think this is not the moment to go on thinking that we should spend the next five years talking about a proposition that won't be in front of the Welsh people. What we should be talking about is how we make the best of the arrangements we have, and that's what the document aims to do. It is a fundamentally different prospectus to the one that Rhun ap Iorwerth set out. He talks about the power of solidarity, but I suppose I have never myself believed that the way to demonstrate the power of solidarity is by leaving something. I think you demonstrate the power of solidarity by staying and by crafting a future in which we can go on demonstrating the things that unite us, rather than the things that can divide us one from another. That is more difficult and it is more urgent, because of the Government that we have.

The Plaid Cymru spokesperson said that UK Governments had always had the ability to take back to themselves decisions that had been devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and he will see in our proposition that we say that that should not be the case, that that right should now be given up. But until this Government, all previous Governments had acted with a self-denying ordinance as far as that was concerned. Every Labour Government in the first decade of devolution provided more powers, more responsibilities for the Senedd, and never took a single power away and never once acted against a motion passed by this Senedd under the Sewel convention. Even when Mrs May was Prime Minister, we were able to come to an agreement with the UK Government in negotiations led by David Lidington, in fact, in a way that avoided some of the dangers that we could both see there if the UK Government used the powers that it had. It is only since December 2019 that we have seen a Government intent on using those powers, and that’s why publishing our document becomes so important, because it does offer us a different prospect to the one that the Member set out, and which, as I say, was very directly rehearsed in front of Welsh people only weeks ago and very directly rejected by them.

I think there are different conversations to be had. I know there will be Members of his party who will be willing to have them. Not because it gets them to where they would like to be, but because they recognise that there is still ground to be gained in the interim. For them, that will be an interim position; for others it will be something more permanent. But I still think that a conversation is one to which anybody in this Senedd who has a serious interest in the future of the Senedd, its place in the United Kingdom—anybody with a serious interest would want to commit themselves to having that conversation.  

15:45

I would like to be able to ensure that everyone who's put their name down is able to speak, so can I remind you all you have one minute? And in that minute ask your questions, don't go beyond the minute, please. Mike Hedges.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome the statement. I have three comments and two questions. A union of four parts cannot work with England being between five and six times larger than the other three combined. Devolution has to be the same for every devolved nation and region, as it is with American states and German Länder, but devolution must not stop at Cardiff.

The only people up to now with consistent policies are Plaid Cymru with independence and Abolish with ending the Senedd, and both want that to be the only choice. I have long been a supporter of devo-max, and I know what I mean by that, but I am sure others have different definitions, but I think it’s something we need to start discussing.

The two questions are: firstly, what powers need to be reserved to Westminster? And can a full list and an end point to devolution be produced for discussion? As Northern Ireland has shown, different powers can be devolved at different times.

Secondly, what discussion have you had with regional mayors in England? Should we also involve the leaders of large English counties so that we can have a coherent devolution discussion, so that devolution is not just about a very large England and three other very small places?

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I offer my view on the first of Mike Hedges’s questions, but it’s my view, and others will have others. I think that the conduct of foreign affairs is best done by member states, as it would have been in the European Union. I think defence and the maintenance of armed forces is best done on a pan-UK basis. And as I set out in an earlier answer this afternoon, I think that a social security system that moves money and resources around the United Kingdom to where need is greatest is also something that’s best discharged in that way. So, there are three examples, and others may have others or more.

As far as regional mayors in England are concerned, I have had a recent meeting with by far the majority of regional mayors. I think Mike Hedges makes an important point: devolution is not about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It is about England as well. To grapple with the English question and how people in England see themselves within this union is a necessary and very important part of that conversation.

Another week passes, our economy is under pressure, NHS waiting lists are under pressure, our education sector is under pressure, and still the Welsh Government want to waste crucial time to talk about further reform to the union. I am sorry, but my constituents, this Senedd and the Welsh Government have got far more pressing issues to deal with. Over the years, more and more powers have been devolved to this place, in an effort to improve the lives of the people of Wales and make decision making closer to home. Demanding more powers and reform to the union, in my opinion, is a grave mistake.

The Government need to address the issues I highlighted earlier, because that's what the people want us to get on with doing. The people of Wales are becoming sick and tired of all these constitutional games, and bringing forward debates like this, and statements, are a smokescreen for your Government's failings. So, First Minister, will you and your Government now commit to taking this utopian pipe dream off the table?

