Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

13/07/2021

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 proceedings of the Senedd, 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. 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.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Russell George. 

Health Outcomes in Powys

1. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve health outcomes in Powys? OQ56773

Llywydd, I thank Russell George for that question. Amongst other actions taken by the Welsh Government, we go on investing in capital projects to improve existing hospital facilities in Powys, as well as supporting a business case to build a new multidisciplinary well-being campus in Newtown.

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer, and, indeed, Powys health board, working with the local authority, have submitted the proposals for the plan—the proposal that you've outlined. I've raised this matter with you a number of times previously, First Minister. The plan would see a cutting-edge, new facility, a new community hospital, with additional services as well being located in Newtown to serve the people of north Powys. The facility would also improve health and well-being outcomes as well, and mean that people can receive appointments more locally in Newtown, or in north Powys, rather than having to travel out of county. So, they are very much a proposal and project that are supported by me. 

I understand that the plans are working through a scrutiny process with Welsh Government at the moment, between Welsh Government and the health board, and I would be very grateful, First Minister, if you could provide an update today. I'm keen that these plans are approved, but I would be keen to have an understanding of when you think the Welsh Government will give the green light to this very important project for mid Wales.

Llywydd, I thank Russell George for that further question, and thank him indeed for his very consistent support for this project, which I agree with him will offer all those advantages to the local population in Newtown and in the surrounding area. And it is, as Russell George has said, a joint project, an example project in that way of how a local authority and a local health board can come together to provide a new health facility that is not simply in the narrow sense a health facility, but has all that well-being and wider agenda that we know makes such a difference in the lives of people who use it. 

Russell George is right, Llywydd: the business case has been submitted to the Welsh Government. There is now that iterative process where the plans are interrogated, questions are asked, replies are received. And the good news is that that process is now well under way. So, I look forward, as he does, to the completion of that project. It's a project the Welsh Government is committed to supporting. It's right that there is a scrutiny process to make sure that an investment of this sort, which is a once-in-a-generation investment, is capable of delivering all the things that people locally would wish to see, and that the money that we will invest in it is achieving the maximum positive impact for that local community. 

I'm sure that Russell George would also agree with me that the £15 million upgrade to Machynlleth hospital, which is currently under way thanks to Welsh Ministers and Welsh Government money, is welcome, as is the ongoing multimillion-pound project in Llandrindod Wells. But more than geography—and the pandemic has exposed this particularly—the biggest inequality in health outcomes is between our most and least well-off communities. So, do you agree with me, First Minister, that the best way to improve health outcomes in Powys, and elsewhere, is to build a fairer Wales?

I thank Joyce Watson for that, Llywydd, and thank her for drawing attention to the Bro Ddyfi hospital in Machynlleth. There is a good example of a proposal brought forward by the Powys health board, which completed the full business case process and allowed Welsh Ministers to approve the £15 million that will be invested there in March prior to the election.

The general point that Joyce Watson makes, Llywydd, is surely the right one—that health inequalities are just one example of the wider inequalities that we see in our society. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 commits this Senedd to work for a more equal Wales. And a more equal Wales, where the gap between the top and the bottom was narrower than it is today, would have positive impacts for people in many aspects of their lives, and certainly would lead to better health outcomes. We know more equal societies around the world enjoy better health outcomes than more unequal societies. That is why the agenda of this Welsh Government—in its fair work agenda, in its work for a fairer Wales—is dedicated to exactly the sort of outcome that Joyce Watson has suggested.

13:35

The Royal College of General Practitioners in Wales say that loneliness and social isolation can be as bad for patients as chronic long-term conditions. Loneliness puts people at a 50 per cent increased risk of an early death. Forty-one per cent of people in material deprivation were lonely, compared with those of around 12 per cent who are not in material deprivation, and that's following on from the issue that Joyce raised earlier. Could I therefore ask what support is the Welsh Government providing to local authorities to maximise opportunities and services to reduce loneliness and isolation as we emerge from lockdown restrictions? Thank you. Diolch.

I thank Jane Dodds for the question, Llywydd.

And she is right, of course, that we are much more aware today than we would have been even 18 months ago of the impact that loneliness and isolation has on people's sense of well-being and, indeed, on their physical health as well. And there is a great deal for us to learn from the experience of the pandemic in attending to the impact of loneliness and isolation in the lives of Welsh citizens. We faced this regularly, Llywydd, it seems to me, during the pandemic crisis. Very early on, you will remember we changed the rules in Wales, to allow people going out to exercise—and you'll remember that, at one point, we were only able to go out to exercise once a day. Then we changed the rules to allow someone to accompany you for that exercise, because of reports we had, particularly from women, about a feeling of isolation if they were required to exercise alone. We changed the rules in Wales so that a single-person household could form an extended household with another household before we were able to liberalise the rules on extended households more generally. And, again, that was because of the evidence of the way in which single households—particularly households where a single adult was looking after children as well as themselves—needed the support of another household for the reasons that Jane Dodds has suggested.

Our actions at a community level are both with local authorities but also with the third sector as well, who have a very important part to play in all of this. And Llywydd, just to give one example, the Ffrind Mewn Angen scheme—the Friend in Need scheme—that was part of the COVID response, was established in June of last year and it's run by Age Cymru, and it means that an older person living on their own can receive a weekly telephone call from someone who's been trained as a volunteer befriender. It's advice, it's support, it's an informal chance just to hear another human voice. And we know there are many people, particularly elderly people, living alone who can go days on end without ever having another human encounter, with all the adverse impacts that Jane Dodds pointed to. And that excellent scheme—the Ffrind Mewn Angen scheme—is designed here in Wales to make a difference to the loneliness and isolation that people experience in that way.

Wales and Africa

2. What assessment has the First Minister made of how the Wales-Africa programme has strengthened trade with Africa? OQ56759

13:40

Well, Llywydd, the Wales and Africa programme is a development and solidarity programme, aligned with the delivery of the United Nations' sustainable development goals. The devastating impact of COVID is the current priority of the programme.

Thank you, Minister. As you will be aware, Wales became the first ever Fairtrade Nation in 2008, and, since 2015, the Welsh Government has provided funding through the Wales and Africa programme for Fair Trade Wales to promote organisations to become fair-trade partners and provide educational outreach on the benefits of fair trade. Fair Trade Wales currently reports that they work with only 30 local fair-trade groups, 200 schools and 18 out of the 22 local authorities. They also only employ two part-time members of staff. At an External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee meeting in 2018, a representative of Fair Trade Wales reported on how budget cuts had meant that they no longer provided suitable bilingual services, and cuts to staffing had meant that their education link-up with schools had drastically dropped. Remarkably, after 13 years of being a Fairtrade Nation, the Welsh Government has still not convinced every local authority to support fair trade, and Fair Trade Wales have reported that they do not even monitor the value of fair-trade goods sold in Wales. Given that they liaise with so few organisations and have no idea of the amount or value of fair-trade goods sold in Wales, can the First Minister comment on how Fair Trade Wales ultimately benefits the promotion of fair trade with Africa and provides value for money for the Welsh taxpayer? Thanks. 

Well, I thank the Member for that question, and I can't avoid gently pointing out to him there's an irony in his question, on a day when the House of Commons will be debating the £4 billion cut in overseas aid that his party has decided to impose on some of the poorest people anywhere in the world. But let me take his question at face value, because I think the question is an important one. There is more to do in promoting the values of fair trade here in Wales. I wish every local authority in Wales were signed up to that agenda, and the Wales and Africa programme certainly does support fair trade. It is not a trade programme; as I say, it's a programme designed to emphasise development and solidarity between Wales and other parts of the world.

But some of us here will have met in this building Jenipher Sambazi, the vice-chair of a Ugandan coffee co-operative, where there is a partnership between Jenipher's Coffi and fair-trade organisations here in Wales, in which the trees are planted in that part of Uganda using the Size of Wales programme, which we invest in as well, so that there are sustainable ways of using the products of that planting, and to do it in a way that is fair to the people who work in that industry—those Ugandan farmers—and also offers opportunities for people in Wales to be able to enjoy the fantastic product of all that effort. 

First Minister, as you alluded to in our first response, Wales and Africa is about much more than trade. Oxfam Cymru, through their partners in Uganda, have been told that COVID-19 cases increased by over 1,000 per cent last month, and that only 4,000 people have been fully vaccinated in a population of 45 million. How is Welsh Government using its voice to push UK Government to share life-saving vaccine know-how and technology with low-income countries such as Uganda? 

Well, Llywydd, in the job that I do, and indeed in the jobs, I'm sure, that Members around the Chamber do, we have some difficult conversations that we have with sometimes members of the public, sometimes with other organisations. I've seldom had a more challenging conversation than I had recently with the vice-chancellor of the University of Namibia—a good friend of Wales, a good friend of Cardiff University—and the reason that the call was difficult was because the sheer desperation in the vice-chancellor's plea to Wales to help him and his fellow citizens in Namibia went straight to your heart. He had lost 10 members of his staff that week, and more died before the week was over. Seven per cent of the population of Namibia are likely to be vaccinated, and the impact on their public services is simply that there is nowhere for anybody to go to get the help that they need. And that is true not just of Namibia but it's true of Uganda and other partners of the Wales-Africa programme as well.

The vice-chancellor wanted me to lobby the UK Government to accelerate the supply of vaccine to Namibia, and I did that immediately. I wrote straight away to the Foreign Secretary and relayed the conversation I'd had and the case—the urgent case—that there is there. But it's more than just supply of vaccine; it's the ability on the ground to deliver the vaccine when it's received, and we are very fortunate in the Phoenix Project—headed up, many of us will know, by a remarkable woman, Professor Judith Hall of Cardiff University—where we have partners on the ground both in Uganda and in Namibia as well. We have since then been working to find what more we can do to provide equipment and other forms of support to those partners that we have whose needs are so desperate. And my colleague Jane Hutt, I know, hopes to be able to make an announcement before the end of this week, before the end of the term, on the additional help that we are going to be able to provide.

13:45

We look forward to that announcement, First Minister, because I think it is right that our focus right now should be on helping our friends in how to deal with the COVID crisis that is hitting them so dramatically hard. But I wanted, and I thank Joel for raising this question, to raise, in fact, the partnership between Ferrari's coffee manufacturer in Pontyclun, in my constituency, and indeed Jenipher's Coffi, which I drink myself regularly in my little coffee machine in the house, and it's a great example of how the excellence of manufacturing here in Wales, with Welsh-owned businesses, partners up with friends in Africa in order to create a win-win situation, and I'd like to know what more we can do to replicate that model across parts of Wales. And would he just join with me today as we speak here in this Senedd, in this Parliament today, in sending our best wishes to those in the UK Parliament who are seeking to overturn the proposed budget cuts in the UK international development budget? It is pertinent to the discussion we are having here right now.

Well, Llywydd, any message that could go from Members of this Senedd to those who are participating in that debate as we speak here and to strengthen the arguments of those many Members of the Conservative Party who have spoken out against the cuts in aid, anything we could do to strengthen their arguments, many of us here would wish to do exactly that. I was able to meet Jenipher of Jenipher's Coffi here in the Senedd in February 2020—one of the very last visits to be made here before visits have become so much more difficult. She was a remarkable young woman, I thought—and others, I know, will have met her as well—both in her commitment to her cause, but in her ability to articulate the difference that the investment—. The small investment that we make from Wales; we make small amounts of money available, but we are lucky to have partners in Wales and beyond whose enthusiasm and dedication makes that money work so much harder than otherwise would be the case. And the coffee farmers in the Mount Elgon area of Uganda, through the Coffee 2020 project, are a very practical demonstration of the difference that we can make, and the fair-trade arrangement here in Wales, involving my colleague's constituency, involving the Fair Do's fair-trade shop in the Cardiff West constituency as well, I think is a really striking and practical example of how money invested from a rich country, by any global standards, in a place where people struggle to get the very basics of everyday life, makes such a difference. And the debate in the UK Parliament this afternoon, Llywydd, is that very rare thing in any Parliament—it is a debate that is genuinely about the difference between life and death for many, many other people.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

13:50

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the point you made about speaking to the vice-chancellor of the university in Namibia is well made—that, unless we are all vaccinated, none of us will be safe at the end of this, and it is a global problem that we all need to be focused on. But we are moving into better climes; we are moving into an arena now where some of the restrictions can be unpicked. And Professor John Watkins yesterday highlighted that with the success of the vaccination roll-out and the immunity levels—. I can hear chuntering from the nationalist benches, but I'm sure that they would like to listen to the experts, as I like to listen to the experts as well on this particular subject. We've heard many references to Cardiff University as well, and Professor John Watkins is a member of the academic staff there. Do you believe that his assertion that bringing lockdown to an end is correct and will you be supporting that, First Minister?

Llywydd, I read very carefully what Professor Watkins had to say and I don't believe that he was arguing at all for a tearing up of all the protections that make a difference to our defences against coronavirus. He was saying that there comes a point where we have to be able to move beyond those protections and I agree with that, and I hope that when, tomorrow, I'm here again making a statement about the outcome of the current three-week review, there will be steps that we can take in that direction. What it will not be will be a wholesale abandonment of the collective actions that we have taken during the pandemic and that continue to keep Wales safe in the face of a third wave of coronavirus, which is already testing our health service—760 people fell ill with coronavirus in Wales yesterday alone; the largest number on a single day for many, many, many weeks. And the thought that that is a promising context in which to move rapidly away from the protections that are still there to keep us safe—I'm not persuaded that this is the moment for such an approach.

I read from your comments, First Minister, that we will have a far more measured approach from you tomorrow and that there will not be the move away from restrictions that has been seen in other parts of the United Kingdom, and that's a judgment call for the Governments to have to take. But one of the conversations that is being had around the whole of the UK is around vaccination passports and the use of vaccination passports. I have to say I'm against such mandatory use of vaccination passports; I think they segment our society and they discriminate against people who might have genuine reasons not to be vaccinated. Would you confirm that it is the Welsh Government's continued position not to support the mandatory use of vaccination passports and, if they are to be used at all, it would only be in guidance only?

