Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

06/07/2021

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

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

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. 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 noted on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually.

Before we move to our first item, I'd like to inform the Senedd that the first ballot of this Senedd for Member Bills will be held on 22 September, and information on the process will be circulated to Members before the end of the day. 

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item, therefore, is questions to the First Minister, and I have received notification under Standing Order 12.58 that the Trefnydd, Lesley Griffiths, will answer questions today on behalf of the First Minister. I'm sure that the First Minister is in all our thoughts, him and his family, at a difficult time for them. So, the first question today is from Joyce Watson. 

The Haulage Industry

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the skills shortage in the haulage industry? OQ56736

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 13:32:00
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

We are extremely concerned by reports of widespread skills shortages across the logistics sector, especially drivers, and the knock-on impacts this could have on critical supply chains, including food. We are working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure Wales's food supply chains are protected.

Well, the shortage of lorry drivers is a direct result of poor planning by the UK Tory Brexit Government. A major Welsh haulier firm based in my region has lost 50 drivers who were EU citizens as they did not meet the UK's new criteria for skilled worker visas. While we know more than ever lorry drivers are key workers, stocking our supermarkets, delivering our packages and keeping the economy moving, the shortage of drivers is already causing real issues in the agricultural sector, and unless the UK Government urgently gets to grips with this problem, we will see empty supermarket shelves sooner rather than later, especially in the rural and remote communities in my region. So, what discussions has the Welsh Government had with UK Ministers about the need to resolve the looming crisis, and what can we do here in Wales to mitigate the impact of Tory Brexit policy failure?

Joyce Watson raises a very important point, and, certainly within my own portfolio, I made lots of representations to the UK Government in the previous Government term—regular meetings with the Secretary of State in DEFRA. Clearly, there are a number of complex reasons, I think, behind the shortage, including pay and working conditions. But I think, certainly, the situation has been very exacerbated by the mass exodus of EU workers from the UK as a result of the very thin trade deal that was given to us by the UK Government. There are indications that very many HGV drivers are in their mid 50s, for instance, and, of course, as they approach retirement, when furlough concludes as well, they might then choose to retire. 

I am meeting with the DEFRA Secretary of State again next week, and I've asked for this item to be on the agenda, but officials do work very closely with their counterparts in the UK Government to try and understand the situation. I'm also meeting again with the food retail sector particularly, because this is something that the supermarkets are becoming increasingly concerned about. 

Minister, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the United Kingdom resulted in a loss of months of driver training and the cancellation of 28,000 HGV driver tests. This has undermined efforts to grow the pool of 300,000 qualified lorry drivers in the UK, which is urgently needed as a third of those drivers are over 55 and, as you mentioned, heading for retirement. The Road Haulage Association claims there appears to have been an obstructive and hostile approach from the educational establishment over several years to HGV apprenticeships and has called for increased funding for apprenticeships for those drivers. What discussions have you had with ministerial colleagues, and others, to ensure HGV driver apprenticeships are given the funding and support that they actually need? Thank you.

13:35

So, again, that's a very important issue, and certainly, as a Welsh Government—and you'll be aware that a lot of the issues you raised in your question are reserved to the UK Government—with the levers that we have, for instance, we've ensured that our ReAct programme has funded several hundred HGV drivers. So, those discussions are ongoing. We've also approved a request for Neath Port Talbot College to offer courses in driving goods vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles. But I know that ministerial colleagues have been urging the UK Government to ensure that the backlog of tests that you referred to is addressed in the very near future.

I've been contacted by a north Wales haulage company regarding this issue, and it highlighted two key factors. The first, as Joyce mentioned, is Brexit and the fact the UK Government desperately needs to rethink its position on skilled worker visas. But the second, which I would like to ask about, is how we can encourage more people to go into this line of employment, by recognising it as the high-skilled and essential line of work that it is. And we have a real issue in terms of secure places for drivers to stop and rest. How can we improve conditions for drivers, such as free or affordable HGV parking, and access to basic services, such as showers, toilet facilities and reasonably priced food, to ensure drivers are safe on our roads? Diolch.

Thank you. You heard my answer to Natasha Asghar around the ReAct programme funding of vocational training. That has equipped unemployed individuals with the skills that are sought by recruiting employers. It is a highly skilled job, as you say, and it's really important that we do all we can to encourage people to choose this career. I think the point you make around ensuring there are adequate parking, overnight parking, places to have showers, is very important. And certainly, in my own constituency, I know there's a call for that to happen on the Wrexham industrial estate, because unfortunately we do see people just pulling over and not having facilities to rest properly, to eat properly, and certainly to shower. We will continue to promote ReAct to employers and individuals who are unemployed or have been made redundant. We will also encourage recruitment via Careers Wales, because it is an essential line of work. And in conjunction with the Wales union learning fund, we'll continue to work with our trade unions regarding the terms and conditions of the workforce, and, where appropriate, provide additional support for the issues that you've raised.

Free Part-time Childcare

2. Will the Welsh Government consider introducing free part-time childcare for children from nine months to their third birthday to all parents regardless of work status? OQ56753

Supporting families with childcare costs is one of our main priorities, in line with our vision for a single system of early childhood education and care. We are committed to funding childcare for more parents in education and training, and supporting Flying Start as part of that ambition.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Minister, research from the Learning and Work Institute and Gingerbread suggests that the pandemic has hit single parents very hard—loss of work and income, home education, and loss of childcare and caring support. These are workers typically concentrated in low-paid and part-time work and in those industries hit hardest by the pandemic—144,000 lone parent families in Wales, 118,000 of which are lone mother families. Could I ask the Government what support is being made available to lone parent families across Wales as part of the Government's COVID recovery programme? Diolch.

Thank you. We do recognise that parents—and that, of course, includes lone parents—and their children may need additional support following the coronavirus pandemic. The type of support needed may vary, so I would encourage anyone who does need support to contact their local family information service so that they can be signposted to the correct support and advice within their local authority area. Our 'Parenting. Give it Time' campaign website also provides advice and support, and is able to tell people where they can go for further information. That includes nationally available support through helplines and online support, such as Parent Talk Cymru and Family Lives.

I'd just like to take the opportunity to pass on my condolences to the First Minister and his family during this period.

Minister, according to Public Health Wales, almost 27 per cent of children in Wales are overweight or obese, and this is a 4 per cent higher rate than in England and Scotland. This health concern is worse in areas of higher deprivation, where children are significantly more likely to be obese than the Welsh average. Obesity is a crisis for younger people and can affect mental and physical health in later years. Parents often struggle to support sports activities for children because of the cost and time, and this creates inequality amongst children, where those children with access to sports have more confidence, resilience and better self-esteem. Given the need to support parents in providing after-school childcare provision, and thinking of the health and well-being of our future generations, will the Minister make a commitment to provide additional resources so that all schools can provide free sports activities after the school day? 

13:40

Well, obviously, I can't make that commitment today, but the relevant Minister will be in the Chamber, either physically or virtually, and will hear your request. Obesity and tackling obesity is something that the Welsh Government takes very seriously and has been a priority, and we have schemes to encourage healthy eating in particular. I think the point you make around sport is very important. That's why sport in our schools is so important, and, again, I'm aware over the last term of Government there was a focus on ensuring that children took part in sport. And we know that as children go and become young people and go through school there is a drop in those who take part in physical activity. So, that is something that we've had a focus on. 

It surprises me how little priority early years education and childcare is given by this Government. Studies show how vital the creation of full provision is in deprived communities for the benefit of the education of children and to raise families out of poverty. And yet, the Government's model and the defective childcare scheme is based on demand rather than need. Do you agree that we need to rethink the whole strategy for our youngest children urgently? 

I don't agree with Siân Gwenllian. We're very committed to supporting all our young people, and our childcare offer provides 30 hours of early education and childcare to three and four-year-olds whose parents work, for instance, for 48 weeks of the year. In our programme for government, we've already committed to fund childcare for more parents in education and training, and, of course, to continue to fund and support our Flying Start programme, which I think is one of the best schemes that we have here in Wales.

In 2019, we launched our vision for early childhood education and care. That will reform the provision of early education and care in Wales to ensure that every child in Wales gets the best possible start in life. Of course, the childcare sector has faced several challenges, like all sectors, during the pandemic, and we know that many settings have closed temporarily. But, at the moment, 90 per cent of all settings are open and we continue to support them. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Leader of the house, nearly a quarter of people who contracted COVID-19 during the last 12, 15 months contracted that COVID virus in a hospital setting. Twenty-one per cent also contracted COVID in a care home. We were told time and time again hospital settings were safe places. What's gone wrong? 

Well, I think the first thing to say is, obviously, far too many people have died of the COVID-19 pandemic, and far too families and friends are grieving at the moment. We have done everything we can, obviously, as have the hospitals and care homes themselves, to keep the virus out, but, of course, it doesn't stop at the door of hospitals, it doesn't stop at the door of care homes. There's no barrier to be able to do that. And, if you think about a hospital, it's like a small town, and you have people crossing that—the staff, the catering staff, visitors. And, whilst we obviously had guidance around visitors, you are unable to stop the virus coming in, unfortunately. 

I was very careful in my language to say that, actually, the virus was contracted in a hospital setting. I do take the point that there is cross-over in hospitals, but we were told time and time again that measures were being taken. In fact, I was told by the health Minister that I was being alarmist when I said it was out of control in some hospitals. In some health boards, one in three patients were contracting the COVID virus in a hospital setting. Now, these were decisions that were taken here in Wales by Welsh Government Ministers. Surely those decisions need now to be tested at a Welsh public inquiry and not lost in a UK-wide public inquiry. Will you commit to using your energies within Government to campaign for a Wales-wide public inquiry so these very issues can be looked at and remediated here in Wales?

13:45

No, I won't. You'll have heard the First Minister say many times—and I know the First Minister in his answers to you in the Chamber has said this—that he's agreed to a UK, four-nation inquiry. He's had discussions with senior Ministers—I think the Prime Minister himself—in the UK Government. If we had our own inquiry, we wouldn't be able to look at so many of the interdependencies that there are across the four countries in relation to COVID—so, if you think about testing, if you think about vaccines, if you think about PPE, if you think about the drugs that have been used in relation to COVID. The First Minister has been absolutely clear that he wants to take part in that four-nation inquiry.

I have to say that is the wrong decision, Minister. Time and time again—and we'll hear it in the legislative statement this afternoon—the Government want decisions taken here in Cardiff, to be based here in this Parliament, and in Cathays Park, where the Government is located. Here, where key decisions have resulted in, tragically, people losing their lives in a hospital setting because of hospital-acquired infections—1 in 3 people in certain health boards were acquiring the COVID virus in a hospital setting, because of the decisions that were taken here in Wales. People will be bemused that you're not prepared to put yourself under the spotlight of scrutiny. I urge the Government, and I urge you most strongly, to make sure there is a strong Welsh element in the UK-wide inquiry, but more importantly, that we do have a Wales-wide inquiry to test these ministerial decisions, and also highlight the successes as well, such as the vaccination scheme. It is a matter of deep regret that you are not willing to put your ministerial shoulder to the wheel to make that Welsh public inquiry happen. I leave it to you again to say that we do need a Wales-wide public inquiry to look into these tragic events that have led to such high incidence of hospital-acquired infections across the length and breadth of Wales. 

Well, I disagree with you completely. The First Minister has made it very clear that he would expect certain chapters of that inquiry, obviously, to have a specific focus on Wales. But I go back to what I was saying—you can't just do it in isolation. There are too many interdependencies to do that. The First Minister has committed to having a UK-wide inquiry, and I absolutely believe that that scrutiny will meet the level that you require. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Let me continue with that theme, and dig a little bit deeper if I can. For over a year now, Plaid Cymru has called for a Wales-only public inquiry. Your Government—and you've confirmed it now—has opted to have a Welsh chapter or chapters in a UK-wide inquiry. I think in all honesty that opens you up to the charge of ducking scrutiny. If you take responsibility, you have to be ready to be judged on your actions, good and bad. Now, of course, there's also the issue that Boris Johnson himself at Westminster is ducking scrutiny in dithering about when to begin the UK-wide inquiry. He's clearly in no hurry to set up that UK-wide inquiry. Sir Robert Owen, the judge who chaired the public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, recently insisted that work needs to begin immediately, and that a long-delayed report ceases to form a useful function. Do you agree with that?

I do think the inquiry needs to be sooner rather than later. I don't think it's ducking scrutiny; I'm sure the spotlight will be very firmly on all four nations. I don't think I can add anything in relation to the First Minister's view to what I said in my answers to Andrew R.T. Davies. Clearly, within Wales, we've done a review. The health Minister has led, within her department—or officials have led within her department—when we look at what happened in the first wave, and then obviously in the second wave currently. But I don't think, for the reasons I've stated already, a Wales-specific inquiry is—. But I certainly don't think it's ducking scrutiny. 

You want it sooner rather than later, but let me be clear: in refusing a Welsh-specific inquiry, you're effectively agreeing to that delay, and the spotlight on what has happened in Wales will be inevitably weakened with having that spotlight trying to be shone, with equal forensic detail, right across the UK. We need to answer questions about what's happening in Wales. Two days ago, the Royal College of Nursing joined with the GMB and others to call on the Scottish Government to launch a separate Scottish inquiry—the same principles there. If calls for a separate Welsh investigation were made by prominent bodies whose mission is to represent the interests of health and care workers and patients here, what would your message be to them?

As I say, I don't think I can say any more. The First Minister made it very clear that he thinks a UK inquiry is the best, for the interdependencies that I've just explained. I don't think you can ever accuse the First Minister, or any other of my ministerial colleagues, of not being open to scrutiny. We sat all last year. When the UK Government didn't sit, we were sitting; you were able to scrutinise every single Minister. I'm assuming that when this inquiry is running—and I know that the First Minister believes that it shouldn't be something that's kicked into the long grass; obviously, people need answers. But at the moment the focus of all Governments is dealing with the pandemic. We know what's coming down the road, don't we? We are seeing a significant increase in the number of cases of the virus at the moment. So, I'm afraid I haven't got anything further to add around the UK four-nation inquiry that the First Minister has agreed to.

13:50

There's nothing wrong in having an inquiry looking at how the interdependency worked. You say I can't accuse the Welsh Government of avoiding scrutiny on this. Let me make it abundantly clear: I am accusing Welsh Government of avoiding the deepest possible scrutiny on this by rejecting a Welsh-only investigation. The figures out today we've heard being referred to already, about the quarter of COVID deaths in Wales resulting from infections that definitely or probably were sourced in hospital—that alone surely merits a Wales-specific inquiry.

Early in the pandemic, I asked the Welsh Government to listen to pleas from Welsh doctors and allied health professionals to roll out widespread mask wearing in hospitals—calls that were, remarkably, resisted at the time. Well, today, some of the same doctors and health workers will ask the Welsh Government in an open letter to immediately set up a Welsh-specific COVID handling investigation, to properly scrutinise decisions taken so that lessons can be learnt right now. Your Government has rightly said that you will follow the science when making decisions. Will you now follow the advice of these doctors?