15:50

The answer is 'no', Dirprwy Lywydd.

I welcome this paper—thank you very much, First Minister. I welcome this paper because it is about business, it is about trade deals that are made without our input that affect our farmers and our businesses. It is about health and how we work together in order to ensure that this pandemic is brought under control. It is about Wales and it is about the future of Wales, and that's why it's important.

What I would just ask, First Minister, is that you look at a programme of engagement with the people of Wales. I agree with you, in the last Senedd elections, the majority of people voted against independence, but many did not, particularly young people. We had huge numbers of people, through Yes Cymru, who wanted to look at independence, who are indy-curious, and so I would welcome the opportunity to engage with a wide range of people in order to ensure that we have a strong, healthy Wales that is within the UK. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I thank Jane Dodds.

It was a pleasure to hear a serious contribution to this debate. And my colleague Mick Antoniw will come forward with further proposals as to how we are to take forward our commitment to a Wales constitutional conversation. Because I completely agree with what Jane Dodds said, that this conversation must go beyond political parties, it must go beyond those people who are already part of the conversation, and it must reach out into the wider Welsh society where I think people are interested in these things. I think it is desperately dismissive, as the previous questioner did, to dismiss people in Wales as though they were not capable of taking an interest in their own constitutional future. People in many, many walks of life, in many organisations and, as Jane Dodds said, particularly our young people, understand the significance of what is at stake here, and I look forward very much to a conversation that involves them in a powerful way in helping us to think about these very important issues and what it means for their futures as well as ours.

Thank you, First Minister, for setting out your plan.

I don't doubt at all your sincerity, and the Counsel General's sincerity, yet your pleas for home rule will be rejected by the Westminster Government, a Government obsessed by centralising powers. Throughout the centuries and throughout the continent, Westminster has ignored the cries of home rule until it's too late and the inevitable happens—independence—the de facto position of nations in the world now independent. And I echo the words of my colleague Jane Dodds that independence was not rejected on the ballot paper. First Minister, you'll be aware of candidates within your own party who are in favour of independence. The First Minister will be aware, walking around Cardiff West, of houses with a Yes Cymru poster and a Labour poster up on their window, and Jane Dodds's comment about a lot of young people being interested. This plan doesn't go far enough, First Minister. It should consider welfare and it should also consider what happens when the inevitable happens and the Conservative Government refuses your plan. Could you please consider that? Diolch yn fawr.

Well, I thank Rhys ab Owen too.

Look, he makes an important point about how this plan can be further developed, what more could be added to it, and I look forward to hearing from him further on those things. I don't think he will further his own cause, however, if he's not prepared to face up to the very direct choice that was put to the people of Wales back in May, and in my view, it was the most clearly-put choice in the whole history of devolution. As I said, I stood in tv studios, and on one side of me was a man who wanted to argue for the abolition of devolution altogether, to abolish the whole Assembly, and he made his case to Welsh people. On the other side of me was somebody who wanted to persuade people that Wales should be taken out of the United Kingdom altogether, and he put that case front and centre in his campaign. And Plaid Cymru lost ground—it didn't gain ground, it lost ground in this election, and I don't think I could have been clearer, time after time after time, in broadcasts, in leaflets, in every chance I had, to say that the Labour Party stood for powerful devolution in a successful United Kingdom. And in the end, that is where people in Wales made their choice, and I think people in Plaid Cymru too need to be willing to—. 'Blinkers off', said Rhun ap Iorwerth.  Well, in a blinkers-off world, then I think some thought has to be given to that as well.