Yes, Llywydd, I agree with what the leader of the opposition has said. I too am opposed to the mandation of vaccine passports. We make vaccine certificates available to Welsh citizens because they are sometimes required by people wishing to go for foreign travel or sometimes to attend events elsewhere, but those are matters of choice—nobody is forced to go on holiday, nobody has to attend a concert—and the mandation of vaccine certification I think is quite a different matter. I've had a number of conversations with Ministers in the UK Government and they've always assured me that they have no plans to mandate vaccine certification either. And although the Prime Minister, I now see, is encouraging the use of vaccine certification in certain voluntary settings, I think that's still a long way from mandation.

I'm pleased to hear that, First Minister, and I'll also be joining you in supporting that cause, because, as I said, I do think it would create unnecessary divisions within our society. And I appreciate that we're going to have the statement tomorrow, and it doesn't look as if—. Obviously, there will be differences in all parts of the United Kingdom. Now, the Scottish Parliament, for example, is in recall session as we speak, I believe, at 2 o'clock this afternoon—it's not quite 2 o'clock now, but meeting at 2 o'clock this afternoon—the Prime Minister made his announcements yesterday; you'll make your announcements tomorrow. With a third of the population of Wales living within 20 miles of the Welsh border, there has to be an understanding of the obligations and rules that are in place in various parts of the United Kingdom for those rules to be complied with, and it is really important that, where possible, common ground can be reached. Given that we expect there to be differences between what you will announce tomorrow and what has been announced in England, how will you look to try and create that common ground so that the citizens of the countries that are affected by these rules and regulations can know exactly what is expected of them? Because I don't think anyone wants to see a third, a fourth, a fifth wave, and we do want to celebrate the success of the vaccination programme and the immunity that has built up in society as a whole. But we are at a critical moment now, when liberties can be returned, and as many of those liberties should be returned as possible, First Minister.

13:55

Well, Llywydd, I met yesterday with the First Minister of Scotland, senior Members from Northern Ireland and with Michael Gove from the Cabinet Office. I think we are—. I said at that meeting that it still seems to me that every part of the United Kingdom is moving in broadly the same direction. We may be doing it at slightly different speeds and in different ways, but the essential direction of travel is the same between us all. We all want to go on lifting restrictions; we all want to do it in a way that keeps people safe.

We all made a plea through Mr Gove that the Prime Minister, in his press conference, should make it clear that he was making announcements for England only. It was disappointing, again, to find that the Prime Minister finds that such a difficult thing to do, because it would have helped—it would've helped with the clarity. And I agree with what Andrew R.T. Davies has said there, Llywydd: trying to be clear with our different populations what the position is in different parts of the United Kingdom is a challenge, and it's one we've all got to address. It would've helped if the Prime Minister had been clearer with people that he was not making an announcement for Northern Ireland or Scotland or for Wales.

I do think people at our borders have become more used to this. They've lived through 18 months of there being differences across the border, and people are more alert to it and look out for it more. We will certainly do whatever we can, once decisions are made—and the Cabinet will be meeting again tomorrow morning; we're yet to finalise all of the announcements that will be made tomorrow—we will do our best to make sure that those are as clearly communicated for Welsh citizens as we can.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Yes, it's less than a week, now, until COVID restrictions are removed entirely in England. The chair of the BMA council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, has described the timing, as the number of cases increases quickly, as being irresponsible, in addition to recent comments made by the World Health Organization, accusing the UK Government of

'moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity'.

Now, do you agree, given that you are saving those around you by wearing a face covering—it provides some protection for yourself too, of course—that scrapping the need for face coverings now is irresponsible?

Well, Llywydd, of course, the things that are happening in England do raise concerns with us, as a Government, but I'm not going to come here to be critical of what other people are doing; that's a decision for them, to do things in the areas of responsibility that they have. What we see here in Wales, Llywydd, is that there is a relationship between the virus and the vaccine that has changed, but it hasn't disappeared.

Yesterday, there were 69 people in our hospitals in Wales who were confirmed COVID patients—69. Less than a month ago, we were talking about fewer than 20 people, so the number of people who are falling very ill because of the delta variant, that number is growing nearly every day here in Wales. That's why, when the Cabinet considers the possibilities we have in Wales, we are going to proceed in the way that we have throughout the pandemic—namely very carefully, considering the evidence that we have, and taking a phased approach.

Thank you. I was asking you to give your view on what you think is responsible or irresponsible in Wales, and I do encourage you to retain the requirement to wear a face covering in all locations where people come into close contact, including in shops. I read one scenario over the weekend: it would be very odd, according to Councillor Gwynfor Owen in Gwynedd, if a shop worker had to wear a mask to go to the doctor's surgery, but the doctor didn't have to wear a mask to go to the shop.

Now, you have said that pupils won't have to wear masks in classrooms from September. I have concerns about that, given how close pupils are in classrooms, and I would encourage the Government to be uncompromising in pushing for protection for children and young people through things such as strategies to ensure proper ventilation in classrooms and by pushing for vaccination for children and young people. One driver in all of this for me is an increasing concern about the impact of long COVID and the impact of long COVID on children and young people. Tens of thousands of children and young people across the UK are suffering. May I ask whether the First Minister agrees with that concern that I have? And may I ask for real steps to develop expertise in this area to protect children and young people particularly from long COVID?

14:00

Llywydd, I do share that concern, and we have more evidence now about the impact of a long COVID on young people, and it's important for us to press ahead and gather more information and have more advice from those who work in that area. In the letter that the Minister for Health and Social Services sent to the schools in Wales, what that letter said was that there was no need to use masks in classrooms 'as a matter of routine'.

So, it wasn't advice that masks should never be worn in a classroom setting; it is more a matter of those risks being weighed up in different class settings. We know that classrooms vary hugely; from a modern twenty-first century school to a school built in the nineteenth century, the physical conditions are very different. As it happened, Llywydd, I was in a conversation with the headteacher of a large school in Cardiff on Friday afternoon, who'd just received the letter, and he was, I think, very positive about it. He was very aware of the Children's Commissioner for Wales's advice about the adverse impact that it has on children when they are wearing masks hour after hour in a school setting, and he felt very confident that he and his staff would be able to make those judgments in the specific settings that they faced as to when wearing a mask would be sensible and when you could safely allow children to learn without being confined to them.

The final point, Llywydd, that Rhun ap Iorwerth made was about making sure that there are services for young people and others who fall ill through long COVID, and my colleague the health Minister made a recent statement on that matter. It's one of our reasons for hesitation in the current circumstances because while the link between falling ill and hospitalisation has undoubtedly been amended by vaccination, large numbers of people falling ill in the community is not to be dismissed as though that wasn't a matter of continuing concern, because the more people who fall ill in the community, the greater the risk there will be that some of those people too will then suffer not just a temporary or minor illness, but an illness that will live with them for weeks and months beyond.

Thank you for those words. You're certainly right that it's about weighing up risks, and given the nature of the debate in some quarters now, some people will listen to me today and to you and think that I'm being overcautious, that I'm being too risk averse, and it's not that. I'm looking at evidence when it comes to masks, for example, and if evidence can point to ways in which we can lift restrictions, let's follow that evidence too. It works both ways.

So, as we head into the school holidays, either you believe that travelling abroad is safe, with the relevant safeguards in place, or you believe it's not. And if not, give us the evidence and put forward regulations that we can vote on. What I don't think you can do is ask people to use their judgment, and you've said repeatedly that you don't think it's the right thing to do, for somebody to go abroad. I'm all for people taking personal responsibility, but, in this context, I think personal judgment really can't be expected to take the place of sound scientific evidence. So, will you provide the clarity that people need on that issue?

Well, here is the only clarity I can provide, Llywydd. The advice of the Welsh Government has not changed for many, many weeks. Our advice to people in Wales is that this is the year to stay in Wales and to take your holiday with everything that Wales to offer. The decision to travel abroad will bring additional risks with it—risks to you as an individual, and risks to others on your return. Those risks can be avoided; they're not risks that you have to run. Therefore, in the context of a global pandemic and a third wave of coronavirus, how much better to avoid those risks and to holiday here in Wales?

The reason we cannot make that a law in Wales is that it would simply be unenforceable. There is just no way you could make such a law stick, because three quarters of people who travel abroad from Wales do so from airports across our border, where there will be no such inhibition. And I don't imagine—I've never seen a proposal from Plaid Cymru—that we would prevent people from Wales from travelling across the border into England, and as soon as you allow that to happen, then people would be able to travel and people would. So, I don't find—. I wish we were in a different position to the one that we are in, but, given that that is the position we are in, the advice we can give is as clear as we can make it: there are risks involved, they don't need to be run, there are alternatives, and fantastic alternatives available to you.

14:05
Displaying the Union Flag

3. What discussions has the First Minister had following the decision of Cardiff Council's planning committee to permit the UK Government to display the union flag at its new premises in the capital? OQ56781

Llywydd, thank you to Rhys ab Owen for the question. Cardiff Council is responsible for making decisions on advertisement consent in the city. The decision is open to judicial review at present. Due to the potential role of the Welsh Ministers in planning decisions, the advice I've had is that it's not appropriate to discuss this case or any other cases.

Thank you for that, First Minister, and Heledd Fychan and I have written to the Minister, asking for the possible options in dealing with this.

I'm not going to rehearse the argument about the union flag. What the UK Government is doing is blatant, it's obvious, and I think, as you've said previously, First Minister, it's not going to work. It's more the technical point I wanted to make. As you've mentioned, the flag is classified as an advertisement, and the planning officer, whilst granting it, used as an example an LED screen in the city centre, which is 44 per cent smaller than the union flag. The flag isn't up yet, but still we haven't got the recourse to call it back in and we can't appeal it. The only people who can appeal it are the applicants themselves, and, of course, the UK Government won't appeal.

I'm glad to hear that you are looking at other options, because my concern is the precedent this sets, First Minister. Who knows, we could have more union flags popping up; we could have advertisements for fast-food outlets; we could have advertisements for betting firms coming on our skyscrapers in the city centre. So, the concern I have, First Minister, is the precedent this sets. Diolch yn fawr.

Llywydd, well, I have to be careful what I say, as you heard in my original answer. My objection is not to a union flag per se; it is whether a 32m tall, 8m wide union flag is a proportionate way of proceeding. I think I can do little better, Llywydd, than to quote the letter written by the leader of the council. It's important, maybe, just to put on the record that this was not a decision taken by elected members of the council. Within the standing orders of the council, this fell to officers to determine, and, as I understand it, the planning rules are such that the presumption is that planning permission is granted and the officers have to be persuaded to go against that presumption. They decided that neither on amenity or on safety grounds should the application be turned down.

But this is the letter that the leader of the council wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales, and he said that 'a misconceived exercise in image projection now would serve little purpose other than to generate disagreement'. And I think that is a point that the UK Government ought to think very carefully about. If the purpose of their actions is to strengthen the union, then they need to ask themselves whether or not a union jack on the scale and size that they are proposing is likely to achieve that ambition, or whether it will simply drive more signatories to the Yes Wales petition asking for it to be reconsidered.

14:10

First Minister, we all know that Rhys ab Owen and his colleagues on the Plaid benches would not be raising such objections if this was y ddraig goch that was going to be erected in this UK Government building. But it happens to be a union flag, which, of course, is the flag of the United Kingdom, something of which I am proud to be a citizen. Can I ask you what action the Welsh Government is taking, if we want to talk about legal advertising, to address the proliferation of Yes Cymru stickers around the length and breadth of Wales, for which there appears to be no concern whatsoever being expressed by Members of the party that is raising this concern in the Senedd today? This is an affront to local communities; this is littering and graffiti of the highest order and needs to be addressed.

Llywydd, let me address the first part of Darren Millar's question, because I think he made an important point there. In Gwydyr House in London, the Welsh flag—y ddraig goch—and the union jack are both flown and are both flown, the same size flag, at that building, and I wonder whether the UK Government has thought of replicating the way in which they act in London in the way that they will act now in the centre of Cardiff. If they were to come forward with an application for a Welsh flag of the same size and scale on the building, well, that would simply be to replicate what they have already decided to do where Gwydyr House is concerned in Whitehall.

As to Yes Cymru insignia, it's not a matter for the Welsh Government, and I don't believe it was particularly within the ambit of the question as originally posed.

COVID-19 Variants of Concern

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of COVID-19 variants of concern on communities in Caerphilly? OQ56785

Both alpha and delta variants of COVID-19 have produced significant adverse impacts on communities in Caerphilly, accelerating transmission, increasing positivity levels and leading to more Caerphilly residents falling ill from this dreadful disease.

As you can imagine, a lot of Caerphilly residents have contacted me about international travel, and it seems, from the answer to Rhun ap Iorwerth, that the Welsh Government is minded to go in the same direction as the UK Government, for very practical reasons. That means people will travel at an amber level, even if advised not to. In England, TUI is offering travellers a £20 PCR test run by Chronomics, and in Wales, you have to go through the Corporate Travel Management web portal to take an NHS test, which costs £170. So, there's quite a big difference in the cost between the two tests. Will the Welsh Government open up to accepting the Chronomics test from residents, and if not, how does the Government justify that difference in cost?

Well, Llywydd, the advice of the Welsh Government is clear to people: don't travel abroad. I don't intend to divert the activities of my officials into making it easier for people to do something that the Welsh Government so clearly thinks is unadvisable.

People taking tests before they leave have to take tests that meet the entry criteria of the country to which the individual is travelling. When people return to Wales, then a PCR test is required; for people returning from amber countries, then the Member is right that those are NHS tests. There are good reasons why that is preferable, because that guarantees that the results of those tests are entered into the patient record; it guarantees that we are able to use the genomic sequencing capacity of Wales—some of the best sequencing capacity anywhere in the world—to make sure that anybody returning from abroad with a new variant of the virus, that that is spotted quickly and effectively by the public service. I think those are compelling reasons as to why an NHS test is preferable, and we have no plans to change that position.

14:15

First Minister, while Caerphilly has the second highest rate of new cases of the variant, as you've just outlined, thanks to the vaccine, this is not currently leading to a spike in the Aneurin Bevan health board area, with only seven admissions testing positive for COVID-19. You've just said to us now there are 760 cases in the whole of Wales, out of a population of 3 million. First Minister, what levels of cases would be acceptable for releasing all the restrictions?

