Y Cyfarfod Llawn
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.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a 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 equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda. And I would also remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber as to those joining virtually.
Before we move to our formal agenda this afternoon, I want to say on behalf of us all that we have all been shaken by the news of the death of Sir David Amess, Member of Parliament. Our democracy hinges on the ability of our elected members to listen to and to speak to the people we serve. All elected members, without exception, should be able to do this work safely and without fear. Notwithstanding our different opinions, our respect for the democratic process unites us all, along with our commitment to public service. Our thoughts as a Senedd are with David Amess's family, friends and colleagues, and we will now pause for a minute's silence as a mark of respect.
A minute's silence was held.
Thank you. I now call on the party leaders to say a few words of tribute to David Amess, starting with the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd, diolch yn fawr. It is the banality of evil that is often most chilling. Here was an elected representative going about the most ordinary everyday duty, as he had for nearly 38 years. An ordinary Friday, a church that could be found anywhere, a queue of people looking for help or advice. How many hundreds and hundreds of times has that scene not been replicated by so many of us here in this Senedd as we go about our democratic responsibilities?
Today, we send a message of sorrow and of sympathy to the friends and family of Sir David Amess, but, in the hurt and the horror, we also send this message: we carry on, conscious of our own safety and that of our staff, of course, but never willing to let go of our responsibility to the safety of Welsh democracy and those everyday things that keep it healthy and keep it whole, and which our constituents look to us to help sustain.
Paul Davies, on behalf of the Welsh Conservatives.
Diolch, Llywydd. On behalf of the Welsh Conservative Senedd group, I send my heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir David Amess. The terrible news of his death has been met with shock, anger and sadness by so many across the United Kingdom. It's clear that Sir David was well respected and well liked across the political divide. Tributes and messages from so many people and from politicians from all parties have been made, which just goes to show the calibre of the man we have lost.
Sir David diligently represented the people of Southend West and, prior to that, Basildon for almost 40 years, and in that time helped support thousands of people and champion so many important causes. Many of you will be aware of his passion for animal welfare. As a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, he supported campaigns such as the ban on fox hunting, animal testing and puppy farming among other issues. However, perhaps the cause he was best known for was giving his beloved home town of Southend city status, which I understand Her Majesty The Queen has now approved. Indeed, he was clearly a committed constituency MP, who worked hard to represent and support his constituents, making it all the more cruel that he was taken away from us whilst performing his constituency duties. But above all, he was a much-loved husband and father to his wife and children, and a friend and colleague to so many.
Following Sir David's tragic passing, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has called for an end to the hate that drives attacks against politicians. He is right to say that if anything positive is to come out of this latest awful tragedy, it is that the quality of political discourse has to change, the conversation has to be kinder and based on respect. Politicians, activists and the media, we all have a role to play in advocating healthy debate and discussion, based on ideas and respect. And yet, too often, inciteful language is used, aggressive and hateful comments are posted online, and media articles and narratives demonise public figures and humiliate them. We must step up and promote a way of working that is built on respect for each other as human beings. We must call out hate when we see it and commit to detoxifying our political landscape.
The attack on Sir David was an attack on our democracy, and so, Llywydd, the greatest tribute that we can all give to Sir David is to continue with our duties and represent our constituents to the best of our abilities. But for now, though, our thoughts are with Sir David's family and all who knew him and loved him. May he rest in peace. Diolch.
Adam Price, to speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru.
Diolch, Llywydd. The death of Sir David Amess has cast the darkest cloud over our democracy, but we can remember him with fondness and warmth, because, everywhere he went, David brought light. He was the very symbol of what a parliamentarian should be—a man of deep principle but with the broadest of affection, a strong conviction but with a kind heart, who died as he lived, listening to the people. There are few people who I ever met for whom the term 'right honourable friend' was more fitting.
I came to know Sir David during my time at Westminster. He was a sincere Conservative, but he also embodied an independence of thought that rose above mere party politics. He supported me on a point of principle in the aftermath of the Iraq war, signing my impeachment motion—an act of cross-party co-operation and an eclectic friendship that typified David's attitude to life and to politics. Whenever I returned to Westminster in recent years, he'd always be there with that warmest of smiles, saying with the disarming charity that was typical of him how much the Commons was poorer without me. How infinitely poorer it is without a man such as him.
That someone so dedicated to his square mile was killed in the very community he loved and served make the tragic events of last Friday so much more painful and poignant. As we remember Sir David and celebrate his life, let us also stay true to our shared values, as representatives of the people, just like David did every day of his distinguished life. There are no greater tributes than those given by the people of Southend West, who put their trust in him—those he helped, those he championed, and those whose battles he fought. Let them be a source of comfort to fill the void. But there is no greater loss than that felt by his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and, on behalf of Plaid Cymru, I send our sincerest condolences at this unimaginably difficult time.
Jane Dodds, on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd, and thank you very much for the opportunity to say a very few words at this time. Whilst I did not know Sir David personally, it is clear to me and everyone how passionate he was about what he did—about fuel poverty, animal welfare, representing his constituents and, indeed, Southend. Sir David was killed offering help to his constituents—the most important job that we have as politicians. One thing I've heard more than anything else over the weekend is that Sir David was always civil when engaging in political debate, even with those with whom he profoundly disagreed. We can all learn to be kind and warm, like Sir David, even when we disagree. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, everyone.
The first item on our agenda formally today is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Natasha Asghar.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on coronavirus requirements for international travellers from Wales? OQ57043
Llywydd, international travel inevitably brings the risk of importing new coronavirus infections, especially new variants, into the United Kingdom. Border health measures are an important defence against such risks. The Welsh Government has consistently advocated a precautionary approach towards reopening international travel.
Thank you, First Minister. First Minister, I've stood here many a time, and I know you don't like answering individual cases, but I have been asked by a number of constituents about a matter that I'd like to raise with you today, here in the Chamber. Now, I've been contacted, like I said, by a family who are experiencing difficulty in obtaining COVID passports for foreign travel. Earlier this year, they were in lockdown in Portugal and, during this time, they were offered and received vaccinations and the appropriate cards recording this fact. They now find that countries they wish to travel to and visit are demanding official COVID passports, and failure to produce this further piece of documentation would require them to test and quarantine for two weeks. They contacted Wales's NHS COVID passport centre and were informed that there is no mechanism, per se, for issuing COVID passports for anyone not vaccinated here in Wales. On searching the Portugese web pages, my constituents found the authorities there are issuing COVID passports to residents free of charge, but they are, sadly, not Portuguese residents. Please could you advise how people here in Wales, in these circumstances, can obtain COVID passports to enable them to travel abroad freely? Thank you.
Well, Llywydd, as the Member said, it is difficult to give advice on individual cases when answering questions. The general position is that the Welsh Government has agreed with the UK Government the expanded vaccine recognition arrangements, which were announced when the latest set of changes were introduced. That should mean that people who are vaccinated in other countries, where their vaccination regime meets the standards set out by our own regulator, will be able to get a vaccine certificate here in the United Kingdom and in Wales. But that is an important safeguard—that vaccines that are administered elsewhere in the world have to be vaccines that are recognised, that our system would regard as conveying protection on those individuals, and that the regime under which those vaccines are provided is one that would stand up to scrutiny. Provided those things are in place, then a significant liberalisation has been agreed across the United Kingdom, with more countries being recognised for these purposes, and more vaccine certification therefore able to be confirmed by our own system. Whether that applies in the case of the individual to which the Member refers, I would need some further particulars in order to be able to establish.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the role of teaching assistants in schools? OQ57082
Thank you very much for the question, Llywydd. Reforms in 2019 codified a set of national professional standards for teaching assistants, and these made it mandatory for teaching assistants to register with the Education Workforce Council. School governing bodies and local education authorities are responsible for fulfilling the responsibilities of the employer with regard to this important and integral aspect of the school workforce.
Thank you for that response, First Minister. Well, teaching assistants are a crucial part of the education workforce of our nation. They prepare lessons for pupils, they take groups out to learn outdoors, provide one-to-one attention for pupils with additional needs, take lessons when teachers aren't available, among other things. As a former governor for many years, I saw the value of their contribution to children's education on a daily basis, and we thank them for their service. They work in very difficult circumstances and receive very low wages for their hard work. Indeed, unlike teachers, they aren't paid during school holidays. Isn't it time for the Government to ensure that the pay and conditions of our teaching assistants, as well as training opportunities, are put in place uniformly across Wales and that our assistants receive the recognition that they deserve for their work?
Thank you very much to Mabon ap Gwynfor for that additional question. I agree with everything that he said about the vital role that those who work in this field contribute to the education of children across Wales. At the end of the day, it's the governing body and local authorities that are responsible for employing those people who work as teaching assistants. But we do have a group, associated with the schools forum that we have—so, it's a sub-group that was established back in the previous term. The group was chaired by the Unison union until February of this year. Now, the head of one of the schools in Blaenau Gwent chairs that group, and they have looked into a number of the issues that could raise standards in this field, and to acknowledge the contribution that people are making in this area. They have published a paper back in July, and the intention is for the Minister to make a statement to the Senedd next month. In English, because the report is here in English, it focused on three things:
standardisation of roles, consistency in deployment, and moves to common pay scales across Wales.
So, what they're talking about, Llywydd, is a national framework, where the local responsibilities remain.
Before I start, can I declare an interest, as my wife is employed as a teacher assistant? I'd like to take this opportunity to thank teaching assistants, as well as all school staff, in Monmouthshire and beyond for everything they have done to help children and young people with their learning throughout the pandemic. First Minister, the workload of teaching assistants has increased significantly during the pandemic. Many have had to step in to teach classes due to teacher absences and staff shortages, as well as supporting children with online learning, and this is on top of their usual classroom duties. These extra duties could have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of many teaching assistants, and it's important that adequate support is on offer. Yet a recent survey carried out by the Education Workforce Council found that just 7.4 per cent of respondents had made use of well-being days, and 8.8 per cent had made use of well-being training courses provided by schools. First Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to support the health and well-being of teachers' assistants, and what more can the Government and local education authorities do to promote the take-up of the services that are already available to staff? And I appreciate your answer just given.
I thank Peter Fox for that, Llywydd, and I agree with him about the contribution that teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants make in the classroom, and the burden that responding to the pandemic has placed on them, alongside all the other people who work in our education service. Now, the Welsh Government provides funding to a UK charity. It's called Education Support, and it is an organisation dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of people in the classroom. And we have always been very clear from the Welsh Government that, by that, we mean all classroom staff and, indeed, all school staff here in Wales.
The programmes of help offered by Education Support have had a new element of flexibility built into them in order to respond to the pandemic, and we are very keen indeed to make sure that that package of support is well advertised to staff here in Wales so that they are able to take advantage of it. Within that package of support, there is some additional and bespoke material that is particularly designed to reflect the experiences of teaching assistants. So, I agree very much with what Peter Fox said, that there is more that can be done locally and nationally to advertise the help that is available, to make sure that people know that it is there, to know that thought has been given to making sure that it is relevant to them and useable to them, and then to make sure that, as that resource is further developed, we take into account the experiences that people will report and have gone through in recent times.
Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, yesterday you made it clear that you were seeking reassurances from the UK Government that a UK-wide COVID inquiry will have a sufficient focus on decisions made here in Wales. If you're so concerned that a UK-wide inquiry won't probe the Welsh Government enough, then why don't you commit to an independent Welsh inquiry?
Well, for the many reasons that I've previously explained, Llywydd. I had an opportunity yesterday to meet with the Prime Minister. It was a wide-ranging meeting, but I had two issues in particular that I wanted to make sure I put directly to the Prime Minister in that meeting. One was the issue of coal-tip safety and its importance here in Wales, and the other was to follow up the meeting that I had held with bereaved families here in Wales and to put some of the points that they put to me to the Prime Minister. And what I put to the Prime Minister was that, for Wales to be part of the UK inquiry that he has proposed and in the way that he has asked us to be involved, I needed to be able to provide assurances to others that Wales would not be, in the term that is sometimes used, a footnote in a UK inquiry, that the inquiry would provide a specific focus on the Welsh experience, that it would go about its inquiries in a way that provided ample opportunity for people in Wales to be directly involved in it, and that, when it came to reporting, there would be material in the report that was directly focused on the way in which decisions had been made here in Wales. The Prime Minister gave positive replies to all of that, recognising the points that were made and reaffirming his wish that the Welsh dimension, as he put it, of the coronavirus experience, would be properly investigated and then reported within the wider context, without which you cannot make proper sense of what happened in Wales or provide the answers that people, quite rightly, will look to the inquiry to provide.
But, First Minister, there's no reason why the Welsh Government can't take part in a UK-wide inquiry and a Welsh inquiry. An open and a transparent Government must be accountable to the people it serves, and the people of Wales deserve answers. 'Responsible, but not held responsible' seems to be the mantra of this Welsh Labour Government. Now, organisations like the bereaved families group, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales and the British Lung Foundation have all joined calls for a Welsh inquiry. It's time for your Government to do the right thing and commit to that inquiry. A Welsh inquiry is a necessary part in helping the country to understand how decisions were made and whether lessons have indeed been learnt. Therefore, do you accept that refusing a Welsh inquiry is not just insulting to those campaigners who are tirelessly fighting for answers, but it also undermines Wales's ability to mitigate against future threats, if we can't understand the process of decision making throughout the pandemic?
Well, Llywydd, I listened carefully to what the Member said in his first contribution on the floor of the Senedd this afternoon. I don't think using terms like 'insulting' is consistent with what he said earlier about the need to conduct public discourse on the basis of mutual respect and trust. I do not come to my conclusions on the basis of wishing to insult anybody; I come to my conclusions because I believe the answers that people in Wales need will be better provided, they will get better answers, if there is a Welsh focus within a UK inquiry. Because I don't believe that you can make proper sense of the many decisions that were made here in Wales without understanding the relationship between those decisions and the wider context within which they were made.
Our position remains as it has been for many weeks. Provided we get the assurances that we are looking for from the UK Government that there will be that focus on decisions here in Wales, that people in Wales will have answers to their questions within the UK inquiry, then I think that will give them better answers. If we don't get those assurances, if we're not certain that we will get the focus on the Welsh experience that we need, then that will give us pause to think again.
If you don't commit to a specific Wales inquiry, people will think that your Government is evading scrutiny and refusing to make itself accountable to its people. While the UK-wide inquiry will rightly consider inter-governmental decision making, a Welsh inquiry could solely focus on your Government's handling of the pandemic. And let us not forget that it was the Welsh Government that was responsible for people not being tested prior to being discharged from hospital, therefore allowing the virus to enter Wales's care settings. In fact, after England introduced mass testing in care homes during the first wave in 2020, you said that you could see no value in introducing tests across Welsh care homes. And let us not forget that it was the Welsh Government that was responsible for failing to get a grip on hospital-acquired infections. In fact, after reports of hospital-acquired infections rising 50 per cent in a week, the health Minister at the time said that he 'didn't think it's out of control, but is a real risk.' And let us not forget that it was the Welsh Government that was responsible for failing to send more than 13,000 shielding letters to the right addresses in April and May last year.
So, First Minister, the list goes on and on and on. So, why won't you give the families of those who lost their lives during the pandemic the answers they need and the peace that they deserve? And why won't you accept both a UK-wide inquiry and, indeed, a Welsh inquiry, so that your Government's handling of the pandemic can be fully scrutinised and your Ministers held to account? The Welsh people deserve that.