15:55

Whatever our individual views in this Chamber, whether it's status quo, independence, devo-max, radical reform of the union, you cannot doubt that this is a major intervention by an elected Government in the debate around constitutional reform here in Wales, but also how it impacts on the wider UK. And there are some radical proposals within this. Even though it doesn't go as far as some and it goes further than others would want to go, these are serious proposals that I don't have time to list in full, but a new independent oversight body for funding; devolution becoming a permanent feature that cannot be undone without the will of the people of Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland; House of Lords as a senate, reflecting the geographic parts of the UK, and Welsh Ministers having a say in international relations and trade. But let me simply ask, in my one question: we look forward to details of the civil society engagement in Wales, but what about the engagement with the House of Lords as it currently is, and their constitutional-interested parties up there? Because whilst the UK Government might not currently wish to listen, Deputy Presiding Officer, they might well want to listen and to help shape the future of the UK, as well as Wales, on a reform agenda.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for what he said about the seriousness of the document. I referred in my statement to the constitutional reform group. That is largely populated by Members of the House of Lords, and I must say, some very, very serious work is being done by select committees in the House of Commons, as well as in the House of Lords. The Government may not yet be listening, but this Government will itself have to face the realities of what it has done in terms of Northern Ireland, of where the Scottish Government will wish to take its mandate in relation to a referendum. And when it has to face those realities, at least it will find that there is a reservoir of work, including the work done here in Wales, but also the work that's being done in the House of Lords, and, as I say, outside Government in the House of Commons, and I agree very much with what Huw Irranca-Davies said about us being prepared to engage in those conversations as well, and publication of the document is part of that. That's why we've done it: so that there is something there that is updated and represents the current state of thinking of the Welsh Government; that those other parts of our constitutional machinery who are prepared to take a serious interest in all of that can at least know what we are thinking, and make that part of their considerations as they come to contribute to the pool of ideas that we so badly need.

First Minister, in your written edition of your oral statement today, you referred to the flying of the union flag by some of my colleagues in this Senedd as 'vacuous symbolism'. The direct quote was: 

'The United Kingdom will not be saved by the sort of vacuous symbolism which has, sadly, been evident even in our own proceedings—the tea towel Tories of 2021'—

you said. First Minister, people, right across Wales, fly the union flag because of what it symbolises: a pride in the country that we live in, and that's no different to my colleagues in the Senedd to do that same. I know, in your answer to Andrew R.T. Davies, you tried to distance yourself from the written edition of your oral statement, but that was a document sent out in your name by your Government, and so you're responsible for its contents. So, therefore, can I ask you, First Minister, whether you've reflected on these comments and whether you think that those ordinary people in communities across Wales who also feel pride in the union flag are also engaging in vacuous symbolism?

16:00

Well, Llywydd, I don't want to spend my afternoon having to give elementary lessons to new members of the opposition about the way in which the Senedd works. I am responsible for what I say and what lies on the Record of the Senedd. If you want to know what I say, that's where you must go. Members have the privilege of having advance copies of what I might say, and it says at the bottom that you should check that against what I actually say. Now, I think—. I hope I don't need to repeat that again, because it's a very elementary lesson in the way that this place operates.

I'll repeat what I actually said: that this is a Government that seems devoted to the emptiness of symbols, that believes that by flying flags and persuading people that choruses of the British song will somehow cement the union—. Well, I think it did succeed at least in uniting people in a sense of derision for that idea that this is the level of seriousness that they've been able to summon up as a Government charged with those responsibilities.

5. Statement by the Minister for Economy: Young Person’s Guarantee

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Economy—young person's guarantee. I call on the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. People and businesses across Wales have faced one of the most difficult years in peacetime. As the economy Minister for Wales, my priority is to ensure that in the recovery we provide the right support to both individuals and businesses to help all of us to build a fairer, greener and more prosperous Wales.

Within that, we need to give young people hope for the future and to ensure that they are not left behind. It is more important than ever that we support young people to gain the skills and experiences that they will need to succeed, whether that’s in employment, education or starting their own business.

Our programme for government commits to delivering a young person’s guarantee. This will be an ambitious programme that is intended to provide everyone under 25 across Wales with an offer of support into work, education, training or self-employment. With this guarantee, I want to ensure that there is no lost generation here in Wales.

The young person's guarantee is a key part of our efforts to help young people enter and navigate their way into and through the world of work. I'm committed to giving young people the support that they need to start and change their story, supporting their journey as they leave school, as they move into or leave college or university, and supporting those that are facing unemployment or even redundancy.

I want to recognise and thank the many businesses, training and education providers who already do a fantastic job in supporting our young people into and through the world of work. This includes their work with us and others to deliver programmes such as Jobs Growth Wales, traineeships, apprenticeships, Business Wales, Big Ideas Wales, ReAct, Kickstart, Restart and the Work and Health Programme. We already have many of the much-needed components in place to provide us with the basis for a successful young person's guarantee. However, a commitment to all of our 16 to 24-year-olds will require a renewed focus on co-ordination of opportunity, both locally and nationally.