First of all, just to be clear, that's 760 new cases in a single day, and today there will be hundreds more. At the current rate of increase, there will be many many more hundreds after that. I congratulate the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the local authority in Caerphilly for achieving some of the best rates of vaccination anywhere in Wales, and it is great that the vaccine is altering the relationship between falling ill and needing hospitalisation. That is why we are still able to contemplate further easements of the current restrictions. But, as I said in an earlier answer to Rhun ap Iorwerth, none of us should ignore the risks that are caused when you have large numbers of people falling ill every day in the community. It increases the risk of new variants emerging, it increases the risk that people's immunity will wane, it increases the risk of people falling ill with long COVID, it increases the risk that people are not available to be in the workplace because they have fallen ill or they've been in contact with somebody who has fallen ill. So, while I agree with the point that Laura Anne Jones made, Llywydd, on the importance of that link between hospitalisation and the virus, it's only part of the story, and we need to go on being concerned at the scale at which the delta variant is taking hold in Wales and the hundreds and hundreds of people who are falling ill as a result.

First Minister, we know that the rates of COVID are increasing again in our communities, and after 16 long months of lockdown, members of the public are understandably fatigued with the restrictions, but the new variants are incredibly transmissible, so how do we get that message across to a public that is hearing irresponsible and confused messaging coming out of an English Government that can't make up its mind about masks?

I think the good news about the Welsh public is that people in Wales continue to support the careful and cautious way in which we have responded together to the virus in Wales. I think there is a genuine sense in Wales that this is not just a matter of personal responsibility. The answer to dealing with coronavirus cannot possibly be, 'You're on your own, decide for yourself, make it up in the way that you would prefer'. People in Wales have understood all the way through that this is a matter not just of how I behave, it is a matter of how we behave. This is a collective response to the virus, and people in Wales have been prepared to play their part all the way through.

I can't speak for the post boxes of other Members of the Senedd, but my post box over the last week has been full of people writing to me asking the Welsh Government not to step aside from the sensible precautions that we have all been following together. Often, that comes from people who are themselves vulnerable and who are deeply anxious about what it will be like for them if they are asked to go into places and into contexts where other people are no longer being asked to observe those simple and sensible measures. So, I think at least we have this on our side, in answer to Delyth Jewell's question—that the mood of Welsh people is not a mood of thirsting for some spurious freedom day; it remains a cautious approach in which people want each one of us to go on playing our part.

Poverty

5. Which policies will the Welsh Government follow to address entrenched poverty levels in Wales? OQ56775

14:20

Poverty levels in Wales have been worsened by the actions of successive Conservative Governments since 2010. The decision not to extend the £20 weekly addition to universal credit from September will abandon thousands of families in Wales when they most need support. The Welsh Government continues to mitigate these developments to the fullest extent possible.

First Minister, I very much agree with you in terms of the effect of those UK Government policies. Much entrenched poverty is rooted in social class, and working class communities in areas of industrial decline in the Valleys and on our social housing estates are suffering intergenerational disadvantage, which has been around, sadly, for many years. This affects all stages of education, employment and, of course, standards of living. It sometimes results in poor health and well-being, and sometimes in alienation and hopelessness. It has been and is very difficult to address these issues for any Government and for all of our public services. First Minister, what policies will this Welsh Government follow to address early years issues, education issues, economic development, community development and youth services?

I agree with what John Griffiths said about the continued importance of social class in determining people's chances in life in Wales. It's not just a matter of class, as we know; it's often a matter of gender and ethnicity as well. John Griffiths is right, of course, Llywydd, that there is accumulating evidence of the challenges that young white working class men face in securing an economic future for them, and young women certainly need additional efforts to ensure that they know that the widest range of possibilities is open to them here in Wales. 

I probably can't deal with all the policy areas that the Member highlighted, Llywydd, but for young men, I've always thought that the foundation phase and the Flying Start programme are a genuine example of what we refer to as progressive universalism in Wales. There is the foundation phase, a universal service designed to make young people at the very earliest age love the thought of going to school and learning—that learning is to be enjoyed and to be rewarding. For those boys who come from the backgrounds that the Member has referred to, the foundation phase, I think, is so important in making them feel from right at the start of their lives that school is going to be something that they're going to get a lot out of and is going to give them those chances.

For young women, as I said, we have to do more to make sure that they are not faced with a set of gender stereotyped choices that they can make. Earlier this year, in April, I went with the Member for Blaenau Gwent to Thales in his constituency and heard a fantastic story of the way in which that company is making sure that young women in that area know that there are careers for them in those newly emerging industries. The programme was led by two fantastic young women, who explained to us everything that they were doing to make sure that those opportunities were known to young women in the Blaenau Gwent constituency.

For both young men and young women, the youth employment guarantee that this Government offers will be a fundamental building block in making sure that, as the economy recovers from the economic consequences of coronavirus, those young people that John Griffiths refers to are not left behind, that they have genuine opportunities, that we work with them to make sure that they can see a chain—a chain from where their lives are today to where they would like their lives to be in the future. 

First Minister, thank you so much for mentioning women and young people in your previous answer, but I'd like to focus on older people. The older people's commissioner for Wales, in 2018, reported that an estimated 112,500 older people actually live in poverty here in Wales, with 50,000 people living in severe poverty. Last year, the charity Independent Age produced a report saying that hundreds of thousands of elderly people could be lifted out of poverty with a full uptake of pension credit. Independent Age said 61 per cent of those eligible are receiving the benefit and that some 450,000 pensioners could move out of poverty in the United Kingdom if uptake was increased to 100 per cent, thereby reducing pensioner poverty to its lowest ever level. The Welsh Government strategy for older people referred to Communities First as a mechanism to address older people's financial inclusion and improve their ability to access appropriate financial advice and services. The continued poor uptake of financial entitlement suggests that the programme failed to achieve its target. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that older people are aware of their entitlements, know how to apply with targeted help and support, and have the confidence to claim their entitlement? Thank you.

14:25

Natasha Asghar certainly identifies an important issue. The person in Wales who is least likely to take up their entitlement to welfare benefits is a single woman living on her own aged over 75. There are many, many reasons for that, and many of them are rooted in the gendered experience that I referred to in my earlier answer. They are women whose husbands have died, and they relied in the past on somebody else taking care of money matters within the home. So, there is a lot of work that has to be done to try and give those people the confidence to come forward to claim the things to which they are entitled. It's why we invest such large sums of money in our single advice service; it raised £42 million in unclaimed benefit in Wales in recent times, which shows that it can be done, even though it requires a lot of effort. With some older people particularly, you are dealing with issues of pride as well, and issues of not wanting to get tangled up in a system that they fear may leave them worse off rather than better off. Of course, one way in which older people in Wales can be better off is for the UK Conservative Government not to break another election promise and not go ahead with the triple lock on the rising of pension entitlement, a promise that they made a great deal of in the election campaign of 2019—a guarantee that pensions would rise by whichever of those three measures was the highest. Now it turns out that it's not convenient for the Chancellor. It wasn't convenient for him to pay international aid, it isn't convenient for him to pay universal credit, and now it's inconvenient for him to pay pensioners as well. People will draw their own conclusions, Llywydd, about where the values of such a Government lie.

COVID-19 Vaccines

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the uptake of the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines in Wales? OQ56794

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Our vaccination programme continues to make excellent progress across Wales. As of today, 73 per cent of people aged 18 and over in Wales have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that is the highest rate anywhere in the United Kingdom.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. I was recently contacted by a constituent who is a student at Swansea University and received a first dose of the vaccine from the Swansea Bay University Health Board, but has come across significant issues trying to arrange the second vaccination elsewhere. If you'll indulge me, I'll read an excerpt of their correspondence, which says, 'I was living in Swansea as a student and got my first dose of the vaccine there. However, when moving back to my home address, I found it extremely difficult to contact Cardiff and Vale health board about the second vaccination. I was pushed from pillar to post and it took me about three or four days of contacting different people where I was continually told that I cannot phone them for my second vaccination, nor could I arrange for my second vaccination to be taken in another health board. It was only through a great deal of persistence and hours spent on the phone that I managed to get this appointment changed, but the system really isn't good enough, and I know that others in my position just won't bother taking the second dose if there is this much hassle involved'. So, can I ask, First Minister, what action are you taking to ensure that the process of booking a second vaccination in a different health board to the first is made as easy as possible for those, like students, who live in different places at different times of the year?

I certainly agree that the system should be as easy as possible. We made a conscious decision to allow students to have their vaccines in different places. You wouldn't have to trail all the way back to the university where you were based in order to get a second vaccine. The good news for the Member's constituent is this: in every part of Wales, there are now walk-in vaccination centres, where you don't need an appointment, you don't need to go through any complex procedure, you simply turn up and you get your vaccination. I'd urge all young people in Wales who have been made an offer of a first or second dose of the vaccine to take up that offer. It really is as easy as we can make it, and I think the best advice to any young person is: 'Take advantage of it because it will protect you and it will protect people who matter to you.' 

14:30
Council Tax

7. What assessment has the First Minister made of council tax levels in South Wales West? OQ56766

I thank the Member for that. Local authorities in Wales have the flexibility to set their annual budgets and council tax levels to reflect local priorities and to sustain those services on which so many of our fellow citizens rely. Councils are independently, democratically accountable to their residents for these decisions.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You'll be aware that Neath Port Talbot Council consistently sets one of the highest council tax levels in Wales. Residents simply can't understand why it costs NPT council so much more to deliver services compared to neighbouring counties. There's an issue of fairness at the heart of this. And whilst accepting each local authority's democratic right to set its own council tax levels, what work is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that councils across Wales are systematically reviewing their expenditure levels, and have you considered undertaking an investigation specifically into higher-taxing authorities, such as Neath Port Talbot, with a view to delivering more consistent council tax levels in Wales? Diolch.

The Member's constituents in Neath Port Talbot will be pleased to know that living in that area, with a Labour authority, the rise in their council tax this year is 3.1 per cent; that's lower than in Anglesey, lower than Gwynedd, lower than Ceredigion, lower than Carmarthenshire, where the Member's own party is in charge. So, I think they will appreciate that a little more probably than the question suggested. The Member may be aware today that figures published also show that Neath Port Talbot, very unusually for any other local authority during this very difficult year, has actually exceeded its expectations in the collection of council tax, and that is good news for residents of Neath Port Talbot, because it means that the local authority will have more resources than it had anticipated in order to provide the services that residents of Neath Port Talbot require and rely on every day. 

There are reasons why some local authorities have higher council tax rates than others, and they essentially rest in the make-up of those local populations. Those factors are well known to local authorities and are rehearsed every year in the independent group that we established in order to review plans for the council tax. And I'm sure that they are very well alerted to the points that the Member has made. 

Health Services in North Wales

8. What action is the First Minister taking to improve health services in North Wales? OQ56795

Llywydd, amongst the actions taken to improve health services in north Wales will be the opening of a new north Wales medical school in Bangor. The health Minister intends to update Members on this development early in the autumn.

Thank you, First Minister. I certainly welcome that investment in the medical school in Bangor. I'm sure you'd also agree that having the right facilities throughout the region and the country is an important factor in ensuring that quality healthcare is provided. And if we were to look at the investment in facilities over the past five years, there is a significant gap between what is being spent in north Wales and what is being spent in the south. On a per capita basis, spend in north Wales, in my region, is around half of that for some parts of south Wales. And this has been during a time in which the health board has been in special measures as well. So, why do you think there's such a gap and what will you do to bridge this gap?

Well, fortunately, Llywydd, I have the figures for the last five years in front of me here. In the first of those years, more capital expenditure took place in Betsi Cadwaladr than any other health board in the whole of Wales. And in the second of those five years, the pattern was the same again: £73 million of capital investment in Betsi Cadwaladr, and in second place Aneurin Bevan, with £50 million—£23 million more in Betsi Cadwaladr than in any other part of Wales. And the answer is obvious, isn't it—it's that capital expenditure is cyclical. During those years, there was major investment in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in the Member's constituency—[Interruption.]—the Member who is offering me his advice. In his constituency, there was major investment in that hospital; it was absolutely right that, in those two years, more money was spent in north Wales than anywhere else. At other parts in the cycle, there will be major investments in other parts of Wales. So, in the last three years, there have been investments in the south-east of Wales—that's just the nature of capital expenditure.

Let me put another point to the Member—and to other north Wales Members from his party. So, in this year, north Wales has 22 per cent of the population, and, in revenue terms, it will have 23 per cent of the expenditure of the national health service. The logical corollary of his question is that we should reduce that revenue expenditure to bring it in line with the population share. I don't suppose that is what he would be suggesting, and it's not what we are suggesting either. But just as we spend more per head in north Wales in revenue terms, in some years we spend more in capital, and in other parts of Wales there will be times when there are investments needed there, which will temporarily put them in a different place in that league.

14:35
2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:36:47
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's agenda. Draft business for the next three sitting weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers, available to Members electronically.

Trefnydd, can I call for two statements today from the Welsh Government—the first from the Minister for health? And that is in relation to the pressures that are currently being faced by hospitals in north Wales. I had a briefing yesterday with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, and was told that, because of the staycation market being so significant, and north Wales being such a top destination, they've currently got—and this is outside of the school summer holidays—two wards full of people from outside of Wales occupying beds within the region. That obviously displaces the availability of healthcare for local residents, and is a concern to the health board. And I do think that there needs to be an additional revenue stream in order to help the health board get through those significant pressures in the future.

Can I also ask that, in the Welsh Government's statement tomorrow from the First Minister, on the coronavirus restrictions, reference is made to churches and places of worship? Because I think there's a great demand now for masks to be taken off in our churches, in order that people can sing out loud. We've seen scenes across Wales, with people in pubs watching the big screens, to see Euro matches being played. Obviously, the excitement, the passion and the enthusiasm is replicated in churches, but they're not cheering about football, they're cheering about Jesus, and singing about Jesus. And people want to take these masks off—they've had enough of them now. There's ample space in most buildings for sufficient social distancing, there's good ventilation as well in many of our churches and chapels across Wales. And I do think that people are now wanting to see some change. So, I would be grateful if there could be specific references to places of worship in the statement tomorrow, so, if you can give me some confidence, I'll look forward to seeing that statement when it's delivered.

Well, in relation to your second point, you will have heard the First Minister say several times that Cabinet is still having discussions around this week's review of regulations, and the First Minister will be making a statement here in the Chamber tomorrow afternoon.

You made, I think, a very pertinent point around our health boards, and, as you say, certainly we are seeing more people holidaying in Wales this year, as we did last year. And clearly, for our public services, this does have an impact. One of the reasons why we are exploring proposals for debate around a tourism tax is to look at how we can continue to fund—[Interruption.] And the Member can shake his head, but it is something that could be charged on people who choose to go to those areas, in a very modest way, but then it could give us a very significant opportunity for our public services to invest in those conditions that make tourism a success, and that is clearly one of them.