I'm not aware of the letter to which you refer. I am assuming it's addressed to the First Minister and the First Minister will obviously respond to that. But just let me say that the NHS in Wales has worked incredibly hard throughout this pandemic, and we as a Government have done all we can to support them—if you think about the millions and millions and millions of pieces of PPE we ensured were in our hospitals and were in our care homes. In relation to 'Will we follow the advice of the Welsh doctors?', I don't know who these doctors are, I don't know anything about that letter, but I know, as always, that any letter the FM receives, he will respond to it.

The Tourism Sector in North Wales

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the sustainability of the tourism sector in north Wales? OQ56750

Diolch. We published our tourism recovery plan, 'Let's Shape the Future', earlier this year. The plan outlines an approach to partnership working to reconstruct a resilient future for our visitor economy. Financial support packages and a return to proactive Visit Wales marketing will support the sector through the coming months.

I'm pleased to hear you talking about a resilient future for the sector, because tourism is a key sector for us in north Wales, as it is in other parts of Wales, of course. But striking that right balance between tourism that brings benefits to our community and too much tourism, which brings negative impact, where the local infrastructure can't cope with the demand placed on it, is a crucial issue. Having seen the impact of too much tourism in certain areas of north Wales over the past 12 months, having that broader debate on what we want from tourism is very important—that national conversation about to what benefit and to what purpose we want to develop the sector. So, would you agree with me that it's important to hold that debate before we create a new national park in north Wales, which could, of course, lead to repeating some of the problems in terms of overtourism that we've seen in north Wales?

Thank you. You raise a very important point around balance. I should say that the new national park was in the Labour Party manifesto on which we were elected in May. I have to say, and I'm sure Llyr will agree with this, certainly on the doorstep, it was something that people wanted to talk about, so I think people are excited about it. But you are absolutely right; we do need to get that balance. Certainly, I think, last summer, and perhaps at the beginning of the pandemic as well, we did see—. In Snowdonia, for instance, I know there were issues around people wanting to walk. It was really important that we had that behavioural campaign, Addo. It's been very welcomed by the sector in encouraging positive public behaviour, so that we can reopen our tourism sector in a safe way. I think that will also support responsible tourism as we come into the summer period now. And, as I say, we've got the proactive Visit Wales marketing campaigns. They're on hand to support the sector over the coming months too.

13:55

Minister, one of the concerns that have been raised with me by tourism and hospitality businesses has been the lack of financial support for those businesses whose staff are required to self-isolate—often very small businesses indeed. For example, I had a pub in my own constituency recently where one member of staff tested positive for the coronavirus and, as a result, all of the members of staff then had a contact message to say that they needed to self-isolate. That meant that that business had to then close for the duration of the self-isolation period and had no income. It had to cancel all of its bookings. And yet, there is no financial support available for businesses in those circumstances. What consideration will the Welsh Government give to creating some sort of safety net for businesses that are in that particular position, particularly those small businesses like tourism operators and hospitality businesses in my constituency that have been affected in this way?

I think that's a very important point, because we want people to self-isolate, don't we, so it is really important that we are able to support them as best we can. Obviously, north Wales businesses have received a significant amount of funding, particularly from the unique-to-Wales economic resilience fund. I'm not aware of any discussions that the Minister for Economy is having in relation to that, but I'm sure he's in the Chamber to hear your comments.

Minister, you'll be aware of the importance of the heritage tourism sector to north Wales. It's vitally important in a number of areas in Clwyd South, including in Llangollen and in Brymbo. Minister, could you commit to ensuring that the Welsh Government remains committed to investing in the heritage tourism sector so that future jobs can be sustained and that more jobs can be created?

Thank you. Obviously, I'm very aware of the outstanding industrial heritage that we have in our part of north-east Wales and right across north Wales. I'm sure you're aware that officials in Cadw have been a key part of the group that's been looking at the nomination for the slate landscape of north-west Wales. It's been nominated as a world heritage site and I understand that there's a decision either later this month or certainly next month. If it's considered by UNESCO to be so, it will be very successful in joining the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and canal in your own constituency as a second industrial world heritage site, and we certainly wish them well with that.

In relation to Brymbo, I have visited the ironworks heritage site—again, that's in your constituency—and we've been involved in close negotiations about allowing the release of funding to support them. We've also been working with local volunteers on educational resources to promote the industrial heritage in Greenfield Valley, just over the border from us in Flintshire. 

Transport Infrastructure

4. What action is the Welsh Government undertaking to improve the transport infrastructure in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ56740

We are improving the A40 between Llanddewi Velfrey and Redstone Cross. The contractor has commenced on site, carrying out preparatory ecological and ground investigation survey works. For this financial year, we have also provided over £5.5 million to Carmarthenshire and £3.7 million to Pembrokeshire councils via our local transport fund. 

Diolch, Trefnydd. I was pleased to hear you mention the A40 bypass at Llanddewi Velfrey, and I was pleased to have reassurance from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change that, despite the Government's announcement last month of the pause on road building, this project will go ahead. However, while the Deputy Minister has assured me of diggers on the ground, I and locals in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire near the project are unable to see where these diggers are operating. Would it be possible for you to let us know where the operation is currently being undertaken so that I can reassure those constituents of mine that this project will be completed at its earliest opportunity?

Certainly, my briefing tells me that there are excavators on the ground—Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd entered into the contract in the middle of last month—but I will certainly ask the Minister to write to you with the specific location.

In the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituency, the A40 between Carmarthen and St Clears is one of the most dangerous roads in Wales. Between January 2010 and August 2019, there were 359 accidents on that road, with about a quarter of them leading to injuries, including the death of a four-year-old girl. The same stretch of road has seen two incidents over the last year, with the deaths of a 20-year-old man in September 2020 and a policewoman, who was 37 years old, in February of this year.

Now, it's evident that something needs to be done urgently to improve this situation and to try to prevent similar incidents from happening again in future. I do understand that the Welsh transport appraisal guidance study at phase 1 has been completed, and this is to be welcomed, of course, but there has been a postponement of the study. Following the recent experiences, people are very eager to see improvements as a matter of urgency. So, Minister, how much assurance can you give to people in the area that there will be no further delays in tackling these problems? When can we expect to see work starting to improve that situation?

14:00

The Member certainly raises some very sad statistics in his contribution. I'm not quite sure whether the road you refer to is part of that A40 scheme, but, clearly, that is under way. You'll be aware of the review that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is undertaking in relation to roads. I'm aware that the chair of the panel is due to be announced before summer recess—before the end of next week—and he's expecting a report. I think the interim report will be around three months and then the full report nine months later. So, if it's part of that review, that's the timeline for that. 

Face-to-face Consultations with Clinicians

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on patient access to face-to-face consultations with clinicians? OQ56755

Primary care and out-patient departments across Wales have adopted new measures to protect staff and patients. They are providing a wide range of options for patients to access services through the use of digital technology and via face-to-face consultations where it is appropriate. 

Thank you very much for that, Minister, although that is not the experience of many of the people I represent in Blaenau Gwent. Many people are finding it increasingly difficult to access primary care at present. Now, we all recognise the issues created by the pandemic, but it cannot be acceptable that people are simply unable to access the medical care and support they need. Quite simply, Minister, far too many people are locked out of primary care.

Will the Welsh Government review the numbers of staff working in primary care across Wales and report back to the Senedd? Will the Welsh Government insist upon minimum standards for access to primary care, so that everyone, wherever they live, is able to see either a doctor or the clinician they require to have the treatment that they need?

Thank you. Alun Davies raises a very important point that I'm sure that we all recognise from our Member of the Senedd postbags. The Minister for Health and Social Services, along with the general practitioners committee Wales and health boards, is due to write, I think probably this week, to reiterate to general practitioners what exactly is expected from them in terms of access and how they should clearly communicate any changes to the public, because, of course, I think it's very important that people understand what services their GPs are providing. 

I think it's also right to say that GPs haven't closed their doors; they have worked all of the way through the pandemic and they're still open for business. But, of course, initially, the consultations are by telephone or video consultation. If they then deem it to be clinically appropriate, a face-to-face appointment will be given. But, I'm pleased that the Minister for Health and Social Services is doing that joint letter to GPs.

Minister, many people are waiting not just for treatment but for an appointment with a clinician to assess the extent of their condition. During the roll-out of the COVID vaccination programme, many retired clinicians were brought in to add further, much-needed capacity to help get people vaccinated. Has the Government explored whether retired clinicians in certain specialities could be brought in on a temporary basis to help get through the many assessments that are now needed? Thank you.

Thank you. We certainly have seen retired clinicians, and also volunteers and nurses, help us with the amazing vaccine roll-out programme here in Wales, and I’m sure it’s something that can be considered by health boards as we come out of the pandemic and look at that backlog, and clearly there is a backlog. There are lots of harms from COVID, not just the vaccine itself, and one of them is, unfortunately, the backlog of appointments that we will have in our NHS.

14:05

Thank you, Trefnydd. As you've already mentioned, pharmacists were the only primary care services to keep their doors open during this pandemic, and this meant a face-to-face consultation during the pandemic. Now, face-to-face consultation by community pharmacists has been normalised in the work of the health service. Shouldn't the new pharmacy contract currently being negotiated by the Welsh Government reflect this new situation in full?

I think our community pharmacy and our pharmacists are hugely important in NHS Wales and certainly when I was health Minister 10 years ago I really encouraged our pharmacists. I remember they undertook pilots for us in giving the flu vaccine out, for instance, and, I think, at the time, they were underutilised in the way that they certainly are not at the moment. I will certainly make sure that the health Minister is aware of the issues you raise as she looks at the contract at the current time.

School Admissions in South Wales West

6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the schools admission process in South Wales West? OQ56746

Local authorities are the admission authorities for the majority of schools. Admission authorities are responsible for setting admission arrangements and any oversubscription criteria, and ensuring they are implemented properly and applied fairly. In undertaking their school admissions functions, admission authorities must act in accordance with the school admissions code.

Thank you, Minister, for that response. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that COVID-19 has brought a significant number of additional challenges on secondary schools, and secondary schools and their staff and pupils have really risen to the challenge. But oversubscription has been an ongoing problem since before the pandemic, and at a time when schools and pupils are under significant pressure this is an unwelcome additional pressure. So, this year many schools in Swansea are having to deal with more applications than they can handle, forcing parents and pupils often to settle for a second or third choice school. So, within Swansea, for example, 10 out of the 14 secondary schools had more applications than places. Olchfa school had 439 applications for enrolment in September, with only 289 places available. Meanwhile, two thirds of schools have had to admit more pupils than their original admission numbers. So, can I ask what steps have the Welsh Government taken to ensure more parents and pupils in Swansea and across Wales get their first-choice school place?    

Well, it is for the local authority to ensure they’ve got sufficiency of places, and a range of schools—both Welsh and English-medium, faith and non-faith schools—are available in most areas. Of course, you’re always going to have some schools that are more popular than others, so there will be surplus places in some and not in others. I’m not aware of any local authority in Wales that does not have sufficient places at the current time.

The Devolution of Welfare Administration

7. What plans does the Welsh Government have to pursue the devolution of welfare administration? OQ56748

Welsh Government welcomed the report 'Benefits in Wales: options for better delivery', published by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in October 2019. Following the committee’s recommendations, we are improving welfare benefit take-up and will continue to explore how further devolution of the benefit system would improve outcomes for people in Wales.

I thank you for that answer, Trefnydd. A large number of stakeholders have suggested that the devolution of the administration of welfare could provide an opportunity to create a more compassionate system. The older people’s commissioner, for example, said the Scottish approach helped shift perceptions away from those of stigma and burden around the system. Devolution to Wales could allow us to do the same.

The Wales Governance Centre, as I’m sure the Trefnydd is aware, has examined the financial implications to Wales of devolving the same package of benefits that have been devolved to Scotland, and they found no evidence to suggest that devolution of these powers would be fiscally unsustainable. In fact, they said, dependent on the Barnett mechanism used and the nature of the inter-governmental agreement, the Welsh Treasury could stand to benefit considerably from the devolution of welfare powers.

If the Welsh Government is keen to support and protect the most vulnerable in our society, then I would press on the Government to look to push for devolution of the administration of welfare in the first half of this term. We can’t afford to wait for a more progressive Government to become available at the other end of the M4—we can change people’s lives and we can protect people right here, right now, from this place, and I would hope that the Welsh Labour Government would share that ambition as well.

14:10

Well, I do realise that devolving certain powers relating to elements of social security could provide us with a wider range of tools to tackle poverty; I certainly think we would be a far more compassionate Government than the UK Government. But I think it's really important that we carefully assess how any long-term changes to social security, including the devolution of welfare benefits, will be funded. It's no good having the powers without the funding. We've been caught too many times, as a Government, in relation to powers coming to us. I remember the council-tax reduction scheme—and the finance Minister's smiling at me—you know, the power's come over but not the funding. So, I think it's really important that we recognise that.

And, of course, we have really challenging times. Now, we've had challenging times before, after a decade of austerity from the UK Government, but the COVID-19 pandemic has built up those challenges. So, I think we would be extremely cautious of agreeing any changes to the social security system, and that includes devolution of welfare benefits at this time. I think the right thing now is to focus on making sure—because we have the levers to do this—we focus on making sure that we improve outcomes for those hardest hit by the pandemic and that people are aware of the financial support that is available to them, and that was one of the recommendations that came out of the ELGC report.

Well, as a member of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee that produced the report on 'Benefits in Wales: options for better delivery' last year, we heard, in Scotland, that devolution of administration, particularly assessment of certain benefits, had secured complete cross-party support in Scotland. But our report also stated

'the potential prize of delivering services that better suit Welsh specific needs'

must be balanced against

'the possibility of breaking the social union'

across the UK, which underpins

'the principle that all UK citizens have an equal claim to the welfare state, and that benefits and burdens depend on need and not geography.'

When we debated this report last September, I welcomed the Welsh Government's acceptance of our recommendations, that it established a

'coherent and integrated “Welsh benefits system” for all the means-tested benefits for which it is responsible...co-produced with people who claim these benefits and the wider Welsh public'

and that it used the Oxfam sustainable livelihoods approach toolkit, recognising that

'all people have abilities and assets that can be used to improve their lives',

adding,

'We now need words turned into real action so that at last things are done with people rather than to them.' 

So, what action has the Welsh Government therefore taken since to turn its words into real action—[Inaudible.]

Well, as I mentioned, we very much welcomed the recommendations from that report, about ensuring that we used the levers that we had, to make sure people right across Wales understand all the financial support that's available to them. I'm really pleased that the implementation of the Welsh Government's child poverty income maximisation action plan has helped to maximise the income of people right across Wales.

The Minister for Social Justice published the progress report on that action plan—I think it was last week—and one outcome was that the programme of targeted income maximisation advice and support meant that people were helped to claim an additional income of nearly £2.5 million. Tackling poverty and providing for those most in need is absolutely a top priority for this Welsh Government, and the previous reforms of the social security system have raised issues here in Wales, and we do continue to make representations to the UK Government. I know the Minister for Social Justice wrote to the relevant Secretary of State just last week, regarding the top-up of the £20, and to try and retain that, as have done six ex-Conservative Secretaries of State.