So, today, I want to share and set out the initial steps I intend to take to ensure that we do develop a successful young person's guarantee. And it is important to note that these are just the first steps that we will be taking. I will, of course, keep Members up to date as this programme evolves.

Firstly, I'm launching a call to action across the Welsh public sector, the third sector, the private sector, education and training sectors, and with partners in the Department for Work and Pensions. It is essential that we all work together to ensure that we all play our part in supporting young people across Wales, in ensuring that we deliver the best possible offer for our young people.

We want young people’s voices to be at the heart of the development of our guarantee. That's why, over the summer, I will hold a national conversation with young people and commence a consultation with young people and stakeholders.

Thirdly, I have asked Working Wales to become the gateway into our young person's guarantee, to build on their already strong and successful model of delivering careers guidance and signposting support. From 30 September this year, they will have a team in place to start to track and monitor our offer as it develops and supports young people.

I recognise the changing landscape of employment opportunities. We need to inspire and support more of our young entrepreneurs. That is why part of our offer is to support young people with an ambition to start their own business. We'll provide these young people with access to the right support to help them to overcome barriers to start up and increase the sustainability of new ventures. Business Wales, with tailored help through Big Ideas Wales, will provide young people with this support.

And Working Wales will begin a new job-matching pilot. This pilot will assist young people supported by Working Wales with securing employment and help employers to fill their vacancies. Now, this pilot has already started on an initial basis in north Wales and Cardiff, and I'd encourage all employers with vacancies in these areas to get in touch with Working Wales.

We know that our young people hold the key to Wales's future success. It's their talents, skills and creativity that are essential to ensure our country’s growth and competitiveness. As a nation, we still face huge challenges now and when the pandemic is finally over. I'm proud to lead the work on the young person's guarantee, and I hope the parties across the Chamber will support this Government’s aim to ensure that there really is no lost generation here in Wales. Thank you.

16:05

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon? I broadly welcome the Welsh Government's intention to provide everyone under 25 in Wales with the offer of work, education, training or self-employment, and I welcome the Minister's comment about ensuring that no generation is lost post pandemic and agree that it's vital that young people have the skills and experience they need for the jobs of today and, indeed, for the future. 

Now, in order to start to address the scale of this challenge, it's important that the Welsh Government engages with stakeholders and skills providers right across Wales, and I'm pleased to see a call to action across all sectors, though perhaps the Minister can tell us a bit more about this call to action and what sort of engagement will be taking place over the coming months to ensure that all sectors are working together to deliver the best possible offer for our young people. 

Today's statement makes it clear that there needs to be a culture of collaboration with skills providers and employers in developing the young person's guarantee, and that's why the Government has to commit to a comprehensive consultation with those who could make this scheme a success. 

Now, today's statement also confirms that Working Wales will become the gateway into this guarantee, and I welcome their role as a central co-ordinating organisation for the guarantee. I'm pleased to see the job-matching pilot under way in north Wales and Cardiff, and I look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of those pilots, as it's vital that Working Wales connects with businesses to ensure that there's a genuine buy-in into the scheme. Therefore, I hope the Minister will tell us a bit more about how the young person's guarantee will be made attractive to businesses in all parts of Wales and how the Welsh Government intends to encourage more employers to take part in the programme in the future. 

Now, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a disproportionate economic effect on young people across Wales, and a recent report by Public Health Wales showed that there are serious concerns for young people in terms of job prospects and the potential to be paying more tax in the future to cover for the financial support schemes introduced by the Government during the pandemic. Indeed, latest statistics show that around 11,000 16 to 18-year-olds and 36,000 19 to 24-year-olds are not in employment, education or training in Wales. So, whilst the aim to offer all young people training or employment is laudable, in reality it may be quite difficult to achieve, and therefore it's crucial that the young person's guarantee is sufficiently funded to address the scale of the challenge. 