I'd like a statement, please, about protecting people from air pollution. Residents in Cwmfelinfach are concerned about a waste treatment facility granted planning permission in Nine Mile Point industrial estate. An environmental permit was originally refused by Natural Resources Wales, because of how emissions could affect residents' health, but NRW reneged on the refusal, when the company put in an appeal. And, in spite of the fact that the factory could release tens of thousands of carbon dioxide in tonnes every year, construction is under way under a new company. Now, Trefnydd, I know the Government can't comment on the specifics, particularly because of the potential judicial review, but this case seems to be a test of the climate and nature emergencies we've declared. I've already mentioned air pollution that will affect residents just from the site. There are also hundreds of lorries that will plough through the village and local forests and ecosystems will likely be destroyed. A local writer, Patrick Jones, has written to me pointing out that, 'It is tragically ironic that in a place where miners died after years of inhaling coal dust we are now legitimising another poison that will limit the lives of our next generation.' So, Trefnydd, can a statement please set out what the climate and nature emergencies mean, if plans like this are allowed to go ahead? 

14:40

Thank you. I would advise the Member to write to the Minister for Climate Change. Whilst, as you say, she cannot comment obviously on a specific facility, as you referred to, I think she will be able to give you an answer to your question, rather to wait obviously until the new term begins. 

I'm asking for two statements by the Government. The first one is on how health will be improved and how life expectancies will be increased by improving the overall health of people in Wales, as opposed to intervening when people are seriously ill and need hospitalisation. Take type 2 diabetes—the number of cases can be reduced by diet and exercise. We need to do more in prevention, instead of spending millions and millions of pounds, or hundreds of millions of pounds, on intervention when people actually get ill. 

The second statement I'm requesting is an anti-poverty strategy. I'm one of those who really was very unhappy that Communities First was ended. I thought it was a huge mistake made by the previous Government. But it's been made, so there's no going back. But I am asking for a Government strategy to reduce poverty, especially in some of the most disadvantaged communities, because we have an awful lot of very poor people in Wales, and we need to do something to try and support them. 

Thank you, Mike Hedges, for those two requests. In relation to the first item, I absolutely agree: prevention is obviously better than a cure, and certainly we have our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy. That sets out our long-term ambitions to reduce obesity right across Wales. We've got our 2021-22 delivery plan, and that's got a focus also in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and reducing health inequalities, and that's backed up by a £6.5 million fund.

In relation to poverty, obviously—Welsh Government—the Communities First was our flagship programme for many, many years, and that was brought to an end, as you say, in the previous term of Government. However, we have a variety of schemes where we look to work with those in our most deprived communities, and I will ensure that the Minister for social equality brings forward a statement at the most appropriate time around a new strategy. 

I call for two Welsh Government statements. Firstly, on Welsh Government support for people with learning disabilities. Three weeks ago, the Royal College of Nursing launched its report on learning disability nursing, 'Connecting for Change'. The report highlights a significant decline in learning disability nurses across the UK. The RCN states that some of this reduction is due to the positive shift in the support for people with learning disabilities from a medical model to a social care model. Although they believe many learning disability nurses have moved on with people with learning disabilities, and are now providing skilled support in social care settings, there is not the data about this workforce, and there is no Government strategy for planning or developing the work of nurses in social care. The report also found significant differences across the four UK countries. For example, many counties in England have children's community learning disability teams with learning disability nurses. However, there is a lack of children's learning disability services in Wales. Specific to Wales, the report has highlighted that student learning disability nursing numbers have remained static for the last three years, and there is only one learning disability nurse at nurse consultant level across the whole of Wales. I therefore call for a statement detailing the Welsh Government's response to the RCN's call for a workforce plan to accompany the strategic development of learning disability services across Wales over the next decade.

I also call for a Welsh Government statement on COVID-19 PCR testing for green-list countries. I heard the First Minister's response earlier, but it will not satisfy the constituent who e-mailed on Saturday as follows:

'I bought a package holiday via Tui, but unlike residents of England, I can't take advantage of their testing package at a cost of £20 for all tests. Instead, I'm forced to pay £88 per person just for the return PCR test, plus an additional charge for the return to UK antigen test. For the four adults and two children travelling, this adds an additional overhead of more than £400.'

I was also in dialogue today with a lady who is due to take her last holiday with her terminally ill husband and may now have to reconsider due to this unnecessary cost. This kind of treatment of people who have followed all the rules—

14:45

I think that you've run out of time now, Mark Isherwood, so I'll ask the Minister to respond.

Thank you. With regard to his second point, I don't think I can add anything further to the First Minister's comments earlier.

I know the Minister is currently analysing the report to which you refer—the workforce plan from the RCN. I do know that several of the health boards in Wales have undertaken specific training in relation to learning disability with their nurses. I know there was some significant work done at the Maelor hospital, for instance. So, I think what is important is that that support is right across Wales, and not just by one or two health boards.

Trefnydd, I have been very fortunate recently to meet a number of schools in Cardiff—Gwaelod y Garth, Plasmawr and Cardiff West Community High School—to discuss the great work of the Youth Parliament, and every time there is a question-and-answer session at the end, the environment arises all the time in their questions. Across parties, I think we were all disappointed that the clean air Act was not in the legislative statement last week. Could we please have a timetable in order to see when the clean air Act will be forthcoming, and also the abolition of single-use plastics? Can we have a statement on that, please?

Thank you. You will be aware that—. I think it was the Minister for the Constitution who gave the legislative programme statement here in the Chamber last Tuesday, and you will appreciate that that programme just set out the legislation for the first year. It doesn't mean that other Bills that we hope to bring forward during this term of Government are not being worked on at the moment. Probably the clean air Act will be currently having a great deal of preparatory work done, because these Bills take quite a few months to draft and make sure that they're ready to be put before the Senedd. So, as soon as we are able to—and we'll be looking, obviously, towards the second year—we will be able to bring forward a statement.

Trefnydd, I'd like to ask for a statement on the provision of specialist mental health services for those living with diabetes. Last week, I was pleased to chair the inaugural meeting of the cross-party group on diabetes in the sixth Senedd. At this meeting, we heard from Dr Rose Stewart, a consultant clinical psychologist in diabetes working in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Dr Stewart gave an excellent presentation about the desperate need for better specialist mental health support for the nearly 200,000 people living with diabetes across Wales. The case for improving specialist mental health provision for diabetes is clear. Diabetes UK's 'Too often missing' report found that seven in 10 people with diabetes felt overwhelmed managing their condition. Eating disorders are three times as prevalent amongst young people with type 1 diabetes than those without, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression than those without the condition. If these issues are not addressed, worsening psychological health can lead to worsening diabetes management, where complications can quickly become extremely serious. Therefore, I ask for a statement or an early debate after recess on investment in specialist mental health support for those living with diabetes.

We obviously recognise the psychological impact of living with a long-term condition such as diabetes, and Jayne Bryant mentioned that there are many thousands of people living with that condition across Wales. We do, obviously, expect health boards to put in place appropriate support for people with such a long-term condition. That does include supportive care from both generalist and specialist clinicians so that people are helped to manage their condition, as well as, where necessary, access to more specialised clinical psychology. Improving access to, and the quality and range of, psychological therapies is a priority area for us that's set out in our 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan—I think that was back in 2019. 

14:50

Trefnydd, I'd like to request two statements, if I may, the first in terms of this Government's response to the fact that the UK Government refused last week the demands to give £1.2 billion from pension funds to former miners, and instead insisted on keeping hold of that funding. And how will the Welsh Government support those miners and their families to get justice and that which they deserve?

Secondly, last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Rhondda tunnel, along with other Members of this Senedd. I know that there are many advocates of the project in this Chamber, and I know that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change sees huge potential for this project. But there is a problem: the tunnel belongs to the UK Government, However, with this Government's emphasis on tackling the climate emergency, promoting active travel and promoting tourism in Wales in a sustainable manner, with less money on road building, we need to turn the enthusiasm of this Government into definite steps. So, can we have a statement in the next term from the Minister or the Deputy Minister on the next steps in taking this project forward, as well as a timetable for it? 

Thank you. In relation to the issue around miners' pension, I will ensure the relevant Minister makes representations to the UK Government Minister, because I don't think that can wait until the next term. 

And in relation to the Rhondda tunnel, it's a long time since I heard the Rhondda tunnel mentioned in the Chamber. I remember Leighton Andrews was the first person to—. I was very unaware of the Rhondda tunnel, but I remember learning all about it from him. And I will, certainly, ask probably the Deputy Minister for Climate Change to give the Member an update by letter, and perhaps put that in the library so all Members will be aware of it, because I'm not quite sure what the next steps are, but I think you do raise a very good point. 

Trefnydd, I'm actually quite saddened and deeply frustrated to realise that, in Aberconwy, and on a frequent basis, some of our pubs, hotels and eateries are now having to turn potential customers and visitors away. I have one cafe that is only able to operate three days a week, and another licensee with two operations only able to keep one of his businesses open. And I have other hoteliers who are really struggling now to find trained staff. The hospitality and retail sectors are indeed the perfect setting to learn new and essential life skills, including teamwork, customer service and time management. Having come through an astoundingly difficult time due to frequent lockdowns, this is the last thing that our businesses need. I'm playing my own role in confronting this problem by holding a virtual round-table this summer with business owners, local colleges and those who can help face down some of these challenges posed.

There are many disparate issues that have contributed to the present shortage—unclear routes from formal education, an entrenched reputational challenge, as well as the issue of wage levels. Training is a really big issue for these businesses. So, Trefnydd, really, what I'm looking for is a statement on what you as a Welsh Government are doing to support these businesses. Are you likely or minded to provide a training grant, because, clearly, when people have got people off self-isolating, other staff covering them, there isn't the capability or facility to train staff? I've been asked on numerous occasions now, 'What will you do as a Welsh Government?' Thank you. Diolch.   

I certainly agree with the Member that the hospitality sector, and the food and drink sector as a whole, offers a very attractive career for many, many people. One of the biggest reasons we are seeing a shortage in this sector—because, obviously, this falls within my own portfolio and it's been raised with me many times—is the fact that we've not been able to see workers from the EU being able to travel as freely into the UK as they were, and also we've seen a lot of workers not want to return to the UK. We are seeing a shortage of workers in the food-processing and manufacturing sector as well. So, this is an issue I am taking up with the sectors. I've got a meeting, actually, tomorrow, with the food retail sector, for instance. But I think it is important that we continue to work with the UK Government. It was something I was going to raise in a bilateral with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State yesterday, which unfortunately had to be cancelled, but I will continue to raise it with him and at the next opportunity.

14:55

Trefnydd, may I ask for one statement on the matter of play?

The first Wednesday in August will be National Play Day, and, of course, our organisations in Wales will be taking part in that, right across the country, including, of course, Llanharan Drop-in Centre, who provide in Bryncae and Brynna and Llanharan the Playtots Playgroup, and day nursery, and holiday clubs, and the Happy Dayz well-being and support group, and after-school clubs and youth clubs as well. They will be celebrating on that day their twenty-fifth anniversary—25 years of providing such a wonderful service to the children and families and young people in the communities of that area. So, I wonder if we could have a statement on how Welsh Government and its arm's-length organisations will be supporting National Play Day—a written statement would suffice—but also if she'd join me in welcoming the amazing work done by organisations such as the Llanharan Drop-in Centre over 25 years.

Thank you. Well, I certainly congratulate Llanharan Community Development Project on their twenty-fifth anniversary. That's no small feat, and projects like that do provide so many opportunities in our communities for children and young people and their families. You'll be aware the Welsh Government continues to place great value on play and its importance in the lives of all children in our society. I'm really pleased that you mentioned the National Play Day on 4 August, and the theme of that is 'summer of play', and you'll be aware of the Deputy Minister's statement around summer of fun, which I think encapsulates the play as well. We work very closely with Play Wales to ensure that children's right to play is fully considered, and we've got a wealth of play opportunities for children right across Wales, and that summer of fun I mentioned, we've supported with £5 million.

Thank you, Llywydd, and thank you also to the Trefnydd.

Pre COVID, one in three women were experiencing some form of violence, domestic abuse or sexual violence. The full impact of the pandemic on women experiencing violence is still to be determined, but sadly, from anecdotal evidence, it is likely that numbers have increased. Welsh Women's Aid reported in 2020, and they stated that the provision of sustainable funding for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, as required by the 2015 Act, is yet to be achieved. I do pay tribute to this Government's commitment to preventing sexual violence through the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, but may I ask the Minister to bring forward a statement on the provision of sustained funding to support those services that help women who are experiencing domestic violence, and to look at preventative measures against domestic abuse and sexual violence? Thank you. Diolch.

I thank Jane Dodds for that point. The violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence revenue budget for this current financial year is £6.825 million. That does include additional non-recurrent funding of £1.575 million, and that does actually represent an increase from the previous budget. Certainly, I think it is sad to say that we have seen an increase in access to our services during the last 16 months, but what that additional funding has enabled is for all organisations—you mentioned one in particular—to provide further support to service providers so that they can continue to access those vital services and, as I say, deal with the increasing demand we've seen over the pandemic.

Trefnydd, can I request that the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being makes a statement to update the Chamber on mental health provision in Wales? I find it incredibly disappointing that the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being hasn't yet been given the opportunity to provide a statement on mental health during this term, considering the worrying data coming forward. Latest statistics show some very worrying trends in a couple of the health boards. For example, in March, just 25 per cent of CAMHS primary mental health service assessments were undertaken within 28 days in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, falling to 13 per cent of all assessments for all services being within this target. I'm concerned that, in under-18s services across Wales, one in three will now be waiting over a month for assessment in Wales. Given the results from the Mind Cymru survey published yesterday, which showed that older adolescents have been hit the hardest, I think a more detailed response from the Government would now be useful. Diolch, Llywydd. 

15:00

The Welsh Government has put significant funding right across Wales in relation to our mental health services, and, in particular, children's mental health. We have worked very hard to protect young people's mental health, despite the pandemic. You'll be aware that we've developed the mental health toolkit, we've put increased investment into our school counselling services and we've included support where learners aren't in school. So, I think right across not just our schools, but our health boards as well, there is significant funding to ensure that our mental health services—. And I think it is fair to say that there was a backlog in accessing those services, but we've done significant work to address that.