COVID-19 Vaccination Rates in Islwyn

8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccination rates in Islwyn? OQ56757

Thank you. Our vaccination programme across the whole of Wales continues to make excellent progress. Aneurin Bevan University Health Board's vaccination roll-out also continues to be successful for both first and second doses of the vaccination across its catchment area.

Diolch. The Newbridge mass vaccination centre opened its doors last Saturday for a walk-in clinic for all of those Islwyn adults who have yet to receive a first dose. The Welsh health Minister, Eluned Morgan, has rightly stated that we will have to live with the virus. The fantastic success of the speed, though, of the Welsh vaccination roll-out, thanks to our Welsh NHS, has afforded us amazing protection, yet, as Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief UK scientific adviser, has cautioned, the data suggests the link between coronavirus cases and hospital admissions has been weakened, but not completely broken. To date, 2,264,974 people in Wales have at least one coronavirus vaccine, with 1,730,632 having both doses. Minister, what can we do to further drive up the vaccination rates in Islwyn and Wales, and how will the Welsh Government ensure that we will move forward with caution to keep Wales safe?

14:15

Thank you. Our vaccination programme has been just a joy to behold, hasn't it? And I'm sure many of us have visited our local vaccination centres and seen the incredible work that's been done to ensure as many people as possible have received both their first and second dose. I think we all have a role to play in encouraging our constituents to take up their vaccine, and certainly I know that Betsi Cadwaladr have written to us as MSs to see what we can do to encourage people, and I think everybody across Wales can do that. I know Aneurin Bevan health board have had walk-in clinics for first doses, and you mentioned the one at Newbridge leisure centre, where several 100 vaccines were given out over the weekend. I think it's really important that all health boards do work with community leaders to make sure we cascade those messages down, whether it's by word of mouth, whether it's by our social media channels. I think, again, having those vaccination centres where you can just walk in is really important, and certainly we are seeing more of those coming up right across Wales. I also read something last night around more volunteers coming forward, because, for those of us that have been, obviously, to vaccination centres ourselves, we've seen the many volunteers that have helped run the vaccination clinics so smoothly.

I thank the Trefnydd who answered questions on behalf of the First Minister. Before we move on to the next item, may I just remind Members that flags and banners as a Zoom background are no longer acceptable? I see that the Member I'm referring to is no longer in the Zoom meeting, but if I could ask a representative of Plaid Cymru to speak to that Member and to ensure that that flag isn't in place the next time that Member contributes.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

So, the business statement and announcement is next. I will call this item very slowly so that the Trefnydd has an opportunity to take a sip of water, but we'll move, now, to the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd.

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:17:51
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. There are several changes to today's business: the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution will deliver the statement on the legislative programme; the Minister for Climate Change will make a statement on affordability, second homes and the Welsh language, and finally, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language will make a statement on curriculum reform—next steps. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, can I call for a statement on biodiversity and its protection in relation to felling in Welsh Government-owned forests? So, I've been contacted, as the red squirrel champion, regarding the felling of 17 acres of Pentraeth Forest on Anglesey. This is much to the consternation of the red squirrel enthusiasts—the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and red squirrel experts like Dr Craig Shuttleworth—who believe that this will set back the conservation efforts on the island by at least a decade. Now, this is one of the few strongholds that red squirrels have, including other parts of Wales, of course, but this is the strongest area for red squirrels in the country, and I would have thought that we needed to make sure that any felling that takes place on Welsh Government land in areas such as this is done so in a way that doesn't jeopardise the conservation efforts that have been made. The squirrels trust have been calling for the intervention of the Minister to prevent this—[Interruption.]—to prevent this felling from taking place. I'm sorry, I'm finding it difficult to concentrate because of chuntering from the Plaid benches. I'm finding it very difficult to concentrate.

I'll remind you that next when you're chattering in the Chamber, Darren Millar. [Laughter.]

But the point of the matter is we need ministerial intervention to prevent this felling from taking place, and to swap the felling area for another coup that doesn't threaten this particular important and iconic Welsh species.

Diolch, Llywydd. I was going to say 'pot kettle black' at the start of my contribution. I had a feeling red squirrels might come up today, and certainly I know, obviously, that the nature recovery action plan sets out priorities and this is part of that. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee is currently in the initial data-gathering phase of its review of species protection, and I know the Minister is awaiting the recommendations of that and, obviously, the inter-agency group, which includes NRW, will be put out to consultation. So, I'm sure the Minister will have heard your contribution and will take that in—those views—when she looks at the recommendations.

14:20

Trefnydd, in recent weeks, I've been made aware of the experiences of people on train journeys, where they don't feel safe because people weren't keeping to social distancing and nobody was being reminded to wear masks. My colleague in Westminster Hywel Williams has seen an internal briefing given to Transport for Wales staff that tells them not to enforce social distancing. This is unsafe for passengers; it's also unsafe for people working on the trains. Many people rely on public transport to get to work; they don't have any option but to get onto these crowded trains, and, as we know, masks aren't just to keep the wearer safe, they're principally meant to keep everyone else safe, so, if people aren't reminded to wear masks in indoor spaces, it's other people who are being put at risk. So, I'd like a statement, please, from the Welsh Government addressing these concerns and telling us how they'll make sure that social distancing and mask wearing are taken more seriously by train operators.

Thank you. This is becoming, clearly, more of an issue, and as someone who uses the rail services—I came down to Cardiff yesterday, and, whilst the train was certainly not overcrowded, there were a few people who were not wearing masks. As you say, it's to protect other people, and I think we all need to be far more considerate about other people. We are still saying, aren't we, that face masks are compulsory and that we should socially distance as much as we can. This will, obviously, be part of our 21-day review, where we will be continuing to look at this, and I know that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is aware of concerns and is having discussions with Transport for Wales, particularly, and I do hope that more information will come out from Transport for Wales.

The technology doesn't seem to be working this afternoon, Presiding Officer, in terms of muting and unmuting Members. Can I—

No, it seems to have—. I apologise; it seems to have a particular issue with you, Alun Davies. [Laughter.] That's not a personal comment, by the way; it's just an issue of clarification to other Members.

Obviously being controlled by the Government. [Laughter.] Could we have a statement on the Government's out-of-hospital cardiac arrest strategy, please? I notice that this morning the Government has made more money available to support the location of defibrillators, but that is, of course, one element of the overall strategy, and I would like to hear how the progress is being made, because Wales, when the strategy was launched back in 2017, had one of the lowest levels of survival for those suffering out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, so I think it would be useful for the Government to make a statement on that.

Could I also ask for a statement on the committee structure of this Senedd? The agreement that we've seen from Business Committee in the last few weeks seems to be reducing significantly the ability of committees to hold the Government to account, and this severely and, in my view, profoundly weakens this Parliament's ability to hold the Government to account. The Finance Committee has already written to Business Committee on this matter, but I believe it's something that all backbenchers should have the opportunity to consider and to comment upon.

The final statement I'd like is on the ICT policy that is being imposed upon us by the Commission. I asked a question last week to the Presiding Officer, and, in answer to that question, she did say that there would be a review of this policy. I think it'd be useful for all Members to understand the proposed terms of reference of this review, the timescale and nature of this review, and who will undertake this review and how decisions will be taken. Until the review reports, I do believe that this policy should now be suspended.

Thank you. I'll take those in reverse order, and, in relation to the ICT policy of the Commission, I didn't hear the question you asked of the Llywydd. But, obviously, the Llywydd is in the Chamber and has heard you and I'm sure will write to you on the specific questions that you raised. 

In relation to the committee structure, having spent many weeks as part of the Business Committee looking at the make-up and the structure of the committees, I do not think it has significantly reduced the ability of colleagues to scrutinise the Government. But, again, the Llywydd will have heard your comments. 

In relation to the cardiac arrest strategy, I do think that is something that would be worthy of an oral statement, perhaps in the autumn term. I am aware of the additional funding that's been announced, and I know this is something that's very close to your heart, if you'll pardon the pun. 

14:25

Business Minister, it was hugely disappointing that the Welsh Government were unsuccessful in ensuring fairness is at the heart of any body that they fund. Disappointment was felt across this Chamber from all parties that the sports Minister, although recognising the blatant unfairness in the reorganisation of women's football here in Wales and, to her credit, getting the Football Association of Wales to admit their failings in this regard, still couldn't persuade this publicly funded body to relook at and adapt their reorganisation of women's football in this transition year to take into account on-pitch success, which should have been at the heart of all decision making in this regard, as we all agree. Minister, we often hear Ministers stand in this Chamber talking about building a fairer Wales, but it seems that, when it comes to these warm words being followed through by bodies that are funded or partly funded by the Welsh Government, there is no reason for them to follow it. So, Minister, can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on how ensuring fairness and recognising past performance can be attached as a condition to future financial support from this Government?

Thank you. I think Laura Anne Jones does raise a very important point, and, certainly, when I'm appointing boards or you're looking at the way Welsh Government funding is given, I think things that are very important to us—social justice, making sure that sustainability is at the fore—they are issues that we look at very carefully. Obviously, the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, and Chief Whip has made a written statement on the FAW, but we will certainly consider if there's anything further we can do. 

Trefnydd, I know that my colleague Mike Hedges raised this issue, the cladding issue, last week, but subsequently I've met with further residents in Cardiff Bay, and I know there's a demonstration this Saturday about the cladding issues in Cardiff; they're going from the BBC to the Senedd. Trefnydd, the Welsh Government needs to provide answers to these residents. They need to know the amount available, how it will be accessible, questions about who is eligible to apply and what defects will be covered. Please could we have a comprehensive statement from the Minister to answer their questions and put their concerns to rest before the recess? Trefnydd, Members of all political colours, including your own party, will continue to ask these questions until we, and, more importantly, the residents, get the answers they deserve. Diolch yn fawr. 

I know the Minister for Climate Change and her officials are absolutely working at pace around this issue, which is obviously very important to so many people. It's really important they have a safe place to live, and cladding has, we know, caused risks and can cause risks in the event of a fire, but it's obviously not the only concern. I don't think the Minister will be able to do a statement next week, which is obviously the only week left before the end of term, unfortunately, but I'm sure she will inform Members when that piece of work has been finished. 

Could I ask for one Government statement on the issue of the scourge of violence against shop workers? Violence against shop workers has doubled in recent times, including during the pandemic, and that's why the Home Affairs Committee in Westminster said that the patchwork of existing law was inadequate and why, indeed, amendments were laid last night to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill debated in Westminster to strengthen protection for shop workers, and it was supported by the shop worker union Usdaw and the Co-operative Party, amongst many others. Regrettably, this was rejected by the UK Government on a Conservative three-line whip. 

Now, as we face a rising tide of abuse and violence against shop workers, could we have a statement from Welsh Government on their work with unions and with employers in Wales to tackle this that can give a clear statement on the need for customers to treat shop workers with respect, courtesy and with dignity—the same shop workers, in retailers large and small throughout Wales, who have kept the shelves stacked and the checkouts running smoothly throughout the pandemic, so that we didn't go without? And does she share my hope that the House of Lords, where the Home Office Bill now heads, will have more sympathy with the protection of shop workers than the UK Government demonstrated last night?

14:30

Yes, I certainly do share that view. And isn't it sad that we have to remind people that all our shop workers deserve courtesy and respect? And we certainly saw last year, over the summer particularly, when I was meeting with the supermarkets regularly within my portfolio, that was always top of the agenda, unfortunately, the way that many of their staff were being treated. I worked closely with the police and other ministerial colleagues to make sure that any complaints or any assaults, verbal assaults, were recorded to make sure that the police were aware of the significant problem it unfortunately became.

I mentioned in an answer during First Minister's questions that I am meeting with the supermarkets again next week and the retail sector. I will certainly ask them if it is continuing to be a problem in the way that it was last summer. I appreciate it's always been an issue, but I do think the pandemic, unfortunately, heightened those incidents of, unfortunately, as you say, violence against our retail workers.

Minister, I have two suggestions. The Welsh Government has confirmed that the COVID booster vaccine—that is the third dose—will commence in September, and that the administration of this will happen in two stages. Teachers, however, are not in the first stage and, in my view, ought to be. I accept that this is a challenge, but we owe a lot to the staff in our schools who have done so much to support children during this pandemic, and now in making sure that their education recovers. We should have a statement in the Chamber outlining the Government's approach, because here is where announcements ought to be made. 

The No. 2 suggestion that I have: the programme for government talks a lot about the importance of the green economy. However, in the delivery of straightforward measures to support the much-needed growth in electric cars, Wales is behind the rest of the UK. No Welsh local authority features in the top 20 of authorities across the UK for rapid charging points, and only Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport make it to double figures for the number of devices installed. Will the Government outline how it proposes to speed up the installation of charging points across Wales to ensure that this much-needed programme does not run out of power? Thank you. 

Certainly, in the previous term of Government, the Welsh Government gave significant funding to our local authorities to ensure that they were able to install the charging points that would be required as people purchase more cars. It's very important that when someone is considering buying an electric car they have the confidence to know that they can travel safely. 

In relation to your first point, I absolutely agree with you around the significant hard work and commitment and dedication that have been shown by our teachers. I'm sure the Member is aware that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice in relation to the first vaccine, and the second vaccine obviously, was that it shouldn't be done on a career or a job basis. It was done on the groups, as you know, the top-nine priority groups, and I'm unaware that the JCVI have changed their advice. And, as you know, we do follow the JCVI. So, when it comes to the boosters, we will be offering the booster vaccine and the annual flu jab as soon as possible from September to, I think it's the top-four or five priority groups first. 

The first of the section 19 reports prepared by Rhondda Cynon Taf council into the 2020 floods was published last Thursday and related to Pentre. In the aftermath of its publication, we've seen a public fallout between Natural Resources Wales and RCT council about the conclusions, and calls from some local politicians for compensation and potential legal action. Further, as was reported on Sharp End last night, the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association has written to the Minister for Climate Change, calling on Welsh Government to look at the functions undertaken by NRW, how well they are performing, and whether there might be an alternative. For those who were flooded in Pentre, this public fallout has provided none of the assurances they were promised.

In light of this, and in light of the letter from the WLGA, I would like to request an urgent statement from the Minister for Climate Change, outlining how the Welsh Government intends to address the concerns raised in relation to NRW. I also hope such a statement can reflect on whether the Welsh Government will now commission an urgent independent inquiry into the 2020 floods, looking at all of the reports prepared by each organisation, so that lessons are properly learned and actions taken to mitigate the risk of flooding as far as possible in the future. There must be proper scrutiny of every organisation with responsibility for flood mitigation, which include NRW, Dŵr Cymru, Welsh Government and local authorities. This is not happening at present and needs to be urgently addressed.