Today's statement doesn't give us an indication of the level of resources that the Welsh Government is allocating to the guarantee, but it's vital that that information is forthcoming so that we can scrutinise that expenditure. So, perhaps the Minister can tell us exactly how much funding will be allocated to ensure that this scheme is a success. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, key to ensuring the scheme's success is regular monitoring and reviewing of the effectiveness of the guarantee, so I hope the Minister will commit today on how he intends to monitor the progress of the scheme in the future and how regularly he intends to publish data and information about the outcomes and take-up of the scheme by young people and by businesses across Wales. Now, we've seen a young person's guarantee in action in Scotland and there's good work that I'm sure can be learnt from that, particularly in relation to how the Scottish Government is engaging with the business community and how they're ensuring that young people's views are heard in developing the guarantee, and perhaps the Minister could tell us what lessons he's learnt from the Scottish model and how that's informed the development of the young person's guarantee here in Wales.

Of course, one difference between the Scottish and Welsh model is the Welsh Government's inclusion of self-employment in the young person's guarantee. Data from Companies House shows that over 19,000 new Welsh firms were created in 2020 as an increasing number of individuals decided to set up their own businesses, and it's crucial that the Welsh Government looks at ways of boosting and supporting entrepreneurship across Wales. Now, today's statement talks about the role of Business Wales and the Big Ideas Wales scheme in order to provide support, though I'd be grateful if the Minister could tell us a bit more about his plans to support young entrepreneurs and increase the sustainability of new ventures.

It's important that the reach of the young person's guarantee is felt right across Wales, and I know from representing a constituency that often feels neglected by the Welsh Government that not all Government schemes are taken up across the country. Today's statement talks about a national conversation with young people, and so perhaps the Minister could tell us a little bit more about the consultation and how he's going to ensure that the views of young people in all parts of Wales are heard, and maybe he can confirm whether information will be collected at a local authority level so that, if areas are not engaging, further measures then can be taken.

In closing, Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank the Minister for the statement and say again that I hope the young person's guarantee is a success? We share the same ambition here, and that's to deliver for our young people and ensure they have access to employment and training opportunities as we move out of the pandemic. But there has to be a co-ordinated collaboration between the Welsh Government, education and skills providers and the business community to make the young person's guarantee a success, and the guarantee has to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of young people living in all parts of Wales today. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:10

Thank you for the series of questions. I'm sure the Member will understand that, given the number of questions he's asked, I won't be able to deal with them all in one sitting, otherwise no other speaker will have an opportunity to contribute, and I will try the patience of the Chair.

On your broader points about—[Interruption.] On your broader points about stakeholders and stakeholders' engagement, actually, this is one of the things that I think is a real opportunity in the summer, so making an early statement is partly about setting it on the record for those stakeholders to engage more formally with us. We've actually already seen a number of businesses who are very enthusiastic about the potential for the guarantee already getting in touch prior to me making an offer, and I think that's really encouraging, actually. We've already had ColegauCymru—the further education sector see that they definitely have a role; they want to engage on what they can do to build on what they already provide—and a range of stakeholders from local government to the National Union of Students and, of course, to young people themselves.

But part of the reason I mentioned the Department of Work and Pensions is that they already have a role in providing some opportunities for people to enter the world of work, and what I want to ensure is that we have an approach that doesn't provide a contradictory approach, where we're doing things that cut across things they're doing and vice versa as well. And actually, the Department of Work and Pensions are looking to get more into the space of employability again, so I want to make sure we have a complementary approach. So, officials get on very well and we need to make sure that the right answers are provided to help people into the world of work.

And on your point about the job matching pilot, yes, I'm looking for that pilot to help us about national roll-out, because this is a genuine national offer. Working Wales have a genuine national footprint; they'll be able to help us across the whole country with other partners too. But, actually, we need to understand the pilot and then see if we need to improve it further to roll out in every part of the country, including of course in west Wales; other parts of Wales need not fear that they will be left out.

And I think there's something here about building on what we're going to do to help people to enter the world of work and what we can already do. So, we already have a programme with young apprentices, where employers already get additional support for taking on younger apprentices. We already have our ReAct plus programme; we actually provide a wage subsidy in the first year for people taken on as well. So, we have a number of levers and opportunities that we already use, and it's how we build on those successfully to make sure that we don't simply tolerate the numbers of young people outside the world of education and training. It's why we'll need to work alongside people who are working before people are ready to either re-enter the world of education, training or work as well.

On your broad points about the budget, there's resource that's already been put into this area within each department in any event. As we go through the summer and have a more fully formed offer that I'll be able to outline more in the autumn, including your point on how we monitor success, I'll be able to say more about how we're committing different parts of budgets, not just within my department, but in other parts of the Welsh Government too, to make this a success, and so that people are able to see transparently how we'll monitor that success as well.