Llywydd, I'm completely committed to there being proper scrutiny of decisions that were made here in Wales, an inquiry into them and accountability as a result. I'm not persuaded that overlapping and competing inquiries will give the best answers for people who need those answers. While the Prime Minister—while his Prime Minister—continues to offer me the assurances that experiences here in Wales will get the attention they need and deserve and will do so within the wider context that only a UK inquiry can investigate, then I'm prepared to continue with the agreement that I struck with the Prime Minister at the outset. There are still some important tests for the UK Government, and they're coming in the short term. The Prime Minister has said to bereaved families that he will appoint a chair of that inquiry this side of Christmas. I expect First Ministers of other UK nations to be involved in that appointment. If I read about it in a press release, or I'm told about it half an hour before it is issued, then the sense of genuine involvement and a genuine opportunity to have the Welsh dimension scrutinised as it needs to be in that inquiry will inevitably be under question.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister assured me that devolved Governments would be properly engaged and involved in that appointment, in the terms of reference, in the working practices of the UK inquiry, and I look forward to that being borne out in practice.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, today, your Government has announced the co-chairs of the independent commission that will be taking forward the national conversation on the constitutional future of Wales. In Professor McAllister and Dr Williams, I think that most people would accept that we have two incredibly impressive individuals to lead this work. Among its objectives, the commission is, and I quote,
'To consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy'.
Can you confirm that that will include, for the very first time in the case of an officially established body, serious and substantive work on Welsh independence?
Llywydd, I thank Adam Price for what he said about the co-chairs of the independent commission. I think that he's right. It is hard to think of any Welsh figure who commands greater respect—not simply in Wales, but on the world stage—than Dr Rowan Williams. In Professor Laura McAllister, we have one of the leading experts on the subject matter that the commission will have at its heart.
I can certainly confirm that, as Professor McAllister has said today, the commission will look at the whole suite of potential constitutional futures for Wales. The terms of reference for the commission certainly allow for independence to be considered as one of these options. They allow for any person who has a view as to how Wales's constitutional future should best be shaped to come to the commission to make their case for that. It would be absurd—and I think that that was the word that Professor McAllister used—to rule out independence.
But, nothing else is ruled out either. If I have the opportunity, I will certainly give my evidence to the commission that entrenched devolution in a successful United Kingdom is the best constitution for Wales. But, Plaid Cymru—and I welcome very much what Plaid Cymru's spokesperson said about constructive engagement and making every use of the opportunity that it presents—will be able to set out its stall for a different constitutional future.
I'm sure that the First Minister wouldn't mind me saying that the implicit confirmation by a Welsh Labour Government that independence, though clearly not your favoured option, can be considered a progressive option, will be seen by many in the independence movement as a significant milestone. We do indeed, on our side, look forward to engaging constructively with the commission.
Whatever the report in the end concludes—whether it supports your preferred future, First Minister, of radical federalism, or our alternative future of independence—is not the commission's starting point as important as its end point, in this sense? Because it signifies a new, shared determination that we shouldn't wait for our constitutional future to be chosen for us by default by decisions in Westminster or, indeed, developments elsewhere in these islands, but that we should decide for ourselves; that we should neither be on the sidelines nor in the shadows of someone else's deliberations, but that we should place Wales front and centre of our own debate.
Well, Llywydd, I certainly agree that that is exactly the purpose of the commission: to take our future into our own hands. I think that this is a particularly important moment for us to do that. During this Senedd term, while we are all sitting here, it is very likely that there will be a further referendum on independence in Scotland.
I don't often quote Iain Duncan Smith here, Llywydd—[Laughter.]—but I'll make an exception today. I think that he said to the Conservative Party conference that the future of Northern Ireland was more uncertain today than at any time in the past, because of the impact of the Brexit decision and the uncertainties over the Northern Ireland protocol. The United Kingdom is in a fragile position, and it is very important that, as a responsible Government and as a responsible Senedd, we find a way of mapping out our own future in the turbulent times in which we live.
Llywydd, can I say that I was very grateful to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies, for making a number of nominations for someone to sit on the commission? Because I want the commission to be something that anybody who has a view about Wales's future and how best it can be secured, given the uncertain times in which we live, should feel confident that they can turn up to and make their case.
Constitutional commissions—and we’ve had a few, haven’t we, in Wales—by their very nature, because they’re a mixture of the political and the technical, mean that they sometimes struggle to engage the wider public. So, how can we ensure that the commission acts as a platform, First Minister, for that wider national and civic conversation? How can we go beyond the traditional forms of engagement—you know, the consultation, the opinion polling, questionnaires, focus groups or what have you? Can we try something new?
And would you consider, First Minister, inviting the commission to submit its interim report to a Welsh citizens' assembly—a people’s senedd, if you like—that could meet, perhaps, Llywydd, even in this Chamber, to discuss our nation’s future, as a symbol of that most basic democratic principle of all, that it’s the people, ultimately, all of them equally, that must decide our future as a nation?
Well, Llywydd, I’m very much in favour of citizen engagement. I think, in the interviews that he has given in the last day, Dr Rowan Williams has himself emphasised his wish to make sure that the commission works in a way that is genuinely accessible to and engaging of the citizens of Wales. But, it will be for the independent commission to decide on the method of that engagement, and a citizens' assembly is just one way in which that can be done.
I may be old-fashioned here, Llywydd, but I always thought that when I came here I was coming to the people's assembly, and that that is what we are. When we turn up here, we have been elected by people to be here. That does not mean for a minute that we have an exclusive right to express opinions, and there are many other ways in which people can be involved. But I do want the commission to have the freedom to decide on the best way to achieve a shared ambition, because I very much agreed with what Adam Price said on the ambition of engagement, and more than engagement, a sense of ownership of our own future in Wales.
3. How is the Welsh Government working cross-sector to provide mental health support for children and young people? OQ57035
I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. A multi-agency national partnership board, regional partnership boards and local partnership arrangements in each health board all help ensure a collaborative and cross-sector approach to delivering mental health services for children and young people.
A Flintshire-based charity providing professional high-quality mental health support and recovery in the community, including a project that empowers young people to build resilience, boost confidence and manage difficult emotions, has told me that school leaders they’ve spoken to in Flintshire are facing a significant increase in the numbers of young people in their care presenting with mental health issues and concerns. They say many children and young people have been affected, even traumatised, by their own unique experiences of the pandemic. Issues including bereavement, isolation, fear of illness, of death, family breakdown, poverty, unemployment, substance misuse and domestic violence were all hothoused due to the unavoidable nature of successive lockdowns and the vastly reduced access to usual support networks, both formal and informal. They add that children and young people who feel emotionally unsafe or in pain do not learn well. How do you, therefore, respond to the charity’s call for the Welsh Government to ensure that Estyn and other regulatory bodies are fit for post-pandemic purposes, with an emphasis on the well-being and welfare of pandemic-affected pupils and indeed staff also?
I thank the Member for those further points. The experiences that he recounted, I think, are very familiar to anybody who has had conversations with young people about their experience during the pandemic, and the anxieties that it has caused them to experience for their future. Llywydd, you were kind enough to arrange a number of opportunities for me and other Ministers to meet with representatives from the Youth Parliament in recent times, and the mental health and well-being of young people was always one of the foremost issues that they wanted to discuss in those forums. I think that Estyn has adapted its way of working very much to take into account both the practical impact that the pandemic has had on the way that teachers have to go about their work, but also to take into account the impact that these experiences have had upon young people, their ability to learn and the way in which they bring those other aspects of their lives with them into the school and into the classroom. And, in the information that I have had about the changes that Estyn has made to its own ways of working, and the focus of the inspections and other work they do in school, I think, can give us some confidence that the very proper points that the organisation in Flintshire has raised are being taken into account seriously in the work that they do.
Brif Weinidog, a young man with complex mental health issues contacted me recently and praised the work of the Ty Canna day centre within your Cardiff West constituency. For those in the Siambr who don't know, Ty Canna provides transitional services for people transitioning from children's services to adult services. And this work is crucial; as we know, far too many people fall between the cracks at this point. The concern that this young man has is that the good work happening in Ty Canna day services will be lost if the services are moved from there. It's now in a very convenient central location, and there are great resources there. It provides privacy for those who need it. Can you please guarantee that Welsh Government will be discussing with key partners to address these concerns and to make sure that no further young people are lost from the system? Diolch yn fawr, Brif Weinidog.
Thank you very much for that question. I'm familiar with Ty Canna, of course.
In my recollection, it is a service that is wholly funded by Cardiff Council on the one hand and the local health board on the other. I don't recollect any direct investment from the Welsh Government in the service, but it does do what the Member has said: it helps with that most difficult part in our public services when responsibility for a young person is transferred to people who run adult services, and we've all, no doubt, had frustrations at different times about the way in which services appear to be taken by surprise by the fact that a young person has turned 18. And Ty Canna has a very good reputation in that way. I'm not familiar with the point that has been raised with the Member about the location of the service. Of course I'll make sure that Welsh Government officials are engaged in any conversation generally.
I think, Llywydd, what I would say is that it's the quality of the service rather than the location from which it is delivered that in the end is the most important thing, and we'd need to see what proposals, if any, there are to strengthen the service further.
I want to thank our First Minister for his continued work around young people and mental health, and in particular his commitment to early prevention and access to services. And, in the last year, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, which covers Bridgend and Porthcawl, has had a total number of 1,359 admissions to mental health services. Please would the First Minister provide an update on the child and adolescent mental health services in-reach manifesto commitments as part of our Welsh Government early intervention approach?
Well, I thank Sarah Murphy for that, Llywydd. It gives me a chance just to reaffirm again the principle of de-escalation as one of the fundamental drivers of the way we provide services for young people. We should be aiming to intervene at the lowest possible point in order to address their needs rather than allowing those needs to escalate to a point where only an admission to a mental health facility is sufficient to respond to them.
The pilot of the CAMHS in-reach service was very positive; I know that it was positively regarded by the committee in the last Senedd that looked at the evaluation. And it's on the basis of it that the Welsh Government has agreed £5 million of funding to allow local health boards to roll out the pilots from those local authorities where it had been first deployed, so that it is available everywhere; £4 million of that £5 million has now been agreed with LHBs over the summer, and they are now in the business of recruiting people to do so. The CAMHS in-reach project will succeed if it does what Sarah Murphy said: if it allows more young people to receive the help they need earlier in those needs, to reduce the number of people who end up, as she pointed out, needing admission to a mental health facility in the local health board area that she represents.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on investment in the Heads of the Valleys? OQ57077
I thank Alun Davies for that, Llywydd. The Minister for Economy will make a statement this afternoon on our approach to supporting the Welsh economy, including further ways in which investment in the Heads of the Valleys will take full advantage of the strategic opportunity created by the dualling of the A465.
I'm grateful to the First Minister for that response. People in the Heads of the Valleys have seen the Welsh Government investing in the future of their people, their communities and our economy. We've seen not just the dualling of the A465, which the First Minister has referenced, but also investment in Tech Valleys, we've seen investment in the railway. Quite often, these investments are made because we haven't seen any of the investment from the United Kingdom Government, and the Ebbw valley railway is a good example of that. When we hear about levelling up, what we see is a conjuror's trick; we see a mirage, we see smoke and mirrors. The only consistency that we've seen from the United Kingdom Government is broken promises. The people of the Heads of the Valleys need and deserve the investment in the future of our communities. Will the First Minister agree with me that that needs to be a constant refrain and a part of the wider programme of investment in Wales led by the Welsh Government?
I thank Alun Davies for those points. I've had the opportunity, Llywydd, since last week, to read his contribution in the short debate last week. I think he put it very succinctly when he described the UK Government's levelling-up approach as a
'lesson in how not to make policy and how not to involve people.'
The Welsh Labour Government will go on making those investments. The Minister met on 11 October with the leaders and chief executives of the five local authorities that have a geographical interest in the Heads of the Valleys to talk about strategic investments—how different to the so-called levelling-up fund. We're still to have the results of the first round of these funds, with, now, four months to go of the financial year in which that money will be able to be spent. It will give us £10 million, we think, in Wales, compared to £375 million we would have had had we continued as members of the European Union
I sat in this Chamber and heard Members on the benches over there say to people in Wales that there was a cast-iron guarantee that Wales would not be a penny worse off. Ten million pounds is what we have; we would have had £375 million. And that £10 million, Llywydd, is in real danger of being frittered away by decisions that will be piecemeal, decisions that will be—and we know this from their track record—politically driven, rather than responding to people's needs. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, the fact that Robert Jenrick is no longer a member of the Cabinet in the UK Government doesn't mean that his approach to politics has gone with him. We, as the Welsh Government, in the way that Alun Davies has suggested, try to make our investments in a way that serves the long-term and strategic needs of those local communities, and we will continue to do just that.
With respect, First Minister, 'pot, kettle, black' springs to mind in that respect. It is clear from Alun Davies's short debate last week, First Minister, that this Government and previous Welsh Labour Governments have merely paid lip service to the deep-seated economic issues in the Valleys. It is all well and good to have set up a Valleys taskforce and enterprise zones, but to achieve real change, there needs to be follow-up support and policy. And, most importantly, as Alun Davies quite rightly pointed out in the short debate, money needs to follow it. When is this Government going to commit themselves—truly commit themselves—to investing in the Valleys, in not just words, which you keep on about, and back it up with policies that are really going to regenerate our communities? Thank goodness for the UK taking the bull by the horns and really asking our communities what it is that they need and investing in them.
Over £1 billion on the dualling of the A465, £200 million to create rail services between Ebbw Vale and the coast, £0.5 million to make sure that Zip World Tower could open to provide jobs and tourism experiences in that part of Wales—that's just three examples of real money making real difference in that part of Wales. If the Member has allegations she wishes to make about political bias in the way that money is spent by the Welsh Government, then she should make them, and she should give us examples to back up what she said. I'll send her the report of the House of Commons inquiry into Robert Jenrick's use of public money in Conservative constituencies. Let her produce evidence of that in Wales, and I'd be prepared to listen to her.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the use of snares? OQ57033
The manifesto on which the Member and I stood for election in May contained a commitment to ban the use of snares in Wales. Our intention is that it should be contained in the agriculture Bill that the Government will bring before the Senedd in our first-year legislative programme.
First of all, can I thank the First Minister for that response? Thousands of wild and domestic animals are killed or severely injured in Wales every year due to the use of snares. The RSPCA report that the use of snares is still widespread, as many as 51,000 fox snares can be active in Wales at any one time, and there's a lack of compliance with the code. Can I urge the First Minister to bring this piece of legislation forward as a matter of urgency? Because the longer we wait, the more animals will be either killed or injured.
I thank Mike Hedges for that, Llywydd, and I thank him for his consistent championing of this issue and animal welfare issues more generally. I took the opportunity to look again at the report of the committee he chaired in the last Senedd on the use of snares in Wales, published in June 2017. It asked us to collect evidence annually of compliance with the statutory code on best practice on the use of snares in Wales, and if we didn't have evidence that the code was being properly observed, that we should act in the way that we now propose to do. I've discussed this with officials preparing for today's question, Llywydd, and the advice I had was that despite an annual attempt to gather that evidence, very little evidence indeed has been forthcoming that the code is being properly observed in practice. That is the basis on which we will bring forward legislation, and I'm pleased to confirm again, in the way that the Member asked, that this will be part of the first year of the legislative programme of this Senedd term.