14:35

Thank you. I agree with you that there should be proper scrutiny, and that's why we very much welcomed RCT's section 19 report; obviously, NRW had already produced their report. I think there are some concerning findings in the RCT section 19 report. There are clearly lessons that need to be learned following the devastating floods last year, and I think both NRW and RCT have acknowledged that in their respective reports. I am aware that the Minister for Climate Change will be meeting with NRW and RCT, and I'm sure will inform Members of the outcome of those discussions at the most appropriate time.

Leader of the house, I was listening to your response to my colleague from South Wales Central on the Plaid benches regarding the cladding scandal. And this is an issue I've raised on several occasions with you and directly with the Minister as well, and I'm grateful for the Minister's interaction over a period of time now. But there are two things I'd like to seek security over, or information, certainly, over. One is obviously Robert Jenrick's comments over the weekend that, in England certainly, through the Building Safety Bill that was laid in the House of Commons yesterday, the liability window will now be stretched to 15 years, and it will be retrospective. Could you inform us whether the Welsh Government will be taking those powers themselves, so that that would be relevant to home owners here in Wales?

And secondly, when it comes to compensation and the ability of the Welsh Government to identify funds for compensation, I do think it's a matter of urgency that the Welsh Government come forward with a statement on this, and the summer recess shouldn't be a block to that. I'm someone who personally wants to push every time for oral statements, but I do believe, in this instance, that a written statement to inform Members of the progress on this very, very important issue is required, and we shouldn't allow recess to hold over for an eight to nine-week gap until September. So, will the Government commit to bringing forward a written statement as a matter of urgency, so that Members can inform their constituents of the progress on this important matter?

I absolutely agree with you around recess. And I think what I was saying in my previous answer was that there wasn't time—. I think you actually specifically asked me whether we could have an urgent statement next week, and I don't think that that piece of work that I referred to, by the Minister for Climate Change and her officials, will be finished then. But obviously, they are looking at how we develop a funding programme, to make sure we target the right support in a very complex issue. But certainly, if the Minister is able to bring forward a written statement over recess, I'm sure that will be welcomed by Members.

3. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution: The Legislative Programme

The next item is a statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution on the legislative programme. And I call on the Minister to make his statement. Mick Antoniw.

Diolch, Llywydd. Today, I am pleased to make a statement on our legislative programme, an essential part of our ambitious and radical programme for government, to help create a stronger, greener and fairer Wales. Llywydd, often it is our proposals for primary legislation that capture headlines, but this statement sets out a more complex web of legislative matters that will come before the Senedd this year.

The context for this programme is challenging. The enormous impact of Brexit continues. This has already involved Welsh Ministers making over 70 statutory instruments and consent for over 200 UK Government statutory instruments in devolved areas. While we are nearing the end of the first phase of work, incorporating former European Union law into domestic legislation so that it functions following our withdrawal, much more remains to be done to reform and integrate this law with our policies for the post-EU landscape.

The public health emergency remains and the regulations, which have such an unprecedented impact on our lives, will for now at least continue to make commensurate demands on the Government’s policy and legal capacity and the Senedd’s time. Despite the wholly new ways in which the Senedd had to meet and pass legislation, the end of the last term saw us pass major Acts to make momentous changes in education and local government in particular. This term, we must now take forward the implementing secondary legislation, without which the Acts cannot have their intended effect.

Llywydd, we must be conscious that the UK Government has launched an unprecedented set of attacks on the powers and responsibilities of this legislature. The attention we must give collectively to the legislative programme at Westminster is no longer confined to identifying ways improvements in Welsh law could be secured through UK Bills. Rather, we have to interrogate each Bill brought forward for ways it might be used to undermine the integrity of the devolution settlement, or is contrary to Welsh Government policy. This creates another drain on the capacity of the Government and new demands on the scrutiny functions of this legislature.

And then there is the primary legislative programme itself. Llywydd, I will turn to provide further details on this complex and interlocking set of legislative requirements in a moment. But, first, I want to be clear that what I set out today is only the start of the legislative journey of this Senedd. Because of the uncertainties and complexities mentioned, I will focus today on the legislation to come before you in the next year—in Senedd year 1. Provided the public health position improves as we hope, then in next year’s legislative statement we should be in a position to say more about what is planned for later in this Senedd term.

Llywydd, the Government made the difficult decision last year not to introduce two planned Bills, and instead consulted on them in draft, and I thank all those stakeholders who took the time to provide comments, which we have carefully considered, and which I have no doubt will strengthen and improve the Bills we will now introduce.

We have drawn on the experience of working in social partnership during the pandemic as we refined the social partnership and public procurement Bill, which I am delighted to confirm will be brought forward in the first year of this Senedd term. It will create a statutory social partnership council and it will place requirements on Welsh Ministers, and on other bodies, to take action in pursuit of fair work principles, and ensure more socially responsible public procurement.

Following close working with stakeholders, we will also this year introduce the tertiary education and research Bill, which will establish a new commission for tertiary education and research. This is essential to realise our vision for post-compulsory education and training in Wales. It will have extensive funding, planning and regulatory powers, to improve quality, efficiency and efficacy across the PCET and research sector. It will have the interests of learners at its heart, and will work collaboratively with stakeholders and education providers to improve individual and national outcomes. Our long-term programme of education reform will make sure nobody in Wales is left behind after the pandemic, and this legislation will further demonstrate our commitment to lifelong learning.

There will be a Bill to enable changes to the Welsh tax Acts. At present, our powers to amend devolved taxes are not sufficient to respond quickly to unexpected events, such as court judgments, loopholes or changes in equivalent English taxes, which could have a significant impact on the liabilities of individuals and on our revenues. The Bill will provide us with an agile, flexible way of responding, and the Senedd with the opportunity to scrutinise and approve changes.

Following our White Paper last year, we will introduce an agriculture Bill to create a new system of farm support that will maximise the protective power of nature through farming. This will reward farmers who take action to respond to the climate and nature emergencies, supporting them to produce food in a sustainable way. We will replace the time-limited powers in the UK Agriculture Act 2020, which we took to provide continuity and much-needed stability for our farmers as we left the EU. The Bill represents the first stage of our programme of agricultural reform, and we will continue to work closely with stakeholders and farmers on our long-term proposals.

Llywydd, with this new Government comes new duties and, under the Legislation (Wales) Act of 2019, we must prepare a programme to improve the accessibility of Welsh law. I will lay the full programme in the autumn, but I'm pleased to announce that we will introduce our first consolidation Bill this year, bringing together legislation relating to the historic environment. This legislation, much of which is very old, has become increasingly convoluted and can present owners of listed buildings or scheduled monuments with a bewildering challenge that sometimes confounds even legal professionals. The Bill will create distinct, fully bilingual legislation for Wales that is as accessible as possible, and we look forward to working with the Senedd to take this Bill through the new scrutiny process introduced under Standing Order 26C.

Llywydd, in the coming year, we will also fulfil a number of aims from our programme for government through subordinate legislation. This will include making 20 mph the default speed limit in residential areas and banning pavement parking wherever possible.

As I said, we'll bring forward a substantial package of implementing legislation for major Acts passed in the last Senedd, so we will make legislation to support schools and teachers to deliver our radical changes to the curriculum for Wales and a more equitable person-centred system for supporting learners up to the age of 25 with additional learning needs.

We will implement the renting homes Act, a wholesale change to the law governing residential tenancies in Wales. This will improve the right and security of people living in the rented housing sector, prevent retaliatory eviction, ensure dwellings are fit for human habitation, and require that tenants are given written contracts. And we will also bring into effect the provisions of the local government and elections Act ahead of next year's local elections, including getting corporate joint committees up and running, and this will ensure that local members can make decisions together about important local government services for the benefit of citizens and communities in their regions. The Government is committed to reforming local government elections, to reduce the democratic deficit, and we want to see more people registered and more people voting. To deliver this, we will publish a set of principles for electoral reform and begin an ambitious programme of innovations for the 2022 and the 2026 elections. We look forward to working in partnership with local government to deliver a suite of changes both legislative and non-legislative that will demonstrate the value we place on democracy and local government in Wales.

So, this is our programme for the coming year, but our programme for government sets out longer term ambitions requiring legislation. These include abolishing the use of more commonly littered single-use plastics, bringing forward our clean air Act, and addressing building safety to ensure another Grenfell never happens. We will respond to and address the findings and recommendations of the Law Commission's recent review of the outdated framework for managing coal tips. However, as we work with our stakeholders in a spirit of social partnership and co-production to get our legislation right, I do not want to set specific timetables at this point, and, as we have seen in the last year, we never know what might come along and require us to reshape our plans.

Llywydd, our legislative programme does not exist in a vacuum. More than 20 proposals for UK Bills in the Queen's Speech in May are likely to contain provisions relating to devolved areas, which will require this Government and Senedd's consideration. Some, like the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, and the procurement Bill, clearly overlap with proposals I've announced today. We now have to negotiate our way through new restrictions and uncertainties on our powers arising from the internal market Act and deal with a Government that pays little regard to the role of this Senedd and the Sewel convention—something we saw recently as it took a Bill to Royal Assent without waiting for this legislature’s consent because that didn't suit its timetable. But, Llywydd, this will not distract us from delivering our distinctly Welsh programme, founded on our distinctive Welsh values, which I commend to Members today.

14:50

Thank you, Counsel General, for your statement this afternoon, in the absence of the First Minister. As someone who can remember, when I first came into this Chamber back in 2007, when people talked about legislation, we talked about legislative consent motions and consent Orders, and there was no surety as to what exactly could proceed—to now, a fully fledged legislature, where the Government does have the ability to bring legislation forward—this is an important statement, because it's conferring rights on citizens. That's why we pass legislation—it confers rights in legal terms on citizens to expect that in the delivery of services, or the environment, or any other aspect of life here in Wales. So, this statement should be read carefully and concisely, to understand exactly what the Government's aims are over the next year, anyway, that the Counsel General's outlined, but also for the remaining four years after that of this five-year Assembly term.

I would ask that, in the hope that the Counsel General can give us greater clarity at the start of our proceedings this afternoon—. The Presiding Officer touched on the backbench ballot that will happen in September about legislative proposals, and the Government aren't known in this institution for giving much oxygen to backbench legislation, very often killing that legislation at the first hurdle. So, I'd hope that maybe the Counsel General might be more generous today and give an indication that the Government would be supportive of legislative proposals to at least get to Stage 1 in their course here in the Assembly, because I do think it's important that Members do have an opportunity, as well as Government, to bring forward that legislation on important matters that the people of Wales have elected them here to understand and take forward on their behalf.

It is a regret that the legislative statement doesn't include any provisions for an autism Bill, mental health legislation, older people's rights, and there's nothing on planning, nothing on animal welfare, nothing even on the British Sign Language Bill that many of us were campaigning for throughout the Senedd election term that just happened. And again, we've seen a delay in the clean air Bill—'again', I use that word. It was part of the First Minister's election strategy, bid—call it what you will—to become First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour back in 2018, I think it was, and here we are in 2021, and many politicians made a commitment in the first year to bring forward such a piece of legislation, because we do recognise that nearly 2,000 people are dying prematurely here in Wales because of lack of legislation in this important area, and the statement doesn't give us any confidence when we might be able to see that Bill. That is a real concern, that is, because there is cross-party support to allow that legislation to see the light of day. So, I am bemused at why, in the euphoria of the election victory, the Government don't feel energised and empowered enough to come forward with a piece of legislation that this Assembly, this Parliament, should I say, could get stuck into. I would hope that the Counsel General will respond to that, because where is the clean air Bill that was promised in the leadership bid of the current First Minister, but also in manifestos that were put before the people of Wales, including the Welsh Labour manifesto, I might add?

You talk again about stolen powers from this institution, the Welsh Parliament. What are those powers that have been stolen, Counsel General? When I asked the First Minister last week he offered a pretty weak array of free ports, the Sewel convention and fishers. That was the best he could come up with. There has, in fact, been an enhancement of powers in the legislative field because of our leaving of the European Union—70-plus extra powers have come back to this Welsh Parliament and, by association, to the Welsh Government. So, come on—come through with something a bit stronger, or stop this myth that powers have been stolen from the Welsh Government. 

You talk about innovations ahead of the 2022 local government elections. That's only some nine months away, Counsel General. I'd be very pleased to try and understand what these innovations might entail, because I'm unaware of what innovations the Government has in mind, and I think we're deserving of a fuller explanation than just the word 'innovations' in the statement.

When it comes to the agricultural Bill that has been highlighted in the statement this afternoon, will you confirm that food security is at the heart of that Bill, because that is an important caveat in any support and legislative change that is needed in the agricultural sector. I hope that you will be in a position to confirm such momentum in the Government's thinking on its legislative proposals around the agricultural Bill. 

Finally, can the Counsel General confirm—and this isn't a dig at the Government, because I think it's a genuine concern, because the First Minister did touch on this in the closing months of the last Parliament—that there are capacity issues because of, obviously, the regulations that have to be laid because of the COVID crisis, around the legislative capacity of the Government? And I'd be pleased to understand what measures the Government have put in place to allow a legislative programme to come forward. We can disagree on that programme, but it is important that we can understand and have confidence that the Government does have the capacity to bring forward legislative proposals that it committed to in its manifesto, rather than, at the end of the five-year term, looking back and suddenly realising that two, three, four, five or six of those proposals haven't seen the light of day because of the capacity issues within Welsh Government, and I say that, hopefully, in a helpful way, not in a detracting way. Thank you, Counsel General.

14:55

Well, I thank the leader of the opposition for those comments. If I could deal with them as you've gone through them, I think, in a constructive way.

In respect of the issue of backbench ballots, these are clearly an important part of the operation of this Parliament, and clearly the selection and taking forward of such legislation is really a matter for the Senedd rather than the Government itself.

In terms of planning, you'll be aware of the Law Commission work that has gone on with a view to the possibility of bringing forward a planning consolidation Bill, and that is obviously something that is under consideration, and when I table my report on the accessibility of Welsh law and the issues around codification, I hope to be able to refer specifically to that.

In terms of a clean air Bill, it is an absolute commitment of this Government to introduce a clean air Bill. There is an issue of prioritisation in respect of the work that takes place in this first year. I made comments in my introduction of the legislative programme, really to the particular demands in respect of the broader framework of legislation that's occurring as a result of UK Bills, as a result of Brexit, as a result of COVID. But I'm very adamant that one of the things that we have to ensure is that, when we pass legislation, we have a clear timetable and implementation strategy in respect of that legislation, because until you have implementation, the primary legislation does not have the full effect and meaning that we want it to have. So, for example, in areas around renting homes, we know that there are over 20 major pieces of subsidiary legislation that will need to be worked on and need to be brought forward, and the same is true in many other areas. So, one of the reasons for adopting this particular approach in respect of identifying our first year, but then also preparing work and further statements in due course on years 2 and 3 and the future programme of legislation, is to ensure that what we have done is prioritise what we really do need to do now, what we really need to do in terms of implementation and some of the major pieces of legislation we need to start now, but that doesn't mean, of course, that work isn't going on in other areas, because the tabling of a piece of legislation is really the end product of an enormous amount of work that takes place. So, I think it's important that we actually have regard for that.

