Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

10/11/2021

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

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

Statement by the Llywydd

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are set out on your agenda. 

1. Questions to the Minister for Climate Change

The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Climate Change, and the first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders.

Carbon Reduction Measures

1. Will the Minister make a statement on carbon reduction measures in Wales? OQ57136

Yes. 'Net Zero Wales' contains 123 policies to reduce emissions. Our modelling shows, by delivering this plan, we are on track to outperform carbon budget 2. We will continue to collaborate with and support others to achieve further carbon reduction and put us on a path to a cleaner and more equal Wales.  

Thank you, Minister. 'Net Zero Wales' of course—the plan you talk about—demands reduction and modal shift from the public, businesses, farmers and the public sector. Now, whilst the plan discusses fuel switching and transport charging, it does recognise also the importance of land use and the need for restoration works. Whilst the national peatland action programme has been a welcome development, I still remain concerned that the funding provided by the Welsh Government—around £5.75 million over five years—actually lacks ambition with targets of only 6 to 800 hectares per annum to be restored. My concern only intensifies when you compare this amount to England, where the UK Government is investing £640 million to restore 35,000 hectares by 2025.

Minister, in recognising that you travelled to COP26 to meet with other nations and regions, can you confirm to this Senedd what ideas you have brought back to improve carbon-reduction measures in Wales and whether this will include a review of the money and ambition of the national peatland action programme so that further efforts can be made to lock in this carbon? Thank you. Diolch.

Well, I will start, Janet, by saying that I do constantly admire the sheer brass neck that you have of constantly telling the Welsh Government that they're not spending enough money in the light of your Government's promise of 'not a penny less' than we were getting from the European Union and leaving the European Union whilst completely flying in the face of every single commitment that your Government and every politician in it, including you sitting there on those benches, made to Wales. So, I'll start by saying that I'm taking no lectures from you whatsoever about the amount of money the Welsh Government spends on anything until you put right the amount of money that is missing from the Welsh budget as a result of the perfidious actions of the Conservative Government in Westminster, collaborated with and by you on that bench. 

Having said that, COP26 was a really interesting event, especially given our ability to discuss with other sub-national Governments—sub-UN state Governments—from across the world what they were doing and to showcase some of the things we were doing. So, I had particularly interesting discussions with the people from Sao Paulo, which is a megacity, but, despite that, has an enormous number of synergies with Wales, including the need for a just transition. And I'm very proud to say that the Sao Paulo Government acknowledges the contribution of the 'Net Zero Wales' plan in its net-zero plan—on the front cover, indeed.

We also had very interesting discussions with the Québécois people—the Government of Quebec—about the way that forestry has completely changed in Canada, the way that you can increase both forest cover and the sustainable timber industry, and a series of very interesting discussions about hydro.

I had very interesting discussions with the Scottish Government about the way that they do heat exchange from water programmes, which I'm determined to bring back to Wales. And I think the most humbling thing of all was my discussions with indigenous peoples from the world about the plight that they find themselves in and the plea from those Governments to go further and faster. So, if Janet Finch-Saunders is truly concerned about this, perhaps she will take that message back to her Government and get them to actually put their money where their mouth is.

For a small country, Wales has always punched above its weight on the global stage, from our innovative industrial revolution to being climate trailblazers, and the first Parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. When Wales speaks, the world sits up and listens. We wouldn't be where we are today without our Valleys. Rhondda was coal rich, but I really believe we have so much more to offer to reduce emissions as part of the green transformation. We have optimum settings for renewable energy, like the hydro at Clydach countryside park. We have a brand-new Green Valley store in Treorchy, sourcing local fruit and veg, which I hope will be replicated Rhondda- and Wales-wide. And the economy Minister spoke last week about unlocking the opportunity for jobs to make Wales a leader in industrial remediation, putting right our coal tips. Does the Minister believe that we can unleash our Valleys' potential to lead the green revolution, and, if so, what support can Welsh Government offer?

13:35

Diolch, Buffy. I'm absolutely determined that the transition, in the next industrial revolution to come, will not be the same as happened in the previous industrial revolution. She is right to say that Rhondda was coal rich, but what happened with that coal was that the benefit of the coal, and the wealth that came with it, did not go to the people of Rhondda; it went to a very small minority of capitalists. We must absolutely make sure that the green transition has the exact opposite effect, and is a just transition that brings benefit to the people of the Rhondda. Wales is blessed with a wealth of natural resources for the new green revolution as well. We have our beautiful seas, our lovely mountains, our beautiful valleys. All contribute to the chance for us to be a net exporter of renewables. But the benefits of that must come back to the people of the Valleys. She's also right in pointing out the ingenuity and sheer creativity of the people of the Welsh Valleys. I absolutely acknowledge that, and we are absolutely determined that we will make sure that we harness that creativity in our new skills and economic development plans.

Just to mention a couple of things, I absolutely acknowledge the examples that she raised, and particularly interesting is the economy in the Valleys around the repair and renew programmes, and I've had the privilege of visiting quite a few of those over the years and they've always been an inspiration. But just two I wanted to mention in particular. First of all is the Tech Valleys programme and the business support that goes with it. That demonstrates our investment in the Valleys to support the growth of the industries of the future. It's vital to creating the resilient and sustainable economy in the south Wales Valleys that we absolutely want. And the one that she mentioned as well, the Valleys regional park, was a key priority for the Valleys taskforce to explore that concept. We've committed £8 million for 12 discovery gateway sites and two co-working spaces so far. The discovery gateways will be exemplar flagship sites that showcase the Valleys, encourage greater interest in and knowledge of the Valleys' natural and cultural heritage, enhance sustainable tourism, and provide an economic boost.

I really think that one of the lessons from COP is the big growth in the world of the people who want sustainable, climate-conscious tourism. And Wales is in a very, very good place to provide that and we're in a very good place to be at the forefront of that industry. And so I'm very happy to acknowledge, with her, the work already done, and to say that the Welsh Government stands ready to support the communities, Valleys, as they come together to take advantage of the new industrial revolution.

Can I commend, genuinely, the leadership that's been shown by Welsh Government and all Ministers, not just now but in the run-up to COP as well? It has been fantastic to see. We've got a lot more to do—a lot more to do—but we hope that that same leadership is shown by the end of COP, in these last couple of days, in making good and making real the offers to small nation states and developing nations to tackle carbon reduction and carbon mitigation, but also in ratcheting up the ambition. This can't be the end of it—one set of talks.

But, Minister, one of those things that Welsh Government is doing is the optimised retrofit programme. We really welcome this, because we know the scale of work that needs to be done in actually making good and making warm, and efficient, and energy-efficient some of the homes that are already there throughout Wales, and particularly within my area. But in order to do that, we also need to make sure that, with previous schemes, we have confidence in them. We've had some difficulties in some schemes that have been funded by Welsh Government and UK Government in my own area, in Caerau, but I know it's not isolated to there; there have been others in Wales. You've been having discussions with Bridgend County Borough Council. I wonder if you can give me an update on how those are going, because we need to make sure that those residents actually have their homes made good after they had unsatisfactory installations.

Diolch, Huw. I'm very aware of the plight of some of your constituents in Caerau, and you're right that it's not isolated there, but it's a good example of a scheme that perhaps didn't have the benefit of an optimised approach to retrofit. So, it's a scheme where properties have been fitted with external wall insulation that is not at all the right thing to have done for those properties, and they are now suffering the consequences of that.

Disappointingly, it was a UK Government scheme that I know you're aware that your constituents took advantage of. It was supported with some Welsh Government money in order to make it possible. Unfortunately, there's been a series of unfortunate events—I sound like a script of a movie there—and you'll know that the original operators have gone bankrupt, there are no guarantees and performance bonds in place, and there are a number of other issues. Disappointingly, the UK Government is refusing to take any responsibility for the aftermath of its scheme, which I think is just disgraceful. We are very aware of the plight of the residents there, and I very much want to be able to help them. I'm just awaiting the formal advice on the plethora of legal issues that are at play. I'm expecting that in the next week or so, Huw, and I'm very happy to discuss it with you as soon as we've got it. 

13:40

Question 2 [OQ57139] is withdrawn. Question 3, Paul Davies. 

Green Infrastructure

3. What is the Welsh Government doing to develop green infrastructure across Pembrokeshire? OQ57134

Our recently launched 'Net Zero Wales' plan puts us on the path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We are working with local government, families, communities and businesses in Pembrokeshire on a wide range of projects to develop the green infrastructure to achieve this.

Minister, I'm grateful for that response. One of the aims of the electric vehicle charging strategy for Wales is to promote good-quality sustainable design that includes green infrastructure. That strategy confirms that the Welsh Government is identifying locations where renewable generation, coupled with energy storage, can assist in providing power for the charging network to the benefit of the people of Wales. And the strategy is right to say that this can benefit rural communities, public sector fleet and the integrated transport system where shared or co-located charging facilities will create synergies where different needs can be met. Therefore, can you tell us what discussions you've had with Pembrokeshire County Council about rural charging hubs that could be powered by community renewable projects, and could you outline what specific projects the Welsh Government is currently considering in Pembrokeshire?

Yes, thank you, Paul. Over the past five years, Pembrokeshire has received support from the Welsh Government energy service to develop a series of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which do include a fleet review, capital grants to support their transition to ultra-low emission vehicles, a refit programme of works, street lighting and other LED upgrades for street works. And during that five-year period, the Welsh Government has made available £5.8 million in grants and a series of interest-free loans to Pembrokeshire County Council. 

Through our capital funding programme, Sustainable Landscapes, Sustainable Places, and through the COVID reserves, we are funding a number of innovative projects to the value of around £3.5 million over 2020-22. Those do include the network of EV charging points across the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and new funding for communities to decarbonise. A further £14.9 million of European funding has been awarded to support the development of the marine energy industry in Pembrokeshire, crucial of course to EV charging points because you must have the energy in order to power them. And that's part of the Swansea bay city deal as well, which will place Pembrokeshire at the heart of the UK global zero-carbon marine and offshore energy innovation.

We've also awarded Pembrokeshire County Council £325,000-worth of Transforming Towns green infrastructure and biodiversity funding to deliver a scheme at Haverfordwest castle, in the gardens, which have been landscaped to increase planting and biodiversity. They also have a grant of £690,000 from the ultra-low emission transformation fund to facilitate the delivery of further charging infrastructure to at least 12 locations across the county serving tourism and urban locations in the hub structure that Paul Davies just referenced. 

So, there are a number of projects ongoing in Pembrokeshire. We have a very good relationship with Pembrokeshire council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, who have been very keen to develop in this area, and I'm more than happy to continue our conversation with both them and the Member about what can be done in Pembrokeshire. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson first—Natasha Asghar. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, you'll be aware that First Bus has withdrawn its X10 bus service between Cardiff and Swansea. One of the reasons given by First Bus for this service withdrawal is that, and I quote,

'It carries a disproportionate amount of concessions customers, and not commercial customers, which makes it impossible to sustain the costs.'

Senior citizens and people with disabilities who were able to use a bus pass to travel between Cardiff and Swansea with ease have now suffered a blow to their independence and their ability to live their life to the fullest. What representations have you made to First Bus about the withdrawal of this service? And do you agree that your policy of getting people out of their cars and onto public transport for the daily commute will be adversely impacted by this? Thank you. 

13:45

I've recently met both with First and with the trade unions to discuss the range of pressures that the bus industry is facing at the moment. The specific issue that Natasha Asghar raises, I'm afraid, is a direct consequence of the privatisation of the bus industry back in the mid 1980s by the Conservative Government, and we're still living with the consequences. The way that the companies are incentivised in order to run routes that maximise their revenues and not invest in socially necessary routes remains a perennial problem for us. It's one of the reasons why we are developing our bus strategy this year, with legislation coming before the Senedd, because we do need to regulate the bus industry through franchising. We can't allow commercial operators simply to cherry-pick those routes that they wish to. So, I'm afraid, this is the result of the free market economics that the Conservatives insist we follow. This shows that it's failing to help people to make the necessary transition from cars to public transport, and until we fix that we won't be able to do it. 

Thanks for that, Deputy Minister, but from my records, Labour has been in power for the last 22 years here in Wales, so let's just focus on that first. 