Trefnydd, I'd like to bring up the rights of disabled people living in Wales. Earlier this month, the 'Locked out' report, commissioned by your Government, was a wake-up call to many in authority, as it detailed how the pandemic had led to medical discrimination and limited access to public services and social support, along with general weakening of basic human rights for disabled people. 

I know the Minister for Social Justice responded to this report with a Cabinet statement, which addressed some of the points raised. I'm keen to see if other recommendations of the report are being considered. This follows a case brought to my attention by constituents, which involved a disabled family attempting to travel to London by train, but not being able to because of a limit on wheelchairs on carriages. Despite pre-booking their tickets well in advance, the family had to split up and travel on separate trains, which is unacceptable. This case resonates with the report's findings that your Government, and I quote:

'needs to address the restrictions on disabled people's mobility as a matter of urgency by increasing funds to enable disabled people to use "safer" and accessible travel.'

Can the Government provide an update as to how public transport is being made equitable for disabled people in our country as part of your response to the 'Locked out' report? Diolch.

Thank you. It's probably a bit premature to bring forward a further statement; as you say, the Minister for Social Justice did bring forward a statement, and, at the current time, I know that she is looking at all the recommendations and the findings in the report. I think there's significant work to be done and I know that she is establishing a taskforce, a Minister-led taskforce, that will include significant representation from disabled people and disability groups to enable her to address those sort of stubborn, deep-rooted inequalities that the report highlighted.

Trefnydd, could we have a statement on universal credit, please, specifically on the UK Government's assessment of the planned withdrawal of the £20 top-up at the end of September? The Tories, it seems, are intent on taking money out of the pockets of those who can least afford it. In Wales, more than 237,000 households were on universal credit in February, and more than 30,000 of those were families in my region.

Across the UK, it's estimated that the uplift has helped over 700,000 people stay above the poverty line, and it does somehow beggar belief that the UK Government would be, yet again, intent on choosing to make low-income households poorer, given all the uncertainty that autumn and winter puts in front of us. So, I really would appreciate an update from Government along that line on behalf of those individuals and those families.

Thank you. We're extremely disappointed that the UK Government has decided to end the additional £20 universal credit weekly payment from the end of September. There's no doubt that it will impact on some of our poorest households in Wales, who are already struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought it was very interesting that six former Secretaries of State signed a letter—Tory Secretaries of State—to the Department for Work and Pensions Secretary of State when she confirmed that the £20 per week universal credit would end at the end of September. What we can do as a Government is continue, along with other organisations, to support our organisations that help people who are, and will be, significantly affected by the UK Government's heartless decision.

15:05

May I request a written statement as a matter of urgency on borders infrastructure in the port of Holyhead? There are parts of the infrastructure that are the responsibility of the Welsh Government and parts that are the responsibility of the UK Government, through HMRC. I've had enough of the lack of transparency and communication from HMRC. We now hear that they have purchased the Roadking truck stop, where people will be losing their jobs. It's an important resource for the town at the moment.

I'm still waiting for some clarification from HMRC on that, but we need to know exactly what the position of the Welsh Government is on this. What discussions have Ministers had with the UK Government on jobs—assurances for people working in Roadking now, in terms of getting jobs in the new tolls development? Will they be able to move immediately there without a break in their employment? What will happen to the lorries that have been parking in Roadking? It's such an important resource, as part of the port infrastructure. 

But also, now, I hear that the Welsh Government is moving the development that you were preparing from Parc Cybi into the Roadking development. The community of Holyhead and the people of Anglesey need to know what is happening, so can we have that statement as a matter of urgency, please?

I'm sure the Member is aware that the Welsh Government was brought very late to the party by the UK Government in relation to the borders infrastructure that is going to be needed, both in Holyhead and, obviously, in south-west Wales. The Minister for Economy is leading on this area, and I know is currently looking at some advice around this. I will ask him to bring forward a written statement when he has more information to share with Members.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Today, I went to collect the boxes of fruit and vegetables in order to deliver them to the local foodbank that I have been delivering to for the last 18 months. I was unable to get anything because of the crisis of supplies that is being experienced at the wholesalers in Cardiff. There simply are not enough fruit and vegetables arriving, which is really, really devastating to me, as I understand just how important it is for everybody to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

This is happening at a time when it should be the height of the growing season, when there is a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables. It would appear that the problem is (a) because of a shortage of pickers to pick up the produce that people are growing—it's just being left in the fields—and (b) a shortage of lorry drivers to actually deliver the produce to the wholesale markets.

Now, the supermarkets obviously get first pick of all of the produce because they are all-powerful, but even in the supermarkets I have noticed empty shelves in places where normally there is an abundant supply of fruit and vegetables. So, this, to me, is a real wake-up call on our food security, at a time when—the disruption to our supplies that is happening as a result of our departure from the European Union. This has never happened to me at the height of the pandemic, so I wonder, Minister—and I appreciate this is in your portfolio—whether we can have a statement on how we are going to manage this situation in the much more difficult months when we are needing to import all of our supplies. 

Thank you. You will have heard me saying in an earlier answer to Janet Finch-Saunders that we know—we're very aware of a shortage of workers in this area. I do think the situation is most acute in logistics; so, we know we've got a major shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers, for instance. That's been exacerbated by drivers not being able to take their tests during the pandemic, for instance; we've had workers furloughed and, obviously, I mentioned previously the issue around migrant workers from the EU no longer being able to travel freely and some not choosing to return.

You will have heard me say that I've got a meeting with the supermarkets tomorrow, because that's an area they want to raise with me. So, whilst—. I appreciate what you’re saying about the supermarkets, but they are concerned as well around the lack of HGV drivers, and, once I’ve had further information from them, and once I’ve had the opportunity to have my bilateral with the DEFRA Secretary of State—because, clearly, they hold most of the levers in relation to that—I'll be very happy to do a written statement.

15:10
3. Statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution: Convention on our Constitutional Future

The next item is the statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution on a convention on our constitutional future, and I call on the Minister to make his statement—Mick Antoniw.

Diolch, Llywydd. In May, we secured a mandate from the Welsh people to deliver our manifesto, committed to creating a stronger, greener and a fairer Wales. In our programme for government we have outlined our plans for tackling the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, our departure from the European Union, and the climate change emergency. Our immediate priority is recovery, and, to that end, supporting our health service, our schools and our economy—all so essential for the well-being of our people.

What is also clear from the election result is the support for our manifesto for change and an acknowledgment of the need to reform and improve our constitutional relationship with the UK Government and the other nations of the UK. So, let’s be clear from the outset: reform is needed to enable us to deliver our commitments to support our public services, develop a prosperous economy, and tackle poverty and inequality to their fullest. To deliver policies that make a difference to the lives of people in Wales, we must have a comprehensive set of tools to do the job.

The last few years have exposed the deficiencies of our current settlement, as well as increasing tensions in the wider constitutional landscape of the United Kingdom. We have consistently iterated our support for a union and for a union that must change. We continue to lead the debate in Wales and doing so with practical proposals for positive change, most recently in the second edition of ‘Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK’. 

Llywydd, in our manifesto we promised to establish a commission to consider the constitutional future of Wales, and today I want to set out how we intend to deliver on that promise. Given the direct impact our governance arrangements have on the people's lives we want to see the commission leading engagement with the public to raise awareness and to help build a wider public consensus. We want the commission to ascertain people's views on those issues that are most important to them in the way the constitution operates and the implications for the services that they value. And we want the commission to build a consensus with civic society on how we reform the constitution of the United Kingdom to build a stronger Wales and a stronger but fairer and more equal partnership.

The commission will be inclusive and it will reach beyond Wales to other nations, regions and communities of the United Kingdom to consider how we can build a better constitutional partnership. We expect the commission to be outward facing and to engage with civic society and the public as widely as possible, for a genuinely national conversation about the future of Wales. In particular we want the commission to reach out to those who might otherwise not come forward to participate in such a debate, to those people and communities who are largely disengaged from politics, or rather who have become sceptical about its relevance to their lives and to that of their families and its ability to make a difference.

We will establish a commission of citizens. They will be people who will represent the diversity of our society and communities, and it will include those with the skills and abilities that come from real-life experiences enabling them to reach out and engage. Their task will be to seek to identify and build consensus about our values and the sort of Wales that we want to be.

We will encourage the commission to think about how its work can support the seven well-being goals, as set out in the well-being of future generations Act, and to operate in a way that is consistent with the five ways of working the Act sets out.

We will encourage the commission to identify and learn from the best examples of citizen engagement and to be innovative in the way in which it approaches its task. It must be a people’s commission, engaged in a people’s conversation, with genuine grass-roots engagement, and how we achieve that will be our biggest challenge. We will need to develop a new language of engagement, one that avoids the language of politics and constitutions that we are so used to, a language that talks about the things that are directly relevant to people's lives. But to do this, we know that the work of the commission must be informed by robust evidence and analysis.

In addition to a traditional call for evidence and engagement with academics, we also intend to establish a panel of experts alongside the commission. They will undertake research and analysis from which the commission can develop ideas and recommendations. We envisage the panel comprising of established expertise from within and outside Wales. They will provide the expertise and the hard data and information, which, we hope, will free up more of the commissioners' time to focus on the big conversation we want to initiate.

Key to ensuring the commission's success will be its composition. It must be capable and independent. It must be as representative as possible of the society with which it will engage. This will include representation from a breadth of political and civic backgrounds. It must also be able to demonstrate expertise, and its members must represent all ages and be drawn from the widest possible range of sectors in civic society: public, private, third sector, civic and grass-roots organisations and social partners.

The role of the chair or co-chairs will be key and will need to provide leadership in its outward-facing role as well as building a consensus within the commission. Over the summer, we will be considering the issues in further detail and discussing the commission further with all the parties represented in the Senedd, and I intend to update you further in the autumn at the earliest opportunity. Diolch, Llywydd.

15:15

Can I say that I welcome the fact that you've made this statement to the Chamber today rather than to the media first? I think that some of your colleagues have a lot to learn from you, Minister.

As we've said in the past, we don't believe that there's a public appetite for this to be a priority at the moment, but we accept that the Welsh Government has different views, and that's why you've brought this particular statement forward. We do think that all of the energy of the Welsh Government should be focused on other priorities, such as getting to grips with the economic recovery, making sure that our NHS is able to cope with the backlog that it now has as a result of the pandemic, and, indeed, helping our schools and education system to recover from COVID as well. But, given that you've made this statement, I would just ask a number of questions today about it. First of all, you've said that

'from the outset: reform is needed to enable us to deliver our commitments to support our public services, develop a prosperous economy, and tackle poverty and inequality', 

yet the reality is that the reason that we haven't tackled poverty, the reason that our economy isn't more prosperous, the reason that our public services aren't as good as they ought to be, is nothing to do with this Senedd not having the powers that it needs; it's because we have a failing Welsh Labour Government that's failed to address these particular issues over the decades.

Now, you've talked about the importance of this commission going forward. Can you give us a timetable by which you expect its work to be completed? You made a long list of individual organisations and other stakeholders that you want to participate in the commission. How big is this thing going to be? How much is it going to cost? Are these positions going to be paid positions? You know, how long is a piece of string? I do think that if you have a significant size to the commission, then it is going to potentially be far too large, far too unwieldy to be able to deliver any reasonable outcomes.

You've mentioned having a chair or possibly co-chairs. I don't know what the arrangements are that you might envisage co-chairs being able to look at the work and co-ordinate the work of this particular commission, but is that a chair and co-chair for both the expert panel and the commission? You've said you want a commission that has expertise, and yet you're setting up an expert panel alongside it. Will that be competing with it in terms of the expertise that you expect this commission to have? What do you think the output of this commission is going to be? I'm assuming you're looking for a list of recommendations for the Government to consider, or is that for this Senedd to consider as a whole?

Will this commission, importantly, not just look at the constitutional arrangements across the whole of the UK, but will it look at the devolution and constitutional arrangements in Wales? Will it look at the clamour in our local authorities and our regions of Wales for more responsibilities to be devolved to them—to north Wales, to west Wales, to Swansea and the Swansea city area, as Mike Hedges reminds us on a regular basis? I do think that these are things that the commission should not be fettered looking at, and I do think that there is an appetite for those things to be considered, and, indeed, if they are, I think that would be a very useful conversation for us to be having.

What sort of questions are you asking the commission to consider? You must have an idea of these already. You've obviously already set out the Welsh Government's stall in your 'Reforming our Union' paper. Is this commission simply going to look at your paper and determine whether those things are sensible or not, or will it really have the free range that I believe any commission needs to be able to have if it's going to be able to do something useful that cannot be done in other ways?

I'll stop there because I've asked many, many questions, Llywydd. But I do welcome the fact that you've made a commitment also to engaging with all political parties on this, and we look forward to being able to contribute in a meaningful way to the development of the commission and the important work that you want it to do going forward.

15:20

Well, can I thank Darren Millar for the very positive and the very constructive statement he's made, and a lot of very valid questions that have been asked? The issue of reform and the delivery of services, which is an issue that frequently gets raised within this Chamber, is one where I think it is well recognised now that there are levers that we just don't have in order to actually fulfil some of the policies that we are actually elected upon. We've argued for a long time, for example, in justice areas—a whole range of areas that are within our responsibility where, for example, key levers just aren't with us. We look at the areas of youth justice, of probation and family. Those things would just so naturally fall within one umbrella where some of the levers are with us, but some of the key ones aren't. And there is a logic to further progress within those areas.

We've also looked at the area of the police on many occasions, and, of course, not only do we make a substantial financial contribution towards the cost of the police, and in addition towards community support officers—who, let us not forget, came in because of the reductions in police numbers, so we had to take that step—but when you discuss things like community safety and you realise that you don't have some of the key levers to engage with the police and in terms of the planning and the direction of community policing, then clearly there are real issues in terms of those particular levers.

There are also key levers in respect of funding that have an impact. We have lost substantial amounts of money in funding by virtue of our leaving the European Union, and that money not being replaced and coming back to this place, where it would fund a comprehensive programme of implementation in terms of our public policy objectives. So, clearly there are issues there that are very important, and are among some of the many issues that would be the substance of what we would want to see the commission discussing.