In terms of innovation in local government and around elections, well, of course, you're right that there is a very short period of time in respect of the local government elections, and there is of course the Gould convention, which requires that any changes to legislation are implemented six months prior to the election itself. So, this constrains some of the things that can be done. But there are, of course, things within the existing powers that can be implemented. They can relate to the actual design and operation of the ballot forms themselves. We know that there were some 7,000 ballots that were incorrectly filled in, and, of course, existing legislation does not allow those ballots to actually be returned. So, there are issues on how we ensure there are fewer errors made within the voting system. I think there are steps that can be taken to actually improve and enhance registration for elections, and I think there may even be an opportunity in respect of powers to implement pilots—pilots that themselves, nevertheless, would involve a considerable amount of legislative work, but might involve things like, for example, a pilot on voting in schools and having ballot boxes there. That's something that has been discussed. Some of these are items that were discussed prior to the Senedd elections, but there wasn't time for implementation. So, all those areas.

In respect of food security, I think the Minister and the Government have made clear many times how important that is, and, of course, there'll be further details on the agriculture Bill—the content and the passage of that.

And then, perhaps, on the final point that you raised with regard to capacity, well, I dealt with that, to some extent, in my introduction and in response to your comments. I'm very aware of those particular demands. There might be demands in respect of legislation in respect of Senedd reform. There will be demands, no doubt, in respect of legislation that would come from this floor, from this Senedd, in terms of individual Member Bills. So, that is something that I'm very alert to, but very alert to not only the implementation demands but the very considerable demands and the change of tack and prioritisation we have to take now in actually looking very, very closely at UK Government Bills and the concerns we have about those areas where they begin to encroach in respect of our devolved responsibilities.

15:00

Thank you for your statement, Counsel General. There are a number of things contained within it that we in Plaid Cymru could agree with.

A majority of us in this place are concerned about the so-called muscular unionism of the Conservative Party in Westminster, or shall we call it as it is—English nationalist tendency of the Boris Johnson Westminster Government? Plaid Cymru will stand firm with the Welsh Government against the attempt by those over there to overturn the democracy we have here in Wales—the trojan horse of the UK internal market Act. I'm glad to see further attempts to make Welsh law accessible—a problem legal professionals face, let alone laypeople. I'm also glad, finally, to see the implementation of the renting homes Act, a piece of legislation that was passed back in 2016. Why on earth did it take so long to implement that important piece of legislation? You mentioned that this will bring an end to retaliatory evictions—good news—but it's disappointing that, last week, you brought to an end the legal protection against no-fault evictions. The Counsel General rightly points out the pressures facing the Government, with Brexit and the COVID pandemic. However, there's one piece missing from your legislative jigsaw, and that is legislation dealing with the climate emergency. 

Llywydd, many of us here in the Senedd and outwith the Senedd are extremely disappointed that the clean air Bill is not contained within your statement today.

My colleague Delyth Jewell and I tabled a statement of opinion on Clean Air Day on 17 June, calling on the Welsh Government to bring a clean air Act into force this year. That had cross-party support. Why don't you get on with it? The Tories are more progressive than Welsh Government on this point. We need action. You mentioned prioritisation; well, we need action on the climate emergency now. That should be a priority and Welsh Government should be ashamed that the Conservatives are more forward than you on this matter.

The Act would encourage the use of low-emission vehicles with fast charging points to replace more polluting vehicles; create clean air zones in towns and cities; allow pollution-monitoring equipment outside of schools and hospitals; enable local authorities to introduce pollution and congestion charges. What's more important than that, Counsel General? Our future generations cannot be starved of clean air, so we really need urgency now from the Welsh Government; we need action.

There is nothing, either, in the statement on environmental governance legislation, despite it being part of the Plaid Cymru motion last week—a motion you supported. Warm words simply aren't enough to tackle global warming. We need to think globally but act locally here by legislating here in the Senedd. Token efforts aren't good enough.

We need a clean air Act to legally protect the people and citizens of our nation. The campaigners wanted the Bill introduced in the first 100 days of this Senedd. Well, we'll be lucky to have it in the first 100 weeks, the way you're dragging your feet.

15:05

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Another issue I know constituents in Cardiff and elsewhere feel very strongly about is building safety. We have people a stone's throw away from here in the Senedd who aren't sleeping at night. People are crippled with anxiety—people in fear for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. Why isn't there anything in this legislative statement about building safety? Why are we allowing people's lives to stay on hold? 

There is no legislation in this to reform our transport system, essential as we build back better after COVID and important in our fight against the climate emergency.

There's a great deal of talk about subordinate legislation in your statement, but language rights haven't been created since 2018. So, will you pledge that there will be enhanced language rights introduced? There's no mention of a Welsh education Act, which is crucial if we are to reach a million Welsh speakers.

The truth, Counsel General, is that your plan is light on detail and is weak. It's no surprise; in the Scottish Parliament, in the previous Parliament, they passed 63 pieces of legislation, and we only passed 17. You have a mandate now—you have the mandate to act radically to intervene in the housing market, to provide social care and to take steps to tackle child poverty, which is a national embarrassment, and should embarrass you as a Government too. There is a clear mandate for you now to introduce radical changes. Don't miss that opportunity. We will scrutinise you every step of the way in order for you to create the radical new Wales that we need. Thank you.

I thank the Member for that very detailed contribution, and many of the comments I actually welcome. In the 10 or 11 years now that I've been a Senedd Member, I don't think I've attended a single legislative programme debate where the debate doesn't start off with how dissatisfied the opposition are with the volume of legislation, with the quality of legislation, and why it is taking so long. I often understand those particular points. I have to say, as Counsel General, one of my concerns is the quality of legislation, rather than quantity; also, looking at things that can be done without legislation. As the Member, I'm sure, will know, 'legislate in haste, repent at leisure'. We've seen much legislation, certainly at UK Government level, that has fallen within that category.

Can I just say, on the muscular unionism issue that he raises, that it's a phrase that is used to represent what I think is a real concern about a Government that is not listening or is in denial about the fact that there is a major constitutional problem; that is in denial, really, about the internal market Act? I should, perhaps, say that the Government isn't in denial about it, because I think the UK Government knew exactly what it was doing when it introduced that particular legislation. As I have reported already in a written statement, and, I think, in answers to questions, we've been granted leave to appeal to challenge aspects of that, and we await a date in respect of that. I will report to Members on that in due course.

I welcome very much the Member's comments on accessibility, because the accessibility of Welsh law—which I see in terms of the availability to be able to find it, to have it properly codified, to have it clear and available—is really important in terms of the growth and generation of the Welsh judicial system and the establishment of a Welsh judicial structure. It is also important, though, in terms of the areas, as he will know from the Thomas commission report, that we should have devolved to us and those areas that we should have responsibility for, which, actually, relate to the citizens of Wales and their ability to access the law. There is no point having the best laws in the world if people either don't know where they are or what they say, or, as importantly, they cannot access those particular laws.

He raised the issue of the renting homes Act, and I agree with him. In 2016 we planted what I think is an exemplar piece of legislation, giving rights to tenants and in many other housing areas. We’ve had the issue of Brexit and we’ve had the issue of COVID, and I think it would be a mistake to underestimate the actual scale of demand and legislation that has sidelined the ability to do some of the things that we wanted to do in the last Senedd. But that is one of the reasons why I specifically referred in my statement today to implementation and how the implementation is as important as primary legislation and new primary legislation. And as I’ve said, without that implementation, all those rights that are contained within the primary legislation are of little value. So, the point you make there is absolutely fair and correct. That is a priority, and I’ve already indicated the scale of implementation legislative work that is going to be required.

In respect of the issue of the environment and climate change, the clean air Act is a clear commitment. It was a manifesto commitment. It is really under consideration. If I could have got it into this first five-year programme, I would have done. But it does not mean that work is not ongoing on that. The commitment to that and the commitment to the plastic tax, as I’ve mentioned, are already there. I think it’s also reflected, when one talks about commitment to environmental issues, in the fact that we’ve had a major structural reform in the operation of the Welsh Government by the appointment of a Minister for Climate Change. That, I think, is very, very significant. I think we should also say, in terms of the environment, that work is going on in respect of the incorporation or the implementation of environmental principles into legislation, and that is an area that is going to be looked at as well.

In terms of Welsh language standards and the point that you raised there—. I should say, in some of the legislation, one of the advantages we have, of course, is ensuring that some of our legislation is bilingual, and one of the consolidation impacts is actually that we actually do that—that we actually ensure that we do implement our commitment to bilingualism in the legislative framework. On Welsh language standards, we are very keen to look in detail at the impact that standards have on the use of Welsh. And I think further to that, we want to ensure that we use our legal resources in the most effective way. So, if legal resources are available, we want to consider the amount of work to be done to introduce any regulations alongside the policy priorities as well, and that is a matter that inevitably is going to be the subject of considerable further debate and, I’m sure, in respect of future legislative statements.

Just one further point, in terms of building safety. That is very much on board; there are intentions of introducing legislation with regard to building safety. It’s a question of the consideration now of the second and third-year programmes, and also looking ahead as well. I think the Member will understand why I’ve adopted the approach in respect of ensuring that in our first Senedd year we prioritise those things that we have to do, that we need to do.

I’d make one further comment, I suppose, because it wasn’t particularly raised, but I know it fits within the general framework of discussion—the importance of the social partnership Bill that we will be bringing forward. Thank you, Deputy Llywydd.

15:10

I just wanted to press you a little bit on how we could improve and enhance electoral registration, because it seems to me that one of the most important things is that everybody is entitled to take part in elections, because if we have a large number of people not taking part, it really does undermine the democratic mandate of whoever is elected. So, this seems to me to be absolutely crucial to ensure that it’s made easy. If only we could cross-reference who’s on the electoral register with other bureaucratic transactions that citizens have to conduct, for example relating to renewing their driving licence and things like that. It would certainly enhance our ability to have accurate electoral registration, because I know, in my constituency, at least 20 per cent of the register is no longer at the place that they’re registered. So, it’s a huge problem, but one that we really do need to address.

On the business about clean air, I am also disappointed, certainly, because I really want to test the enthusiasm of the opposition parties to really want to go ahead with clean air. There are two issues here, two contributors: one is industry—

15:15

—and their activities, and I can understand the reticence of the Government to want to add to the challenges that industry is facing as a result of Brexit and the tsunami, and COVID, but one of the things we really, really need—as well as the 20 mph default speed in residential areas, which is a huge contribution to clean air, but we also need to reregulate our buses, if we are going to provide really clear and affordable opportunities for people to leave their car at home for regular journeys.

I'd like to thank the Member for those comments, and I am very much in agreement with the comments she made with regard to improving electoral registration. The crux of the problem, really, is that our electoral registration and legislation and regulations are archaic. They consist, in numerous places, of numerous amendments and ad hocs, over many, many years, and are desperately in need of reform—a reform of electoral administration, but also a modernisation of elections. I think one of the areas that we will want to be looking at, really, is the principles of electoral reform, which have got to be around the maximisation of opportunity, transparency, as well as robustness in respect of elections.

Some of the areas of things that we may be able to do, over the coming months, relate to possibly registration. It was certainly disappointing, wasn't it, the number of registrations of 16+ voters—you know, approximately 50 per cent registered. Not all voted, but this is a first-time vote; we know that that sometimes has impacts on long-term voting. But we clearly do want to see how that can actually be improved, and it may be that it's an issue of resource. So, that's an area we're going to look at. Looking at the correctability, or the improvement, of the forms themselves, so they're more easily understood; voting in more than one venue. And we're looking, certainly, at the possibility of a pilot there that would require a legislative Order, but that may be a possibility. In the longer term, the crux of it, really, isn't it, is digitisation of the electoral register, which opens so many doors in terms of opportunities.

In terms of the comments you make on clean air: those are perfectly valid, and, as I've said, if it was possible to have brought the clean air Act into this first Senedd year, we would have done so, but you have an absolute commitment that there will be a clean air Bill, just as there will be a single-use plastics Bill. And, as there will be further legislation, then I'm sure it will be considered by the Minister for Climate Change.

And the point you made on buses, I'm sure it was very clear: there had been a hope to introduce legislation in the last Senedd, but, clearly, this comes very much within the portfolio ambit of the Minister for Climate Change, and transport is one of the reasons for those being brought together, I'm sure.

Jane Dodds. No, you're still muted, Jane. Can you wait a second? Thank you. Now you can start.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. Just following up on some of the points that Jenny Rathbone raised: I'm encouraged to see your commitment to electoral reform, to reduce the democratic deficit. And I'm sure you are as concerned as I am over the UK Conservative Government proposal to disenfranchise voters, under plans unveiled only on Monday, that will force people to carry identification to cast a ballot. This voter suppression across the UK could lead to more than 2 million voters lacking that voter ID to take part in elections. These plans will make it harder for working-class, older, and black and minority Asian groups to vote.

I welcome your comments on this proposal by the UK Conservative Government, and I hope that your programme will be committed to fair and accessible voting by everyone, no matter what their background is, or access, to voting ID. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Can I thank the Member for those comments? They are comments I almost in entirety agree with. Just to say to her, in respect of the issues of electoral reform, as Counsel General, I have met with the Electoral Commission, I have met with the Electoral Reform Society. The issue of reform is very much an important issue that needs to be considered. One of the issues, not just in terms of reforming and modernising the electoral administration system is potentially also the opportunity to actually codify it and to have it in one place. I have to say, as Counsel General, this is the first time I've actually had to look at it, and I'm dumbfounded at the complexity and the archaic nature of that. 

In respect of the points you make about the UK Government's electoral reform legislation, the issue of ID cards is not something that we'll have any traction with; this is not an issue that we will support. As I said in questions last week, there is no evidence to justify making this change and putting these hurdles in. In the entirety of the UK, I think there were six complaints that were taken forward and resulted in convictions or action being taken—two of those, I think, were cautions. So, there is no evidential base for it, and it begs the question as to why the measure is actually being introduced. You raise the issue of voter suppression; people will form their views on that. All I can say is Welsh Government's position is ID cards are not something we have any sympathy or interest in.

15:20

I welcome the Welsh Government's programme; fair work rights are long overdue. I hope that the social partnership Bill will ensure that companies who engage in fire and rehire, and who have exploitative contracts paying less that the real living wage, will not get public sector contracts. I welcome the taxation Bill to enable a quick end to tax-evasion loopholes—I have previously asked for that. I assume that the no-detriment rule on taxation and other changes caused by Westminster will continue. Twenty-mile per hour zones—very much welcome. In large parts of my constituency, you'll be driving dangerously if you travel over 20 mph, and likely to have a head-on collision. Local government having the ability to formally have regional economic partnerships is very helpful. We've now set up the four regions in Wales; having regional economic partnership is something that can only help drive Wales forward. And finally, in 2021, we are making sure rented homes are fit for human habitation—something that some of us have asked for ever since we arrived here.