The second question from me is: the Welsh Government recently announced its plans to promote electric vehicles in Wales, which was overdue and lacking in detail. I know I've said this to you previously. But under your proposals, you state your intention to create just 80 electric charging points on Wales's main trunk roads in four years. Rural communities across Wales will be left behind with no announcement of funding to accompany the proposals for community hubs. There's sadly no mention whatsoever of how much this plan is going to cost. Not that long ago, you actually said that 4,000 rapid charging points were needed by 2030. However, there is no reference to this in the strategy. So, Deputy Minister, has the target been dropped? And is creating just 80 charging points in four years on Wales's main roads really that ambitious, especially as we need some 20,000 across the country at large? 

Let's be very clear that the powers over buses—the regulation of them—remain at the UK level. So, the fact that we've been in power in Wales is irrelevant, because we don't have the power to change the way the market is regulated. We think that, through franchising, we're able to address some of that, but this is a direct result of UK Government policy in the 1980s that's been kept in place. So, let's just be very clear about that. 

In terms of the electric charging points, at the moment, we have proportionately more charging points than there are electric cars in existence. So, we think that for the number of cars currently in circulation it is broadly fine. The challenge we have, to keep that proportion in place as the number of electric cars purchased increases dramatically, as all projections suggest, is to keep pace with that. But we think this, again, is primarily a job for the private sector; the Government doesn't provide petrol stations, nor will it be expected to primarily be the main provider of electric charging points. Where there is market failure, particularly in rural areas, we need to make sure that we pump prime investment, just as we have with broadband, which again is another market failure—another failure of the UK Government to regulate. We need to be able to step in.

We're specifically looking at the development of electric car clubs with the use of community energy to make sure that people don't have to own an electric car, because they are at the moment more expensive than an internal combustion engine car, and that will create a level of flexibility so that people can become less car dependent.  

Thank you, Deputy Minister. I know that you often like to use the central UK Government as a reason and justification for a lot of things, and I know, on many occasions, you don't like answering my questions, so sometimes I think to myself would you be happier going back to ITV Wales and actually working on answering the questions that I'm asking you, as opposed to diverting the answer elsewhere.

My final question is: passenger numbers using Cardiff Airport have dropped to the lowest level since the 1950s. Traveller numbers fell from 1.6 million to just 48,000, with the airport's chief executive saying that the drop is down to the Welsh Government urging people not to travel overseas. Last week, at the public accounts committee, officials from Cardiff Airport said that air passenger duty was a punitive tax that hinders the ability of airlines to add to their capacity. Cardiff Airport has been underperforming since it was taken into public ownership in 2013. This is a Welsh Government issue, Deputy Minister, and it appears that things are regularly going from bad to worse. So, Deputy Minister, will you join me in welcoming the announcement by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, from the UK Government, in the budget, that air passenger duty is to be halved for domestic flights? Do you agree that this is a positive move that will assist Cardiff Airport's recovery, or would you rather continue to bail out the airport with millions of pounds of taxpayers' money here from Wales?

13:50

Well, with respect, I do answer the Member's questions; she just doesn't like the answers. I don't think that subsidising and encouraging domestic air travel is in keeping with the challenge of climate change that we have and that the Prime Minister is trying to claim great international leadership on; I think it is a contradiction. The airport is a commercially run body, and its management makes decisions for the best way to run their own airport. That's as it should be. We have invested in the airport to make sure that Wales has an airport, but the Member will be aware that we have a pandemic, and there's been an international collapse in air traffic. That has had a significant impact on the finances of the airport, and we put a support package in place to support them through that.

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and I hope the Minister has recovered after having suffered a cold last week.

Following the election, the Government announced a plan to tackle the second homes crisis, which would include a pilot area. There are communities the length and breadth of the country feeling the impacts of this broad and damaging crisis. My concern, along with communities the length and breadth of Wales, is that the pilot is going to be far too narrow. It'll take far too long to implement properly, it will take even longer for its impacts to be understood and for any lessons to be learnt and to influence Government policy. Whilst the Government delays on real action, communities will suffer, houses will remain out of reach for people, prices will go up, and communities that have the language at their heart will be further eroded. With this pilot scheme in mind, therefore, will the Minister respond to the valid concern that other communities, those not involved in the pilot, are being left behind and ignored? What hope can we offer to these communities that need to see urgent steps taken on the issue of second homes? Thank you.

As the Member is well aware, we've been discussing this in the cross-party group, and amongst all the parties of the Senedd, attempting to find a cross-party way forward. So, it's a little disappointing to have it politicised in quite the way he's just done. We're running the pilot, as he well knows, in order to be able to ensure that we are going as fast as is humanly possible, given the range of very complex things that need to be done, whilst taking the communities with us. He will know as well as I do that this breaches a whole series of potential human rights, as well as other things, and that we need the people whose property rights and property investments are affected by this to be on board and happy about what is happening, otherwise the entire thing cannot work. The pilot scheme is in order for us to test that out, learn the lessons from it and then roll it out across Wales with the least problems possible, so that we can go at maximum speed. He is well aware of that, and, frankly, I'm very disappointed in his attempt to politicise it.

Thank you very much, Minister, for that response to a political question in a political chamber.

I want to turn now to the issue of gas power stations. Despite the seeming commitment of the Welsh Government to decarbonise, as is incorporated in your net-zero strategy, it's come to our attention that we here in Wales, or rather the Welsh Government, continue to allow planning permission for new gas installations. A power station in Wrexham is being built that will be operational 2,500 hours a year, a proposed power station in Bangor has been given planning permission, as well as a 5 MW development in Porthmadog, among many more across Wales. Surely, this is contrary to the Welsh Government's own strategy of decarbonising the Welsh economy and reaching net zero by 2050. If you are therefore serious about tackling climate change, why are you allowing new gas works to be built in Wales? Will you take the necessary steps to regulate and change planning regulations in order to prevent further developments of these unnecessarily?

Thank you for that question. This is a very complicated problem, because as we go as fast as we possibly can in the transition to renewable energy, one of the things we also need to do is to keep the lights on. At the moment, Wales is quite reliant on gas-fired power stations and gas-sourced energy in order to do just that. We obviously have to have a transition plan in place, and that transition plan has to work for everyone. It has to keep our industries running and our lights on. What we have to do is we have to ramp up the amount of renewables that we have coming on stream, at the same time as ramping down our reliance on fossil fuels of any sort. We've already removed coal-fired power stations from Wales early on. That was great that we did that and I'm very pleased that we did, but, obviously, it means that we've got some reliance on gas in order to have what's called baseload energy. That's energy that can be switched on at the drop of a—literally at the flick of a switch, when everybody goes to put their kettle on at 9 o'clock at night, for example. So, there are big energy surges in the country. We know when they are, but they can't be predicted to the point where we can turn renewables off and on. Sometimes, the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

One of the big programmes that we have running in Wales, alongside a number of Governments across the world, is the quest for baseload renewable energy, which is renewable energy that can be turned on at the flick of a switch. That is why we have a tidal lagoon challenge and a number of marine energy challenges going on in Wales, because it seems that, to everyone, marine energy possibly holds the key to baseload renewables. I very much hope that we will be able to capture for Wales the start of a global industry in renewable baseload. But, until that time, we absolutely have a duty to keep the lights on and our industry and businesses working with the energy supply that they have. I appreciate and have a lot of sympathy with the thrust of the Member's question to me, but, obviously, we are attempting to put one slider up while we slide the other one down, and we have to absolutely make sure that we do that in the right proportions.

13:55

Thank you very much, Minister. I would be delighted to see that transition plan, and I welcome your words on marine energy too, because that, of course, is the way forward.

I want to turn finally to the issue of discretionary housing payments. In this regard, I want to focus on how effective local authorities are in using this addition of over £4 million for discretionary housing payments. As we know, the purpose of these payments is to assist those on benefits who have difficulty in paying their rent, particularly following the grave cuts by the Westminster Government. There's no doubt there have been problems in ensuring that people are making applications for these payments, and given the housing and homelessness crisis facing us here, with a number of people being kept in temporary accommodation, I'm sure the Minister would agree with me that it would be shocking if not all of this funding was allocated by the end of this financial year. But it's come to my attention that there are problems in terms of how many can actually claim these payments. So, I would like more detail from the Minister on this issue. Will the Minister confirm how many homeless households, since April, have been able to move from temporary accommodation to permanent accommodation by benefiting from these payments, including the additional £4 million allocated by the Welsh Government? And is the Welsh Government of the view that there is a need for stronger guidance for local authorities as to how to use that additional £4 million? Thank you.

Thank you, Mabon. One of the things that we're currently dealing with is that the flow of people who are presenting as homeless, as a result of the pandemic and a number of other economic issues, has not diminished in any way. So, our local authorities are still dealing with in excess of 1,000 people a month presenting as homeless across Wales. We currently have just upwards of 12,000 people in temporary accommodation, although many of them are still being moved into permanent. I don't have the figures with me, but I will check for you. I don't think we link particularly the discretionary housing payment with the move to permanent housing—you can have that for paying your rent in temporary housing, for example. I'm more than happy to share with all Members the chart of how many discretionary housing payments have been made and in what proportion.

There are two important things to say here. We do monitor all the time what the local authorities are able to do with the discretionary housing payments, and whether the eligibility criteria are sufficient for their purpose. We've changed that, during the course of the pandemic, on a number of occasions, as he will know, in order to make it more accessible to people. The idea is, obviously, to assist people to stay in their housing, whether that's temporary or permanent. I'm very happy to write to the Member, and, indeed, share it will all Members, with a grid of how many payments have been made.

The big issue that we have, as he correctly identified, is the problem with the welfare system. An under-the-radar change that the Conservative Government has done in their completely heartless way is to freeze the local housing allowance two years ago, so that already the value of a benefit to somebody who isn't in social housing is diminishing. These small changes make an enormous difference in people's lives, and the positive tsunami that's about to hit people on the lower income brackets this winter with the rise in national insurance payments, the removal of the £20 universal credit and the freezing of the local housing allowance is just appalling to contemplate. So, I'm very happy to work with any information he has about local authorities struggling to pay out the money. I absolutely agree with him that we want that money paid out to people who need it right across Wales in order to try and temper some of the most heartless cuts I've ever seen in the welfare state, in any Government in my lifetime, actually. It's quite eye watering, the appalling lack of sympathy that this Conservative Government is showing, and I'm more than happy to share with him and other Members where the payments are. I don't have that information to hand, but I'm more than happy to share it with him.

14:00
Sustainable Energy Efficiency

4. What plans does the Welsh Government have for sustainable energy efficiency in Wales? OQ57133

We recently published our all-Wales delivery plan, 'Net Zero Wales'. This sets out the actions we must all take across this Senedd term on our journey towards net zero. This includes our approach to energy efficiency, which marries investment, innovation, public engagement and supply chain stimulus.

En route to decarbonisation, the global energy price crisis has highlighted the current importance of gas as back-up when the energy contribution from intermittent wind and solar energy renewables is low. This fragile system faces further challenges with most of the UK's nuclear power plants, currently supplying around 20 per cent of our electricity, to close by the end of the decade. However, site proposals for new small modular nuclear reactors include north Wales, and the UK Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill also offers potential for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, with companies such as Bechtel and Rolls-Royce already keen to establish new nuclear power there.

Further to my recent meeting with the chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, how do you therefore respond to his evidence that all the modern nuclear power stations planned or under construction in the UK can load follow—adjusting their power output as demand for electricity fluctuates throughout the day—and that in networks where nuclear consists of a high amount of generation, such as France, nuclear power stations routinely load follow or provide back-up, and that in a future UK grid consisting mainly of renewables and nuclear, nuclear would therefore be capable of load following or providing that back-up?

Well, I'm sure he's right. I don't entirely understand what he's asking me, to be honest. I completely agree that nuclear has a role to play if we can get the right kinds of nuclear installation in Wales. He will know that we've got a cluster of scientists working on that in north-west Wales and that we're exploring the potential for Trawsfynydd. The problems of Wylfa are well known—whether we can get an investor for that scale of nuclear plant in Ynys Môn is just as much a responsibility of the UK Government as us, and we're working with them on that. If we can get that mix right, then I'm sure it does play a part in that.

In the meantime, we're not relying on that in Wales. As I say, we are in a quest for baseload renewables, which is what he's talking about. If we can get that out of marine renewables without any of the difficulties that the nuclear industry has famously had over the years, then I would be in favour of doing so. But, I have no problem with discussing the potential for a nuclear solution in some parts of Wales if the technology is available and if we can make the project wash its face in affordability terms.

My colleague the Minister for Economy has been working with a public sector owned company in order to exploit some of these materials, and I'm more than happy to—well, I've been working with my colleague the Minister for Economy on it, and I'm more than happy to keep the Senedd informed as those developments unfold.