First Minister, your Government's proposal to ban snares would have a significant impact on farmers, gamekeepers and land managers. Control of predators by farmers and gamekeepers is imperative to protect both livestock and biodiversity. Predator management is an important conservation issue. Foxes, among other predators, are a factor in biodiversity decline, targeting ground-nesting birds. The curlew, for example, could be extinct as a breeding bird in Wales by 2033. Targeted predator snaring helps ensure that threatened populations such as the curlew are protected. The Welsh Government introduced a code of best practice on the use of snares in 2015, and it engaged the industry in its development. The code seeks both to minimise the risk to non-target species and to achieve high animal welfare standards by greatly reducing the capture of non-target species. First Minister, if your Government does ban the use of snares, what measures will the Government take to keep predator numbers under control to safeguard businesses and mitigate biodiversity loss, and to ensure that any potential plan is backed up by scientific and steadfast evidence, and not based on the number of consultation replies that you have received? Diolch.
I'm happy to help the Member, but he has help closer to hand. His leader said in Plenary, here on the floor of Senedd:
'I would like to see a ban on snares...I see no modern use for them at all.'
Or I could probably provide for him the article headed 'Welsh Tories call for ban on "cruel" snares'. [Interruption.] Yes, Welsh Tories—[Interruption.] You see, I can help him, Llywydd. I'm willing to help him, but he has help on the benches next door to him. This was an article by Russell George:
'Welsh Conservatives want a complete ban on snares and we wholeheartedly support calls from animal welfare campaigners.'
I think the Member's time would be better spent consulting with his colleagues, because they clearly have answers to his questions that they can help him with.
6. Will the First Minister outline the progress on the Government’s plans to pilot a universal basic income? OQ57074
I thank Jane Dodds for the question, Llywydd. Subject to the resolution of remaining practical matters, including the interface of our basic income payments with the benefits system, we plan to introduce the pilot in the financial year beginning 1 April 2022.
Diolch, First Minister. I'd like to thank you for your answer and to further state, certainly, my support and my party's support for the Welsh Government's plans for a universal basic income. Whilst I would prefer, of course, for the scope of the pilot to be widened beyond care leavers, as I've been calling on the Welsh Government to do, I'm still very keen to support the Government so that we can pilot this radical and transformational approach to reducing poverty here in Wales. It is this element of the UBI pilot with which I am most concerned, considering the high levels of poverty here in Wales.
In Wales, almost a third of our children live in poverty, meaning that as a proportion of our population, Wales currently has the worst levels of child poverty in the whole of the United Kingdom. I think it's also worth noting that this is certainly not helped by the Conservative Westminster Government's recent decision to cut universal credit, which of course will hurt the least well-off amongst our population. So, may I ask you, First Minister, how will your Government measure the success of this universal basic income pilot, particularly in relation to how it will reduce child poverty? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much to Jane dodds, Llywydd.
I've been doing a lot of reading in advance of this week's questions. I also read an article that Jane Dodds published in September on the many advantages that are put forward by supporters of a universal basic income, and I agreed with very much of what she had to say there. Our pilot will have many of the characteristics that she set out in her article. It will be unconditional, it will provide financial stability and dignity for those young people, and given the supplementary question, Llywydd, that Jane Dodds has asked, it is going to involve a group of young people who we know from the many debates we've had on the floor of this Senedd are amongst the most disadvantaged in our society. Poverty is a real inhibitor on those young people being able to make decisions about their own futures, in which they can deploy their talents and find a path to their futures in a way that they themselves would choose to do, rather than being obliged to make hand-to-mouth decisions, driven by poverty, which confines their horizons to, 'How do I get through today? Where will I sleep this weekend? How will I be able to eat next week?'
We will make sure that we have an evaluation process that is dynamic and continuous, which works with those young people. Our pilot is being shaped already by advice from the care leavers forum and from Voices from Care in Wales, and we'll learn the lessons as we go along, which will give us valuable information for the future about how the concept of basic income could apply to other groups more widely across the Welsh population. I look forward to it very much and I think, whatever the final outcome of the evaluation, Llywydd, the pilot will do good in the lives of some young people in Wales who most need that investment.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the port of Holyhead? OQ57079
I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth. Holyhead is critical for the economy of Anglesey and the UK. Its future is bound up in the resolution of the Northern Ireland protocol and the expansion of renewable energy production.
Thank you. I don't know whether you saw it, but last week, the foreign office of the Irish Government published a map to celebrate the opening of crossing 44 from Ireland to the European continent. First of all, I'd like to confirm that the Welsh Government is urging the Irish Government to remember the importance and to promote the direct crossings from Ireland to Wales.
But the busiest of the ports of Wales is Holyhead, of course. But as the impact of Brexit continues to cause major challenges in Holyhead, there are also major opportunities, new opportunities that we could be pursuing, and the most important of those are opportunities to develop Holyhead as the port to service the next development in wind energy in the Irish sea. And in that context, may I invite the First Minister to visit the port of Holyhead to see for himself what investment needs to be secured in that port as soon as possible to ensure that, whatever challenges we face now, the future can be a bright one for Holyhead and the workers there?
Well, I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth. As it happens, we do have a major meeting scheduled for Friday of this week with Ministers from the Irish Government. They are coming over to us this year; we will reciprocate next year. Simon Coveney will lead that delegation of Ministers, and there will be opportunities for us to have further discussions with them about the interest that we all have in the seas, and everything that we can do together to create a future for us here in Wales, and for people in Ireland too.
I am aware, of course, of the challenges facing the port of Holyhead. I would be more than happy to return to Holyhead once again to speak to people there. I agree, and I've read an article by the Member this week also, which focused on the opportunities that exist in Holyhead in the context of renewable energy—wind energy—and using the port to help us to create that green economy that we want to see here in Wales. And I'd be more than happy, when the opportunity arises, to come to Holyhead and to discuss the possibilities available.
Question 8, Darren Millar.
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the effectiveness of Natural Resources Wales? OQ57058
I thank the Member, Llywydd. Natural Resources Wales undertakes various functions on behalf of Welsh Ministers, but, as an arm’s-length body, operates independently of them. The Minister for Climate Change holds regular meetings with the chair and chief executive to monitor its effectiveness in delivering against its mandate, including our programme for government commitments.
First Minister, one of the key roles that Natural Resources Wales has here in our country is to support the Government in terms of flood risk management, and to provide advice and to follow up any floods that happen across the country. As you will be aware, there have been a number of flooding incidents in my own constituency in recent years in Abergele, Pensarn, in Ruthin, in Llanfair Talhaiarn, and in other places. One of the common problems that seems to occur in the aftermath of flooding events is the speed at which Natural Resources Wales completes its follow-up work and then actually implements any change on the ground in terms of capital investment. There have been problems in Llanfair TH over the years, in Pensarn, in terms of the follow-up work in terms of investigations, and now in Ruthin, where work is only just going to be under way in spite of the fact that there were significant floods there earlier in the year in January.
What work does the Welsh Government do to monitor the speed at which NRW responds to such events to ensure that there is adequate follow-up, which is timely and can afford residents the best level of protection possible?
I thank Darren Millar for that important question, Llywydd, and I recognise the points that he makes. I was able to make a visit to Llanfair TH myself, and I was accompanied by Sam Rowlands on that visit as the then leader of Conwy County Borough Council. We had representatives of course from NRW there. We were able to see the plans as they had previously been laid out, and then the amendments to those plans, which will be considered as a result of the different course that the flooding had taken in that village during the last incident.
Llywydd, the Welsh Government provided £9 million in additional funding to NRW during this financial year, and that was on the basis that there will be the completion of a baseline review exercise of NRW's purposes on the one hand and its priorities on the other. And the review is designed to make sure that the money and the functions are closely aligned with us to deliver on the most important responsibilities that NRW has. I understand that a draft report of that review has been submitted to the Welsh Government, and that we're expecting the full report to arrive here in November. I'll ask my officials to look at that report in its current state, to make sure that it is addressing the points that the Member has made this afternoon.
I thank the First Minister.
The next item therefore this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement, Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's Plenary business. 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 an urgent statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to the recent emergence of a story about Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? There were reports over the last couple of days that emerged, which suggested that a judge had found that the Besti Cadwaladr health board was trying to strike out its name in a report, which was referring to very poor care, neglectful care, of an individual in Glan Clwyd Hospital. The judge described the patient's needs as being substantially unaddressed, unacknowledged, unidentified, and neglected, and yet the Besti Cadwaladr health board was trying to hide itself from that description of events. Clearly, this is unacceptable. It suggests that the health board does not want to be transparent or accountable for its actions, and we really do now I think need to see a culture change in that organisation. I was very hopeful that there had indeed been something of a culture change in recent years, but this suggests that a lot of the same old problems at Besti Cadwaladr health board are still there. Can I ask for an urgent statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on this specific issue, and, more widely, on the progress that the health board is making, following its withdrawal from special measures before the elections?
Thank you. I'm not familiar with the story that you refer to, but I certainly do think there has been a culture change—and it's a health board I know very well myself—since, as you say, the monitoring of special measures, et cetera. And the Minister for Health and Social Services regularly updates Members in relation to how that monitoring is now going ahead. If she has had any contact with the health board around the story you refer to, I'm sure she'd be very happy to update Members.FootnoteLink
I would like to ask for two statements. The first is on the use of medicinal cannabis. In the last Senedd, we debated the provision of medicinal cannabis, and it had a large amount of cross-party support. There is evidence that certain medicinal cannabis products may be useful in treating epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments, as well as pain. I'm asking for a Welsh Government statement on the prescription and use of medicinal cannabis in Wales.
The second statement I'm requesting is an update on co-operative housing provision in Wales. While in much of the world, such as Canada, New York and Scandinavia, the co-operative housing model is one of the more popular methods of housing provision, it is not in Wales or the rest of the United Kingdom. Can we have a Welsh Government statement regarding plans to increase the number of co-operative housing units?
Thank you. In relation to your second point, around co-operative housing, I'm very aware, as I'm sure the Member is, that the Minister for Climate Change, who has responsibility for housing, very much wants a co-operative housing focus. I know she absolutely thinks that co-operative principles should be a priority, and the focus has to be, in relation to the housing sector, on embedding those core principles. And I know she supports the further development of community-led housing, where there is a registered social landlord partner, through our social housing grant. We've also funded the Wales Co-operative Centre to design the delivery that support groups need in relation to our housing needs, and, I think, there are now around 50 community groups that are engaged with Communities Creating Homes, and that support will continue. I know she's put further financial resources into that, in conjunction with the Nationwide Foundation.
In relation to your first question, around medicinal cannabis, as you will be aware, it's regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and, therefore, it's a reserved issue for the UK Government. But, of course, access and funding of medicines is a devolved issue, and, therefore, the devolved administrations are responsible for NHS funding of prescriptions. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has produced guidance in situations where the use of medicinal cannabis may be supported by evidence, but we know that further research is needed to confirm effectiveness, because studies to date have generally been very small or have deficits in their methodology. So, I think, until such a time as clinical trials have been completed, prescribing should be in line with evidence-based guidelines.
Trefnydd, can I ask for an urgent statement from the Minister for Climate Change on the NRW phosphate guidance, which has inadvertently sent the planning system, in my constituency and across parts of Wales, into gridlock? Water pollution is an issue that needs to be tackled, and no-one would deny that, however, what we have seen from NRW is that they have identified an issue, but failed to find a logical solution to address the problem. I know your response will be to say that the Minister has a policy board looking at that. But, with all due respect, I find the pace of delivery to find a solution is far too slow. In Powys, we have 3,700 households on the local authority housing waiting list alone, and we are seeing the development of social and affordable homes being stalled. So, will you ask the Minister to make a statement on this issue, and outline what progress has been made to date and what are the next steps for getting the planning process moving again to benefit our economy and our residents? Diolch, Llywydd.
Well, as you rightly point out, this is an ongoing piece of work at the current time. It would be wrong to pre-empt any recommendations that come to the Minister. But obviously, as that process goes through, she will update Members at the most appropriate time.
Trefnydd, can I call on the Minister for Climate Change to make a statement on the Welsh Government's flooding policy, please? In the winter of 2020-21, the quayside in Carmarthen flooded a total of three times in no less than nine weeks. Having met with the businesses and property owners on the quay, they remain worried regarding future flooding of the Towy and of the quayside. Natural Resources Wales have said their hands are tied in helping, as the Welsh Government policy favours residential over business in terms of flood protection. This has been described as a showstopper in terms of getting any flood protection to the quayside and protecting these businesses. Therefore, can the climate change Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's flood policy, and whether the imbalance against business will continue? Diolch.
Welsh Government has always made it very clear that our priority, when it comes to flooding policy, flooding management, flooding funding, is to protect as many lives as possible and as many homes as possible, and then businesses come within that criteria. Having been responsible for flooding in the previous term of Government, I know our flooding policy is as up to date as it can be, but it is always being looked at. Clearly, we need to work very closely with NRW, and you'll be aware of the pipeline of flood management schemes that we have in Welsh Government. We've put significant funding—millions and millions of pounds—into our flood scheme to protect as many lives, homes and businesses as possible.
Minister, the UK Government announcement on the future funding of social care means more money for Wales to ensure that we address the challenge of sustainable funding and staff pay and conditions. Could I ask for a statement from the Minister for Finance and Local Government to be issued after recess, for the Government to outline what it now proposes for Wales? Thank you.
Thank you. Well, the funding of social care is something that's on the top of the majority of governments' agendas, and it's something that we are are certainly looking at, as a Government. I would not agree with you around the way that the UK Government have funded it. We don't think that is the right way of doing it, but it is something that we have to look at very carefully. As you will be aware, we're now coming into the comprehensive spending review, and draft budget and budget season, so I'm sure there'll be ample opportunity to question the Minister for finance.
Finally, Laura Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. Business Minister, could I ask for an urgent statement from the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, please? Llanwern High School in Newport has been forced to send home their entire year 9 year group due to a number of staff testing positive from COVID and having to self-isolate, and the lack of staff to substitute. Unfortunately, this is an issue that is now repeating itself at speed across Wales. The unions, the National Association of Head Teachers and I have raised concerns previously with the Minister, and I'd be grateful if you could approve a statement from the Minister to outline what steps he intends to take to support schools and pupils struggling with these staff absences. Thank you.
Thank you. The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language did issue a written statement just last week, on Thursday 14 October, outlining the latest safety measures in place across education settings in Wales.
I thank the Trefnydd.
The next item, therefore, is the statement by the Minister for Economy on moving the Welsh economy forward. I call on the Minister to make his statement—Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, Llywydd. Yesterday I held an economic summit to outline my ambitions for moving our economy forward as we strive for a stronger, fairer and greener Wales. I was pleased to be joined by the Confederation of British Industry, the Wales Trades Union Congress, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Welsh Local Government Association to start a conversation about how we can work together for a team Wales recovery that is built by us all. A strong Welsh recovery that is fit for the long term must be based on the principles of fair work and sustainability, with investment in the industries and services of the future. Since my appointment in May this year, I've visited a range of businesses across Wales to get a sense of their hopes and concerns as we face what we hope will be the tail end of this pandemic.
From the everyday economy that got us through the crisis to the world-leading innovation that powers our advanced manufacturing, I've seen that there is much to be optimistic about. However, the headwinds of Brexit reality, a volatile recovery, and the absence of a UK plan for EU replacement funding present major challenges for businesses and workers across Wales. As we move forward with our programme for government, I'm determined that we will offer as much certainty as possible to help businesses plan ahead. Our social partnership approach has demanded difficult conversations and trade-offs, which have often been driven by a lack of resources and the need to move quickly with imperfect information through the pandemic itself. Nevertheless, this dialogue has improved decision making and no doubt helped to save lives and livelihoods.