I thank Mike Hedges for the comments he's raised, and, of course, he has raised on many occasions during the debates in the Senedd in the last term, but also even this year. Referring to the social partnership and procurement Bill, this is a long-standing commitment that has been made. I think it, potentially, is one of the most radical and foresighted pieces of legislation, particularly in the post-COVID arena where we talk about doing things differently and doing things better, and that must mean, I think, using procurement as a means of driving forward those socioeconomic objectives, which are devolved to us, which are our responsibility, and I think we would be irresponsible not to take those opportunities in order to do that.

Fire and rehire has been one of the disgraces that has emerged out of the COVID pandemic in the way certain employers—and I say 'certain' because many employers have acted with absolute integrity in terms of their workforce and their businesses. But fire and rehire, unfortunately, is an area that comes within the reserved area of employment law, and is an area where there have been calls, from the Labour opposition and others, for a change in legislation to realign the balance in terms of the rights of workers against the interests and opportunities of businesses to take advantage of the pandemic. But, certainly, in terms of the social partnership Bill, one of the objectives is to identify socioeconomic objectives, and, obviously, the conduct of employers in terms of environment, in terms of health, in terms of equality and in terms of many areas that are devolved, in terms of the implementation of section 1 that we implemented of the Equality Act 2010, are factors that will be taken into account in terms of achievement of those socioeconomic objectives. Obviously, a lot of work is going on at the moment in respect of the consultation that has concluded with regard to the social partnership Bill that we'd hope to have tabled before the end of the Senedd year.

In respect of the no-detriment rule, well, we have to absolutely defend that—that if there are changes to taxation arrangements at UK level that impact on the finances of this Senedd, then those have to be compensated for. I welcome the comments you make in respect of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and the protection of tenants and the rights therein, and I think I've already made those comments about the absolute importance of the prioritisation of the implementation of that legislation.

15:25

Thank you to the Counsel General for your statement this afternoon. But it's disappointing not to see legislation on older persons' rights in your programme. You may remember, during my Member's legislation debate last week, your Government indicated that, although you support my proposals for a rights-based approach to services for older people, you'd be bringing forward your own legislation. So, Counsel General, why are there no proposals for your human rights Act, and do you think it's fair that older people should have to wait in order to have their rights protected? Thank you very much.

Thank you for that question. I won't respond in respect of the issue with regard to Senedd Bills, because I think that is, appropriately, a matter for this Parliament to determine. But you do raise issues in respect of human rights. I would, of course, remind the Member that it's his Government that has been making all sorts of efforts and noises that it wants to abolish the Human Rights Act 1998 and has withdrawn us from all sorts of international agreements and conventions that actually promote and support human rights. There have been calls in recent years for the Welsh Government to undertake legislative activity to strengthen and advance equality and human rights in Wales, particularly in the context of the UK's exit from the EU and the COVID pandemic.

But we need to be clear about some of the things that we have done in terms of those rights with regard to equality: the implementation of section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which the UK Government in Westminster still refuses to implement; the review of specific duties under the public sector equality duty to ensure they're up to date, protective and effective; the work we are doing in conjunction with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales to review PSED monitoring and reporting arrangements; work that is going on in respect of advancing the gender equality action plan, the race equality action plan, the LGBT+ report and action plan; lockdown—liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales beyond that. Also, perhaps something that will touch more on some of the points that the Member raised, research has been commissioned in order to explore the options available in taking forward the work of strengthening and advancing equality and human rights in Wales. The aim is to develop a clear understanding of the existing legislation and statutory guidance frameworks, the issue of the United Nations' various conventions and how they might be incorporated or engaged with in regard to Welsh law with a view to considering the possibility of the introduction of new legislation. And, again, of course, you'll be aware of the work done in respect of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and also the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.

So, we are working to develop that area. The research report is nearing completion, and it will be distributed to Ministers shortly. It is research that's been carried out by consortia, led by Swansea University, since January 2020, and when that report is available, I'm sure there will be an opportunity to discuss all those opportunities in terms of how we may use the powers that we have in order to improve issues such as the one raised by the Member, but the many more equality issues that exist that we wish to tackle.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, you've caused great excitement, I think, for potential members of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, reminding us of the scale of legislation and of statutory instruments flowing as a result of EU withdrawal, and also the pandemic as well. It'll certainly keep us quite busy, in addition to your proposals around consolidation of aspects of Welsh law as well. 

But can I just turn to some of those aspects here that I would definitely welcome—things like the social partnership and public procurement Bill, the tertiary education and research Bill, and the renting homes Act? I think all of us would really welcome those, but—and there's always a 'but' coming—as Chair of the cross-party group on the clean air Act, can I just urge him please to, first of all, bring forward an early statement from Government colleagues on what actions can be taken now without waiting for legislation to actually deliver real progress, tangible progress, on clean air and quality of life and saving lives?

Secondly, we note his commitment—absolute commitment, he said—to delivering this. And he said, 'If I could get it into this legislative programme, I would have done.' Well, in which case, give the commitment, then, to work with campaigners, and with the CPG as well, to get it really ready to roll within the next legislative announcements that you make in year 2, and, in that year 2, just make the announcement then and let's get on with it—along with, by the way, echoing Jenny, the bus Bill. Sometimes you wait for two good pieces of legislation and they come along at once. Let's have them both in the next announcement. 

15:30

I thank Huw Irranca for those comments, and I also congratulate you and welcome your appointment as Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee—I apologise, the name changed slightly, didn't it, et cetera, but that is such a vital committee to the functioning of the legislative work of this Senedd, often underestimated, sometimes referred to as a committee for legislative geeks, but, as we've said many, many times, without those legislative geeks, the programme of legislation would not run in the way it should, and certainly not without the scrutiny that there is, as well as the additional work that you will undoubtedly be doing in terms of the interparliamentary forum, which I think is really important in terms of some of the constitutional issues that are emerging and will need to be engaged upon. 

I find it difficult to give much more commitment than I already have in respect of the environmental legislations. They are there in the Welsh Labour manifesto. There are the absolute commitments that we will implement our manifesto promises, that we will look more broadly at environmental issues in a whole range of areas. We will also, as was very clear from that manifesto, look at a whole variety of areas that actually don't need legislation in order to make changes, and I think that was a point that you were making a little bit earlier. And in terms of the issue of a statement from the Minister for Climate Change, I'm sure she is listening with enthusiasm to the opportunity to make that statement at the appropriate time. 

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

Plenary was suspended at 15:33.

15:40

The Senedd reconvened at 15:43, with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

4. Statement by the Minister for Climate Change: Affordability, Second Homes and the Welsh Language

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Climate Change on affordability, second homes and the Welsh language, and I call on the Minister to make her statement. Julie James. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There has been considerable coverage and debate over recent months about second homes and, beyond that, affordable housing for young people in Wales. We are keenly aware of the challenges being faced and have already made clear strides towards addressing these. However, we can and will do more. In undertaking this work, we have listened to and acted on calls from communities across Wales. We have held cross-party discussions, and our clear determination to address the challenges being faced is reflected in our programme for government and in ministerial commitments.

We have welcomed the excellent work and clear recommendations from Dr Simon Brooks in his report, 'Second homes: developing new policies in Wales'. Indeed, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language and I have written to Dr Brooks, setting out our response and outlining our next steps. Llywydd, this is a Government determined to take real and ambitious action, and today I am setting out our three-pronged approach to addressing the challenges facing our communities.

Much of the second home debate has focused on a number of our Welsh-speaking communities, chiefly in rural and coastal parts of the country. We know there is a real and serious linguistic dimension to this challenge. It's one that cuts across our commitment to Cymraeg 2050 and the critical importance of ensuring the vitality of Welsh as a community language. As well as significant linguistic considerations, a core part of the issue being faced is affordable housing in general, and not just in Wales, but in many parts of the UK and indeed beyond.

Building on our outstanding success in the last term, when we exceeded our affordable homes target, our programme for government reflects this continued commitment to deliver 20,000 new homes across Wales. Crucially, these will be low-carbon properties for rent in the social sector. In support of this commitment, we have almost doubled our financial investment this year—an ambitious and profoundly significant investment by any reckoning, and one that will offer a clear, tangible benefit to local people and to their communities. 

We are also committed to developing effective tax, planning and housing measures to ensure that the interests of local people are protected. And we are not turning away from our distinct position on land transaction tax for second home purchases. In all of this, we will protect the particular interests of our Welsh language communities through a Welsh language communities housing plan, while retaining a hold on affordability across all communities in Wales.

The three-pronged approach is the start of real and concerted action to fairly manage second homes over this Senedd term, while also ensuring everyone has access to good-quality and affordable housing. First, support: to address issues of affordability, we will target and tailor our existing housing programmes across tenures. In doing this, we will draw on experiences of rolling out successful programmes such as homebuy, and promoting the sort of creative solutions we have seen in many parts of Wales. Over this coming summer, my officials will put together a package that we can start to trial. We’ll evaluate it thoroughly so that we can be assured it makes a clear, quantifiable difference.

Secondly, our regulatory framework and the system. To address the issue of second homes, we will provide for better management of additional second homes and short-term holiday lets through changes to the regulatory framework and system. Parts of the system need to change, and we will change them. We will establish a statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation, including short-term lets. We will consider the legal complexities of how we can test changes to the planning system, and I am also determined that all systems either in place or explored will champion social justice.

And third, a fairer contribution, so that national and local taxation systems ensure that second home owners make a fair and effective contribution to the communities in which they buy. As part of this work, we are looking very closely at circumstances in which certain properties can be transferred to the non-domestic rating list and, as a result, be sometimes liable for neither council tax nor non-domestic rates. That simply cannot be right and we will bring forward proposals to address this scenario. We know that second home owners can and often do support local economies and we cherish our reputation as a welcoming society. It is important though that all in Wales make a fair contribution. That is why we are reviewing local tax arrangements and, over the summer, we will bring forward options for consultation.

None of this is straightforward of course, which is something Dr Brooks also recognises. However, that will not deter us. We will pilot our approaches, working with partners, over the summer. We have already received one offer to take part in a pilot and I have written to invite further scoping discussions. Our actions in this area represent bold, cross-Government working. Ministers across the Welsh Government have been and will continue to be involved. We have established a cross-portfolio task group, and will continue our dialogue across parties. As I have said previously, no one party has the monopoly on good ideas.

Over the summer we will work with stakeholders to agree the basis and location or locations for an evaluated pilot; develop a coherent and effective support package to trial within the pilot; begin to develop a statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation and continue to engage with stakeholders on the shape of the model we will implement, including both the registration and inspection arrangements. We will consult on possible changes to local taxes to support local authorities in managing the impact of second homes and self-catered accommodation, and we will establish a draft Welsh language communities housing plan for consultation in the autumn. I hope that Members will support us as we get to work on this challenging but very important issue. Diolch, Llywydd.

15:45

I'll start off my contribution by just saying how disappointed, yet again, I am as a returned Member of this Senedd. I am part of your task group. Mabon and I have met with you, as Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservatives, for two sessions now, and yet here we are, we find that the announcement was broken to the press yesterday. And Llywydd, I would just ask—. This is becoming quite an important issue. Members—new Members in particular—are saying to me, 'Is this how it works in the Senedd?', and I say, 'No, it isn't.' So, I would just ask all Ministers to work with their officials and ensure that, when we do return in September, such important business as this is conducted here, with respect to our elected Members, and not done through the media. Diolch.

Now, clearly, this is too important an issue for us to do any petty political squabbling, so I want to see us genuinely working across the board. And it's fair to say that the report by Dr Simon Brooks does make for some interesting reading, and it does raise some important points, including that

'there is little evidence that second homes are the main cause of high house prices as opposed to buyers moving to these areas to reside there'

permanently; having fewer second homes would not change the fact that local buyers have to compete with buyers from outside the area; an expansion of housing stock without due diligence would be bound to encourage significant population movement from other parts of the UK to linguistically sensitive areas; and local people are unable to compete in the housing market against buyers from outside the community.

So, if this Senedd is truly committed to co-operating cross-party on the housing crisis, I ask you, Minister, once again to agree to restoring the right to buy in Wales and reinvesting those sale proceeds. For every one house sold, three new units can be built. Do you agree with me that by acting on the finding by Dr Brooks that second homes are in fact a regional and a local problem— they're not necessarily a national problem—we could pursue the right to buy and reinvestment of sale proceeds in the wards most significantly impacted by second homes and, in doing so, create more homes for our locals? Our right-to-buy solution would be such a huge benefit to areas like Abersoch and Aberdaron, which have an income to house price affordability ratio of 10.7:1.

Following the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, local authorities have the right to charge a local tax premium of up to 100 per cent on second homes. Local authorities have been extremely hesitant to increase premiums, and there are justifiable reasons for this. There's this complete underacknowledgement of the benefits that some of our holiday homes, our second homes, contribute to our local economies. Certainly in Aberconwy, they provide jobs, they provide support for our economy, and I'm totally against these high premiums. So, will you explain why you think using further national and local taxation systems will be effective in combating the impact of second homes? We all want more detail as to what taxation measures you have in mind, but I don't believe that this is an issue you can simply tax your way out of.

You know what I said behind the scenes in our meetings: I believe that now it's time we worked across the whole industry and sector. We need to work with our landlords and our tenants; we need to work with our housing providers, the registered social landlords, the private sector landlords, and we need to work with those in the holiday-let industry. People have been vilified, almost, now for having a second home, and I know in my own constituency, the number—. I had a housing mini-conference on Friday, where I was told categorically by those working in the industry that there are now fewer homes available, because people are withdrawing from the sector in favour of Airbnbs, in favour of holiday lets. I think we need to actually look at this with a very multifaceted approach. And I think also we've got to just tone down some of the hostile language I'm hearing in this debate—not by you, I might add, as a Government.

I'm happy to work with you, very keen to work with you; I want to ensure that our locals have that accommodation that they so badly need, but as I say, it's not going to be solved overnight. I think Dr Simon Brooks has made that point: it's going to take time to turn that big ship around. We need to start, but those conversations need to start cross-party across this Senedd. Diolch, Llywydd.

15:50

Thank you very much, Janet. On the media points, I take your point; I want to make very certain that Members of the Senedd have the information first, so we've taken some pains to make sure that Members of the Senedd have the copy of the letter going back to Dr Simon Brooks today and that spokespeople had the oral statement early on. I take the point entirely, so we will certainly work with the cross-party group on that.

There are some real complexities here, aren't there? So, one of the big things that we want to be able to do is work with everyone to understand what the definitions of these various terms are. A second home, a home that's occupied by somebody who isn't from the community, a home that's occupied by somebody that works in the community but returns somewhere else at the weekend, a home that's partly occupied by somebody and partly let out; there is a vast number of different ways of doing this. So, some of the issues are definitional, and I certainly do not want to put anyone into the vilified space. Everyone makes a contribution, we just need to ensure that it's a fair contribution.