Renewable Energy

5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the potential impact of devolving control over the Crown Estate in Wales on renewable energy? OQ57138

Devolving control over the Crown Estate would give us greater flexibility in choosing how far and fast we deploy renewables, particularly in Welsh waters. We intend for the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales to consider the Crown Estate within the context of a comprehensive assessment of the powers Wales needs.

Thank you for your answer, Minister. On a visit yesterday with Cardiff port, we discussed the amazing possibilities that Wales has in the area of renewable energy, and the conversation went on to devolving the Crown Estate to Wales as has happened in Scotland already. As the First Minister said recently and as you have suggested today, the managers of the port also believed that devolving the Crown Estate would be a good thing for Wales and would create great potential in the area of renewable energy. The great concern for them and for me is that we're going to miss an opportunity, a great opportunity, here in Wales and that other countries are going to get in front of us here. So, bearing in mind the comments of the First Minister and bearing in mind what you said and in considering the obvious potential of devolving the Crown Estate to Wales, why did you, as a Government, as Labour here in the Senedd, vote with the Tory party against the Plaid Cymru motion to devolve the Crown Estate to Wales last month?

14:05

Well, the short answer to that is because you combined it with a number of other things that we didn't like. So, turning to the Crown Estate issues, though, they have a significant impact, as he rightly said, in terms of renewables deployment, particularly in relation to sea bed leases, and they have a substantially strategic landholding for Wales. The timing of their leasing land certainly dictates the ability of Welsh-based projects to compete on a level playing field, I completely agree.

I've had a really good meeting, actually, with the Crown Estate, as has my colleague Lee Waters, to set out our priorities for renewable energy in Wales. We were both extremely robust in expressing our view that the Crown Estate has got to be an enabler in Wales, and we sought assurance that their ambition and timescales have not disadvantaged Wales in developing our marine and offshore renewables industry. But also, and perhaps much more importantly, in terms of our just transition plans, we agreed that local economic benefits need to be a material consideration in granting sea bed rights and contracts.

My colleague Lee Waters is, as I'm sure you're aware, conducting a deep dive into renewables to look at how we energise and mobilise a coalition for change across the public and private sectors to add pace to our development of renewables, and that includes ensuring that the Crown Estate behaves as an enabling partner, whilst they continue not to be devolved to Wales. We'll meet with the Crown Estate again following the deep-dive exercise to ensure its future engagement with Wales.

But the short answer to the Member's question is that if he wants us to agree to his proposals, he needs to make sure that they don't include things with which we don't agree.

Minister, before I go on to my question, every time you mention the Deputy Minister taking a deep dive, I do imagine him physically taking a deep dive from time to time. [Laughter.] But thanks to the Member for submitting this really important question regarding the potential impact of devolving control of the Crown Estate in Wales on renewable energy. I'm sure you'll be aware, Minister, that over the last 10 years, the Crown Estate has contributed a huge £3 billion to the public purse, and aside from help and support for vital public services, good management of these important assets by the Crown Estate has led to great benefits for the people of Wales, including continued work on renewable energy, which you mentioned a moment ago, supporting hundreds of jobs, reducing those carbon emissions and maximising the potential for taxpayers by those contributions back to the Treasury. So, Minister, would you agree with me that we should be spending our time and energy propagating opportunities to work with the Crown Estate in a spirit of unity, working together to benefit the people of Wales, rather than sowing seeds of conflict and division? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

I do absolutely agree that we need to manage our relationship with the Crown Estate, which is a very good one, in order to make sure that we do unlock the potential for renewables, as I've just said. However, the UK Government did devolve the Crown Estate to Scotland back in 2016, they have control of the Crown Estate in Scotland and, as a result, are able to do a number of things, including bidding rounds for renewables under their own control, that we are not able to do, and that is, necessarily, a disadvantage.

There's also an issue around the funding, so I'm not disagreeing with Sam Rowlands that we need to get on with the Crown Estate well and we need to make sure that we work happily with them, given the current state of play, but the Crown Estate are tasked specifically with generating a profit for the UK Treasury in England and Wales at the moment. That profit has totalled £3 billion over the last 10 years, and total net profits were £269.3 million in 2020-21, so I cannot pretend that I wouldn't much prefer to have a proportion of that coming direct to the Welsh Treasury instead of via the UK Government, who have been singularly unhelpful in making sure that we get a proper Barnettised formula. So, whilst I agree with the general thrust of his argument, there is undoubtedly a financial benefit, as is very obvious in Scotland, of having the Crown Estate devolved.

14:10

Question 6 next, to be answered by the Deputy Minister and asked by Delyth Jewell. 

Public Transport

6. Will the Minister make a statement about the future of public transport in South Wales East? OQ57152

Yes. The future of public transport in South Wales East is promising. Work is well under way on transforming the core Valleys lines, taking forward the recommendations of Lord Burns around Newport, and we are starting to see the new trains being delivered that will run across the region.

Diolch, Gweinidog. There is currently a strike going on in my region, with Stagecoach staff based at the depots in Cwmbran, Brynmawr and Blackwood in their third week at the picket line. It is regrettable it's come to this, Minister, when you consider how little the drivers are asking for, which is only a £1 increase in pay to £10.50 an hour. That's only £1 above the living wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation, and is actually less than trainee drivers receive over the border in England, according to research by Nation.Cymru. Now, Minister, I understand Stagecoach pulled out of a meeting with Unite with just 45 minutes' notice on Monday, and one of their managers apparently described the union's call for a £1 pay rise as 'a fantasy pay demand as part of a wider political agenda'. I do worry about the attitude that prompted them to say that. So, Minister, will you give your support, please, to the strikers and urge Stagecoach to get around the table to negotiate properly so that a deal can be struck and they can resume their job of providing public transport?

Yes. Naturally, we're in contact with both Stagecoach and the trade unions about this, and I'm very concerned that the dispute hasn't yet been brought to a successful resolution. I would certainly urge that to happen as soon as possible, because people are now beginning to suffer as services are not there for them when they need them. I did meet Unite yesterday, and I was very concerned by their suggestion that part of the motivation was that the company wanted to remain as low cost and competitive as possible so that when the bus emergency scheme ends in July, they're able to put in tenders at the lowest possible price to secure future routes. We need to make sure as we move to franchising that workers' conditions are safeguarded and the desire for a quick commercial profit is not put ahead of the rights and needs of a well-paid and qualified workforce to serve the needs of passengers. 

[Inaudible.]—this Chamber, Members from all sides have agreed with the need to shift towards multimodal transport systems to reduce our reliance on cars, to make services more accessible and to meet our climate change commitment. Of course, meeting this challenge is particularly important in more rural areas of Wales, such as in my own constituency of Monmouth, where there is an over-reliance on car ownership, and the availability of public transport services can be at best erratic. In fairness, your recent transport strategy, 'Llwybr Newydd', does recognise some of these issues through the rural cross-cutting delivery pathway, and I know that regional transport plans are also seen as one of tailoring transport services to local needs. These plans are well-meaning, but of course if they're going to be realised, then they need to be met with real long-term action. Therefore, what additional measures is the Welsh Government exploring to best support councils to design and deliver local transport solutions that meet the needs of local communities, particularly those in rural Wales that face a number of practical challenges? Thank you. 

Well, I join the Senedd today from COP26 in Glasgow, where today is transport day, and we have signed a declaration with a number of leading countries to work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emissions globally by 2040 and no later than 2035 in leading markets, which will be an important contribution to achieving net zero. I welcome what Peter Fox said about the support for a shift towards sustainable transport, but of course when we take decisions that give effect to that and release money from road schemes to invest in sustainable transport, like the M4 in Newport and in Llanbedr in Gwynedd, we see consistent opposition to the necessary steps to give effect to that principle. That's something I think opposition parties do need to reflect on. It's all very well agreeing with the principle, but you've got to actually agree with the consequences of the principle, too. 

Peter Fox is right to say that, in rural areas, there are a different set of challenges. They're not insurmountable, but they do require a different approach. I'm glad he recognises that, in 'Llwybr Newydd' there is a recognition of that, and we will be fleshing that out in the months to come, and I'm hoping to publish a short paper that sets out what we think, drawing on international examples of rural areas that we can learn from in Wales. He is also right to point out that the delivery capability of local authorities is going to be crucial to this, and we know, because of 10 years of austerity, that there are real strains in capacity in local authorities to be able to do that. That's one of the reasons why our corporate joint committees are being put in place to regionalise those skills and to collaborate and co-operate to give effect to those plans, and that is something we are working on with local authorities as we speak, and I'd be very keen to have further conversations with colleagues from across the Senedd to make sure we get the detail of this right to deliver for our communities.

14:15
Carbon Offsetting

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the current regulatory framework for planting trees for carbon offsetting purposes? OQ57149

Yes. Any new woodland creation in Wales must comply with environmental impact assessment regulations. The woodland carbon code is the voluntary offsetting standard for UK woodland creation and it provides assurance about the carbon savings of sustainably managed woodlands. Companies, of course, should always prioritise the reduction of carbon emissions before offsetting.

Thank you very much, Deputy Minister. As you know, I've conveyed concerns several times in the Chamber about farms being bought by companies outside Wales for offsetting carbon emissions, and nearly every week we hear about examples of this happening. And as a result, we are losing family farms and we are losing good agricultural land, and we're seeing trees displacing people, with a negative impact on the nature of our rural communities. During recent weeks, I've had an opportunity to meet residents in Cwrt-y-cadno in the north of Carmarthenshire and Hermon in Pembrokeshire, who are very concerned about these proposed developments, and they felt powerless and asked me to raise these concerns with you as Ministers.

Now, when I raised this issue with the Minister for Climate Change last month, she recognised that this is a problem, and, as you said, the only assessment that's being made at present is an environmental impact assessment, and I'm of the opinion that we need to use the planning system to manage this kind of development in order for local residents to have more control over the future of their communities and to shape the land use in their areas. Do you agree with that?

While I fully recognise the concerns, I think it's really important that we tackle this problem in a responsible way, and that we work together to find solutions. I do not support greenwashing by companies using tree planting as a way to justify their polluting methods. Now, we do have a requirement, if we are going to hit net zero by 2050—and I know he and his party think we should be reaching net zero before that—to dramatically increase our tree-planting activities: a fifteenfold increase in tree planting by the end of this decade. Now, we want Welsh farmers and Welsh landowners, to lead that. We don't want investors from outside of communities doing that, we'd much prefer that be done within our communities, and, in fairness, as soon as I began my initial exercise in the early summer on tree planting, I spotted this being a problem immediately, and have set up a group that is doing good work to look at alternative financing models to be able to keep the control and ownership locally, not disrupt local land ownership patterns, but get the finance in so that the tree-planting targets can be met. I was very pleased to see that Cefin Campbell had visited the Stump Up for Trees project in Abergavenny and was impressed by the work that they're doing. I think it's an excellent model, because it does not displace food production—it plants on unproductive land—and it's controlled and owned locally, and we are now working with them to see if that model can be scaled and replicated across the country. But there does remain, obviously, a danger that, through the power of capitalism, people able to pay more are able to outbid locals to purchase land for significant tree planting.

I've asked planning officials to look at how the planning system can enable tree planting, and whether or not we need to look at measures when there are significantly large changes in land ownership. My slight hesitation is the purpose of the tree planting exercise was to remove barriers, because farmers complain it's too difficult currently to plant trees, and I wouldn't want to unwittingly make it even more difficult. So, I think that balance does need to be struck, but I've been listening to his concerns and the concerns of others. I had a very good meeting here in Glasgow yesterday with the National Farmers Union on the subject, and I'm committed to working on a cross-party basis to see how we can work with communities to both achieve our tree-planting targets, but do it in a way that brings the communities with us.

14:20
The Transport System In South Wales West

8. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's plans to develop the transport system in South Wales West? OQ57145

Yes, the maps we published last month illustrate the scale of our ambitions, including new stations, routes and services. Travellers will see improvements to their network from next year through new trains, and we're working hard with local authorities to deliver new public transport services and active travel routes across the south-west. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister. A fortnight ago, in declaring that a climate emergency meant that we need to change the way we travel, you published an update for the Swansea bay and west Wales metro, noting that 17 per cent of carbon emissions in Wales come from transport, and that we therefore need people to shift to more sustainable modes of transport. As part of the report published, there are maps of the proposed plans, and there are large gaps in those maps in terms of transport developments to serve the Swansea and Afan valleys particularly. Plaid Cymru has argued for some time for a south-west Wales metro, and we believe that a metro programme would have to include rail or light rail to link western Valleys communities. These gaps in the plans are therefore disappointing given the economic, green and social benefits, and therefore will the Deputy Minister explain why there is no intention, from what I can see, even in the longer term, to develop and strengthen transportation links in the Swansea and Afan valleys to help residents get easy access to transport in accordance with the founding principle of the Government's transport strategy?