As we move our economy forward, there will of course be more tough decisions that do not please all of our partners, but we must be clear that a return to austerity in all but name at the UK level would restrict our ability to act and cause real economic and social harm. Llywydd, these are challenges that make dialogue more necessary than ever. We will all benefit from working as trusted partners, sharing our thinking as we move forward in a spirit of partnership. I was delighted to hear social partners commit to this team Wales model as a major contribution to our recovery during yesterday's summit. Our plans will see the Welsh Government take forward the economic resilience and reconstruction mission published in February this year, with action focused on our communities in the new programme for government.
I recently updated Members about the Jobs Growth Wales+ programme, which will help to create life-changing opportunities for those who are not in education, employment or training, and this is a major feature of our young person's guarantee and builds on the strength of pre-existing schemes. We will offer workers on low pay quality, flexible courses with personal learning accounts designed to boost their earnings potential, and we will build on our proven record on apprenticeships, delivering a further 125,000 places within this Senedd term. Our upcoming employability and skills strategy will build on our record of narrowing the skills divide, with a focus on support for those furthest from the labour market. I will also support the growth of green union representatives to help ensure that our transition to net zero is fair to working people. And we will go on developing our something-for-something approach and strengthen the economic contact. If we are serious about building a stronger Welsh economy, Welsh public money has to support fair work, action on climate change and the skills that will unlock talent across Wales.
We will also launch the backing local firms fund to support more dynamic local economies. I will have more to say next month about how our foundational economy delivery plan will help to shorten supply chains, lower emissions and turn our plans across housing, health, transport and energy into better jobs, closer to home. I will also go further to support the co-operative economy, which has sustainability hard-wired into its DNA. That includes supporting more employee buy-outs to protect jobs and retain viable Welsh businesses.
Llywydd, Wales is proudly home to world-leading manufacturing sectors, such as automotive, steel and aerospace. We will partner with them to help them move to a low-carbon future that sustains jobs. That task is now urgent in our steel sector. We do not have all the levers within this Government, and the time for the UK Government to act is now. I am keen for a constructive plan where our support from the Welsh Government complements action from the UK Government, but that will only be possible when decisions are finally taken in Westminster. My message to the UK Government is clear: bring forward your deal and let’s get working on a joint plan for a thriving steel sector in a secure, low-carbon economy.
Our plans will also mean new ways of working across the Government. I am working closely with the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, to explore how Wales can win the green jobs dividend that comes with futureproofing our economy. With new technologies making work locations less relevant and new investment in decarbonisation, Wales is perfectly positioned to develop innovations with global impact. In this context, the upcoming spending review is an important opportunity for the UK Government to demonstrate its commitment and ambition for Wales. Positive signs would include the full replacement of the EU funding that Wales has been repeatedly promised, support for major renewable energy and a plan for energy-intensive industries, funding to remediate our coal tips, allowing Wales to invest in the tech, jobs and skills that this would offer, and for Wales to gain a fair share of research and development investment across the UK. However, the signs are that the spending review could spell even tougher decisions for us when taking this work forward. That would mean a hard look at priorities if the UK Government goes on refusing to allow Wales to make decisions about how our EU replacement funds are spent.
It is my hope that, by taking bold action, we will create a future where more young people feel that they don’t need to get out to get on. Supporting stronger local economies will be essential to the job of tackling poverty as well as sustaining the Welsh language among young people in rural Wales in particular. At the same time, if more people positively choose to come to work and live in Wales, we can address the risks that come with the decline in our working-age population. We will develop a coherent and compelling offer and explore further graduate retention opportunities and support for start-ups to encourage the growth of more firms that are grounded in Wales.
I am excited about the opportunity that we have to create that stronger, fairer and greener Welsh economy. I look forward to hearing ideas from Members and insights on how we can make this a reality. Thank you, Llywydd.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement today? I'm pleased the Minister has confirmed that he's starting a conversation about how the Welsh Government can work together for a team Wales recovery. However, this should have been the Minister's primary objective since he was appointed economy Minister almost six months ago.
Now, as we move forward, the Welsh Government has an opportunity to inject some real impetus by bringing forward much-needed change to support businesses and create conditions for growth post pandemic. It's absolutely crucial that the Welsh Government uses its levers to make Wales a more attractive place to do business, and, to do this, it must actively help develop sustainable supply chains, create more accessible public procurement, and review the planning system to make it more responsive to meeting the challenges of the future. So, I hope the Minister will confirm today that discussions are taking place with colleagues to reform procurement practices and the planning system, and perhaps he can update us on the specific action that will now be taken.
Now, I've previously pressed the Minister on the need to create a stronger investment environment in Wales, highlighting the 2021 UK prosperity index report, which says that the Welsh economy is weak and is undermined by insufficient infrastructure and poor conditions for enterprise. Today's statement refers to supporting start-ups and supporting new businesses, and I, of course, welcome that. However, more needs to be done to genuinely improve Wales's investment environment, and so I'll ask the Minister again today how the Welsh Government is increasing capital supply, and how it will specifically improve access to finance and deliver enterprise support to help new businesses.
Now, in the conversations that I've had with businesses across Wales and business organisations, infrastructure improvement and investment still remains a priority. A report by the FSB pre pandemic showed that 63 per cent of small businesses in Wales have been affected by infrastructure issues. Therefore, it's disappointing that there's no reference or commitment to infrastructure improvement or any detail relating to infrastructure investment in Wales in today's statement. The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales has failed so far to provide a long-term plan of pipeline infrastructure work, and so perhaps the Minister can tell us exactly what the commission is doing and when we'll see some plans from them in relation to infrastructure work over the next few years, which will, undoubtedly, have an enormous impact on our economy going forward.
Now, another key aspect of moving the Welsh economy forward is ensuring that Wales's skill shortage is properly addressed. We need to see more clarity on how the Welsh Government intends to address skill gaps in Wales, and we need to know what discussions are taking place with businesses and education providers. Indeed, as today's statement recognises, Wales continues to advocate a greener economy and ensures that the transition to net zero is fair to working people. Therefore, I hope the Minister will be able to confirm if a net-zero skills audit and plan is in the pipeline, and when it will be published. Indeed, perhaps he can also tell us more about some of the short-term actions that the Welsh Government will be taking in the coming months to address skills shortages here in Wales.
Now, along with addressing skills shortages, there's a clear need to better connect businesses and industries with education and training providers, and I hope the Minister is working to bring stakeholders together. I'm pleased that today's statement recognises the need to encourage innovation and invest in Welsh research and development. The Reid review helpfully provided spending commitments if Welsh Government had direct control over replacement EU funds, and if it did not, and so there's no excuse for a lack of communication from the Welsh Government on its research and innovation priorities. Indeed, given that the Welsh Government has already accepted the calls of both the Diamond and Reid reviews, I hope the Minister will provide an update on the implementation of all the outstanding recommendations of those specific reviews.
Llywydd, the Minister has previously confirmed a young person's guarantee, and today's statement also confirms that the Welsh Government will be offering more workers on low pay quality, flexible courses, with personal learning accounts designed to boost their earnings potential. However, I've spoken to countless business organisations, further education providers and, indeed, third sector organisations who have all confirmed that they know very little about the scheme, have had no input into it and have no idea how the guarantee is being progressed and measured. Therefore, perhaps the Minister can confirm today exactly how the Welsh Government is engaging with businesses on this agenda, and how it will ensure that the scheme reaches out to as many people as possible.
Moving the Welsh economy forward requires leadership and a serious commitment to creating conditions for businesses to grow and develop by making Wales an attractive place to do business. I agree with the Minister that supporting stronger local economies will be essential to the job of tackling poverty, as well as sustaining the Welsh language among young people in rural Wales. And perhaps he can tell us a bit more about the specific work being done to give young people opportunities in rural communities and through the medium of Welsh.
Therefore, Llywydd, can I thank the Minister for his statement and say that we on this side of the Chamber will do what we can to constructively engage on this agenda to best support and develop our economy for the future? Thank you.
I thank the Member for his series of questions, and I'll try to run through as many of them as I can in the time available. I can say that I've had regular contact with business groups, businesses, local government and trade unions since my appointment. So, this is the next stage in the conversation that is happening with them. I think it's knowingly inaccurate to suggest that I haven't had a conversation with them up to this point in time. It's hardly been a secret that I've been having that regular contact.
On your point about the review of procurement, we have actually made progress in terms of procurement spend over the course of devolution, including within the last term, and the challenge now is to look at how far we've got and to see what more we can do, because the Government isn't levelling off our ambition to see even greater benefit for local firms from the way in which we procure goods and services here in Wales.
It's one of the levers that we do have within our control, and, as you'll know, the lead Minister on procurement is the finance Minister, Rebecca Evans, but it's an area where lots of us have a direct interest from our different portfolio perspectives. So, you can expect to hear more about what we're looking to do in terms of valuing Welsh procurement—not just about the spend and the amount of money when it comes to procurement contracts, but the wider value that that procurement delivers. And actually, on that, we're not just finding that there's agreement across the Government on taking that approach, but actually within business groups as well.
And when you talked about infrastructure and access to finance, of course in First Minister's questions we highlighted again some of the challenges on what we consider to be modern infrastructure in a range of settings, including those areas that are not devolved; so, on rail infrastructure, where this Government has invested because the UK Government has not, and on broadband, which is not a devolved responsibility, that infrastructure, but this Government has invested because of the lack of pace and willingness from the UK Government to do so. So, there are areas already where we invest in areas we're not directly responsible for but we recognise there's a need to, to improve people's ability to work and to move around. And actually, that's accelerating, because, when we talk about the ability to work in a different way—in particular, remote working—actually our broadband infrastructure is absolutely essential to do that, and that would be an area where, again, there could be a fruitful conversation between this Government and the UK Government if there was a real willingness to commit to a plan to increase investment.
I was interested in your point on access to finance, because, actually, we already have some finance we provide and make available. There are traditional sources, but of course the development bank has been a significant asset during the course of the pandemic and beyond, in investing in Welsh businesses to give them the opportunity to grow and grow further. But, more than that, in the British Business Bank, which has a whole remit across Britain, actually when you look at its investment choices thus far, they are skewed to certain parts of the UK, and it's an issue of regional disparity within England itself, let alone the rest of the UK. They've recently announced they're going to have equity investment funds to look at vehicles in some parts of the UK, including the south-west of England. They have not to date looked at a specific investment fund to prioritise and increase the equity investments they are prepared to make in Welsh businesses. That is something that I want to have a conversation with them about, because I do think that if you're not prepared to say you will invest in different parts of the UK, including in Wales, you shouldn't be surprised if businesses here don't access the capital that is available where there are more usual and regular relationships in different parts of business in the UK.
And on the skills shortage, again this is a point that follows on from the DBW. It's a point I've made many times, and I'll keep on making it until we get some recognition of the reality of it. Skills are essential to the future of the Welsh economy. We need to invest in people, as well as places, to make use of the talent we have and to attract and keep talent here in Wales. But, actually, when you look at apprenticeships, which every party in this place supports and wants to see more of, a third of the apprenticeships that we provide are funded by former European structural funds. And without a plan—and there is no plan at present—for what would happen to those former funds, we face not just a point of uncertainty, but the pilot years, with the £10 million that hasn't been funded yet and hasn't gone to any single pilot project, not just in Wales but across the UK, they exclude projects that are of regional or national significance.
So, actually, it's a way to atomise the lessons we have learned and will take money away from investing in skills. It would be a disaster, not just here in Wales, but right across the UK. If you think about the level of expenditure we're talking about, if the pilot money is finally provided and if, amazingly, we're able to spend it all within this year, the deficit will still be extraordinary. To give you an example of just how big it is, the money we won't have within this one year is equivalent to more than double the size of Monmouthshire County Council's annual budget. That's the money that Wales is not going to get this year, and, if there isn't a plan for the future, that will be the deficit next year, for money that should be coming to Wales. And it really is extraordinary to have Conservative politicians talking here and saying, 'Thank God for the UK Government', which isn't providing this funding to Wales. You need to decide whether you're in favour of your constituents, their jobs and the businesses that rely on that money, or whether you're here to be cheerleaders for a UK Government that is taking hundreds of millions of pounds out of Wales as we speak.
And when it comes to our employability and skills plan, of course this, again, is part of our challenge. So, this is going to be a way in which we are going to be able to look at how we get people closer to the labour market and into work again. The Department for Work and Pensions vacated some of this space in the past and have now come back into more of the employability space with programmes that they run. But most of those programmes are for people who are already near the labour market itself—so people already, essentially, work-ready. What we have to do is both get those people into work, but also people who aren't active, aren't in work and aren't close to being in work. And that's the work that we're looking to do and to prioritise, as I set out in my statement. Because, if we can't get more of those people back into work, then, actually, in the future of the Welsh economy, we'll have a significant drag upon our ability to genuinely raise the income of the whole country. So, that's a really big challenge. You won't see the same return per person as you would with those programmes that are about job-ready people, but you will see a real impact on the future of the economy. You can expect to hear more about that when it comes to the future on renewables, and more about what we do to take advantage of the green potential in Wales, when Julie James sets out the second low-carbon delivery plan before the end of this month.
And, on the Reid review, again, I won't repeat all of the points I've made before about funding, but, of course, higher education is excluded from the current pilots for replacement European funds. And I spoke to the Wales innovation network of Welsh universities, looking at innovation, together with the Learned Society of Wales, and they're genuinely anxious about there not being a plan about how they can continue to be funded for the work they do—not just the academic value of acquiring knowledge, but its ability to be applied and to generate further economic growth. And they recognise that the headline from the Reid review is going to need to be pared back if we don't get that certainty on funding. But we certainly want to be able to take that forward and to meet the commitments we've given if the funding certainty is provided for us.
And on the young person's guarantee, I will have a further statement to make before we get to the end of this calendar year, but we've already taken forward, as I said in my statement, the Jobs Growth Wales+—that's a key part of helping people who are not in education, employment or training back into work, building on successful schemes. And the work we've already done with young people shows that most people who aren't in employment, education or training want to find work. So, more of our support is being shifted to see what we can do to help those people re-enter the labour market, or enter the labour market for the first time, and to find meaningful, decent-paid work. After all, that should be what all of us in the Chamber want to see for our young people and beyond.
I thank the Minister for his statement.
Firstly, I would like to welcome the statement. I've said a number of times in the Chamber that we need to have a long-term vision and strategy for the Welsh economy, and I'm particularly pleased to see that there is a focus on the brain drain.
I would say, however, that I don't feel like this is starting the conversation. The conversation on the brain drain has been going on for what feels like a decade or more. 'A Strategy for Rural Wales', written by the Welsh Council 50 years ago in 1971, for example, discussed the need to address the outmigration of young people from rural Wales. In 2017, Adam Price brought up his concerns with the brain drain occurring in Wales, noting how Wales was tenth out of the 12 UK regions in terms of the extent of graduate loss, and I remember my predecessor Bethan Sayed asking several questions around it. I hope the Minister would forgive me for saying that it would seem like the Welsh Government is playing catch-up on this topic.
I would like to ask the Minister to what extent he has already looked at this issue and whether or not he has looked at the example set by Scotland. And would he be supportive of making alterations to the student finance system to create incentives for talent to stay in Wales? I have to say as well that I always worry when I see loose terminology in statements. For example,
'exploring how we retain our graduates and talent...by building strong linkages with universities, and between universities and businesses'.
It's admirable, but there's no real commitment here from the Welsh Government at all. So, I would hope that we will see some meat on the bones sooner rather than later. My party, in this field, committed in our manifesto in the last election to establishing a pilot project to test the feasibility of tracking and keeping in touch with young people who leave Wales for higher education or initial employment to ensure that they are kept abreast with ongoing opportunities at home and to create a database of diaspora talent. Would the Minister commit to implementing this policy?