In terms of the timescale, I have delivered several lectures so far to talk about the general concept of the commission, and it seems to me that one of the objectives of the commission would be to try and complete work within about 18 to 24 months, but also to make a recommendation in terms of the establishment of a longer standing constitutional commission. Because, really, if they're going to come forward with a series of important recommendations and proposals, if they're able to build a consensus around key areas that could make governance within Wales better, then we need to have those carried through beyond that period of time. But the sort of citizens' commission that we're talking about at the moment would not be that particular body.

And, in terms of co-chairs, well, whether it's a chair and a vice-chair to support, or co-chairs, those are options that are there to consider how the responsibility of leading such a commission might be shared, how it might be shared with better gender balance and so on.

In terms of the issue of governance and devolution within Wales itself, I think one of the things it would want to look at certainly would be governance, not just in terms of this place, but in terms of local government, the decentralisation of policy, how governance might be better, brought closer to the people, more effective and so on. So, I think all those issues are issues I raised not so long ago within questions when I was asked about this as well.

And, in terms of an expert panel, well, of course, in considering options, it is necessary also to look at the hard data to actually form a proper evaluation to test and to probe some of the ideas that may be coming forward, some of the things that people might suggest. So, I think that is important.

In terms of the actual terms of reference, those are things I think that when we're able to identify a chair and vice-chair or co-chairs, and begin work in terms of drawing up a list of people that might be appropriate for the commission, that we will want to engage with those people in order to identify and develop what would be the sorts of terms of reference and what would be the mechanisms whereby the commission could go forward. So, as I said, the biggest challenge is going to be how we actually develop an engagement programme and how we actually put together a commission that is as diverse and representative as possible.

The Member asked what size; the size isn't absolutely fixed. I suspect it's going to be a commission of around nine to 11 people, so there are going to be obviously difficult choices. That is not an absolute, but that would seem to me to be the sort of operational structure that we would want to see established.

In terms of the conversation itself, well, you can't go out to the people of Wales and say, 'We're going to have a conversation about the future of Wales, the governance of Wales, the values of Wales' and to try and predetermine the parameters within which that can take place—that is in terms of excluding views that people would want to make. Because if you engage with people, they will come up with a whole variety of views, maybe things we've never thought of, but it is important that it is inclusive and that it is an open conversation, that it is a genuine conversation as well.

15:25

Thank you, Counsel General, for your statement, and I thank Mr Millar also for the acknowledgement that his party will be willing to collaborate with this convention. Now, Counsel General, as a fellow lawyer, I welcome this convention and the opportunity to discuss constitutional issues, but this shouldn't just be for legal nerds. It needs, as you said, to include all of the people of Wales, from different backgrounds and cultures. I agree with that, and that might be the biggest problem for you. It's not just the job of one party or faction to create the new and radical Wales that we need.

Rather, it should be the work of the entire nation, including the Tories, all of its people, all of its perspectives, working together. A convention can start the work of creating a truly new Welsh democracy, something we really need. It can't be another talking shop for the old guard to maintain the status quo.

Independence, therefore, has to be part of the mix of options considered. The increase in the support for independence cannot be brushed aside as being rejected by simplistic comments that it was rejected at the ballot box. It wasn't, and in any event, as you mention, Counsel General, there was a substantial endorsement for further powers from Westminster to Wales in the election, whatever some on the Conservative chairs might claim.

Plaid Cymru, in the past, has called for a citizens' assembly to establish, to discuss constitutional matters and also the climate emergency. I'm glad that your statement mentions that you're going to look at that and look at other, previous experiences. There have been some fantastic examples of good citizens' assemblies. Experiences in Ireland have demonstrated that they've been able to discuss historic, complex matters in a way that creates a shared understanding and common ground. And the Member for Blaenau Gwent will be pleased that I mention the example of the climate assembly there in Blaenau Gwent: a successful citizens' assembly organised by the Electoral Reform Society as a way to build consensus on how we can improve Welsh society for a way forward with regard to the climate emergency. Learning from such examples, foreign examples and also examples here in Wales, is crucial as we begin our next step in the devolution journey: a thoughtful and hopeful discussion with the people of Wales about the future of our nation.

Because the devolved settlement, as it stands, is unsustainable. It is subject to the whims of the Westminster Government. We are not sovereign; it's the Westminster Government that still says that it's sovereign. The sovereignty should rest here with the people of Wales. The power grab by the Boris Johnson Government is a real concern for many of us across the political parties. The TUC recently said that they would have a commission to look at more powers for Wales because they are greatly concerned about the power grab from the Westminster Government, undermining the rights of workers here in Wales.

We know, don't we, what the Tories' plan is, although I hope that the Tories here in Cardiff will stand up and will be different to the Tories in London. Mr Millar says that we should focus on constitutional issues, but this is from a party in London that is placing a union flag over eight floors in the middle of Cardiff, and a party that criticises the Welsh Government for encouraging its workers to learn to say 'Good morning' in Welsh and how to say 'Llanelli' correctly. We know what the Government in Westminster is trying to do; that's why we need a strong convention here in Wales to strengthen our devolved settlement. 

A few questions from me quickly. How are you going to ensure that you have that very broad range of people, which includes businesses, trade unions and members of the faith community? For me, that was the great failure of the commissions of the past; they weren't representative of the people of Wales. 

Considering again past commissions, a huge difference with this convention is the broad remit. The Thomas commission was very broad, but it was to look at the justice system. The Richard commission was to look at reform here. The task is so vast, and that can be an issue. What do you want from this convention?

How are you going to be able to ensure that, when things move quickly, the convention remains relevant?

And finally, I've raised this point about the fact that independence needs to be a part of the question. How much support have you had from your party in London and from the Westminster Government for this convention?

There are several questions to answer. I look forward to working with you over the summer months, and other parties, to create a convention that can build a better Wales, a greener Wales, a fairer Wales and a more prosperous Wales. Diolch yn fawr. 

15:30

I thank the Member for his comments. He's absolutely right that those of us with legal backgrounds like to indulge in the minutiae of constitutions and legal niceties. Important as they are within the operation of a parliament, and particularly a legislature, the crux to change, and the crux to determining the sort of change that we could envisage for Wales, how we might govern better and differently, has to be something that belongs to the people of Wales. It has to be owned by the people of Wales, and it means the language has to be a language that relates to the lives of people, otherwise I don't think they will engage. 

I've said previously that I think, when we look at governance, that we have democracy in crisis, where so many people are disengaged from political processes or have so little confidence in it, as we see from the turnouts in elections. I think the points you make are absolutely right in terms of how we construct a framework, a terms of reference, that is sufficiently wide to raise the breadth of debates for people to engage, to participate, to consider all options, but yet, nevertheless, has a focus on a number of key points. What sort of Wales do you want to see? What should Wales's future be? What are our values? What should our future relationships be? That may be in terms of a whole variety of consequences. What should our relationship be with the UK Government, with other countries around us? I think all those are very complex issues that need to be put together. And it is a difficult task of work. As I've said, it is one of the big challenges, to put that together, because this convention, this commission, has to be something that is really different. It's a stepping stone to the future for Wales.

You raise, quite rightly, the issue of examples elsewhere, because we are not alone. Many other countries face these similar challenges in terms of their society, their democracy, their governance. You mentioned Scotland; Scotland are very interested in the publication imminently of their long-standing report from their Scottish citizens' assembly, which was funded and supported by the Scottish Government over the last two years. I think there may well be lessons there. There are certainly lessons from some of the processes in Ireland and Finland, and I'm sure in many other parts of the world. It's very interesting to see developments in Catalonia, in Spain, where they're actually moving towards a system where they are now talking about doing that, with a view to having an engagement with people as to what the people in Catalonia actually want, with a view to, undoubtedly, a referendum there. But the fact is that people are starting to say that you have to have a consensus of people, you have to have support of people to make really radical and long-standing change.

You referred to the Wales TUC commission; I think that is a really positive step, and I think it shows very effective and dynamic leadership, that they are looking at all those issues, so many of which have arisen during COVID. Isn't it in many ways bizarre that one of the reservations in our devolution settlement is equal opportunities, when so much of our work is about equality and equal opportunities? On the dilemma in terms of the perception around the UK, you mentioned the example of the flags, and I don't want to reiterate that debate. But it seems to me that the message is this: you have buildings—say, tax buildings, HMRC—which are down as 'UK Government in Wales' or 'UK Government in Scotland', but in England they're just 'HMRC'. Why are they not 'UK Government in England'? I think that sends a particular message, which identifies part of that particular problem.

How to build up the commission and make it representative? I'm not quite sure that I should use a footballing analogy, but I think it's actually trying to work out how to build up the squad that you want, and what's the size of the team you want out of that, and to picking. I think the diversity of the squad is probably going to be appropriate, and obviously we may well want to look for a few Gareth Bales within the civic engagement process.

In terms of remaining relevant and the purpose for the future, I'm very clear, I think, in my mind now that there has to be a further stage, which is that, when it does produce recommendations, when it does produce a report, when we can see the conclusions of the important work that it will do, it should consider also the recommendations as to how these can be taken forward—how you might establish, perhaps, a standing commission that would actually carry these recommendations through, so they're not something that are just an 18 to 24-month process and then forgotten about, and then we go on again a couple of years and try and repeat the same thing. This has got to be a process that leads to, ultimately, a conclusion. As I said, I think change is inevitable, and I think these are the mechanisms by which we can build a consensus for that change, and to make change happen.

15:35

I welcome the setting up of a constitutional commission. Up until now, only Plaid Cymru, with independence, and abolish supporters have been consistent and have had an end point. Despite that, the majority of the Welsh people, in every opinion poll we've seen, want devolution either as we've got it now, or extended. I welcome the co-chair suggestion. Can I just remind the Minister that somebody who's been educated at Oxford, who's public school educated and a barrister—whether they are male or female, or if there's one of each, it does not give you diversity; it gives you exactly the same background.

We need to discuss where devolution ends. I have three questions. What discussion has taken place with the English regional mayors? Because I cannot see devolution working with England being between five and six times the size of the other three put together. Following on from Darren Millar's point, devolution has always been about taking things into Cardiff, either from local authorities or from Westminster; can we have some discussion on what ought to be devolved to the Welsh regions and to the Welsh local authorities, so we can have some movement in the other direction? And I ask again a question that I've previously asked to the First Minister: can you produce a list of items, such as currency, defence, national security, that should not be devolved—the end point? Otherwise, we have only two possible end points: independence or abolish.

I thank Mike for those comments. They are very pertinent comments. He's absolutely right; people clearly do, when you ask them about devolution, want decision-making processes as close to them as possible and to know that they can have the opportunity to influence those.

Can I say that I do agree also that how we reach out and we build engagement with others in various forms of devolved government, whether it be the regional mayors, whether it be the other nations of the UK, is equally important? It's building up alliances—building up and recognising common interests. I think one of the weaknesses to constitutional reform within the UK is that there hasn't been any civic hegemony around the fact that there is a need for change, and that everyone has a common interest in it. This isn't just about Wales. Obviously, we are here to look at the future of Wales, to have a commission to look at that, but this is equally as important, in terms of the democracy and civic engagement, within England as well. Our harmony, our engagement with England and with the other nations of the UK is as important to us as many other matters. 

In terms of governance, and the issue that he raises of further decentralisation of power, that is something that I've always supported, but when I said that it would be looking at governance within Wales, that has to include how governance can be better, and how governance might need to be closer to people. We often use this quote, don't we, that Nye Bevan said:

'The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away.'

Others talked about the withering away of the state over many years, but all these come back to one thing: how do you give greater empowerment to people as close to people as possible?

That brings us on to the other point that Mike raised, which is directly relevant, and that is also recognising our interdependencies. I think, no matter what position you take, whether it be unionism, whether it be federalism, confederalism, independence or whatever version, they still all bring you back ultimately to how you engage with your neighbours, and what level of interdependency you have on issues, whether it be finance, whether it be currency or whatever, but what the mechanism should be to enable that to happen fairly within all the participants. And that seems to me the crux of that issue, so I agree with you on that very much. 

15:40

I fully support the Counsel General's approach to this. I think it's bold, and it is Wales leading the way. We can't have asked for more than that. But I also feel some disappointment in that this is a longer term plan, which relies on the agreement of others, whereas right within the Welsh Government's grasp is a chance to produce 'A Parliament that Works for Wales'. That work's already been done, and the Minister hasn't made any statement about that in what he said. Therefore, can we please see some movement on that? It will take a political party to lead the way. Why can't it be Welsh Labour?

Thank you for the question. I have to say, I wasn't quite sure what the question was within that. I was grateful for the comments you made about Wales leading the way, and I think you were mentioning the issue of Senedd reform as well, which is an issue, obviously, that's going to be considering how a Parliament for Wales actually works, how it can work better, and all the issues around that. What I would say is this: over the course of the summer, I will be seeking to engage with Members, and with political parties, and many others outside, to actually seek views as we start trying to put together a terms of reference as to what should be the sort of framework that we want to lead. There is a conflict; on the one hand you want to create an independent commission, but equally so you want it to be able to work effectively within a framework, and that the experts that you put together are capable of giving it the sort of support and backing that it needs in those particular areas. I hope that answers—. I don't know if I missed part of the question. If not, I'll certainly address any other issues in writing to you. 

Before coming to a question, with your permission, Llywydd, I would like to say a few words about Elystan Morgan. We lost Elystan during last week, and, of course, he was a giant of the Labour Party and the Labour movement, but also of Welsh politics. One thing was consistent throughout Elystan's life was his belief in our democracy and the right for Wales to govern itself. I well remember him talking in a Labour conference, some years ago, about how that is progressing, and how we are moving forward with devolution. I remember his saying that dominion status for Wales was desirable, and he talked about the Statute of Westminster. Some people have heard me mention this in this Chamber. I think it's important that we do bring people together, and one of the things that Elystan could do, of course, was to bring people together. I very much hope that he would have welcomed this statement from the Minister today.

I would like to ask you, Minister, as you proceed with this work—and I welcome it and I welcome the comments made by Darren Millar, too, because if we are to create a new and different Wales, a Wales for the future, then it has to be a Wales for everyone, for each and every one of us, wherever we live and whichever part of the Chamber we choose to sit in. And I very much hope, Minister, that you, through your work, can create the kind of Wales that we all want to see, which will give a voice to each and every one of us to express the kind of Wales we want to see for the future, but also a Wales that is part of us all—and I am coming to a question, Llywydd. 