Thank you. I agree with that analysis. I absolutely share her desire to see a south-west Wales metro. I think the truth of it is that the Swansea bay metro, as we call it in shorthand, has been the least developed of the three metro schemes, and that's partly because the Swansea bay city deal has not had a focus on transport in the way that the other city deals, city regions, have had. Some work was begun by the local authorities, which we've now asked Transport for Wales to take in-house to accelerate, and there is work going on about doing long-term planning and mapping of where the metro could be developed, and there is progress being made, and I can assure her that I've been chasing that since taking up the role. That is something that we need to accelerate as we see the corporate joint committees empowered from next year. It's vital that they work with us and Transport for Wales to do more to fill those gaps on the map, because, if we are going to achieve the ambition of 'Llwybr Newydd' and if we are going to meet our climate change objectives, we absolutely have to see in south-west Wales what we are now seeing in Cardiff and the Valleys through the development of the metro, both in public transport, bus and rail, but also integration with active travel. So, there's much more that we need to do in the south-west. 

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language

The next item is questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, and the first question is from Jayne Bryant.

The Teaching of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Histories and Experiences

1. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve the teaching of black, Asian and minority ethnic histories and experiences in the curriculum? OQ57154

It is vital that education equips young people to understand and respect their own and each other’s histories and cultures. We are not only adding learning about the diversity of communities into the curriculum, we are also investing in professional learning to support practitioners and working to diversify the workforce.

Thank you, Minister. The history we teach must capture the many experiences and perspectives of those who have called Wales their home. Large and significant events cannot be ignored just because they're uncomfortable or difficult. The 1919 south Wales race riots have largely been forgotten. The George Street riots started in Newport and involved 5,000 people before spreading to Cardiff and other parts of Wales and the UK. The brilliant Historic Dock Project and Bigger Picture linked with local primary schools in Newport to mark the centenary, but more must be done to ensure that this part of our Welsh history is not forgotten. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that significant moments in our history like the south Wales race riots are included in the teaching of black history in Wales?

Well, we are leading the way in Wales by becoming the first part of the UK to make it mandatory to teach black, Asian and minority ethnic histories and experiences in the curriculum, and this will reinforce the importance of teaching past and present experiences and the contributions of our ethnic minority communities as part of the story of Wales across the curriculum. And in spring of next year, we are due to have a national network conversation, focused on the subject of diversity, for the development of resources and supporting materials on Welsh history and local context. And she will be aware of the work that we are doing to increase the diversity of our teaching workforce by encouraging individuals from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to become teachers.

She will also be aware that, last month, Estyn published a thematic report on the teaching of Welsh history, including black, Asian and minority ethnic history, identity and culture, and I'm considering how we respond to that. But one of the things that is clear from the Estyn report is how important it is for our young people to have a clear understanding of Welsh history, including the many and varied diverse aspects of it, including Wales's role in the slave trade and the race riots. These are important parts of the history of Wales and must never be forgotten.

14:25

Minister, in principle, I have absolutely no objection to children in Wales learning about black, Asian and minority ethnic history in Welsh schools. Nearly 35,000 people signed a petition calling for this to be made compulsory, thereby recognising the legacy of colonialism and slavery in the communities across Wales. I do have one concern, however. There is a danger that focusing on colonialism and slavery could exacerbate racial tensions in the classroom and that not enough attention may be given to the positive contribution made by people of colour to our shared history, such as people—mainly Mary Seacole and Mary Prince. So, how will you ensure that the teaching of ethnic minority history in schools across Wales will have the desired effect of enhancing cohesion and understanding between communities in Wales and not widening them? And just a sub question: what key performance indicators will you be putting in place—I know you mentioned that there'll be plenty of materials and support for teachers, but what KPIs will you put in place to monitor this and ensure that it has the desired effect? Thank you.

Well, I think the Member makes an important point. I visited the Mount Stuart Primary School down the road from here to launch the Betty Campbell award for teachers who'd demonstrated particular commitment to diversity in the curriculum and in the classroom, and was talking to the young people there about their role models in their community. They had done a project where they were celebrating the positive contributions of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to their community and to Wales and, indeed, to the world. So, I think the diversity needs to be, in fact, diverse—it needs to reflect the entire experience both in history but also in today's modern Wales, and I'm confident that, learning the lessons that Professor Charlotte Williams and her group have helped us with, and the work that Estyn is helping us with, we will be able to provide that rich curriculum that makes sure that all our children in all parts of Wales understand the full diversity of Welsh history and modern Wales. 

Thank you, Minister, for your responses so far. As you know, 20 per cent of the people of Cardiff come from BAME backgrounds, and, as you've already mentioned, it's crucial that children in these communities are represented in the curriculum and within the education sector. It demonstrates the importance of things such as the Betty Campbell award. On 13 December, I'm sponsoring an event here in the Senedd where Jessica Dunrod, a black author from Cardiff, with Mudiad Meithrin, will hold an exhibition of books by black authors, with characters from various diverse backgrounds in them, that have been translated into Welsh. Will you make every effort to attend that event, Minister, but, more importantly, will you make every effort to promote materials that are inclusive in education? 

Thank you very much for that important question. We're investing significantly in order to ensure support for authors and those providing resources in order to ensure that our teachers have the materials that they need in order to deliver the curriculum in the inclusive way that the Member mentions. If I'm free on that day, I'll be very happy to come to that event. If I'm not free, I'll be happy to arrange another event to meet with her. 

The Net-zero Target

2. How are the Minister's education policies contributing to the Welsh Government's net-zero target? OQ57157

14:30

Our children and young people are amongst the most passionate advocates for an ambitious approach to tackling the climate emergency and so, the education sector has a fundamental role in supporting the Welsh Government's response to the climate emergency. That is why I have mandated net-zero carbon requirements under the new banner of sustainable communities for learning for our twenty-first century schools and colleges programme from 1 January next year.

Thank you, Minister, for that answer, and I do welcome the Welsh Government's commitment to putting sustainability at the forefront of education policies and their commitment to closely involving pupils in designing their learning environment. I had the honour of seeing first hand how engaged pupils become when they are involved in projects that directly impact their learning environment, when I visited Stebonheath Primary School in Llanelli several years ago. They were the first school to benefit from the RainScape project by Welsh Water to reduce flooding in their playground. A number of sustainable features were used in the design to help alleviate the issue and the children were very much involved in the design. Workshops were held so that they could submit and discuss their ideas with the engineers. It was a great example of how pupil engagement has a positive outcome for both the learning environment as well as the children.

In your statement last week, you announced that you would be making a sustainable schools challenge fund available for primary schools. Are you able to tell us when we can expect more details about that particular project?

Well, I thank Joyce Watson for that question. As she knows, from 1 January next year, all new-build, major refurbishment and extension projects requesting funding through the sustainable communities for learning programme, as it will be then, will need to demonstrate net-zero carbon requirements, but will also need to have ambitious plans for biodiversity, for active travel and for electric vehicle charging points. But, as she says, alongside that, I want to take advantage of exactly the sort of example you were giving there. I visited Nottage Primary School in Sarah Murphy's constituency a few weeks ago and saw how young people engaged in the design of their learning environment was both beneficial in terms of the design, but also beneficial in terms of the curriculum. And it provides a very rich teaching opportunity and resource in order to enable all our young people to become the ethical, informed citizens that we want them to be.

I will be bringing forward further information, as she says, in relation to the sustainable schools challenge fund shortly and that will provide, I think, more information of the sort that she is looking for, but I think it's a very exciting opportunity for local authorities to work with their schools and with their young people to look for innovative models, using sustainable materials and involving pupils and staff in the design of those environments.

Can I ask what action the Welsh Government is taking on home-to-school transport? Obviously, one way in order to get towards a net-zero situation is to promote public transport as a means of getting people to and from school, but too many people are obviously using their cars to ferry children to and from school at the moment. And yet, the current home-to-school transport arrangements don't appear to be giving sufficient numbers of people access to bus transport. Is there anything that the Welsh Government can do to review its policy on home-to-school transport with a view to making more pupils eligible for free transport on buses?

He makes a very important point about the contribution that transport to school makes to our broader ambitions to become a net-zero Wales. You will have heard me say a moment ago that the specification for the relaunch, if you like, of the sustainable communities for learning programme will require ambitious active travel plans and we're working with the active travel board to establish a baseline requirement for those projects. But the Member's question is broader than that of course, and I recognise the challenge that he sets out. It's really important that we do everything we can to encourage active travel solutions, but also to make sure that, where that isn't possible—and it obviously isn't possible everywhere to the extent that we would wish—that we look at the other modes of transport. There is a review under way at the moment of home-to-school transport within the climate change department, and I'm sure colleagues in that department will bring forward a statement in due course in relation to that very point.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Laura Jones.

Diolch, Llywydd. Afternoon, Minister. It almost seems like old news now, it's been so long since I've had the chance to question you at spokespersons' questions in the Chamber, but it comes of great concern to education providers and myself that the new curriculum will see the separation of GCSE, the separate sciences, and also the separation of English and English—. Sorry, it will see the separate sciences at GCSE merged, and English and English literature also merged. We have always realised in this Chamber the importance of science and the importance of encouraging people into science, as well as, obviously, highlighting the importance of people going into science for our future economy, for future jobs.

So, I was quite baffled when I heard this announcement, and, for me, it flies in the face of one of the four purposes of the new curriculum. The issue of conflating subjects is nothing less than to disregard the best of what's been thought and said over centuries. Biology is not chemistry, and English is not English literature. Minister, England will be keeping separate subjects, appreciating their value and importance. So, Minister, do you not see that this will inevitably now cause a brain drain of students who want to study medicine at Oxbridge, who will, obviously, need triple science GCSEs to maximise their chance of success? Is this really what we want to see happening? It's hard enough to recruit into the education sector without staff feeling that their subject is being dissolved or amalgamated.

I would love to hear your comments, Minister, on what impact you think that this move will have on the children of Wales—a move that's not supported by the majority of the education sector, including the union the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, who highlighted that only 30 per cent of those involved in the original consultation exercise thought that this was a laudable or workable idea, but somehow it made it into the final report. So, Minister, why is it that the unions, professors at Swansea University and the Royal Society of Chemistry are wrong about the disastrous impact of this decision, and yet you and Qualifications Wales are right?

14:35

Well, I think it's important to approach this topic with a degree of moderation in some of the descriptions that we give, because it's a very important area for our learners. If the Member has had an opportunity to look at the Qualifications Wales report, 'Qualified for the Future', she will have seen there the case that Qualifications Wales makes for the reforms that they propose in both those areas, which, as she acknowledges, were both the subject of previous consultation. She will find in relation, for example, to the proposal to bring English literature and English language together that, if you look at the current entry figures in relation to English literature, the proposal could in fact, and is intended to, enable more learners to participate in English literature for longer in the curriculum. So, the argument that is made by Qualifications Wales is that that will extend the opportunity to more pupils than are currently having the opportunity to study English literature.

In relation to science and technology, I know that she supports the principle in the curriculum of making sure that our learners have a breadth of experience. And the intention, which again is laid out in the Qualifications Wales report, is to provide scope at GCSE for learners to study, to be qualified in a broader range of qualifications. And indeed, she'll know that the proposal in relation to a science award is for that to be, effectively, the value of two GCSEs, and to enable the links to be made in the way that we understand is important between the various sciences. She probably also knows that, currently, the most entries for science at GCSE is in fact the double science that currently exists. There is, however, clearly a range of opinions in relation to this, so I would encourage her and others to contribute to the consultation that is currently open; it's important that we hear those perspectives as well.

Many thanks, Minister. The majority of people I've spoken to, it's quite the opposite that I'm getting.