Point 7 in the Welsh Government's approach to moving the Welsh economy forward includes ensuring that
'we have firms...in Wales who can provide future opportunities'.
I'm glad that the Government recognises that, if they really want to provide future opportunities for all in Wales, they would need to ensure that the firms providing these opportunities are those whose structure rewards workers and the local community more than the traditionally structured firm would. The current system of greed, opportunity and profiteering for the few will not eradicate poverty in Wales or move the economy forward. If we change nothing, we do not move; we remain stagnant.
A team Wales approach, built by all of us, must take priority, and the Government should look at focusing on co-operatives and employee ownership. As I said, I'm glad that the Minister recognises this. It is widely acknowledged that co-operative models have a critical role to play, in not only combating poverty but sustaining economic growth. Would the Welsh Government consider working on an economic development Bill for Wales, with co-operatives and small and medium-sized enterprises at its core, in light of this?
Finally, Llywydd, we welcome point 8 in the Welsh Government's approach to moving the Welsh economy forward, through highlighting the opportunities available through remote working and flexible commuting. Wales should strive to foster inclusive economic growth, and the Welsh Government should support employers to continue offering remote and flexible working, as this is one way to tackle the disability employment gap. In 2020, the employment rate for disabled people was only 53.7 per cent, compared to 82 per cent for non-disabled people. This is not only detrimental on an individual level, but also detrimental to society. When the economy is inclusive, there is a greater productivity and a more diverse exchange of ideas and innovation.
For years prior to the pandemic, disability activists had been pushing and advocating for greater flexibility and remote working, and they were often met with pushback. Yet lockdown has shown that these changes can be made, and very quickly too. Therefore, could I ask the Minister to outline how exactly he will look to help encourage continued remote and flexible working? And I would hope that we will see a commitment to a four-day work week, for example, in the near future. As I have already said, I'm glad for the Minister and his engagement on this, but we have a long way to go still if we are to take the Welsh economy to a more sustainable and equitable level.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Thank you to the Member for his comments and questions. I'll start with the point that he makes about talent and how we provide young people with a real future in Wales, and also the linked point about diaspora—those people who have moved either for university or for other work opportunities, and the opportunities for those people to be part of the future of Wales within Wales as well. It's part of the challenge that we know that we have, and it's particularly in sharp focus now because of the demographic challenge that we have. We could have fewer than six in 10 people of a working age in the whole Welsh population by the time that we get to the 2040s, and that's a really big challenge for us.
Previously, the success story of more of us expecting to live longer would have been a challenge that I'd have considered in the role now occupied by Eluned Morgan—on the challenges for the future of health and social care, when more of us can expect to live for longer. And that really did drive the parliamentary review that we had on the future of health and social care at the start of the last Senedd term. But it is also, of course, a really significant economic challenge for us too. It's both about how we secure a future for people who are already here, as well as wanting to invest in having their whole future here in Wales at some point as well.
So, graduates are part of what we are looking at, and, yes, we are looking at what has happened in Scotland. I've already had conversations with the Minister for education about the potential for graduate incentives to stay here, both people who graduate from a Welsh university—. And we have an oversupply of graduates that we produce in Wales; we are a net exporter of graduates. For some of those people who have lived and studied in Wales, for normally at least three years and more, to want them to stay—. We've had that conversation a bit when it comes to medical and healthcare-related graduates. Actually, we need to have a broader conversation about the sorts of incentives that we could sustainably introduce here in Wales to encourage people to stay, but also for people to come from outside Wales to be part of our story as well. I think that's quite exciting as an opportunity—to have a broader and strategic commitment to do so, as well as helping people to start up their own businesses.
Now, I wouldn't say that it's fair to characterise this as something that the Welsh Government has only just woken up to. We have had a range of different interventions to help get people in employment, education and training in the past. This recognises how acute the phase is now, with the demographic challenge that we have and, of course, the recovery that we need to see as we, hopefully, come towards the end of this pandemic in the months ahead.
There'll be more work for us to do, though, with our partners, once we do have the outcome of the spending review. So, more certainty on a range of spending areas, not just the successor funds from the European Union, but also the ability to then have a conversation with our partners. So, business groups, businesses, local government and trade unions will be coming back with the Government, we’ll be talking over this next period of time, and looking to then agree on some more detail in our plan for the future. So, you can expect more after that event, but more as we learn about what will work. So, yes, there’s more policy intervention to be finalised—you’re right to point that out from the statement—but I wouldn’t take the pessimistic view that because there isn’t a 100-page detailed document worked out now, that means that nothing can happen or will happen. I’d be more than happy to talk with him about that and, indeed, with the spokesperson for the Conservatives as we’re working through this in the months ahead.
On the point about co-operatives, of course, there is a debate tomorrow. I know that there is a Member slightly to my right and behind me looking to make a case for legislation, but it’s part of what this Government recognises about the opportunity to increase the size of the co-operative economy. We have a manifesto commitment to double the size of the co-operative economy within this Senedd term, and I am serious about doing so.
And when it comes to disabled employment and not just disabled employment, but more so the opportunities for remote working, it is something that we have all seen take off during the pandemic and it’s another opportunity for Wales. We already had at the end of the last Senedd term a commitment to increase the number of people able to work remotely. The pandemic has really accelerated that trend as more people, from necessity, have got used to working in a different location, as more people have changed again their view of the balance between work and life outside of work, and how they want to live and work, in commuting terms, not-commuting terms, but also what that then means about the changing nature of the world of work. And it’s a point where the hubs that we are developing are part of the answer, but businesses themselves, often working together with trade unions who want to see a settlement on this too, recognise they can actually have greater productivity gains for their workforce in working in a different way. But also, for some people, it improves their relationship with the world of work as well.
I was really struck by a conversation I had with a trade union that organises in the private sector, and one of their senior organisers said to me that they’ve seen a significant reduction in bullying and harassment claims through the period of the pandemic. As people return to more normal working but with a hybrid model still in place, for many people it improves their life in work as well as outside it, and the way that people behave with each other. So, there are real opportunities as well as challenges in doing so, but I am optimistic that this period of change can be a really positive one for Wales if we can all agree on what we’re going to do to seize the opportunity.
I have several speakers who wish to again be involved, so if you can all be brief and, Minister, succinct answers as well. Mike Hedges.
Thank you. I welcome this statement and look forward to further economic statements and debate. I very much welcome pursuing a progressive economic policy that focuses on better jobs, narrowing the skills divide and tackling poverty. The greatest economic development tool is education. We need a policy that produces more Admiral Insurances and less LG inward investments. I welcome the backing local firms initiative. Too often we’ve had branch factories for a short time before they leave.
There’s a lot we can learn from the USA, England and Europe in working with universities to develop the economy. We need a high-skill, high-wage economy with opportunities for all. Too many Welsh students at graduation leave Wales, often never to return. For the last 10 years we've promoted ICT, life sciences, financial and professional services sectors. What support is the Welsh Government intending to give to promote and develop these economic sectors, which are high-wage sectors? And what is being done to develop more university-led science parks, like M-SParc on Ynys Môn?
I think there were two questions at the end of that, and on the first, on the life sciences sector, it is a key opportunity for us. Now, the health Minister, Eluned Morgan, and I have had conversations about this in the previous term, in our different roles, and again during this term as well, because we do recognise that this is an area where Wales does punch above its weight, and there are good jobs, high-wage jobs. We’ve already seen some more of those coming into Wales for the future. We think we can get more. It is, of course, linked to innovation spend across the UK, and we’re now dealing with a new innovation Minister, as Lord Bethell in no longer in the Government. It’s Lord Kamall now who’s dealing with this from a UK perspective, and I think there are real opportunities for Wales that Eluned Morgan and I are keen to take up.
And when it comes to university-led science parks, I wouldn't be quite be so doctrinal about there being one model, but I do think, given that part of my responsibility as the science Minister for the Government, in the conversation I had last night with the Wales Innovation Network, there is real opportunity for gains to be made between academic co-operation and businesses, and to apply the knowledge that’s gained, whether it’s an individual project or indeed on clustering those groups together. So, I’m looking for opportunities to make that real, and I think we’re going to see more of those coming in the future, and it’s a real necessity if we are to have the high-skill, high-wage economy that all of us wish to see.
I'm grateful to the Minister for his statement. There are three issues I'd like to briefly raise with you. First of all, productivity. Productivity is the biggest challenge facing the Welsh economy. You haven't discussed that in the statement, and I'd like to understand what the Government's approach is going to be towards productivity.
Secondly, you finish your statement by saying that you want to see a stronger, greener, fairer economy in Wales. What does that mean? Because I think one of the real issues I have with many Government statements is that we don't have the objectives, the targets, the clarity to understand what that does mean for people in Blaenau Gwent. How will we know that it's a stronger economy, a greener economy, a fairer economy?
And finally, Minister, the point I tried to make in my short debate last week was about delivery. The Welsh Government has very effective strategies in place, but they're not often delivered in the way that we would anticipate and hope to see them delivered. And if I look back over my time in this place, delivery has been the weakest part of the Welsh Government's approach. So, how do you intend to ensure that you have the delivery mechanisms in place so that we don't just have a strategy, but we have a real difference in people's lives?
Thank you for those questions. Actually, the productivity challenge is something for every modern economy, and it's part of the reason why investing in talent is so important. Because unless you can change systems of work, or unless you can increase individuals' ability to do their job better or faster, the productivity challenge is there for all of us in virtually every sector. So, that's why we do need to have some stability in investing in skills, research and development, and innovation. If we can't generate more in those areas, then, actually, we're going to have a real struggle to see productivity improved.
Over the course of devolution, we have seen productivity gains, but our challenge is whether they have been fast enough and whether they are keeping pace with the rest of the UK, especially with the overheating south-east region in England, let alone the ability to catch up and actually get us to a point where we don't see not just the productivity challenge we have, what that means for wages and prosperity for individual families, but also for communities as well. And I guess it goes into your point on what does stronger, greener, fairer mean.
Well, the danger is that we always—. The way that we campaign, and the way that we then have to implement in Government, you get much more of the nuance and the detail when it comes to taking action. I'd say that a stronger economy will be a more resilient one, where we don't just improve the rates at which wages are paid, but the fairness part also comes in wages, and where those wages are paid, who to, as well, to make sure we don't have some of the structural inequalities we have already.
We also, in the fairer part, need to take account of men and women in the workplace. And our different challenge is the intersectional challenges we face. Somebody who looks like me in this country is likely to earn a lot less than somebody who looks like the Member, and that isn't because someone who looks like me has less talent. So, we need to recognise that in the way that our economy works more broadly and generally.
And if you think about your short debate and your focus on deliverability and making sure that something happens, if we can't see a significant step forward through this term and beyond in the Heads of the Valleys area, we won't meet our ambitions for the future of the country: that stronger, greener and fairer economy that we do want to see.
So, the conversations I've already had with regional partners: the new corporate joint committees, the new regional structures that everyone's signed up to, what will they deliver? Will we see a sharing of where there are choices that those regional areas will make for themselves, without the Welsh Government, areas where there are real partnerships and a clear understanding of who is responsible for what and who will get on and deliver that? And the Member will no doubt come back and say, 'Well, what is happening within my community? What is happening within the Heads of the Valleys area? Am I really seeing my community becoming wealthier? Are the socioeconomic conditions of the people that I represent improving or not?' That's the test I know the Member will make, and I look forward to having that conversation with him.
I'd like to thank the Minister for your statement. The title of this particular statement was 'Moving the Welsh Economy Forward', and it's really refreshing to hear a Welsh Labour Government Minister who wants to move the economy forward. But this does come from a Minister whose party has been in Government here in Wales for the past 20-plus years. Welsh workers have the lowest weekly wages in Great Britain, while businesses in Wales pay the highest rate of business rates in Great Britain, and, to top it off, key infrastructure decisions to drive our economy forward after COVID have been put on ice by the Deputy Minister through his moratorium on road building. However, if we are moving the economy forward, maybe that's all in the past.
In your statement, you mentioned apprenticeships. I think that's a really positive step. You know, the backing local firms fund, I think that's positive. There were some positives in your statement—
Can you ask a question now, please?
Yes, I'm coming now, Deputy Llywydd. I think you could have gone further. So, Minister, will you now look to invest in infrastructure to attract big businesses? Will you support them by cutting business rates and empowering young people by creating more skilled jobs, developing more homes, investing more money in education and training and levelling up the whole of the country outside of Cardiff?
Because that's how you level up the economy, Minister. Do you agree?
Well, it's an interesting series of comments. I'm not sure he's listened to the statement or the previous answers I've given where I've talked about investing in skills and talked about investing in young people. We've talked about the fact the Welsh economy has improved during the course of devolution, and I'm very proud to follow Ken Skates in this role: someone who really did make a difference in the future of the Welsh economy; someone you couldn't accuse of not wanting to take the economy of Wales forward. I believe we're facing in the right direction. If only we had a UK Government on our side that was prepared to work with this Welsh Government to invest in Welsh businesses and in the future, that wasn't taking out of Wales, in one calendar year, more than double the size of the budget of Monmouthshire County Council, we could do even more. And I believe the people of Wales are with us. After all, it's their choice to have elected Welsh Labour-led Governments for the last two decades.
I thank the Minister for his statement, and the previous Ministers for their commitment to moving the Welsh economy forward as well. My community, as the Minister will know, is the heartland of Welsh manufacturing, and it is a challenge for us all as policy makers, and particularly Ministers in all Governments, to ensure that renewable technology of the future is designed and developed in communities like mine, and then manufactured and serviced in communities like mine. And I'm sure lots of Members will know the three bold policies I set out prior to the elections: a universal basic income trial, a four-day working week and a green new deal, and the importance of a green new deal, because it achieves the three wider goals that we are all elected on, of creating jobs, addressing inequality and, most importantly, averting the catastrophic climate change issues we have. So, Minister, do you support my calls for a green new deal, and can you set out further how you will ensure that my community of Alyn and Deeside benefits from the next wave of job creation as we do move the Welsh economy forward?
Well, I think it's the definition of what we call a 'green new deal'. When you hear Julie James talk about the second low-carbon delivery plan, we hear lots about leading to a green new economy to make sure that we improve our impact—our environmental impact—on our activity today, and make sure we can take advantage of those industries that are here already. We've recently had presentations, which lots of Members attended, about the roll-out of energy offshore, but there are big opportunities, not just in the creation of those, but in the supply chain that goes with them, and there should be jobs right across the sector.
The hydrogen infrastructure that should be developed right across north-west England and through north Wales, and the opportunities for further industries too. And in your own constituency, and you'll know this, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru and Airbus and their desire to see fuels of the future, to decarbonise the way that the air industry works. We have huge opportunities and risks if we're not prepared to take that step forward.
And, of course, our traditional industries will still be important too, including Shotton steel, of course, where I had the opportunity to visit with the Member, and the opportunity to make sure those high-value industries are able to decarbonise, but in a way where the transition is a just one and jobs are not sacrificed.
Diolch, Minister, for today's statement. Against the backdrop of the last five years, Brexit, austerity cuts and, of course, the pandemic, we need an ambitious plan to move the Welsh economy forward. This has to start with local business like Flowtech in Rhondda, a business that the Minister and I visited yesterday, which will be expanding thanks to Welsh Government's economic contract, and, alongside thousands of other Rhondda businesses, will contribute to the wider team Wales effort of creating a stronger, fairer and greener economic future.
Before being elected to this place, I worked in education and ran a charity supporting young people in Rhondda. The message that I've heard from our young people for too long has been, 'To get on, you have to get out.' What will the Minister say to those young people in Rhondda who wish to make a living in Wales, but feel that this isn't possible?