My officials have regular conversations with Governments across the UK, including the Scottish Government, and I'm sure that the SNP will be delighted to have a Welsh Tory praise some of their work. We are looking at how they've done some of this, to learn from what works, and that's the point: not to be worried about the ideological difference, but to understand what works, and how to we do that in making sure there is a meaningful conversation with young people. That will need to be based around the institutions that already exist, so it would be odd if we didn't ask the Welsh Youth Parliament what their view was, for example, but also to do some bespoke engagement with young people in different parts of the country to understand some of the different challenges, because young people here in Cardiff who I might represent might face a different context to people who live, for example, on the Llŷn peninsula, or in the Member's part of Wales as well.

Finally, just on that point about consultation, I expect this to be not done in a traditional way, asking people to respond to a consultation and send in written notes, but about how we do more in the way we've got used to having to work when we're not all in the same place, but also online too, as well, to encourage people to express views to help us to deliver the right sort of outcomes. I do welcome his broadly positive support for a young person's guarantee and ensuring there is no lost generation.

16:15

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. There's a lot to welcome in today's statement. It's very similar to the Plaid Cymru offer during the election. We look forward to seeing the detail, and we'll be keeping an eye on its implementation to ensure it delivers for young people in Wales.

It's positive to know that the Welsh Government is looking at other examples, not just in the UK, hopefully, but in the EU as well. I often say—and it's quite hard for us to admit sometimes—that when we have a good idea, the likelihood is someone's already come up with that idea, so it's always good to learn from others' experiences, so we don't fall into the same traps.

When similar schemes were implemented in Europe, local staff working on the implementation acknowledged that internships and work placements were not always of the highest standards. While measures were taken to ensure quality, it was not always possible for local staff to systematically monitor placements. Can the Minister confirm that, as part of Working Wales's role, they'll be ensuring that job quality meets agreed standards? The OECD's assessment of similar schemes was a lack of reliable data, and indicators were difficult to come across. Difficulties collecting data and indicators were obvious both at the national level and local level in terms of target population, services and outcomes. How will the Welsh Government obtain data on the proportions of young people directed to each possible option of the scheme? Further to this as well, how does the Welsh Government intend to be able to report on those who obtain secure employment as a result of taking part in the scheme?

If I could also move on to young workers' rights for a moment, the Wales TUC is calling on the Welsh Government to work with unions to ensure that the Welsh economic recovery focuses on good-quality jobs and empowering young workers, and in fact, actually, they have launched a new campaign to drive up union membership among young workers. A Wales TUC and YouGov survey has demonstrated that tens of thousands of workers are facing unfair treatment and a lack of opportunity at work. How will the Welsh Government ensure that young workers can avoid the poor-quality and insecure jobs that characterise the recovery from the last recession?

Finally, on the green recovery, we have a real chance to help both our young people and our planet by ensuring that these jobs are helping contribute to our green economic recovery. So, does the Welsh Government intend to use the guarantee to be a key part of our rapid recovery in Wales, which could prioritise greener homes, better public transport, renewable energy and high-speed broadband? Diolch yn fawr.

I thank the Member for his comments and questions. On your first broad point about the quality of opportunities that are provided, we've been through some of this before, both in the creation of Jobs Growth Wales, about the rates of pay that are available, and about the quality of the work provided, but also in what we already do to monitor the outcomes in apprenticeships. We've actually had good feedback from apprentices themselves, but also businesses that have helped to take them on.

In the visits I've been able to do, I've met a series of apprentices in both large companies, when I visited both Airbus in north Wales, but also I've been to Toyota, seeing some of their apprentices, and what they are doing to invest in more apprentices. That's really good news. They were potentially looking at a different future, but they are continuing to invest in high numbers of apprentices, and that's a very sought-after provision in a large employer like that, but for smaller businesses too as well. It's why when you look at the work that we've done on a range of things, for example, twenty-first century schools, it doesn't just deliver high-quality learning facilities. But because of the way we've worked on community benefits, we almost always have young workers and new apprentices coming through in those build projects as well, and having a career in a sector that we know is actually in a good place to deliver good-quality, above average wages of work for the future.