I don't agree with you on the right to buy. There are a whole host of issues around right to buy, not least that we haven't got enough social housing, so selling some of it off doesn't make any sense. But also, of course, the only way that people can afford to buy the social homes they live in is to buy them at substantial discounts, and the discount price does not produce enough money to build the next lot of social homes. I think you're severely underestimating, unfortunately, how much money that actually takes. So, there are real issues with that.

What we do need to do is make sure that we build enough social homes for rent so that people who want them can have them, and so I think we are agreed on that part of it. I am, of course, very determined to do that, and to make sure that we build them in the right place, for the right community access to those social homes as well. We have the housing crisis we've discussed in this Senedd a number of times now, Llywydd, which would take—. Each one of them is a debate in its own right. But I'm very happy to engage across party on a number of solutions to that.

The last thing I want to say is just on the issue of working with the landlords. We are determined to put a registration scheme in place for holiday lets. Some of the issues are that it's more difficult to be a permanent landlord than it is to be a temporary one, so that needs to be addressed, and we need to be sure that people are adhering to the right standards and the right tax regimes and all the rest of it. So, we will be doing that, and I'm very happy, Janet, to work with you to make sure that that's both proportionate and produces the results that we both want.

15:55

Thank you very much, Minister, for this statement. I also want to put on record how disappointed I was to see that this statement had been made public to the media yesterday evening, and that you were in St David's filming yesterday, and that we'd heard nothing about it until today. But I trust that that will not happen again.

If I could first of all look at the statement in general terms, as you've mentioned, this Senedd has already passed a motion stating that there is a housing crisis. You'll remember us doing that some three weeks ago, and in fairness, you as a Government didn't oppose that motion—in fact, you supported it. The second homes crisis is just one symptom of a far deeper crisis that is facing communities the length and breadth of Wales. It means that people from Anglesey to Monmouthshire can't afford to buy homes in their own communities. I mentioned in that debate some weeks ago that this is a result of a housing market run wild, and Government after Government that fear intervention in the market to ensure that houses are homes rather than a financial investment or a luxury status symbol to be enjoyed occasionally.

But now to the details of your statement. I'm pleased to see the statement providing a little more detail than what was put forward in the media. I welcome the fact that there is recognition at last that there is a problem facing our communities—in this case, Welsh-speaking communities. But the pledges, and the commitment to further consultation, half promises and further delay, do lead one to think that the Government doesn't really appreciate the real gravity of the situation. It's not a problem, it's a crisis.

The statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation is to be welcomed. At last we will have improved data and detailed information as to who is actually running a legal business and who is trying to play the system. This could assist us in trying to close the loophole that enables people to convert their housing to business rates. I welcome the fact that you have committed to looking at that loophole. But in order to save you from wasting any more time on consultation yet again, I will inform you right now that the Association of Accounting Technicians has already looked at this issue, and has made recommendations to the Westminster Government, and the Westminster Government, under the Conservatives in England, is looking to close this very loophole already. So, why won't you take action on this immediately?

You mentioned trialling change of use within planning in order to create a new section for short-term lets. Well, why trial this? We don't need a pilot period. There is already precedent in place for this with homes in multiple occupation. We don't need new legislation, we don't need to waste any more time looking at piloting things. You must be brave and take action. Will you, therefore, commit to taking action on this as soon as possible?

More concerning yet is the ambiguity in your words in talking about trialling a new section for second homes, because you are talking about looking at the potential of trialling such a programme within planning regulations. Don't waste any more time. I know that there are concerns and doubts about this policy, but learn from other nations. Governments in Switzerland are taking action on this already, and are doing so successfully. Will you reach out to nations such as Switzerland to learn those lessons from them? The time has come to take considered steps in favour of our communities and those people who have elected us. You will get our support to take action. Some of our communities have been lost and others are on their knees. I urge you to take action. We don't need to consider the potential or conduct further pilots. Nefyn town council has already opened the door to you. Take that opportunity to work with them and other communities who are crying out for support.

Finally, I am pleased to see that you are talking about looking at land transaction tax, but again, there is no clear commitment. The experiences of other nations demonstrate clearly that increasing similar taxes on the purchase of second or third homes is an assistance and does ensure some control of the market. Do something about it. You can do this without even making any changes to legislation. We don't need any further delay. House prices are shooting up before our very eyes, and young people are having to leave their communities or live in second-class accommodation. Unless you take steps to take action now, then we will see more communities lost, and more people moving from their communities. We have no time to waste. Take action now. Thank you.

16:00

Diolch, Mabon. I understand the passion that you bring to this and the frustration of people who aren't in Government about the reason that we have to pilot and consult on things, but the reason is because we must consult on changes to the rules; otherwise we will be judicially reviewed, and the process will slow right down. So, I share your frustration, but we must consult on it. We must make sure that we have a range of views in place and that it's a genuine consultation. We will certainly be consulting on the changes to the planning rules. 

One of the things I particularly want to have a look at, though, is whether we have to have a one-size-fits-all. It's a particularly complex part of planning law, but I would very much like to—. Well, we're taking advice on whether we can have particular planning rules in particular communities, which are not necessary elsewhere in Wales, and so we don't have to force particular change-of-use-type arrangements on areas that don't need to have that kind of control, particularly, for example, in inner cities and so on, where there's a completely different, although equal, problem with the sort of issues that we're looking at.

In terms of affordability, there are a range of issues with affordability and the increasing number of homes that are outside the affordability bracket of local people. They aren't all about second homes. Some of them are around things around the lending regime, for example. It's not at all uncommon in my constituency for people to come to me who have paid rent substantially more than they would have to pay on a mortgage over a long period of time, only to find that that doesn't count for anything for their financial status, and their inability to pull a deposit together, unless they have the bank of mum and dad to help them out, is just prohibitive. So, they can never get on that first step, despite the fact that they have quite clearly been able to afford a rent of much greater than the mortgage payment for a very long time. So, we need to work with schemes like Help to Buy and with our lenders to make sure that we have areas where we can help local people get together the financial wherewithal to buy the homes that they want to buy. So, it's not just about the sheer cost of the most expensive homes.

One of the ways that we are looking to do that is with the community land trust that I spoke to yesterday in Solva, where we have a shared equity scheme, effectively, so that people can get a foot on the ladder, they can get a bit of the developing value of the house that they live in, but they don't have the right to sell it on to anyone they like at a vast profit; they can take their equity out and move on if they want to. I'm really keen to look at schemes of that sort across Wales. One of the big issues with planning is that you can, very frequently, control the first sale but not the subsequent ones. So, we can control the sale of the house as a main house on the first occasion that it is sold; it's very difficult to do that for the fourth sale. And so, one of the things we're looking to do is to make sure that we retain that house as a local house forward into the future, and that has proven much more difficult to do right across the world. And I can assure you, Mabon, that I most certainly am looking at international examples of this, but unfortunately, so far, they're all showing the same issues—the first one is fine and subsequent ones are much more problematic. So, we'll be looking to see what we can do to ensure that. I'm very keen on having a sort of golden share, a public share, in that that prevents the sale onwards to anybody you feel like at any price you like, and retains that house in local ownership. But that, of course, is a compromise on the owner-occupier-type arrangement that we're familiar with across Britain. So, we will be looking to see what we can do to pilot some of that.

We are not the repository of all the good information; I'm very happy to work cross-party with you, both in public and in working groups behind the scenes to make sure that we explore all of the good ideas. Several good ideas have been put forward already around social partnerships, social enterprises, taking control of particular holiday let arrangements and so on that I'm very keen to explore as well. What I'm trying to demonstrate here, Llywydd, is that we're very open to looking at a range of solutions that will be different for each community in Wales, because each community has a different problem; they're not all the same. We do have one community that has put itself forward as a pilot, but we have only the one at the moment. So, if Members of the Senedd want to encourage communities in their areas to come forward and pilot some of these arrangements, I'd be more than happy to speak to them very promptly to get that up and running.

Llywydd, I will, at some point in the future, come to the Senedd floor and set out the issue with how long it takes us to get various pieces of legislation in. I do think people out there in Wales need to understand some of the constraints, because it's very frustrating to have the call to action, knowing that it's actually impossible to deliver in that short period of time that people really want to see.

16:05

I'm very pleased that we have had this statement today. We have too few houses, we have too few affordable houses. House prices have increased due to a shortage of accommodation, but also Government policies such as Help to Buy and the land transaction tax holiday have pushed up prices. The biggest housing shortages are in Cardiff and Swansea and I refer the Minister to the council house waiting lists of both those cities. It's obvious to me that we need more council housing. The only time, post war, when housing supply equalled housing demand was when large-scale council housing was taking place and we had council housing available, and previously privately rented accommodation was available for owner occupation. It was a win-win situation. We've gone into no council housing—or very few council houses—being built and lots of privately rented accommodation. A lose-lose situation. Whilst the longer term solution is building more council houses, there are short-term solutions. Will the Welsh Government end business rates relief on houses and treat all houses as liable to council tax? Finally, why does the Welsh Government think that a pilot project will not just produce displacement rather than a change in the actions of people?

Thank you very much, Mike. Your long commitment to pushing Governments to build more council and social housing is well known and recognised. And you're absolutely right: one of the biggest problems we've got in the housing crisis across Wales is the number of people in temporary or substandard accommodation, for which we absolutely do need to build, at scale and pace, the social housing that we vitally need across Wales. We also need to make sure that it's built in the right places. There is a crying need for a very large scale in some areas of Wales, but there is a need for a scale of council housing right across Wales, sometimes in small envelopes in little villages where people need to stay, sometimes in bigger envelopes in cities where people have a crying need to have a decent home.

We also need to work with our private rented sector landlords, many of whom work very happily alongside us, to make sure that their housing is brought into play as well. I commend to Members across the Chamber—as I always do—the scheme where we allow private rented sector landlords to give their houses over to us so that we can afford those houses for social tenants whilst we bring the house back up to the standard that people are entitled to expect in the private rented sector—a win-win situation, as indeed you say, Mike.

We have a number of issues that we want to take forward. On the business rates thing, I've already said in answer to a previous speaker that we will be putting a consultation out about exactly what the level of business rate flip should be allowed to be, whether the small business rate relief should apply and whether it should be allowed at all, of course. There are issues with genuine holiday lets, built as holiday lets, whether they're run by businesses or run by companies; if they're having to pay domestic council tax, they might have problems. So, we do need to make sure that we get this right across the piece. And, of course, the registration scheme for holiday lets will come into play there as we have people register either as private sector landlords or as registered holiday let operatives, and we can see what comes out of that. So, I'm very keen on that.

We've been in a very good place in Wales, because we have Rent Smart Wales working with our private sector landlords. We've had a wealth of information and a good relationship with our landlords as a result of that, which is the envy of Governments elsewhere in the UK. I'd look to have something very similar in the holiday let sector. We've already had a couple of really good meetings with Airbnb, who are one of the biggest operators in that sector. They're pushing a registration scheme in a number of countries at the moment, so we're keen to build on their expertise as well.

But, broadly, Mike, I agree with you: the actual way out of the housing crisis is to build the amount of social homes that we increasingly need right across Wales, and to ensure that it's not a rationing system but a system that's accessible to everyone who wants that kind of home.

16:10

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. As someone representing a hugely attractive area of west Wales, where houses for first-time buyers are scarce, I welcome the fact that this is a three-pronged approach. While I don't agree with each one unconditionally, I'm pleased that it's not a single, sledgehammer policy, which could end up causing far more harm than good. We also can't underestimate the enormous economic benefits that the domestic holiday industry brings, with Pembrokeshire topping a recent list of the most popular destinations for British holidaymakers, with people enjoying a warm welcome to holiday cottages across the county.

I'm interested in the Welsh language community housing plan that you mentioned in your statement, and I ask whether there's any further information on this plan. As with all consultation, this needs to be as far-reaching as possible, and I hope the views of all those who contribute are given serious consideration in the consultation's conclusion, and that this isn't just a box-ticking exercise. Secondly, you mentioned developing a statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation, including short-term lets. Can I ask who will manage these registrations, Minister? Will it fall on the local authorities, and, if so, will they be funded accordingly, or will the cost fall onto the owners of the holiday accommodation, with the charge reflecting the number of properties? Diolch.

Thank you very much for that series of questions and for the support that you indicated at the beginning. In terms of the Welsh language communities housing scheme, that's in the portfolio of my friend and colleague Jeremy Miles, who's sitting opposite me today. He proposes to bring forward a draft scheme for consultation very shortly, so I won't steal his thunder in taking up time on that right now.

In terms of the registration scheme, we are working, as I say, with Airbnb, as the biggest provider of these kinds of schemes. One of the things we'll be consulting on is what shape should the scheme have—that's hard to say, 'what shape should the scheme have'—and who should be responsible for administering it. One of the possibilities is to do it the way we do Rent Smart Wales, through a lead local authority that we fund, obviously, to do that. But, there are other available options and we'll be consulting on that, as well as the exact nature of the registration scheme, how you register and all of the rest of it, when we do that consultation. I'm very happy to take the views of Members of the Senedd as well through the cross-party working arrangements.

In terms of the value of the tourist pound, I couldn't agree more. My family has been going to Pembrokeshire for our holidays for 30 years. We go and we rent a cottage down there from a lady whom I've known for many years. We absolutely want to do that. We take great pains to be friendly and hospitable when we are there in our turn, and to spend our Swansea pound in Pembrokeshire, as we ought to when we're enjoying the countryside.

This isn't an exercise in making Wales an unwelcoming or inhospitable place—far from it. What we need to do is make sure that we have sustainable communities that can thrive with our tourist industry, because the tourist industry itself needs the people locally to be living there in order to be able to take the jobs and service the tourist industry itself. These are not things that are in conflict with one another; these are things that are in harmony with one another. We just need to make sure, as a Government, that we put the platforms in place to make sure that that is a harmonious whole, and not a disjointed whole, which I think we're seeing at the moment.

Plaid Cymru has played a constructive role in pressing the Welsh Government to take action in order to support communities that are suffering as a result of the impact of second homes. Unfortunately, this announcement today is very disappointing and weak. We don't have a plan here, but three headlines, which are short, vague and lacking detail. Consulting and pilot schemes won't help young people who need a home and who are being priced out of their communities now.

Will you please put aside the idea of a commission to discuss second homes? We don’t need a commission; there are practical issues that can be implemented at once. For example, talking about a registration scheme for holiday lets, making it statutory to register a holiday let is not going to get to the core of the problem, so why don’t you put a licensing scheme in place at once, as exists in other countries, and then it would be possible to cap the number of second homes in pressurised communities? With registration only, won’t you be just creating unnecessary bureaucracy in truth, without having a genuine impact on the situation? And could I ask about the work that will happen over the summer? Will you commit to coming back to the Senedd before the end of September with a clear plan, including specific action and an urgent timetable for action from October onwards?

16:15

So, taking those in reverse order then, Siân, absolutely, we will be coming back to the Senedd in the autumn term to feed back on the stuff that we’ve done over the summer—the consultation and so on—and to involve Senedd Members. We’ll also be carrying on meeting with the cross-party group behind the scenes all the way through the summer and into the autumn as well to make sure that we’re picking up all the issues there.