I tend to think that devolution is dead. The time of devolution is over. It was over last year when the UK Government decided to ignore the wishes of this Senedd, so we have to move forward and we have to create a new democracy. And I very much hope we can ensure that when we do that, we do discuss the roles of our regions in Wales, the role of the whole of Wales, and the role of our neighbours across Offa's Dyke. Because if we are to succeed through your work, Minister, then each and every one of us has to feel comfortable with the direction of travel.

15:45

Well, thank you for those comments. And, of course, it's not through my work, it's going to be through our and many other people's work that success will be achieved. Just commenting on Elystan Morgan, I had the great honour of actually working with Elystan Morgan for quite a number of months during the build-up to the 1979 devolution referendum, along with others. And he was one of a great generation of Welsh politicians: Cledwyn Hughes, Jim Griffiths, John Morris—Elystan Morgan is within that grouping, and there are many others as well. But Elystan, certainly during that campaign, showed not only his incredible oratorical skills, but his ability to win people's hearts and minds to an idea. Unfortunately, as we know, with the referendum, the 1979 referendum was not really about devolution for Wales, it was really about the tail-end of the Labour Government at that particular moment in time. It was probably the worst time to ever have a referendum. But I think it's important that we recognise and remember that legacy. And I had the opportunity to talk with him when he came to the Labour Party conference a few years back, and his mind was still as acute and sharp and as focused on these issues and about the future of Wales. He was certainly a great Welsh patriot, certainly a very committed socialist, and just a wonderful person in whose company you could actually be. So, rest in peace, Elystan. 

In terms of the other comments you made, a Wales for everyone, that is really what this is ultimately about. It's a Wales for everyone, but it's one where we build the consensus for everyone. And I say 'consensus' because, when we take certain terminology out of our conversations, we actually have such an enormous area of common agreement, and it's turning that common agreement into a process of change. And that is going to be part of the real challenge of what this task is about. I don't underestimate the difficulties and the pitfalls that exist, because I think we are doing something that is radically very different, and of course the challenges are there. There is no guide book to how you do this sort of engagement process. We look to other countries, other examples, but at the end of the day, it's in our hands to make it work.

You made—. The final point, really, where you said devolution is dead, I think what has happened is that devolution originally was a process of decentralisation of administered powers and responsibilities from Westminster. The moment Scotland and Wales became legislatures and the moment this place became a legislative parliament, sovereignty shifted to the people. Unfortunately, the problem at the moment is our constitution as it exists in practice has not yet caught up with the reality of what sovereignty is really about, and that is the power of people being exercised through their elected representatives. 

15:50

Diolch, Llywydd. Constitutional matters matter. Back in 2015 in Westminster, we marked with a series of events the eight-hundredth year since the Magna Carta. Many people regarded the Magna Carta as the defining moment constitutionally and legally of Great Britain, the United Kingdom and of many other countries. Actually, many others said it was only the starting point. Of course, the monarch reneged on that within weeks if not days of that agreement and of course subsequently it was followed by events such as the Tolpuddle martyrs; many centuries later there was the Chartist movement, acts of suffrage and so on.

The point is, constitutional matters matter, and they move along as well in response to fitting the constitution to the needs of the people that it serves during the day, and actually this statement you've brought forward shows that very clearly. But it is exceptionally ambitious, because it looks to produce a citizens' conversation, a people's commission engaged in a people's conversation. That is quite an undertaking; it is different from what has happened before. So, all I would ask the Counsel General and Minister to do is by the end of this summer—as he's indicated, he's posited the questions today, the how, the when, the why—but actually, by the end of the summer, I would ask him to come back and scope that out; how we're going to do this, where is the expert support that will do this unusual departure, and quite brave and radical departure, and make it focused around the citizens—and not the elite and not the politicians—and to set out the milestones as well, over which this period of work will be done and what he might anticipate this will produce. But it's a good tradition that he's in, and we would be strange politicians, frankly, if we came here and we didn't agonise over whether the constitution today of Wales and the UK fitted with the needs of the citizens we're sent here to serve. It's a good mission to be on.

Thank you for those comments and for those sentiments, and it's always a pleasure to hear someone quoting about the Magna Carta and about sovereignty and the origins of sovereignty. I notice where the Llywydd sits, there is the mace, the symbol of sovereignty. Of course, the mace was a weapon, which shows, I suppose, the origins of where sovereignty originally emerged from: who had the largest mace. But we won't go there. The point you make in terms of how, when and why: those really are the challenges. And listen, I'd be a fool if I were to say, 'I have at this moment in time all the answers, the complete picture as to exactly how this will work.' There is a lot of deep thought going on on this; there's going to be a lot of engagement and again with yourselves here, and I certainly agree, by the end of summer or by the time we return to this place, you will expect me to be able to deliver a picture that delivers on all those principles and commitments that I've identified today, and quite rightly so.

I thank the Minister.

And I'll have to remember that—that the mace is a weapon. It may come in useful at some point. [Laughter.] We'll now take a break for changes to be made in the Chamber. 

Plenary was suspended at 15:53.

16:00

The Senedd reconvened at 16:02, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

4. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Cymraeg 2050

The next item on our agenda is a statement by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language: Cymraeg 2050. And I call on the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm pleased to have an opportunity today to update the Senedd on the next steps that the Welsh Government will take to implement the Cymraeg 2050 strategy. The journey to 1 million speakers and to double the daily use of Welsh by 2050 has captured the imagination of people across Wales since the last Government made its announcement back in 2017. I'm very delighted to have been appointed Minister for the Welsh language and to have the opportunity to lead the next stages of the strategy.

The strategy itself, and the five-year work programme that I am publishing today, is key to our work to meet the well-being goal of a thriving Welsh language. We are living in challenging times and I am aware that we need to turn goodwill towards the Welsh language into action that is robust and rapid. The commitment to do this runs through the programme. Our vision is outward-looking and inclusive. We want to create bilingual citizens who are confident to use the Welsh that they already possess. In a nutshell, we want everyone in Wales to feel that the language belongs to us all.

Of course, our response to the pandemic and its impact on the use of Welsh language is central to the work programme, and the main elements of Cymraeg 2050 are clear and they continue. With a strategy that extends over such a long term, we knew that changes in society could mean that we would need to adjust our priorities over time. Of course, that had to be done sooner than expected, and the work programme reflects this.

Today, we are also publishing our response to a recent report about the impact of COVID-19 on Welsh language community groups. We are increasing our focus on community development and ensuring that our work helps people to help themselves and their communities to use the Welsh language.

Planning well and strategically is central to our vision. This is what we will do: we will plan carefully to increase the number of children and adults learning Welsh, and we will increase the opportunities available for us to use Welsh with each other, in geographical or virtual communities, workplaces or social spaces.

The 58 areas of action in the programme show how wide-ranging the work is and how many opportunities we have to make a difference. I'm grateful to our partners for the commitment that they have shown. The pandemic has been a difficult time, but I look forward to rebuilding and collaborating further.

The results of the 2021 census and the language use survey for 2019-20 will be published during this Senedd. It's important to note, therefore, that this is a flexible work programme, and I stand ready to review and develop it in light of the census, together with the evidence that we continuously collect.

The work programme builds on the commitments in our programme for government, and embeds its ethos of a Wales that is stronger, greener and fairer into the general commitments: stronger as a confident bilingual country with a unique identity; greener, in growing the green economy and creating good jobs, closer to home, in areas where Welsh is the main language; and fairer, through the work we do to plan, legislate and invest to expand Welsh-medium education, so that all children from all backgrounds have access to Welsh in all parts of Wales.

Therefore, it's my pleasure to present this ambitious work programme for the new Senedd term. I look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues and across government in Wales to implement all of this programme. The next decade will be crucial in terms of language policy, and we must all come together—politicians, local authorities, and society as a whole. The Welsh language belongs to us all; so does the responsibility to implement policies in its favour.

16:05

Thank you, Deputy Llywydd. I'll start by thanking the Minister for an advance copy of today's statement.

I welcome the work that Government is doing to safeguard and develop the Welsh language for the next generation. As one who was brought up in rural Pembrokeshire, educated in a bilingual school, and who considers themselves a first-language Welsh speaker who is a little rusty, I am determined that communicating through the medium of Welsh and using the Welsh language in daily life is a pleasure that everyone should be able to enjoy. But for too long there's been a mindset of 'us and them' in terms of the Welsh language: those who are fluent and those who are learners. People need to feel comfortable in speaking Welsh, whatever their level, not worrying about the odd mistake here and there. Minister, I know that you share my view that we shouldn't be critical of how much or the level of the Welsh language used by individuals, but it's also important that the population joins in the journey to understand the benefits that the language can bring to our lives.

I welcome the ambitious target set by Government for 2050. There is recognition that not only the current Government, but future Governments too, will be responsible for ensuring that this target is delivered. So, what key performance indicators exist in order to ensure the Welsh Government doesn't take its eye off the ball, and how will future Ministers ensure that the policy is effective?

Also, given the news in the statement that the Welsh Government intends to ensure that all posts within the Welsh Government for the future will require some level of Welsh language—to understand the Welsh language—can the Minister explain this point and what he means in terms of an ability to understand the Welsh language? Is there an expectation that all Welsh Government staff in the future will be bilingual? And if this is the case, what assurance can the Minister give us that this announcement will not be an employment barrier for individuals?

And finally, Minister, I'd like to draw your attention to your proposal to encourage young Welsh speakers to return from our universities to help to teach Welsh in our schools. Whilst the focus will be on employing Welsh-speaking teachers, the door will be closed to teachers from outwith Wales. We will lose access to many teachers from various backgrounds who have very different experiences to offer. So, how does the Welsh Government intend to ensure that anyone who wishes to teach in Wales but doesn't have the language skills can find employment as a teacher in Wales? Thank you.

16:10

I thank the spokesperson for his comments. I agree entirely that we don't want a culture to develop in terms of 'us and them'. The Welsh language belongs to everyone. Many people in Wales can speak some Welsh and many more are willing to learn more Welsh every day and to use that every day in a phased approach, and that's how we will succeed. I wish everyone well on that journey—a journey that we've all been on at some stage of our lives.

In terms of the key performance indicators, we have various KPIs in place already in terms of, for example, the number of people in Welsh-medium education. One of the new indicators in this programme is that we ensure that there is a new milestone in terms of the number of year 1 children in Welsh-medium education, for example. So, the current target is 30 per cent by 2031 and, in this work programme, we are proposing a new milestone of 26 per cent by the end of this Senedd in order to ensure that we have targets in the short term as well as the long term. So, there are various interventions in the work programme where there will be more policy work and programmes are already in place for some of those, and the KPIs will be tied to those, so there will be an opportunity for everyone to hold the Government to account for what we talk about in this document.

In terms of the question on recruitment in terms of the civil servants within the Welsh Government, it's a question for the Permanent Secretary. But what I would say is that that's a very good example of the idea that the Welsh language belongs to everyone. That is, the proposal is that people can learn new skills as they join the Welsh Government and learn to speak a little Welsh over a period of time, and I think that that's very inclusive—it doesn't create an idea of 'us and them', it pulls people together and acknowledges that the Welsh language is an asset and has a common value for us all in Wales. I think that anyone would welcome the opportunity to learn new skills in undertaking a new job, and that's what's at the core of this policy.

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I'm grateful to you for bringing a statement forward early in the new Government's term on the target of creating a million Welsh speakers. You know that you have my support in this ambition, and I know that you're entirely sincere in your ambition, but I do need to be convinced that the necessary gear shift is actually happening. Your predecessor told me in the previous Senedd that the new Government—and I quote her exact words; this is what she said—will have to go much further than we have gone to date. So, can you give us some practical examples and specific examples as to what extent this action plan or work programme represents that gear change that your party recognised was needed in order to reach the million Welsh speakers?

In terms of the content of the programme itself, I am concerned that some of the language does suggest continuity rather than change and that it is not specific enough—you're 'updating' targets on teachers; you're 'considering' the impact of standards; you're 'developing' guidance; you're 'continuing' to add to the evidence base on the Welsh language and language planning; and you're 'working' to safeguard Welsh place names. 

Now, in turning to the detail, I do welcome the commitment from your Government to introduce a Welsh-medium education Bill. Plaid Cymru has long argued that we need a statutory mechanism to drive the efforts to significantly develop Welsh-medium education, recognising the key role of the education sector in delivering the million. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Gareth Pierce, the former chief executive of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, who died very recently, who did so much for Welsh-medium education, and Gareth was the author of this discussion paper that I published back in the summer of 2019, which did move the discussion forward to look at the beginnings of a Welsh language education Act, and passing that ambitious legislation would be a particular tribute to Gareth Pierce and his work over many years. So, can you give us some idea of the timetable for the publication of the Bill and the timetable for taking such a Bill through the Senedd?

You note that you will consider the impact of Welsh language standards on language use when making decisions on preparing further regulations. The evidence does demonstrate that standards have had a positive impact on individuals and organisations in those areas where they have been introduced. It's now time to see a timetable published for the extension of standards into other areas, so I'm disappointed with this approach.

Can you confirm the timetable and the remit for considering the impact of standards? What will be the impact of the delay that there has been in terms of the regulations that have already been consulted upon, which are the health regulators and the water companies? We need to recognise the important contribution of standards to the strategy and get clarity as we move forward with implementation in new areas.

Finally, you refer to the establishment of a commission to strengthen the Welsh language as a community language. Can you tell us more about this commission? Will it be some sort of task and finish group, because we certainly don't want another talking shop? If it's not a body or a task and finish group, will it be some sort of development body, with powers to regenerate Welsh language communities and to bring jobs to the west of Wales?

As a step towards the creation of a purpose-built body of that kind, which is what Plaid Cymru believes is necessary, can you give us an update on the Arfor plan, and specifically on funding for the continuation of that important programme? Thank you.

16:15

I thank Siân Gwenllian for welcoming the work programme. This is a change of gear. Every Senedd is a new opportunity to look again at what we've already delivered and also what's in front of us, and an opportunity for us to set new targets and new priorities in the wake of our experience. It's a good thing and it's an inevitable thing. So, we have further targets in this document, in terms of mudiadau meithrin, for example, but we beat those targets in the last Senedd, by the way, in terms of the numbers of mudiadau meithrin, so we have a good basis to build on there. 