A damning new report last night, which was released by the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru—another union, Minister—has highlighted the impact of the chronic underfunding of Welsh schools. 'A Failure to Invest: the state of Welsh school funding in 2021' provides troubling examples of the ways teachers have been forced to cut expenditure to balance budgets in the face of Labour cuts. More than three quarters of school leaders said that they do not have sufficient capital funding to maintain their buildings; almost 92 per cent reported funding for pupils with special educational needs in their school is insufficient; and 94 per cent reported that the additional learning needs funding they receive is not sufficient to meet the needs of the new ALN legislation, introduced by this Government. Nearly four fifths of school leaders said that the cuts they are being forced to make will have a negative or strongly negative impact on the quality of school provision for Welsh pupils. This obviously damning report from this union poses many questions, Minister. The fact remains that pupils in Wales receive £1,000 less than those in England. So, when will this Welsh Government ensure equality of funding between pupils in England and pupils in Wales, and when will you invest in our children's future and perhaps even fund schools directly to ensure that the pupils and the schools get the money that they deserve?

14:40

The Member will know that she gives a very partial view of the situation in relation to funding for schools in Wales. She will know that, on any number of measures, the volume of funding invested in the Welsh education system is significantly in excess of that which is invested in schools in England, which she herself chooses as the comparator for the question. I am aware of the report and I know of its content, and I have discussed these matters with the NAHT several times. She took the example of ALN funding—just to take one of the examples that she's given. We absolutely recognise that there is a cost to transitioning from the system that we currently have to the new legislation. We've provided significant funding to the system to enable that transition cost to be borne. There are other pressures that have arisen as a consequence of responding to COVID whilst also moving over into the new system, and we've provided significant funding to enable that to happen. I have had discussions with local authorities, and I have said that if they have evidence of significant additional costs into the long term, then I'm very open to receiving the evidence in relation to that.

Thank you, Minister. Also, the attainment gap figures recently released paint a very worrying picture. They have been exacerbated by the inequality between the better off and the poorest in Welsh society. Top GCSE results show a gap now of 11.5 per cent in 2021. Minister, how are you planning to tackle this attainment gap and ensure that young people in Wales are afforded the best start in life, regardless of their background, as this Welsh Labour Government seems to be letting down the poorest in our communities? It was bad before the pandemic, Minister, but now worse, as the move to centre-assessed grades seems to have exacerbated the situation. Do you not agree with me that the return to exams is now more crucial than ever? I know that you've said now that that is what you want to do. But, in this Chamber, can you now say that that is what your intention is, to bring back that move to exams? And what are you doing, Minister, to ensure that those children off school with COVID or due to COVID-related regulations are receiving the education that they need and that they deserve—because it's a significant amount of time that children are having off school at the moment—to ensure that this gap doesn't widen in the future?

I appreciate the Member’s interest in closing the attainment gap and she will absolutely know, from the previous discussions that we’ve had in this Chamber, that this is a very important priority for me and for this Government generally. I share with her the concern in relation to the results that we saw this summer, which did in fact show a widening of the attainment gap. That has been something that we feared might happen and, as I know that she’s aware, the renew and reform programme of investment that we’ve provided to schools and the education system to respond to the challenges of the last year is significantly weighted towards supporting learners, disadvantaged learners or those who need particularly additional support in order to continue with their learning. We’ve provided, during the pandemic, almost £180 million in relation to the recruit, recover, raise standards programme. That itself has been weighted towards providing more intensive support for our more disadvantaged learners and that has allowed opportunities for additional coaching, for mentoring and so on. But there is more that needs to be done and the funding in the system is designed to deliver that.

The question of the attainment gap is a broader set of challenges than can be achieved and addressed simply within the school environment. Many of our programme for government commitments are designed to close the attainment gap, so whether that’s around extending free school meal eligibility, whether it’s around reform of the school day and the school year, whether it’s around community-focused schools, all of these interventions are designed to contribute to that, and I look forward to working further with the Member in relation to those if she’s happy to do that.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Would the Minister agree with me that one of the most important things that needs to happen in order to ensure that more children benefit from Welsh-medium education is to ensure that qualified bilingual teachers are available to teach them? Now, whilst we recognise that there has been some progress since the beginning of the pandemic in terms of the numbers choosing to train as teachers, generally speaking the situation in terms of number of Welsh-speaking teachers continues to be critical. And, given the importance of securing an adequate supply of teachers to the 2050 strategy, with the aim of creating a million Welsh speakers, the shortage of over 300 Welsh-medium teachers in the primary sector and 500 in the secondary sector is a cause of great concern. And, as far as I can see, there is no strategy in place to tackle this issue. Now, you and your predecessor have referred on a number of occasions to a 10-year plan. So, can we have an update and a timetable on that plan? And the obvious question to ask, of course, is what are you as a Government specifically intending to do attract bilingual people to the profession, or to provide language training so that non-Welsh speakers can garner the skills and confidence to contribute to the Welsh-medium education sector? 

14:45

I thank the Member for that question, and if these are his new permanent responsibilities, I welcome him to them as well. This question is a very valid one. So that we can extend access for people to Welsh-medium education in all parts of Wales, we have to ensure that we reach and go further than the targets that we have at present in terms of recruitment, and we haven't yet done that. 

The programme of work that I published some weeks ago mentioned the plan that we have for a new strategy. The solutions are not simple ones; everyone recognises that. And we have to ensure that we do work in partnership with our broader stakeholders in order to ensure that we make progress in this area. So, we're about to publish a draft document to discuss with stakeholders. We've already been in discussions with the Education Workforce Council, with CYDAG, with the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, and with the commissioner, but there are others who will have to be part of that conversation. 

There are variety of things that we can do in order to encourage people to train as teachers—making it easier for them to do that, providing financial incentives for them to do that. So, there are many ways to tackle this. But we need to look at the broader workforce as well. I've had discussions recently on the shortage of classroom assistants who can speak Welsh, and we have to make progress in that area as well, and see the workforce as a whole, as it were. 

Thank you very much. Well, I look forward to seeing the draft strategy. Just to follow up on that, I've been referring specifically to the statutory sector. The objectives of Cymraeg 2050 recognise the important role of further and higher education in delivering this vision of a million Welsh speakers. And you as a Government are duty-bound to ensure that learners and students have opportunities to continue with their education through the medium of Welsh once they've left school. So, what are the Government's plans to ensure that there are more opportunities available and, specifically, that there are more staff available to educate our young people in FE colleges and HE colleges, and also specifically to undertake apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh, because the learners that go on to FE to undertake apprenticeships are the most likely to remain in their areas and to provide important services within their local communities?

I thank the Member for that question as well. We have been discussing this with the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and we've provided more funding for them this year so that they can do more work with us in this area. But he's right to mention that one of the challenges in this area is also the workforce that can provide Welsh-medium education, and also the availability of qualifications in Welsh. We've been discussing those with Qualifications Wales as well. The new commission that will come in the wake of the legislation that we hope to pass here in the Senedd will have a specific duty to ensure the progress of post-16 education through the medium of Welsh, and, so, I believe that will be an important opportunity to extend the provision. One of the things that we need to look at in more detail is the relationship between post-16 education and schools, particularly in the context of the last part of the question, namely apprenticeships provision and post-16 education through the medium of Welsh, so that students become aware during their time at school of the options to undertake vocational qualifications through the medium of Welsh after they leave school.  

14:50

Thank you very much. My final question is similar to a question asked by Laura Anne Jones, but I'm going to approach it from a slightly different perspective, namely the attainment gap in the data published by Qualifications Wales this week, which showed that there were fewer A* and A grades in examinations from children in receipt of free school meals as compared to those more privileged learners. Now, you have explained how you intend to tackle this, which was in response to my original question, but in looking back at the time of the pandemic, it's clear that there was a lack of support for these learners, because the gap has widened. So, can you tell us what lessons you have learnt, as a Government, from looking back at that period? And, more importantly, can you confirm how those pupils are being given the chance to catch up with those opportunities that they've missed out on? And what would you think are the main reasons that that gap has widened?

Well, I think that people from more disadvantaged backgrounds have carried the burden of COVID in a variety of ways, including in school life, but more broadly than that in our community as well, and in our economy. We anticipated that that would be a risk, from what we saw developing during COVID, and that's why we provided interventions and funding sources that put a specific emphasis on supporting learners in those cohorts. I don't think that any amount of money or investment can make the difference that we need to make in response to that, but we have to carry on with the interventions that we have. We're also going to ensure that we keep a watching brief on the educational journeys of those affected by COVID, so that we understand, for the purposes of policies in the future, in the coming years, because this is going to be a challenge that we will have for many years, what we can do.

The Member mentioned what we can do to ensure that people can catch up. I'm trying not to talk about 'catching up', because I don't think that that's a way of encouraging commitment and application from our learners, but, as to all of the interventions that we have, in terms of the three Rs and renew and reform, that's their aim—to ensure that our schools have the capacity and our colleges have the capacity to support pupils one-to-one or to provide, in small groups, the further support needed by those who have missed out most.

The Twenty-first Century Schools Programme

3. How will the twenty-first century schools programme benefit pupils in the Vale of Clwyd? OQ57141

The Vale of Clwyd region has benefited from a total investment of £80 million during the first wave of funding of the twenty-first century schools and colleges programme. A further £46 million investment is planned for the second wave of funding, which began in 2019.

I'm very grateful for that response, Minister. However, the benefit of the twenty-first century schools programme is very much dependent on where you live—a postcode lottery, essentially. Pupils in Rhyl have benefited from the building of two excellent, modern schools, in Rhyl High School and the Christ the Word Catholic School, both in the same town, whereas the neighbouring town of Prestatyn hasn't had the same level of investment. And although it provides an excellent education for children, it relies on temporary buildings that were constructed over 50 years ago, which were hardly fit for the last century, let alone this century. So, Minister, when will pupils in Prestatyn, and Denbigh High School, as well, see modern school buildings with infrastructure fit to meet the challenges of tomorrow's workplaces?

I thank the Member for that question. As he probably knows, proposals for funding from this programme are put forward by local authorities, and so we are in the hands of local authorities making proposals in relation to particular schools. It isn't for us as a Government to designate the individual schools. They are brought forward for investment by the Welsh Government from our colleagues in local government, and we apply the same criteria in whichever part of Wales a proposal is put forward.

Welsh-medium Education in South Wales East

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of Welsh-medium education in South Wales East? OQ57151

Demand for Welsh-medium education in South Wales East remains high. More than £26 million of capital funding is being invested in the region, with five new Welsh-medium schools as well as childcare provision. A further package of £30 million in capital and £2.2 million in grant funding to support Welsh immersion schemes has been made available across Wales.

14:55

Thank you, Minister. Plaid Cymru, of course, welcomes the fact that there will be a new Welsh-medium primary opening in Merthyr next September. We also support plans to open a Welsh-medium primary school in Tredegar in 2023. I would like to thank Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg and local authorities for their work in progressing this, and the Government for providing the resources.

Many other communities need primary schools, Minister, but my question is on a secondary school. It's a cause of sadness and social and linguistic inequality that there is no secondary Welsh-medium provision in the counties of Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire. That means no provision of a Welsh-medium secondary school in 50 per cent of counties in my region. So, where are those children who get that Welsh-medium primary education to go to develop their language skills further and continue to enjoy using the language? Will you today make a commitment that you will do everything in your power to ensure that plans are agreed for Welsh-medium secondary education in the counties of Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire during your term as education Minister, please?

I thank the Member for that question. As I said in response to Gareth Davies, we are dependent on proposals from local authorities in this area, as I know that the Member understands. But we also expect to see ambitious strategic plans from every local authority in Wales.

All of the local authorities in her region are now consulting on their plans. Those plans, I know, include consideration of a joint Welsh-medium secondary school, and so I would support that in order to provide across the region the secondary Welsh-medium education provision that young people need in that part of Wales.

Minister, the new curriculum places an expectation on teachers to be able to teach to a certain degree through the medium of Welsh. For the benefit of the pupil, we need high-quality teachers here in Wales, with a wide broad range of experiences and backgrounds, in our schools. In areas such as south-east Wales, where staff are often recruited or even commute from over the border in England, the need for Welsh-medium skills could be a barrier to recruitment. Can you outline what support this Government will provide to any teacher who wants to teach in Wales to learn the necessary language skills in order to ensure that there are no barriers to applicants in making their applications?

Well, not all teachers need to be able to teach through the medium of Welsh. I have just had a conversation with Cefin Campbell about the need to recruit more Welsh-medium teachers. But we also need to provide support, as we are doing through the work of the national learning centre, for adults to be able to learn Welsh in order to extend the use of Welsh in our communities more generally. So, there are a variety of interventions of that kind that are available.