I think the registration scheme and the licensing scheme have got conflated there, but they’re actually pretty separate. I think there is merit in a registration scheme. First of all, it enables us to understand exactly what the problem is, and secondly it makes people who want to do Airbnb really think about what they’re doing, and actually there are issues around standards and so on. You’ll know the big issues with a local family B&B having to comply with all the standards and so on as against a local Airbnb that doesn’t have to comply with the standards, and all of the issues that go alongside that. So, there are some real serious issues around this, which is why Airbnb are very keen themselves on having these kinds of registration schemes.

In terms of a licensing scheme, we’re exploring that also. That is very similar to the schemes that those of us who have big universities in our patches will be aware of for student houses in multiple occupation. That isn’t a silver bullet, I have to tell you as a person who has a very large proportion of my constituency given over to student HMOs, even though we have a licensing scheme in place. That brings with it some of its own problems. So, what we want to do is learn from those problems and make sure we don’t duplicate them in this sector. But I’m very determined that we will have a scheme that allows local authorities to limit the number of vacant houses, if you like. Some definitional problems, which I went into in an earlier response, Llywydd, come into play here, but we’re very keen to have that scheme in place so we can have caps, if you like, on the number of houses that are not permanently occupied. It's been very difficult on the HMO side to roll it back if it’s already gone above the cap. So, we will be exploring options to roll back in some areas, because, for example, in one of the wards in my own constituency, I have one street where there is nobody living—it’s just all student HMOs—and, of course, we see that in some holiday destinations with holiday lets as well. So, it’s a similar problem with a different cause. So, I’m very keen to learn from the experiences of people right around Wales, right around the UK, and right around Europe on how to deal with some of these really difficult issues. Exactly the same as the tourists—the students bring vibrancy, wealth and diversity to the city, but they also go away for very large periods of time, leaving behind them businesses that struggle to make it through the gap. It’s not a dissimilar situation, so the analogy holds.

So, we’re looking forward to working with you, Siân, as fast as we can to make sure that we get the right scheme in the right place across Wales. And as I say, the more you speak to different communities, the more you realise that there is a different set of problems in each community, and I think a one-size-fits-all-across-Wales approach will not work either, so that’s why we want to be able to pilot some of the proposals that we have in communities that are happy to help us with those pilots.

Minister, I know that residents in Rhondda, especially our young people and young families, will be grateful to hear that the Government are building on the work of the previous Senedd, taking action to combat the very real housing crisis. I’ve been contacted by graduates who left Rhondda to attend university and now wish to return to their home town to buy a home of their own, but face a very real affordability issue due to a sharp rise in demand during the lockdown period from buyers outside our communities. I, of course, welcome with open arms individuals and families who wish to reside in our Rhondda communities, but it's so important that we find a fair balance. Will the Minister ensure that young people returning to their Valleys' hometowns have access to affordable homes and ensure they aren't priced out?

16:20

Yes. Thank you very much, Buffy, and that just demonstrates nicely, doesn't it, that the issue is an issue right across Wales for a different set of reasons. So, we have issues with areas surrounding our big cities that become commuter towns, so to speak; we have issues with holidays; we have issues with students; we have a whole range of issues right across Wales. There's no silver bullet for this—that's the real point that we're finding here. If you read Dr Simon Brooks's report, and, indeed, our response, which all Members will now have, you'll see that he's acknowledging that there's no silver bullet. What we will need is a range of measures right across Wales that work differently in different communities, to ensure that we do have access to affordable housing for our young people and, indeed, our families and all of our communities. And that will be that mix of good social housing that's available for all, because it's not rationed any more—shared-equity schemes, co-operative housing, community land housing—and then, the kinds of schemes that we have seen around Help to Buy and so on that allow people to get that foot on the housing ladder. And I already said, in answer to a previous speaker, that one of the things we want to do is work with lenders to make sure that people who can demonstrate good rental records are still considered for mortgage offers. So, the way that that market works is really driving some of the issues we're seeing at the moment as well. And, of course, I've also mentioned the various taxation issues and so on that we'll be bringing to bear too. But I'm really happy, Buffy, to work with you, and any of the communities you have, to see what we can pilot in some of those communities as well.

Last summer, it was reported that almost 40 per cent of properties sold in Gwynedd in the year to April 2020 were purchased as second homes, but strong anecdotal evidence indicates that this resulted from a disproportionately large number of existing second homes on the market. When I previously asked the Welsh Government what analysis it had therefore undertaken to establish whether this was a representative sample, they replied 'none'. The need for local people to be able to access quality affordable housing in holiday home hotspots is not a new issue; the same applied when my family sold our holiday home in Abersoch half a century ago, and holiday homes still in use as holiday homes today were built there in increasing volumes from the late nineteenth century. With many owners not only connected to local people economically but also through personal friendship and even marriage—and I speak from personal experience here—taxing holiday hotspot second home owners simply displaces ownership to wealthier second home owners or onerous registration with a valuation office agency as legitimate holiday lets.

Following the Welsh Government's massive cuts in social housing grant, the Assembly's north Wales regional committee met in Pwllheli in October 2003—18 years ago—to take evidence from local people on the affordable housing crisis in communities there—

The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.

—when deliverable solutions were proposed to us. So, instead of conflating this issue with second homes built for that purpose, as most were, what direct action will you therefore now take to identify the specific local need in these hotspots for both homes for social rent and, separately, affordable homes for intermediate rent, or low cost home ownership, and then to target increased supply of both in these hotspots to meet this need?

Yes. Thank you, Mark. I understand the point that you're making about homes built as holiday homes. However, there is a real issue with houses that are vacant in communities across Wales that have a direct impact on the viability of other local services. And, as you've heard me say numerous times in this statement today, the issue here is about having sustainable communities across Wales, with a level of all kinds of home ownership in them that is sustainable. When you have skewed out-of-proportion levels of any type of home ownership or home occupation, then you get problems. Mixed-tenure sustainable communities are the ones we know, across the world, that really work, and so I don't think we're at odds there; the issue is how do we get to a sustainable community when we already have communities that are no longer sustainable for a variety of reasons, as we've rehearsed around the Chamber today. And there are a variety of reasons that cause single-tenure unsustainability: some of them are around holiday-type arrangements; some of them are around student-type arrangements; some of them are around commuter-type arrangements; some of them are—there's a variety of affordability issues.

And, I have to say, I'm not going to take any lectures off any Tories about the reason that we didn't build any houses right up until only a few years ago, because you know as well as I do that the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 prohibited us from doing that, and that we only had that cap removed a very short number of years ago, because the Tories took 40 years to come to their senses on why we should build social housing. [Interruption.]—Well, you put it to me and I'm giving you the answer. So, the point about that is we can now build social housing at scale across Wales, and we will do so. We ought to have done it a long time ago, but we were prevented from doing so by policies of the Conservative Government. I'm very pleased to say that those policies—well, you've seen sense—no longer pertain in Wales, and so we're able to now build at scale and pace, because that is the actual solution: to build the right houses in the right place for the right access to people. So, if you don't like the answer, you shouldn't have asked the question.

16:25

Diolch. Well, I can confirm that Flintshire County Council are building 500 affordable houses for rent, thanks to Welsh Government policies and funding as well to help with that. So, I am pleased that the Welsh Government is tackling this issue of second home ownership seriously with the outlined three-pronged approach. Just this week, I was contacted by a constituent. She has seen a 40 per cent increase in homes in her area of Llandudno being bought for holiday lets, and she recently received a letter through her door, which reads as follows:

'I am keen to purchase a second home in the Llandudno, Conwy area in the next 18 months. Once furlough ends, if house prices do fall, then I would be inclined to wait and see when at what price they bottom out. Therefore, I am keen to commit as soon as possible as to not allow market turbulence decisions to get in the way. So, for me, it is a long-term strategy.'

The resident phoned to clarify what the writer meant by this, and he was very clear his aim is to maximise profit. I think this is evidence of the clear pressures local people are under to sell from those looking to profiteer, and the scale of the problems we face in north Wales. So, I very much hope that my region in north Wales is being considered for the pilot that was mentioned earlier. So, I would like to make that approach to you, please.

So, I welcome the proposals laid out—

I welcome the proposals laid out, and I would like to put forward that region, if that's possible. Sorry, I don't end with a question. Thank you—diolch.

Thank you very much, Carolyn, and, yes, of course, we'll explore doing a pilot in your region—I'm very happy to do so. But you've just encapsulated the problem, haven't you? Because, for most ordinary people, the only big investment they make in their lives is the house that they live in, and therefore, when they sell it, they want to maximise the return that they get from it, and that's entirely understandable. And that's one of the reasons we want to pilot these measures, because we want to be sure that all of the people in the community are happy with the effect of some of the measures that we're going to have. There's no doubt that some of the measures mentioned today will have the effect of depressing house prices in some areas, so we need to make sure that the community is happy for that, because it delivers to them the sustainable and inclusive community that they want to be part of. I'm not saying that we'll have 100 per cent people happy with that, but we need to be sure that people understand the impact of what's being suggested. We have a large number of schemes across the world, across the UK, which were very well-intentioned in putting in place, which had dramatic unintended consequences on volatile property markets, so we do need to be sure that we're doing the right thing by the right people. And I will just finish by saying I'm absolutely pleased to work with you on bringing a pilot forward in your region, but one of the things you absolutely rightly identified is that the real way out of this crisis is to build the right number of houses that we need in the right places across Wales to ensure that everyone in Wales has a safe, affordable home they can call their own.

5. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Curriculum Reform—Next Steps

Item 5, statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: curriculum reform—next steps. I call on the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Since becoming Minister for Education and Welsh Language, I have set out our priority to put the well-being and progression of learners at the heart of everything that we do. I've been talking to practitioners in schools, colleges, and learning providers, and I've heard directly about how they have adapted to changing circumstances in the last year, and what more I can do to support them as we renew and reform education in Wales.

The commitment and motivation of teachers for Wales's new curriculum has made a great impression on me. I've heard the enthusiasm for renewing and reshaping education, as well as a desire to maintain the momentum of the reforms and the benefits for learners. Practitioners have also been honest about the challenges that they face, and the last year has been like no other.

As we undertake reform, it's clear that we are in a different place to the one that we imagined when the guidance for the Curriculum for Wales was published 18 months ago. On the one hand, I recognise that the preparation time for the curriculum will have been devoted to managing the impact of the pandemic over the past year. On the other hand, with an even stronger focus on well-being and significant investment in teaching and learning, the values underpinning the curriculum have been at the heart of how schools have been working. I'm committed to supporting schools and settings to maintain the momentum. At the same time, I recognise the need for clear expectations and more space and support to implement a high-quality curriculum for all learners. 

In light of the pandemic, I've decided to refresh the document titled 'Curriculum for Wales: the journey to 2022', which sets out the expectations on schools to reform the curriculum. I want to ensure that it is clear, simple and focused on the how of curriculum reform, including the importance of high-quality teaching. I am also committed to ensuring that our expectations recognise the current context, recognising that many will have very different starting points. It will be a comprehensive document for schools and settings. We are working collaboratively with partners to develop this, and the document will be published by the beginning of the autumn term. 

Last month, I announced a series of measures to ease pressures for practitioners, creating additional space to support learners. That included suspending performance measures, pausing schools categorisation, and Estyn's suspension of their core inspection programme into the autumn term.

Today, I am announcing that I propose to remove the requirement for practitioners to undertake assessments at the end of foundation phase and at the end of key stages, in the 2021-22 academic year, for year groups that will be transitioning to the new curriculum in September next year. It is only in primary schools that this will apply. I believe that, by removing these requirements a year early, it will help to create more space for practitioners to prepare their curriculum for teaching next year. It will also provide a greater focus on the progression of individual learners and on improving teaching for the new curriculum. Baseline assessments and personalised assessments will remain in place, to provide confidence in learners' progress among practitioners, learners and parents.

We will launch a national network for curriculum implementation in the autumn. This will be a practitioner-led body. It will be open to all schools, funded by the Welsh Government, and it will be a key vehicle in supporting the implementation of our new curriculum. Practitioners, experts and wider stakeholders will work together to sustain and expand development at all levels and to tackle barriers to implementation. It will be a key forum where practitioners can learn from one another on important issues in curriculum development, developing approaches to designing the curriculum jointly.

I am also announcing £7.24 million in additional funding for this financial year directly to schools, to support them as they reform the curriculum. This will support engagement with key issues around implementation, including through the national network. Supplementing this will be clear guidance on how schools can spend this funding.

Through my discussions with the sector, it is clear that there is still a strong desire for reform. I am determined to build upon the emphasis on well-being and flexibility shown over the past year. That will be closely aligned with the work of introducing of our new curriculum. Therefore, I confirm today that the Curriculum for Wales will continue to be implemented in primary schools, maintained nursery schools and non-maintained nursery settings from September 2022. I would like to confirm that we see a continued learning journey from 2022 onwards, and we will continue to support schools to develop and improve their curricula.

I recognise that secondary schools have faced specific challenges, such as managing qualifications, which, in some instances, have affected their readiness for curriculum delivery. I understand these concerns, and I've decided to provide some additional flexibility for schools where they judge that they need that. In 2022, schools that are ready to roll out the curriculum to year 7 will be able to press ahead with that. However, formal implementation of the new curriculum will not be mandatory until 2023, with roll-out in that year to years 7 and 8 together. In education other than at school, including pupil referral units, the new curriculum will be mandatory for learners of primary school age in September 2022. It will be mandatory for learners in year 7 and year 8 from September 2023. This will also be the case in special schools and schools for three to 16-year-olds.

I would encourage secondary schools who are able to proceed with their current plans in 2022 to take those plans forward, supported by their regional consortia. The 'What we inspect' framework from Estyn will support this flexibility. Estyn will be encouraging progress along the journey of curriculum reform for secondary schools.

Some secondary schools will choose to continue their path towards curriculum reform from 2022 onwards, although in 2023 it will become mandatory for years 7 and 8 together. I am pleased to be able to offer this flexibility and anticipate that the work of reforming the curriculum will continue, particularly direct engagement between secondary and primary schools from now on and into 2022 to support learner transition. 

Beyond 2023, the Curriculum for Wales will be rolled out on a year-by-year basis, and the first qualifications designed specifically for the Curriculum for Wales will be awarded in the 2026-27 academic year, as planned. 

The reform of qualifications will play a fundamental role in the success of our curriculum. The exciting ambition that underpins our curriculum must be matched by our qualifications system. The flexibility for secondary schools in 2022 will provide space for the sector to work with Qualifications Wales over the coming year to help shape a set of qualifications of the highest quality that are aligned with the philosophies of the new curriculum, and to capitalise on emerging opportunities around assessment methods. 

As I listen to the profession, I remain confident that we're doing the right thing by proceeding with our reforms. We have a rare opportunity to revolutionise the quality of our opportunities for our children and young people. It's critical that we focus on curriculum reform, and that we get things right.   

16:35