Well, it's our job to make sure those people do have a future where they don't need to get out to get on. And, actually, when we visited Flowtech yesterday, we found that lots of people were within walking distance of that employer as well, so a genuinely local business properly grounded in that community. And, of course, as the Member for the Rhondda has said, they're not just having an economic contract now, they are trialling the next stage of an improved economic contract to look at the commitment they will make to their workforce and their impact on their local community. And I do think that, through the young person's guarantee and the interventions we have, but also a real feeling of optimism around our economic future, we will be able to say directly to people, 'There is a future for you where you live. It is a bright and a positive future, and you really don't need to leave Wales to get on.' Now, that's a message I believe everyone in this Chamber could get behind.
And finally, Rhianon Passmore.
Diolch. Thank you for the statement. Minister, the good people of Islwyn and Wales returned a Welsh Labour Government in May because of their democratic desire to entrust the Welsh Labour Government with growing back the Welsh economy fairer, stronger and greener. I also welcome the Welsh Government's young person's guarantee, providing everyone under 25 in Wales with the offer of work, education, training, or self-employment. I also welcome the innovative and radical universal basic income pilot for our young people who are looked after. It is imperative that we invest in our youth and we build a pathway for future generations to learn, live and thrive in the communities in which they live. However, despite the passion, the optimism of our young people now, the vibrant democracy now taking hold, and our unique and innovative Youth Parliament, we also continue to face real, hard, difficult challenges—
Ask your question now, please.
Minister, the vision for the Welsh economy you have set out clearly under the 'team Wales' umbrella. So, Minister, as we approach and digest the zero-carbon UK strategy approaching COP26, what are the challenges, and what are the obstacles that the Welsh Government face in order to continue to create a fairer, stronger and greener future for all the people who call Islwyn home?
I think it's relevant to people in Islwyn and in every constituency and region across Wales; it's our ability to invest in future industries with the level of certainty we will need. The stability that the Welsh Government can provide needs to be matched by a level of consistency from the UK Government as well, because, actually, if we have a slightly chaotic approach to the future, with all the counter-briefings that take place, it makes all of our jobs much harder. Businesses say that when they're not in front of a camera, but actually, they really do want a more sustainable environment to understand if the promises that are likely to made in the run-up to COP26 by the UK Government will be made real, if we're really going to have an opportunity to invest in those future skills, future industries, because this Government stands ready to do so. And I believe that every Member in this Chamber, when Julie James does set out that second low-carbon delivery plan, will see the scale of ambition this Government has, but also, how difficult some of those choices are going to be. We are going to need to change the way that we live and the way that we work to achieve our ambitions, but I believe in Wales we have a real contribution to make, not just for ourselves, but our impact on the wider world too. Many thanks.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the health and social care winter plan 2021-22. I call on the Minister, Eluned Morgan.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Every year, the NHS develops a plan for how it's going to manage with the increased demands over the winter, and this year is no exception. The preparations have been taking place already for many months. We are making this statement today in order to give an opportunity for Senedd Members to discuss our plans before the formal publication of the report on Thursday. I think it is important for Members to note that, generally, the winter plan is an instruction to the NHS and is normally an internal document, although we understand the political interest in the plan this year as we see challenges to our health and care services this year, the likes of which we have never seen in the history of the NHS.
We are going into this winter where we still have very high rates of COVID, where we are expecting significant additional pressures from winter flu, and we are trying to keep up the pace on addressing the backlog of treatments that has developed during the pandemic. This will be happening at a time when the NHS and care workers are exhausted, when the flow through our hospitals is restricted because of challenges in terms of discharging patients when they are ready to leave, and an increase in demands on our GP surgeries and massive pressure on our ambulance services.
That's the backdrop to the publication of this winter plan. At the heart of the winter plan is a determination to work together with the NHS, local government and, ideally, the public, in asking us all to play our part to relieve as much pressure on the system as possible. There will be a comprehensive programme to direct the public to the appropriate place for care, which will not always be the GP in primary care or accident and emergency in secondary care. COVID is not over, and a central part of our plan is to ensure that we are vaccinating and continuing our test, trace and protect programme through the winter months. We'll be revising our Adferiad long COVID programme, as promised, to keep up with the latest data and information.
Mental health will be central to the support that we will be providing over the winter months. It will remain an essential service, irrespective of the pressures that we are likely to face. In terms of primary care, including GP services, there will be a real focus on respiratory illness, making sure that patients are able to access primary care when they need it. It's important to note that this could be via a virtual appointment, although face-to-face appointments will be available if necessary. We will be asking community pharmacies to step up, once again, as they've continued to do throughout the pandemic.
On planned care, we will be honest with the public, and will explain that it will be tough to work through the high numbers on our waiting lists over the winter. We may even need to flex the system and reduce the numbers receiving planned care if the pressure on the system continues to mount. However, we will ensure that health boards keep in touch with people waiting, and will offer them the support and pain relief that they may need during this difficult time. In the meantime, we will work up further how we intend to drive forward with reforms in order to make significant inroads into the waiting lists, and we will give further detail on these plans at our planned care summit in November.
The Senedd will be aware that the pressures on our urgent and emergency care system are huge. We have a very clear plan set out on how to address this issue, including the national roll-out of 111, the use of the military for support, an increased focus on timely ambulance patient handover, and the triage of patients in emergency departments. One of the areas that we will really focus on is the importance of standing by and supporting our care services. We will give further details on this later this week, but I cannot emphasise enough how much we need to support our care services and our care workers during this challenging time. If we want to discharge people from hospital, we need to know that they will be supported in the community, and we will continue to work with our local authorities to deliver this.
Finally, we cannot do any of this without our incredible care and health workforce. We will stand by them and support them as they enter the toughest time in their history. The health service will be pushed to its limits this winter, and we ask the public to use these services wisely, prudently, and to play their part to get us through this winter together. Thank you very much.
The Conservative spokesperson, Russell George.
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, can I thank you for your update you've given us today on the health and care plan for the winter? But that's what it is, of course, today—it's an update and not the plan itself. I think Members across this Chamber, and the Welsh public, will be disappointed that they've had to see a further delay just before we go into the Senedd recess. And I do note in your opening remarks today, Minister, that you said that this is a statement in order to allow the opportunity for Senedd Members to discuss the plans before they're formally published on Thursday. But if they're not publicly published, then it's very difficult for us to scrutinise those plans, of course. I will say thank you, Minister, for your call this morning; I appreciate greatly the technical briefing that you gave me and other Members of this Chamber this morning, from your officials. That was greatly appreciated.
I do have to say, though, I don't accept your points within your statement that it is usually an internal document for the NHS—and I'll stand to be corrected if that's wrong. But if that is the case, then I would say: what did your predecessor publish on 15 September 2020 in his winter protection plan? This included a framework about essential and routine services, urgent and emergency care, the vaccination programme, primary and community care, social care, care homes—I could go on. But it also mentioned allocations from the Welsh Government to support the NHS over winter. It even mentioned in its purpose the Welsh Government's overarching plan, which describes the broad context and priorities for health and social care until March 2021. So, can I ask the Minister for an explanation on a number of issues there? Why wasn't the plan published earlier in September? Why have we got a further delay before the public can see this plan? And perhaps you could also clarify why you say this plan is usually an internal document, given what I've just said.
It's taken a long time for the Welsh Government to get together its framework document, and it appears, over the last month, that communications between Ministers and NHS Wales haven't been entirely clear. I'll give some examples in that regard: in response to the leader of the opposition in September about the publication of winter pressure plans, the First Minister avoided this entirely, referring to the regular updating of the coronavirus control plan. But, just two days earlier, and after you'd mentioned to the Health and Social Care Committee that you'd been preparing for winter earlier than ever before, the chief executive assured the committee that a very clear winter plan will be visible and will be published during October. Minister, can you give some assurances to the Senedd today that you and the Welsh Government are clearly communicating with NHS Wales and local authorities over your overarching aims for easing winter pressures? I would say, Minister, it's absolutely crucial that, at this time of extreme pressure on the Welsh NHS, we have direction from the Welsh Government. We have record-breaking A&E waiting times, record-breaking numbers of people on waiting lists, and one in four people are waiting for more than 12 months for treatment. So, it's crucial that we have a clear plan from the Welsh Government.
Turning to your statement itself, you mention that a central part of the plan will be vaccination, and your statement in September said that you had started the COVID booster programme. We're yet to see any uptake figures on how successful, or not, this programme is so far. Your 'progress against strategy' document, published within the last hour, also gives no indication as to how many have taken up the booster. I have had some reports from colleagues that in other parts of Wales there have been those who have yet to receive information—those who are over 50—on when they will receive the booster. I've also received reports of people waiting up to an hour outside vaccination centres in order to get their booster that they've been timetabled in for. I am particularly concerned about that, given that this is an older age group, and given that we're coming in to a period of more severe weather—if people have to wait outside in order to receive their booster as well. So, perhaps you could provide some information in that regard.
Can you also provide a timeline on booster uptake figures that are available to the general public? And what exactly do you mean by the majority of people being offered the boosters by 31 December in your COVID vaccination statement today? That could be 51 per cent. Perhaps you can give a little bit more detail in that regard. You also mentioned planned care—
Can the Member conclude?
I'll ask my last question in that case, Deputy Presiding Officer. You also mentioned planned care, and I note that you're leaving a formal plan until the planned care summit in November. Meanwhile, both England and Scotland have been doing their utmost to ease those waiting times with community diagnosis centres, and we've heard about surgical hubs and the use of independent healthcare to support NHS waiting lists. So, can I ask you for a little bit more information in that regard? Because you'll be aware I've been asking you for about four months in regard to surgical hubs, health Minister.
I think it's really important that there is an understanding that there was always a plan for us to publish this report at a winter learning event, which is going to take place on Thursday, so that we're engaging with the NHS directly. The only way this plan is going to be implemented is if it's really taken up and taken seriously by the NHS and by our care workforce. So, it is important that we're speaking to the right audience, and that's what this plan is supposed to be. It's an instruction to them, and that's why we were always planning to do that on Thursday.
We have, however, already been doing a huge amount of work in relation to preparing for winter. We've been doing it for a very long time, we've had the NHS planning framework that sets out expectations for health boards and trusts for a very long time. There are weekly meetings that are happening between us, health boards and local authorities to provide a forum for taking further action in terms of preparing for winter. We've got a COVID planning and response structure, of course, which all has fed into this plan. So, it's not as if we're starting from nothing here, we're building on what was already there. And of course, the local options framework is something that health boards are already aware of, and we're making sure that that's being updated in relation to the COVID pressures, and they understand where there are opportunities to flex as we enter the winter.
You ask about the planned care situation, and I think it is important that people understand that we've already given quite a lot of money to the system, £250 million already has been announced, and that communication, as I say, has already been happening.
In relation to the vaccination plans, I can assure the Member that around 30 per cent of people from 12 to 15 years old now have received their first dose, and we will be able to give an update in terms of the booster uptake on Thursday this week, so I hope you can be a little bit patient and wait for us to get those statistics checked before we announce those. We set out in that vaccination plan that the over-50s would be offered their booster doses before the new year. Now, there was another group of people, as you mentioned, who would be offered the vaccination booster before that, that included people like care workers, people in care homes, NHS workers, and so we are on target to be delivering against that vaccination plan that I set out last week.
And then, just finally on planned care that you asked about, as I said, we've already announced £250 million. The health boards have come back to us now and have suggested how they would like to spend that money, so we're just making sure now that we have all our ducks in a row in terms of making sure we have a co-ordinated approach and, hopefully, we'll be able to give more information on exactly how that's going to be spent in that planned care summit later.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much. This is an interesting debate, a first opportunity to scrutinise the winter plan. Unfortunately, we have no winter plan to scrutinise as of yet. I do appreciate the short briefing that was made available earlier today to members of the health committee on some of the principles underpinning the plan. I appreciate having a preview from the Minister today of some of those principles, but, in a way, this session is posing more questions than it's answering. There is talk about access to primary care and making mental health central to services, but the question we want answers to is how is that going to be done, that's what we'd hope for in the report itself and hope for in the report on Thursday.
There are many principles and elements that I welcome, some of them that I outlined as things that I would want to see in a session a fortnight ago, asking for improved signposting so that people get the right care in the right place, and the Minister has said that that is going to be a priority. I know that the BMA today has highlighted some research that suggests that only around 10 per cent of people were aware of the Government's Choose Well programme in 2018, so, obviously, we need a lot more investment in that kind of work. And again, I'm looking forward to having more detail on that on Thursday, hopefully, and I would appeal to the Minister to ensure that time is made available in Government time after half term so that we can scrutinise and ask questions in light of the publication of the report itself.
There are questions that I can pose today, particularly around the fact that, as the Minister said, COVID and the pandemic are the context to this winter still. I was critical last week in hearing the Minister say that we are in a period of stability in terms of the pandemic. There is a risk, of course, that 'stability' is seen as being something positive, but the figures are frighteningly high in Wales, as the Minister will know, and we need to bring those figures down. Amongst schoolchildren, there is huge concern being voiced to me by people from all parts of Wales, and I would like to hear from the Minister this afternoon what urgent steps are being taken now to try to bring cases down within schools.
And, following on from the question from the Conservative spokesperson, I do think we need more information as to the strategy of the booster programme. We heard the Minister say that we'll get more figures on Thursday, but will we have an update on a change of strategy or a gear-shift, perhaps? Because we might be suffering here from having had an early and successful vaccination programme, so the period of a decline in the effectiveness of the vaccination is hitting more swiftly than it is in the rest of Europe. And that means that we need to rush forward with the booster programme. So, an update on that would be useful. And also, in the past few hours, we've heard of a possible new variant related to the delta variant, and that that might be responsible for as many as 6 per cent of new cases now. So, an update from the Minister on what the implications of that could be would be appreciated and what's being done to monitor that in Wales.
I want to take this opportunity, too, to ask one specific question on a problem that we could face over the winter in terms of providing diagnoses, that there is a great shortage in terms of test tubes for blood tests. This is causing great problems across the NHS, with doctors having to make very difficult decisions as to which patients should have those blood tests because of the shortage of these vials. So, when is this problem going to be resolved, because it's been a problem for many weeks now, and there are very real concerns across health services that this is holding diagnosis and treatment back?
And finally, very briefly, we heard the First Minister today saying that he had been satisfied by the Prime Minister yesterday in terms of his pledges on giving Wales a voice within the UK-wide COVID inquiry, but the campaigners are angry, the campaigners are disappointed with the First Minister's response, following his conversation with the Prime Minister yesterday. We've seen nothing in black and white. Why should we trust Boris Johnson on this when he's been undermining Wales in so many other ways recently?
Well, thank you very much, Rhun. One of the reasons why we were eager to ensure that there was an opportunity to give that briefing to some of you this morning was to ensure that you saw or had some kind of idea before half term, because we are aware that some will be away and we didn't want to leave it too long before we had an opportunity to share our ideas with you. And, of course, there will be more detail in the report itself.
Now, there is a programme in terms of sharing information with the public on where they can go to get additional help. That's already under way; that's already started. And it is important that we continue with that over the winter. So, that programme has already commenced. And you're right that COVID is the context for preparations for this winter. And I do think it is important that we underline that this is one of the most challenging winters in the history of the NHS. And when you say that it is a stable period, well, everything's relative, isn't it? And so I do think that what we're talking about here is a time when there isn't a variant of concern at the moment. So, that's part of the reason why we're talking about being in a stable period, where we know that the majority of the population has received some kind of safeguard because they've had the opportunity to have the vaccine.