We have new issues that deal with the geographical challenges, in terms of western and northern communities specifically; extending the role of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol; the further work on the National Centre for Learning Welsh; and guaranteeing access to language learning between 16 and 25, free of charge. So, there are new steps being taken in this strategy, building on the work that was done by my predecessor, Eluned Morgan, at the end of the last Senedd.

Also, you asked about the Welsh-medium education Bill. That's a commitment, and it's very clear in this document. Work is already happening on the scope and content of that Bill, and I'll be happy to update the Senedd further on that in the next term.

In terms of the standards—the Dirprwy Lywydd has asked me to be brief here, so I'm just touching on the questions that you asked. In terms of the standards, it is important to ensure that what we do as a Government does have a positive impact on the use of the Welsh language. That's the main aim: ensuring that everything that we do, and every intervention that we undertake, ensures support for the use of the Welsh language as a living language in our communities. That's my priority, and the standards, like every other intervention, have a role to play in that. But, the yardstick in every case, across everything that we do, is use, and I've had very positive discussions with the commissioner about looking at those two things jointly—standards and their contribution to the use of the language.

And the final question, you mentioned the commission. I'm not talking about creating a body and new infrastructure. This is a group of people who will be able to advise us on the specific challenges, as Dr Simon Brooks, for example, described in his report. One of his recommendations was to establish this kind of commission, and we're very pleased about that and enthusiastic about establishing it and taking it forward.

16:20

I couldn't hear your voice, Dirprwy Lywydd. I've been contacted by a constituent whose son is coming to the end of year eight, and he’s concerned that successive lockdowns have meant his son has fallen significantly behind with his spoken and written Welsh in a Welsh-medium school. He’s contacted the National Centre for Learning Welsh—the NCLW—to ask about extra tuition over the school summer holidays for his son, only to be told it won't be possible as the NCLW's remit, set by the Welsh Government, requires it to teach adults, 18 plus only.

Would the Minister consider expanding the remit of NCLW, perhaps simply for this summer, given the exceptional circumstances that exist, in order to allow them to provide support and additional training to those under the age of 18, for example to pupils in Welsh-medium secondary schools from non-Welsh-speaking households?

I thank Hefin David for that question; it’s an important question. Pupils from non-Welsh-speaking families have faced specific challenges during this recent period and I want to pay tribute to the work of the national centre and for their innovation over the last year, extending what they’ve been able to do online and developing an interesting offer for many people over a very difficult period.

As the Member may know, there has been a review of the work of the national centre and I intend to be in a situation to say more on that over the coming weeks, and so perhaps the question that he has raised today will be relevant in that context.

The main objective of the 2050 strategy is to ensure more use of the Welsh language and a significant way of doing that is through education. However, many families in Pencoed are waiting to hear the results of an appeal, to see if their children will be able to Ysgol Bro Ogwr in September. If the appeal fails then these families will have to choose between sending their children further away for Welsh-medium education or choosing English-medium education. The Minister will know, in terms of the school access code, point 3.5 mentions that local authorities have the right to change the number of pupils accepted if there are plans in place to expand the provision of education, as is the case in Ysgol Bro Ogwr. It’s apparent to me that Bridgend council should guarantee a place to the children who’ve been refused a place, and I hope that the Minister will convey that to colleagues in Bridgend county.

But there is a fundamental question here too: where is the fairness here? Why should the children of Pencoed have to travel outside Pencoed to receive Welsh-medium education? Quite simply, areas like Bridgend will continue to miss their targets unless something changes and changes soon.

Well, I want to reflect on the point that was raised about the importance of fair access in every part of Wales for pupils who want a Welsh-medium education. That’s certainly the objective of the Welsh Government and that’s certainly the call from us to local government over the next period, in terms of ambitious strategic plans to ensure that we move more quickly towards realising that aim.

In terms of the specific situation that he has raised today, my officials have been in discussions with officials in the council and I’ll be happy to write to the Member on that.

I’d like to welcome the new Minister to post and I’d also like to thank him for the opportunity to have this debate an early stage in this new Senedd. I welcome the tone that the Minister has adopted in his initial remarks.

There are a few things that I would like to say as part of my contribution this afternoon. The first is on the importance of Welsh-speaking communities, communities where the Welsh language is used on a daily basis, and that is crucially important and must be part of the Government’s strategy.

And, secondly, the right of every one of us to learn Welsh. The Minister will know that there is a new Welsh-medium school being opened in Tredegar. When I attended school in Tredegar, I didn’t even have the right to learn the Welsh language in school, so we have seen transformation over recent years, but we must ensure that people do have the ability and confidence to use the Welsh language.

Finally, I’d like to say this: it’s important that when we set that objective of 1 million, it was about using the Welsh language and using the Welsh language on a daily basis. I’ve never been too concerned about standards. We don’t want to see bureaucratic language that exists only in books and policy; we want to see the Welsh language as a language that is used among families at home, and in the pub, when you're watching the football or the rugby. That's where we want to see the Welsh language. And would you—

16:25

—work with the Football Association of Wales, and others, to ensure that we normalise the use of the Welsh language where we socialise, where we live and where we work?

I thank Alun Davies for that question, and I also thank him for his work in the last Senedd on this agenda, which is so important to the work that we're proceeding with at the end of the last Senedd term and the start of this term. So, I thank him for his innovative work in this area.

And I want to echo what he said in terms of the importance of language use in our communities. I am also announcing our response to the report on the impact of COVID on the use of the Welsh language in community organisations, and that impact has been very significant. So, we need to support them to work in ways that support them for the future. But the point that he closed on, the importance of Welsh in the workplace, that's a central part of what we're trying to ensure, and that's one of the points of emphasis in this document in terms of supporting the use of the Welsh language.

The Minister will be aware that the Swansea valley, in his own constituency, is linguistically significant because it includes the highest number and highest percentage of Welsh speakers in Neath Port Talbot—among the highest in the whole of Wales in fact. In relation to the objectives set out by the Minister today in terms of developing Welsh-medium education, safeguarding and developing the Welsh language as a community language, and providing opportunities for the use of the Welsh language outside the classroom, I'd like to ask how the Minister will ensure that local authorities don't take steps that would threaten that, such as the plan by Neath Port Talbot who want to open a new, huge English-medium school in Pontardawe, contrary to the wishes of the communities of the schools that will have to close in order to do that, and also the view of experts such as Heini Gruffudd, Dyfodol i'r Iaith and Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg, who say that it will be a detrimental blow to Welsh-medium education and the viability of the language in the valley. And the Minister will be aware that Neath Port Talbot hasn't opened a new single new Welsh-medium primary school since the reorganisation of local government in 1996. So, there is work to be done.

There is no talk either, in the work programme, of building on the Government's significant investment in terms of establishing Welsh language community centres, although those like Tŷ'r Gwrhyd in Pontardawe—and Alun Davies may recall coming to open that centre—have seen great success in expanding the use and procurement of the Welsh language—

—beyond the sphere of education. So, what are the plans in order to support these as part of the work programme? Thank you.

Well, of course, I answer in my capacity as education Minister rather than as a local Member for Neath. I can say that Neath Port Talbot's full business case for the proposal of the school in Pontardawe has been postponed at present by the Welsh Government, and officials will meet with the authority next week to discuss their assessment of the impact on the Welsh language in more detail before pressing ahead further. It's important when local authorities consider proposals for planning for schools, for Welsh-medium provision or English-medium provision, that they continue to look at the broader picture. Neath Port Talbot council has noted Pontardawe as a linguistically sensitive area, so all possible steps must be taken by the authority to mitigate any detrimental impact that new proposals could have on the Welsh language.

In terms of impact on organisations and community hubs, the report that I publish today, the focus of that is the impact of COVID on Welsh language community groups and infrastructure specifically, so I would refer the Member to the content of that document.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm really glad to hear that the Minister is serious about reaching 1 million siaradwyr Cymraeg by 2050. Taking camau bach makes a huge difference. Like thousands of people across Wales, I use Duolingo every morning to learn more geiriau. But more important than this, children across Wales speak Welsh in their classrooms every day, like the children in Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda. The Minister knows that I recently visited Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda to meet with the new headteacher, to discuss the future of the school, and I look forward to meeting with the Minister to further discuss the plans. What steps will the Minister take to encourage more people to dechrau dysgu Cymraeg and encourage more parents to send their children to Welsh language schools? 

I thank Buffy Williams for that question, and I think that the fact that some of it was in Welsh is fantastic.

In terms of what we're doing to encourage people to learn Welsh, a lot of the work that Mudiad Meithrin do is having a great and positive impact on the numbers attending Welsh-medium schools. So, investing further in that sector is very important. The ambition that we've set for local authorities for provision over the next period is going to contribute to that, but there is also a role for FE and HE and lifelong learning, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity at every part of their lives to access Welsh-medium education and learning Welsh. That's vital, and we're going to continue, as the work programme describes, to support that work over the coming period.

16:30
5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change: Trees and Timber

Item 5 is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on trees and timber. I call on the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters.

Diolch yn fawr. Let me begin by saying that trees are a good thing. We must protect the trees that we have, and plant 86 million more of them in Wales by the end of this decade, if we are to tackle the climate emergency. We need a step change in woodland creation, and a transformation in the way Welsh wood is used across our economy.

Over the past month, I have led an intensive deep-dive exercise to urgently identify the barriers preventing progress and actions to overcome them. I have been supported by a small taskforce made up of experts in these areas, and I want to thank each of them for the time they have committed, and their desire to drive change. I've also spoken with representatives of many groups with an interest, including farmers, foresters, non-governmental organisations, processors and house builders.

We're accepting the tree planting targets set by the UK Climate Change Committee. To reach net zero, we need to plant 43,000 hectares of new trees by 2030, rising to 180,000 hectares by 2050. To be clear, Dirprwy Llywydd, this will require a 15-fold increase in the number of trees we have planted in Wales this year. It'll only be possible through an alliance for change, involving many partners working together. So, today, I want to issue a call to arms for people to join us in delivering this essential change, and it starts with individuals and communities across Wales. For every newborn baby in Wales, we plant a new tree both in Wales and in Uganda. We've learnt some valuable lessons from our partnership with the people of Mbale that we now need to apply more broadly here.

Let's start with the message we deliver with the Size of Wales charity in Africa: trees are amazing. They save lives by keeping our air clean. Trees improve people's health; there is clear evidence of multiple benefits to our well-being from lower stress and blood pressure when around trees. I wish I was around them more often. Higher levels of physical activity, better mental health, greater levels of neighbourliness, lower crime levels too; trees are essential for tackling our nature emergency, helping improve biodiversity, and, of course, in tackling climate change, both by absorbing carbon, alleviating flooding and displacing carbon-intensive products like concrete in house building. And they can help us create more jobs too. Work has begun on implementing our manifesto commitment to develop a timber industrial strategy and create a stronger wood economy for Wales.

We want every family with a garden to plant more trees, and every school and community group to sign up to the Woodland Trust free tree scheme. We need to make it easier for communities to plant trees, and easier for them to interact with authorities. As a result of the deep-dive exercise, we have agreed that public bodies need to map the land they own and proactively identify where more trees can be planted.

It's vital that we work with, and learn from, the farmers and other landowners in Wales who will need to plant many of these trees. It was clear from our exercise that it's not just more advice we need, it's more engagement we need—genuine engagement; thousands of conversations with every farmer to see what suits their farm, to get them as part of the solution that we need to see. And demonstrate to them that planting trees can exist alongside other farming activities, both from a financial and a social perspective. The current grant regime acts against that, and that needs to change. As well as planting new woodlands, we also need to plant what is described as 'hedges and edges', such as trees along field boundaries, scattered trees, hedges and shelter belts—I've learned some new words, Dirprwy Lywydd, as part of this exercise. It's been a fascinating experience.

There are some excellent examples to learn from, including the Stump Up For Trees project near Abergavenny, which I visited yesterday, a project led by farmers in consensus with communities to plant trees on unproductive land and create new sources of income whilst protecting their communities for the longer term. We need more examples like these, so I am establishing a new working group to urgently consider models to attract investment in woodland creation, crucially, without disrupting existing communities and patterns of landownership. I am worried, Dirprwy Lywydd, by the trend of large areas of farmland being bought up by outside interests in an exercise in greenwash. This does not need to happen, as we've seen from Stump Up For Trees, and I want to take action to make sure that doesn't get out of hand.

Many of the trees currently planted in Wales are funded through our Glastir woodland creation scheme. In the past, funding through this scheme has been too inconsistent and the process for getting funding too complex and slow. I have wondered, at times, how we've managed to plant as many trees as we have, frankly. The taskforce has identified a number of actions to change this. We'll open a new window of the current scheme to ensure all of the £17 million we’ve allocated to tree planting is spent this year, and I have asked NRW to introduce immediate changes to speed up delivery, to lead an overhaul of the guidance we provide around tree planting, and focus instead on outreach to help people get things done and get things right at the start of a project.

From next year, we will introduce an improved scheme to support woodland creation, with stand-alone funding to allow people to plan new woodland so we create a pipeline of projects that are ready to plant when the money becomes available. I want many of the areas supported by these schemes to form part of the national forest, to create a network of high-quality areas of woodland across Wales. We also need to do more to support people to create new woodlands or make improvements to existing woodlands to meet the standards of the national forest. Later this week, we'll open the woodland investment grant to allow people to apply for this support. 

Eighty per cent of the timber used in the UK is imported, and only 4 per cent of the 1.5 million tonnes of harvested timber is processed to be used as construction-grade timber in Wales. So there's a real opportunity for timber processors and manufacturers in Wales to contribute to this wood economy, creating new jobs in rural Wales as well as building an innovative supply chain for high value added, longer life uses. We should be spending less of our attention on producing pallets, and more of our attention on using that wood to build Welsh homes that capture and keep carbon. That will require co-ordination across the supply chain. So, I've another new working group to urgently consider the content of a new timber industrial strategy for Wales. We need to create added value right throughout the chain, and there's much we can learn from the Republic of Ireland in this.

We have published this afternoon, Dirprwy Lywydd, a list of the 39 actions the taskforce has agreed, alongside the written statement. We now need to keep up the momentum. I will close, if I may, with a comment made during one of our meetings by Mark McKenna from the Down to Earth project. He said, in reflecting on one of our conversations, 'The solutions are there. We need to invest and we need to plan'. And we intend to. Diolch. 

16:35