We also need to ensure that we support, as part of the strategy that I mentioned earlier, not only the question of recruitment, but also Welsh learners, and support school leaders to plan more strategically, perhaps, and have the skills and support to do that in order to provide Welsh-medium education more broadly within our schools.

Safeguarding Welsh-language Communities

5. Will the Minister make a statement on safeguarding Welsh language communities? OQ57143

Brexit and COVID-19 have intensified the challenges to the socioeconomic infrastructure of Welsh-speaking communities. Tackling these challenges is central to the implementation of Cymraeg 2050. Our work programme focuses on limiting the impact and ensuring the sustainability and prosperity of our Welsh-speaking communities, and I will be announcing our plans imminently.

Thank you. Last month, you informed the Senedd that meeting woodland creation targets should not affect communities, nor, indeed, change the type of landowners. You also stated that you would take action if evidence developed that there is a problem. Now, the Farmers Union of Wales receive almost weekly reports of whole farms, of parcels of land, being bought up by individuals and businesses from outside of Wales for the purpose of tree planting. One such investment is a large farm here in Wales that has now been taken over by British Aerospace. For someone who believes in a free market, I believe it wrong to be seeing our farms and agricultural land in our strong Welsh-speaking communities simply being bought up in huge investments for companies and people from over the border. NFU Cymru have calculated that an additional 180,000 hectares of trees would require the complete afforestation of 3,750 Welsh family farms. So, do you share my concerns, Minister, and will you work with the Minister for Climate Change so as to establish a just transition commission to ensure the burden of decarbonisation does not unequally fall on our rural communities and continue to have a negative impact on the historically thriving Welsh language in rural Wales? Thank you. Diolch.

15:00

I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for that question. I can assure her, perhaps reassure her, that I'm already having discussions with the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change in relation to this matter. It has been raised and discussed in this Chamber a number of times, including by Cefin Campbell earlier today. I think I will echo the point that the Deputy Minister made in relation to the point raised by Cefin Campbell: we'll be working very closely together in relation to that particular point. 

Minister, the Swansea valley is an area of linguistic importance. Earlier this year, in response to concerns from campaigners and language specialists, you recognised that Neath Port Talbot Council hadn't given proper consideration to the impact of their plans to open a huge new English-medium school in the middle of the valley in Pontardawe on the Welsh language by commissioning a report and delaying the funding for the scheme. The report is unequivocal, although it hasn't been published in full, and I quote:

'it should be clearly underlined that, in terms of the language planning principles and processes noted...no mitigating actions in the context of the future of the Welsh language in the Swansea Valley will compensate for continuing with this proposal as it stands'.  

It also notes that:

'In bilingual communities, languages increasingly become a matter of choice. To support bilingualism within these communities, bilingualism must be an easy choice. This proposal takes away that easy choice.'

Do you agree that the Government needs to intervene where possible in order to safeguard Welsh-speaking communities and not allow local authorities free rein to implement proposals that would be a threat to the future of the Welsh language and a barrier to bilingualism? Thank you.

The Member and I have discussed this issue many times, including before the last election. I know that the Member knows that there is a restriction on what I can say about this specific proposal, because I'm a local Member as well as being a Minister. But, of course, when the Government imposes requirements in terms of prosperity of the Welsh language in communities, then local authorities need to collaborate with the Government in order to ensure that.

The Educational Benefits of Apprenticeships

6. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy about promoting the educational benefits of apprenticeships in North Wales? OQ57147

The Minister for Economy and I are both committed to promoting apprenticeships in north Wales. We will continue to focus promotion on growth sectors, such as those in the green economy, and encouraging more employers to recruit young people through our apprenticeship incentive scheme.

Thank you, Minister, for your response there. As I'm sure you would acknowledge also, apprenticeships do have a huge benefit and can often be the start of extremely successful career paths for many people across my region in north Wales and indeed across Wales generally, often seeing more progression and skills development perhaps than those who may go through an alternative route through university. Indeed, I was one of those who, following sixth form, chose not to go to university, despite the strong encouragement from my school. 

Following the pandemic, many industries are now seeing a huge skills shortage, including sectors such as the hospitality and tourism sector, which were badly hit during the pandemic. Indeed, I've noted the recent words of Arwyn Watkins, who's the president of the Culinary Association of Wales and has highlighted the challenge. He said, 'For more than a decade, the work-based learning sector in Wales has been campaigning for apprenticeships to have parity of esteem with degrees, but our words have fallen on deaf ears.' So, Minister, what work will you do in conjunction with the Minister for Economy to ensure that students in schools are made aware of the huge opportunities and benefits that come with apprenticeships?

15:05

The Member makes a very important point. The legislation that was introduced to the Senedd last week, in my mind, is the parity of esteem legislation, and that contains within it the levers that are required in order to make a reality of the priority that Members in all parts of this Chamber have attached to that question of parity of esteem for a very, very long time. I think one of the interesting opportunities that arise in the context of that legislation is the fact that sixth forms are brought within the compass of the work of the new commission. I think that will change the relationship between schools and post-16 providers in a way that makes a reality of that sense of continuum of education. It will provide opportunities, I think, just in the way I responded to Cefin Campbell earlier, for learners at all parts of their journey to have in mind throughout the equal weight that they should be giving to vocational routes post 16. He will also be aware that some of the proposals in the 'Qualified for the future' consultation, which Qualifications Wales announced a few weeks ago, are around providing a range of GCSE qualifications that have a more vocational focus. One, for example, is in the space of engineering and manufacturing. So, I think there are a range of ways in which we can move this agenda forward, and I look forward to working with him in relation to that legislation if he’s happy to do that.

I thank Mr Rowlands for bringing this very important question forward today. Minister, I learnt on the tools for my engineering apprenticeship things that were just not covered in school nor college, and nor were they covered in my part-time degree when I studied at Glyndŵr University. These are skills that stand anyone in good stead for life. And in the words of Michael Halliday, my colleague who I served my apprenticeship alongside, 'An apprenticeship is the foundation and grounding to build on which you just don’t get through the traditional route.' Mike Halliday is now the head of DRB Group in Deeside at the age of just 26—an excellent example of what a good-quality apprenticeship can offer.

Minister, we know that we need to engineer and manufacture the next generation of sustainable products and technology in Wales. To do this, we do need people to become skilled engineers and skilled manufactures through the apprenticeship route once they do leave school. Will you commit to working closely with the economy Minister, education providers, apprenticeship providers, employers and, importantly, trade unions to make sure this happens?

I thank Jack Sargeant for that question, and for his commitment, from the moment he got elected, to this agenda. I know how very passionately he feels about it, not least having his own first-hand experience of that. The Welsh Government has a clear commitment to deliver 125,000 all-age apprenticeships during the current term. They will be delivered in line with the priorities of the economy in exactly the way that he is describing. We can only make progress in this area if we work in partnership with further education providers, employers and, importantly, trade unions, as he says.

GCSE and A-level Qualifications

7. Will the Minister make a statement on GCSE and A-level qualifications next year? OQ57161

Qualifications Wales has announced that it's planning to run an exam series in summer 2022, with reductions in course content and other adaptations to reflect disruption to learning. We've also put a range of resources in place, with the WJEC, to support learning and to help young people to prepare.

Thank you for that response. The Government is preparing for a number of COVID-related scenarios in looking to next summer, and I understand that. But, of course, it does create great uncertainty for GCSE and A-level pupils. In terms of A-level, I declare a particularly interest here—not only have I a son who will be taking his A-levels this year, but this is the age group that I trained in rugby for many years, so I want to ensure that they can all deliver their potential. Given that they hadn't taken external AS exams last year because of COVID, hadn't taken GCSE exams the previous year because of COVID, then they are very concerned about the assessment process that they're to face. And given that taking an external examination is never a pleasant experience, even if you've had years of practice, it's even worse taking an exam that will have an influence on your life choices when you've not had that experience before. So, to what extent will that be taken into account in assessment? Because while some will be naturals, possibly, some who won't have taken exams in the past will be at risk of losing out. 

15:10

I've had conversations with learners recently, including a panel of learners that the children's commissioner brought together, in order to discuss this question. So, I had an opportunity to discuss directly some of the concerns that individuals and pupils have, as we'd expect, and as the Member mentioned. One of the important things is to realise how different exams will look in terms of their content in light of the work that Qualifications Wales and the WJEC have done. That is, they are much smaller in terms of their scope, because people have missed opportunities for classroom learning. That hasn't happened, by the way, in England. So, the kinds of interventions that we've undertaken here in Wales are much more bespoke in terms of the exam itself. But, partly with the source of funding I mentioned earlier—and I'm about to declare another fund in order to support A-level, GCSE and AS learners to have an opportunity to have much more direct support for preparing, but also to give certainty and confidence to people that they are on the correct pathway. So, more provision will come in the wake of that. But I think that we need to look at both elements: changes to the exams—they won't look, in terms of content and scope, like the previous exams—but also the support to ensure that the learners have the confidence to sit those exams.

The Twenty-first Century Schools Programme

8. Will the Minister provide an update on the twenty-first century schools programme? OQ57137

The twenty-first century schools and colleges programme has invested £1 billion in our educational estate to date. As I recently announced, we will continue to build on this success, not only meeting local learning demand but to support our climate emergency commitments and ensure we deliver sustainable communities for learning.

Minister, it was a pleasure to join you for the official opening of the new £10.2 million Hirwaun Primary School last Thursday, which was 65 per cent funded by the Welsh Government. This is just the latest in a series of new schools for the Cynon valley, all jointly funded by Rhondda Cynon Taf council and the Welsh Government, and really investing in local young people. The Hirwaun school also includes an early years Flying Start facility, so what discussions has your department had about how similar facilities can be incorporated into future school projects built through sustainable communities for learning funding?

[Inaudible.]—as I know the Member was, by the opportunities that have arisen in that school by co-locating the Flying Start provision with the school itself. And we heard, I think, from a range of staff about how successful that had been in supporting children on their learning journey.

The twenty-first century schools and colleges programme, and the sustainable communities for learning programme, as it will become next year, is delivered in partnership with other Welsh Government funding streams, such as the childcare grant, the community hub grant and others. So, that means the childcare provision is embedded very much as part of the evaluation process of proposals, as they come forward, and they're reviewed by early years policy officials in the Welsh Government to ensure the best use can be made of the facilities in the way that she is suggesting. We work very closely with local authorities to fund Flying Start capital schemes to support the continued delivery of the flagship programme, and we look for every practical opportunity to align those objectives wherever we possibly can.

3. Topical Questions

The next item would've been topical questions, but none have been accepted today.

4. 90-second Statements

Item 4 is the 90-second statements. The first of those is from Peredur Owen Griffiths.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. It gives me great pleasure to stand here in the Senedd today to speak about an important milestone for Blaenau Gwent.

In 1971, in the home of Joyce Morgan of Six Bells, Abertillery town band was founded. Now, 50 years on, the band is celebrating their half century with a special concert this Saturday at the Met in Abertillery town centre, featuring guest artist Dan Thomas, who is the principal euphonium player for the internationally acclaimed Black Dyke Band. I will be there, and I cannot wait to hear the band playing live once again.

Over the last five decades, much has changed for the people of Blaenau Gwent, but Abertillery town band has been a familiar and reassuring constant throughout those years. They have been an outlet for aspiring musicians, drawn from all over the county borough and beyond. They have taken absolute beginners, and with hard work, practice and dedication, made fantastic players out of them.

During this Saturday's concert, there will be the inaugural performance of a special composition, dedicated to the mining heritage of the valley, which will also remember the Six Bells mining disaster of 1960 that killed 45 miners. This concert encapsulates what institutions like Abertillery town band do best: they bring together communities, they keep alive our traditions whilst remembering our heritage, and they also keep one eye firmly on the future. With that in mind, I wish them all the very best for this weekend's concert, and I wish them all the best for the next 50 years. Diolch yn fawr.

15:15

Llywydd, this year marks the fortieth anniversary of Seren Books, based in my constituency of Bridgend. Seren is Wales's leading, independent literary publisher, specialising in writings from across our nation. With publications spanning from poetry, fiction and non-fiction, I am proud of the award-winning work that the team has brought to us and the international stage. To quote them in their own words:

'Our aim is not simply to reflect what is going on in the culture...but to drive that culture forward, to engage with the world, and to bring Welsh literature, art and politics before a wider audience.'