In terms of our schools, we are aware that the numbers are very high in our schools, but we're also aware that we don't want our children to lose more time spent in school. So, that's why the machines to monitor the air in our schools will be distributed during the coming weeks.
And in terms of a change of strategy, well, it's only last week that I announced the new strategy on the vaccine and the booster for the winter, so no, we're not going to introduce a new programme after we announced one last week. But of course we are always vigilant in terms of looking out for a new variant. That's why we're so concerned about the fact that the United Kingdom Government is taking away so many of the safeguards in terms of international travel into the UK. We need to keep these variants out of the UK, and that is of concern, but that's very difficult for us because the border is so open, and that the majority of people who travel abroad travel through England.
In terms of the issues with a lack of blood testing equipment, that has been an issue, as you said, for several weeks; it's an international problem. We know that when these vials are received, there'll be huge pressure on GPs once again to have to restart the work that they usually do. So, we are concerned about that pressure, but of course, work is being done worldwide to try to produce more of these vials.
And with regard to the independent COVID inquiry: well, I was on the call with the Prime Minister when I heard Boris Johnson saying clearly that he would be willing to speak and consult with Wales about what the scope of the way that we evaluate this COVID inquiry will be, and that he would be taking the situation in Wales into account.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement today. I welcome your comments about ensuring people are signposted to the appropriate source of medical support and advice, and community pharmacies obviously have a key role to play, as you acknowledge. But how can we make sure that people know they are there and that people have a good knowledge of the common ailments scheme and how it can be used? In addition, extra pressure in my constituency could be caused by the temporary closure of the minor injuries unit at Ysbyty Cwm Cynon, and while I appreciate the comments from Cwm Taf Morgannwg that this is being done to make the service sustainable while staff are being upskilled to run the unit, how is the Welsh Government working with the health board to make sure a consistent provision will be in place as soon as possible?
And finally, I'm starting to pick up a larger volume of casework from people affected by delayed transfers of care, and that's despite the excellent work that's already been carried out by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, and I know Welsh Ministers have supported innovative responses, for example the Stay Well@Home scheme funded by the intermediate care fund. I note your comments that further details will be released this week, but how will you work with colleagues and other stakeholders to take that holistic approach to ensure, for example, that homes are fit for people to be discharged to?
Thanks very much, Vikki, and you're absolutely right that it's really important that we alleviate the pressure on the places that people traditionally go for support, and that's why we have a very active campaign, 'Help Us Help You', which is ongoing at the moment, and of course, that will be able to help people and point people in the direction of community pharmacies and other places where they can go for support. Also of course, we'll be encouraging people to use the 111 telephone and online advice that is available to them, and that also manages to take pressure off people.
I am obviously keeping an eye on the situation in Cwm Cynon in relation to the health centre there. One of the reasons, of course, you'll be aware, is because there's a shortage of staff; COVID is affecting everybody, and it's affecting our public services. And so in order to make sure that they're sustainable, and we can give a sustainable service, in the longer term, we have to consolidate so that staff can work together at times. I have been given an assurance that the situation there will be changed in the new year, but I think it's really important that we scotch the rumours that I understand have been going around the community that it will be permanently closed. I can assure you that is not the case and it is important that people understand that this is simply part of what we're going to have to do to get through this winter together.
And in terms of the delayed transfer of care, I'm spending a huge amount of time with my colleague Julie Morgan on the issue of care at the moment. We're having weekly meetings with, I'm pleased to say, Andrew Morgan, who is the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, taking a huge interest, and really trying to underline the fact that, actually, we can't solve the problem in terms of our hospitals until we address the problems in our care services. So, getting people around the table together from our local authorities and our health boards on a weekly basis to come up with any innovative ideas for how we can get through this winter has been an important exercise, and we're still taking weekly actions on that. As I say, there'll be more information on that when we publish the report properly on Thursday.
Thank you for your statement this afternoon, Minister, and for providing officials to brief members of the Health and Social Care Committee ahead of this statement. I look forward to scrutinising your plans in detail, but, ahead of their release, I would be grateful if you could answer a couple of questions relating to the care side of preparations. Care Forum Wales have warned that the sector is facing its worst crisis in living memory. With this in mind, and given the impact issues in social care have on hospital capacity, how will the Welsh Government ensure sufficient capacity in social care over the next few months?
Staff working in the care sector are as vulnerable to illness as everyone else. How, then, does the Welsh Government plan to address the thousands of care home workers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19? And finally, Minister, all the experts are warning that this winter will see one of the worst flu seasons in living memory. Why, then, do care home workers, unlike their colleagues in the NHS, have to seek a flu jab from their community pharmacy? In some areas we are seeing long waits for flu vaccines. Surely those working in care should have priority. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thanks very much, Gareth. Can I assure you that we are speaking very regularly to representatives from the independent care sector as well? We're very aware of the kind of pressures that they're working under at the moment.
I think it probably is worth underlining here once again the fact that, actually, part of the reason for the pressure that we're under at the moment is because so many of our social care workers were EU nationals and they've gone home. So, for example—. The numbers don't sound very good if you take it as a percentage—about 6 or 7 per cent of them were European citizens—but actually that amounts to around 2,000 to 3,000 care workers, which, if you think about that, is a huge number of people that we're now missing from our system. So, I do think that we can't get away from the fact that, actually, Brexit has been a large part of the issue here.
Now, when you talk about care workers not being vaccinated, I'm really delighted to report that, actually, there are very few care workers in Wales who haven't been vaccinated, and the numbers are incredibly high in Wales. If there are people who haven't been vaccinated, it's usually because there's actually a flow through the system—they've either just come in, or they're just about to leave, so they've had their first jab and then they've left. So, there is quite a big turnover, as you're aware, in the care system, and that goes some way to explaining those very few care workers who haven't been vaccinated, which is why we haven't had to go down the route that they've gone down in England, putting even more pressure on their care services.
In relation to flu, of course those people who are vulnerable who work in those care sectors, they will be eligible for that flu jab as well.
Finally, Joyce Watson.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I want to welcome your statement, and of course the briefing that I attended this morning with Dr Andrew Goodall. I'm particularly pleased to see that this is a joint plan. It's not just about health; it's about health and social care and working with partners to help deliver a service that ultimately needs support from local health boards, local authorities and care providers. You know, Minister, that Hywel Dda have launched a bridging scheme, where they're working to ease that passage from hospital to home or whichever setting; it's much needed, and it offers an opportunity in two ways: (1) to get people out of a care setting, but also another opportunity to bring people into the care setting, and also offers them—
You need to ask your question now.
—an opportunity for career progression. So, my question is this, Minister: will you look at the outcomes of that bridging scheme and see if it can be replicated across Wales?
Thanks very much, Joyce, and the one thing that I have learnt since being appointed to this role is the absolute interrelationship between health and care. And it is really important that we understand that part of the reason for the fact that we have ambulances lining up at our front door is because we can't get people out through the back door because of the fragility of our care system, which is why we've had a huge recruitment campaign to try and get more people interested in what is a very important role, a very responsible role and a very rewarding role. And we will be launching another recruitment campaign fairly shortly as well.
In relation to the bridging scheme in Hywel Dda, I was very pleased to see that being developed, and Swansea also has a very innovative action plan in relation to that kind of bridging that needs to be done, and taking people from hospital to home. But I do think it's important that we underline the fact that the statutory responsibility in relation to care remains with the local authorities, and what's important is that we honour our commitment that we made in the manifesto and we pay the living wage to those workers in the care sector. We're working very hard with the trade unions at the moment to work out how exactly we can do that. So, that'll be part of the focus that we'll be really concentrating on, once we have a much better view of what the budget looks like from the UK Government as well.
I thank the Minister. We will now suspend proceedings to allow changeovers in the Siambr. If you are leaving the Siambr, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart, and any Members who are arriving after a changeover should wait until then before entering the Siambr.
Plenary was suspended at 16:07.
The Senedd reconvened at 16:17, with the Llywydd in the Chair.
We have reached the statement by the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution on the constitutional commission. I call on the Minister to make his statement. Mick Antoniw.
Thanks, Llywydd. Llywydd, before the summer recess, I made a statement to Members setting out in more detail the plans for an independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales. Today, I am able to share with you the progress that we have made since then, and in particular in making appointments to the independent commission and publishing the broad objectives.
Llywydd, before the summer recess, I made a statement to Members setting out in more detail the plans for an independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales. And today, I am able to continue sharing with you the progress that we have made since then, and in particular regarding appointments to the independent commission and publication of the broad objectives.
Llywydd, the Welsh Government believes that our union of four nations is under pressure like never before and that there is now an urgent need for reform. In order to achieve this, we have consistently endeavoured to engage with the United Kingdom Government constructively. For our part, as Members will know, we have repeatedly attempted to stimulate debate about a viable future for the United Kingdom.
In 2017, we published 'Brexit and Devolution', which set out our proposals for a positive and creative response to the constitutional implications of EU exit. And in 2019, 'Reforming our Union' set out our 20 propositions for the future governance of the UK, and we published an updated version earlier this year. However, their only response seems to be to try to assert a kind of muscular unionism, seeking more control from the centre, encroaching onto matters of devolved competence and demonstrating its respect for our Senedd through breaches of the Sewel convention and an undermining of the devolution settlement and Welsh democracy.
These issues are not about some bland constitutional debate between political parties or Governments, but they go to the heart of our democracy, and in our view, the case for constitutional reform is rooted in the empowerment of the people of Wales, enabling decisions that have impact on the well-being of our communities and nation to be taken as close to people as possible. The establishment of the independent commission is the next step in that debate. The time is right for a serious national conversation in Wales about the options for our future.
Llywydd, the first broad objective of the independent commission will be to consider and develop durable options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom. We want the independent commission to initiate a conversation with the people of Wales about what those options might be.
Our union is under greater threat today than at any time, and this cannot be ignored: from the current Conservative UK Government and its repeated attempts to undermine devolution, to renewed calls for English devolution, to the pressure for a second independence referendum in Scotland, and the ongoing discussions about the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. So, the independent commission's second broad objective will be to consider and develop all progressive principal options to strengthen Welsh democracy and deliver improvements for the people of Wales.
Now, we’re under no illusions about the size of the task facing the independent commission. This is a conversation that is bigger than party political differences. To be a meaningful consideration of the views of all of Wales, the commission needs to be independent of Government and able to consider the spectrum of views and experiences. The commission will be supported by the Welsh Government and able to access Welsh Government resources to carry out their work, but the commission chairs and members will set their own direction.
I'm very pleased to tell the Senedd formally of the well-heralded announcement earlier today, that we have secured two people of the highest calibre to lead this work as co-chairs of the commission: Dr Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister. Laura McAllister is a Welsh academic, former international footballer and senior sports administrator. She is currently professor of public policy and the governance of Wales at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. She is well renowned as a political analyst and commentator, and has worked with the Welsh Government and the Senedd on numerous projects for reform to our organisations.
Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is a distinguished academic and theologian with a strong commitment to social justice. Their backgrounds and experiences make for a powerful combination, able to bring consensus while challenging all involved to think creatively about our constitutional future. We've had a number of very productive meetings with the co-chairs about the independent commission, and I am looking forward to seeing the leadership that they will bring to this work.
I want to thank all parties in this room for their positive engagement and constructive support in establishing the independent commission. I am grateful for the patience and dedication shown by all involved. I am satisfied that the broad objectives strike the right balance between directing the work of the independent commission, and giving them the freedom to develop recommendations independently of Government, and their ability to engage freely and openly with all interested parties.
The commission is due to start work next month. We are making good progress in appointing members to the independent commission, and I intend to announce the remaining members later this month or early in the following month. The independent commission will also be able to commission research, analysis and expert opinion through a panel of experts established for this purpose. I will make further statements to the Senedd on the independent commission's progress of engagement, and on the establishment of the expert panel.
We anticipate an interim report from the independent commission by the end of 2022. The independent commission should produce the full report with recommendations by the end of 2023. The broad objectives will be available on the independent commission's webpage.
This is a vitally important initiative. It is about the future of Wales and the well-being and prosperity of the people of Wales and future generations. I'm sure that we all want to see it succeed, and I look forward to a period of constructive cross-party work and engagement throughout Wales to deliver a strong report with bold recommendations. I will update the Senedd again after the independent commission members have been appointed, and after the first meeting of the independent commission. Diolch, Llywydd.
Can I thank you for your statement, Minister? It is disappointing that it was trailed in the media for such a long period before it was made to Members of the Senedd, but I suppose that’s just what we’re getting used to here under the current Welsh Government.
I think we’ve put on record the fact that we will participate in this commission. We’ve made that quite clear. We think it’s important to have the voice of unionism at the table, and the voice of the centre-right at the table. But I do have to say that I was quite surprised to see that independence is one of the things that you have tasked this commission with considering, because we all know, and it’s been emphasised by your own First Minister, that independence was very much on the ballot paper at the recent Senedd elections, because it was front and centre of the Plaid Cymru campaign, and it was overwhelmingly rejected. In fact, the Plaid Cymru share of the vote actually went down. So, why on earth the commission should be tasked with looking at independence and considering independence is beyond me, especially when the Welsh Government is constantly bleating on about not having sufficient resources to be able to do the real work that people want you to get on with, which is to sort out the backlog in our NHS, get to grips with the problems in our economy, and deliver the catch-up education that young people across Wales desperately need.
Just in terms of the appointment of the co-chairs, I very much welcome the appointment of Rowan Williams. I think that that’s a very sound appointment. But some people, of course, will question the appointment of Laura McAllister. They will question her appointment because, of course, she’s a former Plaid Cymru candidate in two parliamentary elections. They will question whether she already has a view on these matters, and whether she’s entirely independent in the way that she’s able to organise this particular commission’s business. So, I would ask you, Minister: why is it that you decided that Laura McAllister was the appropriate co-chair to appoint alongside Rowan Williams, given her history as a Plaid Cymru candidate? I think it’s a serious question that people are beginning to ask.
I think it’s also disappointing, really, that there hasn’t been proper engagement with the UK Government in relation to the establishment of this commission, because we all know that simply having a unilateral report produced by this particular commission, which is just focusing on Wales, isn’t actually going to deal with the wider issue of constitutional reform across the UK, because that can only be conducted by a UK Government in partnership with other Governments across the United Kingdom. So, why do you feel that it’s a priority to get under way with this work? Why not have further conversations with the UK Government to be able to determine a way forward on a four-nation basis?
I've noted the timetable for the work of this commission seems very long. Why is it two years? Why do you think the commission needs two years to come to its final conclusions? What are the implications of that in terms of the costs associated with this commission? Can you tell us what the costs are that you’ve budgeted for within your finite resources as a Welsh Government? Are the independent members going to be paid? Are the co-chairs going to be paid? If so, what is their remuneration? I think that these are important questions that we need to know and that should be shared in the public domain.
You’ve, obviously, told us a little bit about the terms of reference, and I note that there was a statement that was issued this afternoon while we were in the Chamber. It's a good job I check my e-mails, Llywydd, or else I wouldn’t have been able to see it. I can see that the terms of reference are two simple broad objectives. In fact, they’re so broad that it wouldn’t surprise me if this commission took 20 years to come up with its recommendations. I would ask whether there’s any further detail that you can give us in terms of the terms of reference or whether that is simply it, those two broad objectives:
'To consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part;'
'To consider and develop all progressive principal options'.
What does that mean? What does a 'progressive principal option' mean 'to strengthen Welsh democracy'? Does that mean, given that all things are on the table, that you’ll be considering the abolition of the Senedd? That’s not something we would advocate, but, obviously, that’s an option that could be considered as part of the all-things-on-the-table comment that I’ve heard made by one of the co-chairs so far.