So, we do take that seriously, and it's the same in traineeships where you look at providing people who are under the age of 18 with opportunities to undertake more experience in the world of work, even if they then go on to opt for options into training as opposed to entering the world of work directly at that point in time.

So, yes, I do expect us to be able to match and understand the quality of what happens. That's both in, if you like, the system's point of view, but also in the direct feedback from individuals themselves as well. And you'll be aware that many of our providers already have well-developed systems to understand the feedback about their provisions, and whether it's actually making a difference with and for the young people who are taking up those opportunities.

When it comes to the broader tracking of outcomes, that's why I mentioned Working Wales and what they're going to do from the end of September, because that tracking will help us to understand more of what's being done, both with what we've already started with to build on and what we're then starting off and improving as well, because it is important that we understand the impact of what we're doing. Otherwise, if we're just carrying on with what we already do, then we're not really adding to what we already provide and not really meeting the scale of the challenge that we know exists.

And it goes, I think, on to your point about the Wales TUC and their campaign, because the world of work has already changed. It was changing before the pandemic and there's been a lot of acceleration in the change in the world of work as a result of it. That obviously means that trade unions need to change the way that they organise, and we've seen successes in that, for example, GMB and their recognition within Uber, but there are many other parts of our economy that have changed significantly since I was a genuinely young person as opposed to the point in my life I find myself now.

But this is all part of an agenda that we recognise, because we've seen an acceleration in the world of online retail, for example, how we have that alongside physical premises on our high streets, and young people seeing careers—lots of young people work in retail, hospitality and others and they are not necessarily just seasonal jobs. They can be good-quality jobs for a longer and proper career as well. And we recognise the agenda on fair work in each part of our economy. So, you can expect Ministers in more than one part of the Government to keep on not just talking about fair work, but Members will be scrutinising how we take that forward in a number of departments. And you'll see that, for example, in the social partnership and procurement Bill, but also the work that my colleague Jane Hutt will continue to take an interest in as well.

Interestingly—I'll finish on this, Deputy Presiding Officer, this point—on the point about the challenge of the environment and the opportunities to have greener jobs and growth areas, that's a big part of what we already see. So, in my visits and the announcement today about battery technology, I was talking to Yuasa Battery in Ebbw Vale about what they are doing, and that's a big opportunity for our renewable sector as well, and the number of workers they have there in that one plant and what that will mean for other parts of our economy. And when I met young people on a previous visit to Careers Wales just last week, they were very clear that they understood the impact of the way that we generate power, the way that we move and get around our world already, and the prospects for their future and for the children they've yet to have as well. So, actually, young people are very well attuned to the way the world works now and what it means for the future of the planet, and want a different sort of future.

16:20

The Minister just made reference to Careers Wales/Gyrfa Cymru, with particular reference to the role that they will play in delivering the young person's guarantee. How will he make sure that they're both supported, adequately resourced and their staff are properly paid to deliver this programme?

It is one of our big challenges. I remember well talking to Ministers who've moved on to different parts of Government about the challenge it is in how we resource Careers Wales, and the really big budget challenges we've had. That's part of the reason why when it comes to the next budget round, we need to see a range of these services in their whole Government impact. And when I went to Careers Wales in Cardiff to meet people that had been supported, it was very clear about the impact that the mentors and advisers have had on helping people to make their own choices.

So, in broad terms, I can give you a commitment that we will continue to take an interest in how we resource Careers Wales to meet the ambitions we have for them, and their role in delivering the guarantee. And we'll, of course, work alongside them as they will need to meet their obligations as an employer. If the Member has more specific points, I'll happily meet him outside the Chamber to discuss those. 

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. The Working Wales job matching pilot sounds really positive in terms of integrating supply and demand. How can Welsh Government ensure, though, that vacancies offered are good-quality jobs for the future, and also that employment opportunities in communities like Cynon Valley are grown and nurtured so that we don't see people from the Valleys having to travel to cities to access opportunities?

Finally, I welcome the comments around supporting young people to become entrepreneurs. It seems to me that there could be additional opportunities to support similar types of enterprise through co-operative or social enterprise models. Will you also look at how these could be integrated and supported into the offer?