On this special anniversary, I want to pay special tributes to Cary Archard, the founder of Seren, the first employee, Mick Felton, who remains the current manager, non-fiction editor and fiction editor, and lastly, Seren's poetry editor, Amy Wack, who is stepping down this month after more than 30 years. Your team's dedication to the art of literature is what drives the success of Seren forward. And let me also mention our very own Seren-published writers from Bridgend and Porthcawl: Rhian Edwards, whose collections includes Clueless Dogs and The Estate Agent's Daughter; Robert Minhinnick, a poet, novelist, essayist and local environmental campaigner, and Kristian Evans, a writer, who has edited a collection of poems, along with Zoё, called 100 Poems to Save the Earth, which I think is very apt during COP26.

So, as we celebrate 40 years, I know we can look forward to many more talented and dedicated individuals and their work brought to us through Seren Books.

At 5.13 p.m. on Thursday 8 November 2001, many people across Wales would have been having their tea. However, in Port Talbot, it was a moment in time that rocked the steelworks and the communities around it, as an explosion occurred in Blast Furnace No. 5. The explosion was so powerful that it bodily lifted the furnace, weighing approximately 5,000 tonnes, over 0.75 metres into the air, before returning to its position. On that evening, three steelworkers lost their lives, 12 workers were severely injured and several others suffered minor injuries. The three men who died—Andrew Hutin, aged 20, Stephen Galsworthy, aged 25 and Len Radford, aged 53—like all of the steelworkers, went into work that day expecting to be going home at the end of their shifts, but this tragic event meant that they never went home. Their loss reminded us of the dangers facing steelworkers every day.

The Health and Safety Executive reported that while

'the outcome of the explosion was unprecedented in the steel-making industry'—

it—

'was the result of many failings in safety management...over an extended period.'

Twenty years on, we must never forget these three steelworkers nor the cause of their deaths. It is our duty as politicians to do everything we can to ensure that safety at work is not simply a watchword, but a right and an expectation of every worker, whether that be in steelworks, a factory or any other setting. This tragic event will live not only with steelworkers and the people of Port Talbot, but must live with all of us. Today, our thoughts go to the families and friends of Andrew, Stephen and Len, and I call for you all not to forget them.

Thank you, all, very much. We will now take a short break to allow for some changeovers in the Chamber, and we will ring the bell two minutes before we recommence.

Plenary was suspended at 15:19.

15:25

The Senedd reconvened at 15:28, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.

5. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Spiking

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 3 in the name of Siân Gwenllian, and amendment 3 in the name of Lesley Griffiths.

Welcome back. The next item is the Welsh Conservatives' debate: spiking. I call on Tom Giffard to move the motion. 

Motion NDM7824 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes with concern the distressing increase in spiking incidents in venues across Wales.

2. Calls on the Welsh Government to take urgent action to work with stakeholders to:

a) provide bottle stoppers and drinks covers free of charge at venues;

b) improve security, including checks on pockets, bags, jackets and coats;

c) train staff on how to spot and deal with spiking incidents;

d) enhance CCTV in venues to assist with evidence to secure the prosecution of those responsible.

Motion moved.

Diolch ichi, Dirprwy Lywydd. I’m pleased to open this Senedd debate today on the growing concern around the shocking increase of drink spiking in nightclubs in Wales and across the UK. I'm sure many of us in this Chamber will have heard some horrific stories, whether in our inboxes as Senedd Members or through our friends and family, that this is an issue that affects every part of Wales. It saddens me to say that many women have told me that they are now too afraid to go out and enjoy themselves in our nightclubs for fear of their own safety. And to make matters worse, we’re not even talking just about spiking drinks any more. In recent weeks and months, reports have been rife of women being spiked by injections in our nightclubs, too. Something has to change. And change quickly. 

Some will ask why I, as a man, am opening this debate today, on an issue that disproportionately affects women. And whilst I don’t seek to speak today to minimise or mansplain any of the issues at play here or the stories that our women tell, the reason I wanted to speak today is clear: that we, as men, stand alongside our sisters, partners, colleagues and friends, and even women we don’t know, to get the message to other men that this behaviour is totally abhorrent, unacceptable and has no place in our society. Everyone should be able to go out and have a good time with friends or family in our nightclubs without fear of being spiked by these sick and depraved individuals. But I’m afraid to say that it's an issue that’s on the rise. In 2019, there were 1,020 reported cases of drink spiking within England and Wales. However, in September and October alone this year, there were 198 confirmed reports of drink spiking, alongside 24 reports of injection. And cases involving under-18s have more than doubled, from 32 in 2015 to 71 in 2018. And between January and September 2019, 68 cases had been recorded. But even that data is of limited value, because we also know that most of these incidents simply aren't reported. A study by StopTopps showed that around 98 per cent of victims—98 per cent—did not report these incidents to the police, and many felt that they would not be believed.

In addition, those who get spiked don't always realise they have been spiked, or write it off as nothing, or, worryingly, perhaps don't even realise it's a crime in the first place. That's another reason we've tabled this debate today—to raise awareness of this issue and to encourage people who do get spiked to report it to the police, not only because it's a crime, but because it would give us a clearer idea of the scale of the problem, and for police to identify potential hotspots for this kind of activity so it can be tackled and the criminals who do this can get caught so they can't harm anyone else in the future.

The rising cases of spiking have led many to take action over this issue. Most notable, perhaps, is the recent Girls Night In boycott that occurred over a fortnight ago. They organised a co-ordinated boycott of night-time establishments across the UK to encourage the night-time industry to take the issue seriously, as well as the safety of young women. It's important though, I think, that we don't tar the entire night-time industry with the same brush. Some venues have taken this seriously, and should be praised for it—nightclubs such as Swansea's Sin City in my region, which I confess I've spent a little bit of time in over the years. It has been one of those venues. They've acted proactively, ordering 12,500 StopTopps—a type of anti-spiking lid—as well as their standing policy to replace any drinks in the venue that people suspect have been spiked.

But I know that that won’t be the experience in every nightclub in every town and every city in Wales, and those that can do more should do more. However, we all know it can’t be down to these business owners alone. Whilst some in the night-time industry have taken action, the onus cannot wholly be on the nightclubs here, particularly in an industry that has suffered through immense financial difficulty over the last 18 months due to COVID restrictions.

But there's always more that can be done by Government in this area, which is why I welcome, for example, the £30 million UK-wide investment to help tackle this issue. That includes £5 million on the safety of women at night fund, in addition to the £25 million given to the safer streets fund. This financial investment by the UK Government is vital in supporting schemes such as Ask for Angela, which is a system that helps people feel safe from sexual assault by using a codeword to identify when they're in danger or in an uncomfortable situation.

We’ve also called on the Welsh Government to consider a range of practical ideas in our motion today to secure the safety of women in nightclubs. The enhancement of CCTV within venues, for example, will help give greater evidence when prosecuting these crimes, and can provide people with the confidence to report them, particularly those I mentioned earlier who were afraid that they wouldn't be believed. And increased provision of bottle stoppers and drinks covers at venues would also help tackle this problem too, and make drink spiking almost impossible. And helping staff identify earlier the signs that someone has been spiked can also help them treat these issues when they do happen.

That’s why the Welsh Government's amendments today are disappointing, because it's the Welsh Government that needs to step in and work with stakeholders to ensure the safety of those going out at night. Instead of shirking their responsibility, the Welsh Government should be supporting our motion, which is an important step in cracking down on spiking and making venues a safer environment for everyone to enjoy. And the current situation demands action, as now it's not only drinks that are being spiked, but there is a concerning trend of people being injected with needles. It has added another cruel element of danger to what is already an extremely important issue.

Since September—September—there have been 218 incidents of this type reported in the UK, and we know many more will have been unreported. And we ought to be taking that much more seriously, the problem of spiking people by injection. It is part of an escalation of abuse directed overwhelmingly towards women. It's among the most grievous crimes that anyone could conceive. Let’s make no bones about it—an action like that is undertaken because of an intention to rape women, and it must be treated with the gravity that those implications deserve. But the key question is this: what will change once the media interest in this story has died down? What will change after this motion has been debated and voted on today? Will we leave this Chamber having done all we can to safeguard and protect women? And that’s why I call on everyone to support our motion today.

15:30

I have selected the three amendments to the motion, and I call on Sioned Williams to move amendments 1 and 3, tabled in the name of Siân Gwenllian.

15:35

Amendment 1—Siân Gwenllian

Delete point 1 and replace with:

1. Notes with concern the distressing increase in spiking incidents in venues across Wales and recognises that this is part of a wider issue of sexual assault and harassment towards women that is rooted in sexism and misogyny.  

Amendment 3—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new points at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to: 

a) support initiatives which actively challenge cultural attitudes that allow sexual assault and harassment to take place; 

b) produce a comprehensive strategy on preventing sexual assault and harassment in Wales’s night-time economy; 

c) seek clarity from the UK Government on its plans to classify misogyny as a hate crime, which would encourage reporting of spiking incidents and enable better categorisation of crime to understand the scale of the issue. 

Calls on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to: 

a) improve reporting mechanisms and processes around sexual assault and harassment; 

b) improve support for victims of spiking and other forms of sexual assault and harassment. 

Amendments 1 and 3 moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm glad also to speak in this important debate, because this is an issue that quite literally keeps me awake at night because I've got a 19-year-old daughter. She tells me that every time she goes out to a bar or a club, or to another student's house party, she's aware, sadly aware, that she has to try and protect herself and her friends from being spiked by drinks or by being injected, things that could ultimately lead to sexual violence. I lie awake waiting for that text to say that she's home safe. 

A mother of a young woman or not, this issue must concern us all as we, representatives of Welsh society, must do more to address the problem of misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual violence that is at the heart of today's debate and Plaid Cymru's amendments to the motion. This is not a new problem, and, although this is not exclusively a crime against women, the vast majority of spiking victims are female, and I'm sure every woman in this Chamber and beyond has, at one time or another, felt that same nagging worry in the back of their minds as they enjoy a night out. But the problem is getting worse, and we as a society are not addressing the cause of this problem. And women who are victims of spiking and sexual assault and violence are not being listened to or served well by the criminal justice system. We need only to look at the shameful statistics regarding the fall in rape, sexual and domestic violence prosecutions and convictions to see that this is the case. 

In the last two months, UK police forces, as Tom Giffard said, reported 198 confirmed reports of drink spiking, and 56 incidents with victims reporting they feared they'd been spiked through injection. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because research conducted by Stamp Out Spiking UK found that 98 per cent of spiking victims did not report it, as they did not believe in the justice process or thought the police would not believe them. We simply don't know the scale of this crime, so how are we then properly to address it? And because we know so many cases are going unreported, we therefore do know that we are not listening to or supporting those who are suffering this crime's nightmarish consequences. 

While the introduction of proposals such as drink covers and bottle stoppers, improved security and CCTV may allow people to feel safer from spiking when going out in some settings, such as clubs and bars, though not, of course, in house parties, these measures won't change the cultural attitudes that drive sexual violence in the first place. Because if we're serious about preventing spiking, we must engage with and tackle the root of the issue that leads to this crime. And let's be clear: the misogynistic behaviours that can lead to spiking can be seen in a huge number of other settings throughout our society. There is a high level of sexual violence and harassment, an epidemic in fact, according to Welsh Women's Aid, beyond spiking and the night-time economy. The attitudes that drive sexual harassment and violence and abuse must be deemed as absolutely unacceptable in all settings, including the home, in schools and colleges and in the workplace. To help achieve this, we must invest and sustainably fund initiatives that aim to prevent violence against women, and support for all survivors uniformly throughout Wales. 

Education, of course, is key to prevention, and Tom Giffard mentioned the Big Night In campaign in colleges and universities, which has raised awareness of the spiking phenomenon and has made a series of practical demands stemming from women's own experience, which include an emphasis on training for bar and club staff, as well as for all freshers, on how to respond to such incidents. The Welsh Government should commit to working with partner organisations to enact these demands, and help look at prevention, victim welfare and support by providing a comprehensive and specific strategy on this for Wales's night-time economy. 

And there is a clear need for the Welsh Government to push for the improvement of the reporting mechanisms, processes and legislation around spiking, sexual assault and harassment, to ensure women in Wales feel able to report these crimes and see justice served. Currently, the act of spiking itself is not categorised specifically in law; it is instead listed as an offence under other pieces of legislation, which also capture many other types of crime. This interferes with data collection, and means we don't have an accurate picture of the problem. It also fails to account for the undeniable gendered element that is present in the majority of cases of spiking. The Welsh Government should call on the Home Office to review the way that spiking is classified and recorded to allow the nightlife sector and relevant authorities to have a benchmark from which to be able to explore regional differences and come up with solutions from a position of increased understanding.