You've referred to the panel of experts and you've said that you will tell us more about who those experts are. Can I ask you what consideration is being given to their already predeclared views when you're actually making appointments to that panel of experts, and indeed the other independent members that you're still yet to appoint?
I can see that my time is up. I have a couple more questions if I may, Llywydd; it is an important issue. One of the challenges I think that we have here in Wales is that we have to take the public with us on any journey going forward. The public have been persuaded of the desire to have a Parliament that is strong, that has law-making powers in Wales, and many of us campaigned in referendums for that. Indeed, in the last referendum, I campaigned heavily for a powerful Senedd with law-making powers. But if you're talking about taking things further in terms of this independence route, then I'm afraid that I can see this impacting support for our Senedd in a detrimental way. Has that been considered by the Welsh Government? Because I fear that it is something that could seriously undermine this Senedd and the support for it.
Can I thank the Member for his contribution? You have raised issues that are important in respect of your political position. Could I also thank your party for the engagement that I've had up until now? And, of course, there will be further engagement, because in several weeks' time, we'll be able to announce, hopefully, the full commission, and you'll then have a full picture of the commission at that stage. I'm pleased that the Welsh Conservatives will be participating in this process, and I think it is an important process. Whether your view is that you think it's necessary or not, nevertheless, we have a manifesto commitment for this commission, and that commission will proceed.
On the issue of independence, this isn't a commission that is about independence, it's not about unionism, it's not about federalism. It's about exploring the options that will improve the governance of Wales, the future of Wales, its role within the UK, and all the challenges that we know exist at the moment. It's no surprise to you—I've said it many times in this Chamber—that when I was a member of the inter-parliamentary forum, which was cross party across all Parliaments of the UK, both houses of Westminster, there was common recognition across parties that the current constitutional arrangements are not fit for purpose. I have said on many occasions that part of what the 'Reforming our Union' paper was about earlier on was offering solutions to that, and engagement. So, when the Member asks to what extent do we engage with the UK Government, well, unfortunately, we have put forward our proposals on a number of occasions. We've put forward the various recommendations, and, as they say, it takes two to tango. Unfortunately, there's been a single dance from our side. That is why we have to move to this stage now, and that's why we had the mandate during the election to actually have this independent commission.
In respect of Laura McAllister, she is someone who I believe has a reputation and credibility that runs across political parties. I think she is an ideal co-chair, working alongside Dr Rowan Williams. And, of course, on this commission, we're not talking about people who are there to represent a position of a political party; they're there for their skills and ability. I wonder if you would say the same thing about the director general of the BBC, who was a former Conservative candidate. Those points are made by you, they're entitled to an answer, but I think the proof of the pudding is in what Laura McAllister does, what the commission does. I don't think there can be anyone who will have listened to Radio Wales this morning and heard her description as to how she sees the commission going about its work, and exploring all the issues and options for Wales, and not be impressed. In fact, I'm sure you all were impressed. I appreciate they were points that you do have to make.
You make a point about the two years; well, it could be shorter. I think what is important, of course, is that one of the functions of the commission is, obviously, to influence what may happen in future general elections, to put forward a position from Wales, that we ourselves seize the initiative in terms of how we think the reforms to the UK could take place, and also what the options might be to Wales in respect of things that may happen that are beyond our control, whether it be within Scotland or whether it be within Northern Ireland.
With regard to the cost and remuneration, there will be a remuneration package that is similar to all the other commissions that are established. When you're asking people to take long periods of time and significant work out of their working lives, that is normal. I will write to you separately about those. Those will, of course, be published. I don't have the precise details that are there. Of course, there are members of the commission who are still potentially being engaged with a view to coming onto the commission.
In terms of the terms of reference or the broad objectives, it seems to me that the two broad objectives are clear. The danger is that to try and pad it out with a whole series of issues of this and that, what this might be and what this value might be and so on, becomes quite difficult. So, I am actually quite positive about the simplicity of the two broad objectives, but also, once the full commission is in place, that it will be in a position to actually, I think, develop what its strategic plan will be in terms of engagement, and how it's going to engage with the people of Wales and how it's engaged with the breadth of different views that exist.
In terms of the panel of experts, what we're looking at will partly depend upon the strategic programme, but also it will be a panel that will be there not for political positions, but for the skill and expertise that they have. So, there may well be a need for expertise in respect of business, in respect of finance, in respect of governance, in respect of international examples and so on. And I will report on that in a further statement as well.
Can I just say, in terms of the challenges that are ahead, that this is really about embracing the change that is there? Change is coming, change is going to occur, nothing stays still forever. We know of the dysfunction that currently exists. There was a politician who said:
'I...believe it is good for a country and its people to have its fate in its own hands and for their own decisions to matter. When I look round Europe, by and large it's the smaller countries, who...seem to have higher quality decision making....Being responsible for your own policies produces better outcomes.'
That was a quote from Lord Frost, and I think that exactly applies to the commission that we are setting up.
I think, really, what we are looking to is a form of constitutional levelling up. I think that's what we are looking for and what we are aiming towards. We're looking towards how we might take back control. All those slogans and statements that were made some time back are really something that are directly applicable, and, of course, that is exactly what Lord Frost was saying. I think the key is that the purpose of the commission is to embrace all across Wales and to build consensus.
Perhaps I'll just finish with the positive comments that you made early on. I do look forward and I do hope everyone will positively engage. I know we have differences, but as we head forward together, I think it's important we try and build consensus on where change will work, ultimately, for the benefit of the people and the communities of Wales.
A senior political lecturer in Cardiff University—not Professor Laura McAllister, I hasten to add—told me at the time of the establishment of the Commission on Justice in Wales that establishing commissions is fast becoming a national sport in Wales. I heard earlier this afternoon cries of 'waste of time' from the opposition benches—the benches opposite me. Well, let's have a whistle-stop tour of the history of devolution. The FM today quoted Iain Duncan Smith, the Counsel General just now quoted Dominic Cummings; well, I'll go one better for you, I'll quote Sir Winston Churchill for you: 'Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' So, let's go on a tour of the history of Welsh devolution.
The commissions of the past were not a waste of time. They have led to the strengthening of this place and have improved the lives of the people of Wales. I'm sure that Rowan Williams is very familiar with preaching with three different topics; may I remind you of three previous commissions?
First of all, Lord Richard's commission on better governance. Now, this led to the Government of Wales Act 2006, and this gave us powers to pass primary legislation in specific areas. This legislation also separated the Assembly from the Government. This was very important to us as a democracy in Wales and followed the practices of democracies across the globe.
And then, the All-Wales Convention that led to full powers in devolved areas following the 2011 referendum. I, like Darren Millar, campaigned for that—not together, of course—but there was some excitement at that point, Darren, the parties working together to secure what was best for the people of Wales. All the parties put the nation first in order to get rid of those laborious LCOs. Months later, Counsel General, you were elected to this place at such an exciting and confident time for us as an institution.
And then the Silk commission—remember the Silk commission? It was the Conservative Government that commissioned that, that led to the Wales Act 2014 and the reserved-powers model, and that meant that we could pass laws in any areas that were not reserved to the UK Parliament. In the second part of the Silk commission, those recommendations were accepted by the Conservative Government, and that led to the St David's Day agreement of 2015.
Yes, commissions are not a waste of time, by any means; they are a way of nation building. As Darren Millar has said, Wales has been on a journey, and that journey continues, despite the efforts of some. Brexit, COVID-19, what's happening in Scotland, what's happening in Northern Ireland have led a number of people in Wales to reassess the situation and to reconsider the constitutional future of our nation. Unlike all previous commissions, this time, independence will be officially on the table. This is a huge step forward on our journey. This will be the biggest national conversation in the history of Wales as a devolved nation. I warmly welcome the appointment of Laura McAllister and Rev Dr Rowan Williams to their roles, and I wish them well as co-chairs.
You'll remember the old phrase, 'The Anglican church is the Conservative Party at prayer.' Well, perhaps the appointment of a former Archbishop of Canterbury will make sure that you over there will finally listen.
Plaid Cymru looks forward to working constructively with the commission. The First Minister said today that he will take all possible opportunities to push radical federalism. Well, I will tell you now that we will take all possible opportunities to push for independence, because in the words of the old saying, 'There never lived a nation that ruled another well.' It's true across the world, and it's true here in Wales too. I am aware, Counsel General, that you have been campaigning for devolution since the 1970s, before some of us were born, even. You have experienced the disappointments of 1979, you've experienced the disappointment of the long Government of Margaret Thatcher, but you've also seen how things can change—the status quo isn't here forever. You have seen the joy of Wales voting for this place in 1997.
I'm coming to my questions—I apologise, Llywydd. It's a disappointment for me, therefore, to hear the comments of Sir Keir Starmer that it's only possible that Wales will get additional powers under a Labour Government in Westminster. He said that devolution wasn't his priority, wasn't an important priority for him. Clearly, Sir Keir Starmer didn't read your manifesto, which talked about radical federalism. He's also commissioned that commission that will look at the union, chaired by Gordon Brown. How will the two commissions work together, given that independence is being considered by the McAllister-Williams commission? Will a Labour Government, if one is elected to Westminster, listen to the recommendations of this commission? As the comments of Starmer don't fill me with confidence, and as the Boris Johnson Government doesn't fill me with confidence, what is the plan B if this commission too is ignored, as was the Thomas commission, which was full of reason and wisdom and full of strong arguments, and was ignored entirely by Westminster? So, what is the plan B, Counsel General? Thank you.
If I can thank the Member for his contribution and the summary, I think, of the history of devolution—certainly my recollection from the early 1970s, when I have to say that there were those of us who were never sure it was going to happen, but the lesson that you learn is that things do change and you have to prepare for the future. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. And he also said that when you are finished changing, you are finished. And we are in a process of change, and that's why I think we have to embrace that change.
I'm grateful for your reference to the quote attributed to me of Dominic Cummings; it was actually Lord Frost. I thought more pertinently Lord Frost on the basis that he is currently leading the negotiations on the EU exit, so maybe his comments really are worth bearing in mind very carefully.
Can I say again that I think it's perhaps a mistake to focus on particular individual options, whether it's independence, whether it's federalism, radical federalism, unionism and so on? I think the starting point in terms of the message that has to come over is that we want to see change that will benefit the people of Wales, which will bring decision making closer to people, to give people more control over the decisions that impact on their lives. So, the issue of subsidiarity for me is a fundamental one.
You mentioned, of course, the interview with Keir Starmer and of course the UK Labour commission that is there. I think what those comments and that commission indicate, of course, is that it is not just in respect of the situation in Wales, or Scotland, or Northern Ireland, there are clear demands for the decentralisation of power, for the greater empowerment of people and communities in respect of that devolution that's already taken place in England. It may be that the debate there is is 10 years behind, but it is certainly gathering pace and it is certainly relevant to, I think, the debate that is coming for the future. My view is that, in respect of the UK Labour Party commission and any other commissions that are there, I would hope that this commission, which is a Welsh Government-established commission, on the basis of a manifesto commitment but is independent of Government and has a mandate to consider all options, would want to engage with any process that is taking place that is of relevance to the people of Wales and relevant to the task that they have.
And in terms of will the UK Government listen, well Governments come, Governments go, politics changes. I think that, if the commission is able to have the sort of engagement we want to see it have, if it is able to build up that sort of consensus amongst the people of Wales and, hopefully, cross party as well on the need for change, then we will succeed. So, we either argue our case, we either campaign for the sorts of changes that we believe should take place and the sorts of values that we have, otherwise what is the purpose of this place? Change is something that is always occurring. It always takes place, and it's much quoted that devolution is a process not an event, well, history is continually changing. The world we live in changes, and I have to say the world I lived in when we started looking at devolution after Kilbrandon in 1974 has changed rather immensely. You no longer see Tipp-Ex and carbon paper in people's offices as you once did. The technological revolution has changed so much, as the world has globally.
So, I see the commission and I see, hopefully perhaps, in summary to the points you raised being this: we live in a global world, Wales has to make its own voice and its own way and its own identity there. It has to work with the neighbours around it, it has to develop the interdependencies, and that goes fundamentally to our democracy. But, beyond everything, this is not about us as politicians, whichever party we are, saying we know what is best for the people of Wales, it is actually saying that there are challenges ahead, and the best way forward in determining what they should be is by actually engaging with the people of Wales, the people who elect us. And I think that is why the commission is so vitally important. Diolch, Llywydd.
Huw Irranca-Davies, Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.
Thank you very much, Llywydd, and thank you, Minister. Constitutional matters are at the heart of our committee's remit, and having questioned the Counsel General briefly about his plans for a constitutional commission in September, today's announcement is of considerable interest to us; in particular, it will be interesting to consider how it links to the Welsh Government's second edition of 'Reforming our Union', which was published in June of this year.
Our predecessor committee's legacy report highlighted many issues that will be relevant to the work of the commission. It drew attention to the operation and the effectiveness of the Sewel convention and indeed the tensions that have existed between Governments and the need for all Governments and Parliaments to find a shared understanding of the application of that convention. Our predecessor committee also suggested that we monitor the use of inter-governmental agreements, as well as the effectiveness of how the Welsh and UK Governments are working together. And on that latter point, we look forward to the outcome of the long-awaited inter-governmental relations review. The Counsel General told our committee that the Welsh Government was now more optimistic than it has been in the past, and that considerable progress has been made.
Our predecessor committee also issued a warning that the use of legislative consent memoranda allowing the UK Government to legislate in devolved areas becomes increasingly constitutionally irregular if changes made to the Welsh statute book are substantial and significant, and we are already concerned. Less than six months into a new Senedd, and already, consent memoranda for 14 UK Bills have been laid, with the promise of more to come. So, we are taking a close interest in why the Welsh Government appears content to allow, or indeed, to support the UK Government legislating so extensively within devolved areas.
Our committee notes say in passing the reinstatement of the Welsh Government position that in your view a strong Wales within a stable union is the best option for the citizens of Wales. We note also with interest in the statement that the first objective of the independent commission will be to consider and develop durable options for Welsh devolution in the context of a continuing United Kingdom of four nations, and we note also with perhaps heightened interest that the independent commission's second key objective will be to consider and develop durable solutions, options for Wales, in the event of a United Kingdom that begins to dissolve from the four-nations model. In other words, you say in your statement what might Wales's constitutional place be in a United Kingdom from which one of its constituent parts has elected to leave.
So, we therefore look forward, in the spirit of building consensus, to engaging constructively with the commission and with the Welsh Government to ensure that our constitutional arrangements are fit for purpose. Thank you very much, Llywydd.
I thank the Member for his thoughtful questions and comments. If I might start by actually saying how important I recognise the role of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee is, and in fact, I think I'm taking one of your papers home, which is a critique of one of our legislative consent memoranda, so I want to think about that very, very carefully, but it is a very important function that the committee has in a Parliament without a second Chamber.
Firstly, on 'Reforming our Union', it relates back a little bit, doesn't it, to a question that was raised earlier in terms of engagement with the UK Government, and that is, we had the first edition of 'Reforming our Union' to the UK Government basically brushed aside, and the second version, more recently, brushed aside. And that was really very, very disappointing, because the whole point to those papers was to actually stimulate a debate, was to engage, and it's very difficult when one party, almost ostrich-like, sticks its head in the sand and says it won't engage.
Now, I will say in terms of on the more positive side, and this is a matter that we have discussed before, is with the inter-governmental agreement—there is some progress on that. The inter-governmental agreement is a mechanism for improving the mecha