16:25

Yes. On your first point, about making sure that we do have a proper view of the quality of jobs and the wages that are being paid and what it means for people going into the world of work, that's part of the point I was trying to make in response to Luke Fletcher as well, about the fact that we do take an interest in the quality of what we provide. This can't simply be about funnelling people into poor-quality jobs that don't have a longer term future, because actually that isn't going to provide people with the experience of the world of work we want, and it won't help us to build the fairer, greener, more prosperous economy that all of us want to see, and that includes in a range of Valleys communities.

I was very pleased to visit you in Cynon Valley and see some of the work that is being done to bring people back into the world of education and training with people who aren't succeeding in mainstream education and actually what that does in preparing them to go into the world of work successfully. That is both about creating jobs within local communities, as well as providing access to other employment centres, and I also think that, of course, improving transport around the country will mean that there are opportunities for businesses to grow with a different cost base outside of some of our cities as well. And that's part of the reason that I'm interested in business start-ups, because we do know that we don't have the same level of business start-ups in Wales, or indeed not just the growth of those businesses but how many of those businesses survive through their first year. So, it is a key challenge for us to see more businesses grow to survive, to be successful, and then the growth of those businesses to become medium-sized employers, and if they become large employers, how many of those will still be in Welsh ownership at the end, to think about what the future economy will look like. This is a big opportunity to help change the way the world of work currently works, and not to simply be on the receiving end of a changing world around us.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, having worked and volunteered in education and communities for the last 20 years, I have always said that if you give young people a chance, either through employment or volunteering, it's amazing what they can achieve. I was proud to stand on a manifesto that included a young person's guarantee, either of work, education, training or self-employment. Today's statement from the Minister will be welcome news to young people in Rhondda. Talent comes in many forms, and a young person's guarantee will let our young people shine and allow them to make a positive contribution to our communities. Will the Minister meet with me to discuss how the young person's guarantee will benefit young people in Rhondda?

Yes, I'll be happy to meet with her individually to talk about the Rhondda. I know that there's interest from other constituency Members around her to have a conversation about what this will mean for the Valleys, and I'm really interested in the opportunities we can create for people in their own communities, as well as in communities in the broader travel-to-work area. So, I'll be very happy to do that and arrange it with my office.

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

Plenary was suspended at 16:28.

16:35

The Senedd reconvened at 16:38, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

6. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership: Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality in Wales

The next item is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership on advancing LGBTQ+ equality in Wales. I call on the Deputy Minister to make her statement—Hannah Blythyn.

Diolch, Llywydd. June is recognised in places around the world as Pride Month: a chance to reflect on how far we have come and what we have achieved together, to celebrate our LGBTQ+ communities, and to pay tribute to the trailblazers who came before us—the activists and allies that have made what once seemed impossible possible. It's also a time to take stock and redouble our efforts to create a more equal Wales, where everyone is safe and supported and feels free to simply be themselves.

This Pride Month, I want to take the opportunity to reaffirm the commitment and determination of this Welsh Government to advancing LGBTQ+ equality in Wales. The last time a Pride parade took place through our capital city, I was proud to join our First Minister at the front of the parade. The Welsh Government has supported Pride in the past, but now we are putting this support on a firmer footing, to help with long-term planning and sustainability—not just for a single event, but in recognising the role that Pride plays as a grass-roots movement. We will be making £25,000 of new funding available for Pride Cymru this year and will be embedding this support, and substantially more, in the future. 

Importantly, alongside this, we will also be establishing a new Wales-wide Pride Fund to support grass-roots events across the country. We will support smaller movements to thrive and to help ensure that every LGBTQ+ person can take part in what Prides have to offer. Further information about the new funding will be published as soon as possible, and I will share that information with Members and organisations when available. This builds on our record of support for the LGBTQ+ community here in Wales, from pushing forward with curriculum reform that embeds LGBTQ+ education, to establishing a gender identity service and becoming the first nation in the UK to offer pre-exposure prophylaxis free in the NHS. During COVID-19 we set up a bespoke LGBTQ+ venue grant and, just this month, our First Minister donated blood side by side with a gay activist who until this point had been prohibited from doing so.

In the past few years alone we have made remarkable progress, but there is still work to be done and minds to be won. We know all too well that LGBTQ+ people still face very real challenges against disadvantage, inequality, discrimination and hate. In January this year we established an independent expert panel to help set out and shape the next steps for advancing LGBTQ+ equality. In March, this panel present