In the meantime, police forces in Wales should be encouraged and supported to note when crimes are motivated by a hatred for sex or gender, so that Wales-only data capture on the issue can be improved. And the Welsh Government should also seek clarity from the UK Government as to their plans to make misogyny a hate crime, a change that has been recommended by the current Law Commission review. Crimes such as spiking happen to women because they are women. Until society understands this, until this is enshrined in law and accounted for by police and by courts, women who experience spiking will never be fully believed, protected and supported, and, until that happens, these crimes will continue. We must make the Wales we want to see; we must foster the gender equal nation—

15:40

—we want our daughters to grow up in without fear. Mitigating risks isn't all that's needed here; policy to eradicate those risks altogether must be the aim. Diolch. 

I call on the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, to formally move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths.  

Amendment 2—Lesley Griffiths

Delete all after point 1 and replace with:

Believes that the act of spiking is an insidious crime that removes a person’s dignity, rights and freedom and firmly asserts that it is the fundamental right of women to feel safe and to live freely.

Firmly asserts that the onus falls not on the victims of such crimes but on the perpetrators and those who know individuals that are involved in committing these crimes and fail to report perpetrators when it is safe to do so.

Commits the Welsh Government to push ahead with its work on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the renewed focus on holding perpetrators to account.

Commits the Welsh Government to work with key stakeholders, particularly those in the night time economy, to review and implement all possible safety options as a matter of urgency.

Amendment 2 moved.

Let's be clear: it is only men who are involved in spiking. It's only men who are raping and abusing women after rendering them unconscious; it is a men problem, not a women problem. Yet we are now in a situation where women are being told how they can make themselves safe, where nightclubs and bars and police and support groups offer measures to help women keep themselves safe. Now, these measures and this advice may be sadly necessary right now, because of the danger. But let's be crystal clear: the danger is from men, not from women, and it's men that need to call out the culture that has made this happen, where some men think it's acceptable to view women not just as commodities, but as something to exploit and to abuse. The horrifying growth in spiking linked to rape and abuse is just one extreme symptom of these attitudes and we need to call it out.  

A BBC investigation in 2019 uncovered over 2,500 reports of drink spiking to police in England and Wales over the previous four years—over 2,500. Police across the UK have rising reports of spiking incidents, many involving something sharp, and student unions nationwide routinely now report accounts of suspected drink tampering. One woman journalist writes:

'A stranger’s hand unceremoniously shoved up your skirt on a night out has become almost routine for young women. Street harassment—not just catcalling but crude propositioning and being followed by men who may get aggressive if rejected—is normalised.'

She continues:

'Young women are sick of being told to stick together, or to watch their drinks, when the problem is male violence, not female vigilance.'

Now, there have been some great initiatives challenging this recently, including the student unions during freshers' week organising the Big Night In nightclub boycotts to raise awareness not just of the risks, but also the need for men to take a stand. And, indeed, Swansea University men's rugby team joined the boycott, with one of the team members saying:

'There’s this stigma of toxic masculinity associated with rugby boys.... We wanted to be one of the first clubs to do something about it, because everyone knows someone that this has happened to and we want to change that.'

Welsh Women's Aid directed me to the That Guy campaign, run by Police Scotland, subtitled, by the way, 'Better Ways to be a Man', which has personal endorsements from well-known figures such as the Line of Duty actor Mark Bonnar, and The A Word actor Greg McHugh, Scottish sport stars and others talking about their roles as husbands and fathers to daughters, and about the importance of talking to your mates, saying not just, 'Don't be that guy', as the campaign says, but, 'Don't let your boys be that guy neither.' And the campaign has been picked up by youth organisations as a way to open a conversation with young men over male sexual entitlement and inappropriate behaviour and where this can lead. As Mark Bonnar says:

'We have to examine our behaviour as men and challenge that of our peers.' 

So, in closing, can I ask the Minister what work we are doing in Welsh Government with police and community safety partnerships in Wales, but also others, including local authorities, youth services, third sector organisations, as well as nightclubs and bars and entertainment venues, and with organisations like Welsh Women's Aid, to not only raise awareness of the problem and understand the scale of the problem, but to tackle the underlying issue of toxic masculinity, male sexual entitlement and misogyny? We need to tackle the root of the problem, not just the symptoms.

15:45

This is such an important and timely discussion that urgently needs to take place, and I thank my colleague Darren Millar MS for proposing it. As a community leader, a woman and a mother, spiking is a modern phenomenon that strikes at the very core of concerns about safeguarding the well-being of our loved ones and other young women when they are out and enjoying our hospitality venues. With the aim to incapacitate someone enough to rob or assault them, with victims disorientated to the point of nausea, hallucinations, amnesia and unconsciousness, this is a diabolical and such a cowardly act by a minority of individuals that is now threatening the safety of our young people and the viability of our excellent night-time industry operators.

Research from StopTopps conducted earlier this year reveals that 38 per cent of respondents have been a victim of drink spiking at least once, of which 98 per cent did not report the crime to police. We also know that reports and convictions for spiking are generally low, often due to the concerns from the victims that they won't be believed, or in fact that the police will not take action. North Wales Police have received 22 reports of spiking so far this year, but this has only led to one arrest. In 2020, there were 18 reports; no arrests. This disconnect between the numbers reporting these incidents and the arrests made is concerning and must be addressed.

The police have considerable powers to take action where they think there is a problem. They can call for a review of a premises licence and they can also work with the management and the licensing authority. So, I wonder—and it echoes what you have said, Huw—whether the Welsh Government can outline what conversations our Counsel General has undertaken with law officers in the UK Government to ensure that our forces have appropriate training to understand and utilise these powers.

Another shockingly scary activity, mentioned by Tom Giffard, is that of injections used on others. The National Police Chiefs Council said there have been 24 reports of injections in just September and October, introducing a new element of danger for our youngsters. Whilst the data suggests that drink spiking is far more prevalent than spiking with a needle, the compounding of spiking concerns with those regarding the spread of hepatitis B and C has led many young women now to have to take to wearing denim jackets as a means of preventing or slowing the effects of an injection. But it does remain difficult to assess whether spiking by needle is becoming a national trend, and this is due to the lack of actionable data available. So, again I urge the Welsh Government to undertake a rapid and stakeholder-led review to find out the true number of needle spikings that have taken place in Wales, and explore ways that venues can take more preventative measures. We also need confirmation that such discussions are now going to be used to update the 'Substance Misuse Delivery Plan 2019-2022'. Whilst this was updated last January, surprisingly, it holds no mention of spiking, or indeed these injections.

I wish to conclude by paying tribute to the proactive work undertaken by some industry professionals and those prepared to step up more admission searches. More steps need to be taken, including enhancing CCTV to assist with evidence collection and assistance in the training of staff on how to spot and deal with spiking incidents. This will also assist with other related incidents, and I have to mention it here today, and that is the increase in knife crime, which I'm currently working with stakeholders to confront in my own constituency. With North Wales Police recording 277 offences involving a knife or sharp weapon in 2019-20, this also needs to be tackled. I'm actually dealing with a constituent who innocently went out for an evening and ended up with 62 stitches. His question to me is, 'What possessed someone to carry a cut-throat razor knife? What possessed that person to suddenly lunge at someone and inflict wounds that needed 62 stitches?' So, we need the Welsh Government to follow the lead of our Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, and proactively work with stakeholders to take on these problems so as to make our venues safe for people to enjoy. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Rachel Maclean MP, has also met with the Security Industry Authority to ensure that qualifications for door supervisors and security guards include specific content relating to violence against women and girls. I implore the Minister and the Siambr today to establish cross-party consensus so that effective change can be introduced, and quickly. Diolch.

15:50

As young women growing up, we are taught to be careful, to avoid certain situations, people, outfits, to limit the things we do and the space we take up, not to walk home alone, not to drink too much, not to act in a way that would bring unwanted attention, and when you're out with friends, keep your hand over your drink, and don't leave a drink on the table if you're going to the ladies' or to the dancefloor, not because we're worried about someone taking the drink, but someone spiking it, putting something in it that'll turn the night into a nightmare. Because that is what we are taught. We're trained to anticipate danger, to navigate fear, to live our lives in ways that are framed by that potential peril, and this is where there is an inevitable societal experiential divide, because all of these things that I've mentioned will be astonishingly familiar, banal even, to all of the women listening, but for men, doing something like this would understandably be alien, because as a society we place the onus on women to keep themselves safe, not on men to stop attacking women.

I think there's merit in a lot of the ideas put forward in the motion—in the Night Time Industries Association's ideas about providing bottle stoppers and drinks covers free of charge for customers in pubs and bars—but taking an action like that alone is only masking the problem. Likewise, I would further welcome raising the awareness of the public about the dangers of drink spiking and looking into more funding for vulnerability training for bouncers and bar staff. But ultimately, Dirprwy Lywydd, we're still talking about containing and not eradicating the problem.

The odds are stacked against survivors of spiking. Toxicology tests have to be carried out within 12 to 72 hours, but often the drugs that are used are hard to notice—they have no scent, no taste, no colour. By the time the survivor has reported what's happened, they've often disappeared from the body. What's more, survivors of spiking have spoken about the mental gymnastics they have to go through, going back and forth between the police and hospital services to get the tests. Too often survivors feel dismissed by the police or feel like they're not being believed—something we've already heard in the debate this evening. Our call on the Welsh Government is to work with hospitals and police forces to ensure there's a standard practice in how incidents like this are reported and dealt with. Survivors must be better supported.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I refuse to accept that navigating danger should be an indelible part of life for women. There is nothing intrinsic about male violence against women, about threats to women's safety. We are conditioned to accept that the risk is there and to act accordingly. So for now, yes, of course we should raise awareness, we should provide support and look into providing bottle stoppers and drinks covers and other means of helping women feel safe, but women won't actually be safe until we get to the bottom of the issue and confront why it is that some men grow up to spike women's drinks, to follow women home, to harass them on the streets, to catcall, to abuse women online, to attack women, to silence them. Covering up a drink can't eradicate the problem, a problem that is so everyday that we've stopped even acknowledging that it shouldn't be normal, the problem that means that when women go out in the evening there is an unreferred to expectation that we will text our female friends when we're in the taxi, when we've reached home; the shared experiences none of us want to have, but yet still link us. Policy and politics shouldn't have to think of minimising an ever-present risk. The risk shouldn't be normal.

It's an absolute pleasure to take part in this important and pertinent debate this afternoon. I'm pleased that the issue of spiking has finally gained mainstream media attention because the scourge has existed for many years, but thankfully there has been an increase in awareness in recent months. I'm therefore grateful to my colleague and party for tabling this debate today, but I do however take issue with Plaid Cymru's amendment to the motion. While it's true that the majority of spiking attacks are against women, one in four of those attacks are against men and that was how Britain's most prolific rapist, Reynhard Sinaga, attacked his victims. Thankfully, Sinaga is behind bars, serving a 40-year sentence for carrying out 159 sexual assaults.

Sadly, far too many attacks, whether it's men or women, either go unreported or fail to result in any prosecutions at all. In my policing area in north Wales, there were only 18 reports and zero arrests last year. We have to get the message out to victims of this insidious crime that it's okay to report spiking, it is a crime, and you shouldn't be embarrassed to report it. I am sympathetic to the Welsh Government's stance that the focus should be on holding the perpetrators to account, but the people who carry out these crimes are twisted individuals who have become very good at evading the attentions of the criminal justice system.

I'm grateful that the Home Secretary is taking this issue seriously and look forward to seeing an increase in prosecutions. However, we also have a duty to raise awareness of this crime. We all have a role to play in tackling the scourge of spiking, and I urge the Welsh Government to work with operators in the night-time economy on measures to protect patrons and to raise awareness around spiking.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding this issue. We've all seen the infographics doing the rounds on social media, warning us to look out for things like change in colour or sinking ice. Where it might be the case in some circumstances, it's often impossible to tell if a drink has been spiked with chemicals or, indeed, additional alcohol. The only way to ensure that your drink hasn't been spiked is for it never to leave your sight, but we all know that isn't practical. We therefore need to work with the industry to look at alternative solutions for drink security. Others have mentioned stop tops and other such methods. There have also been trials of drinks lockers, a way of securing your drink while you visit the bathroom or the dancefloor—the latter part of that would be my preference on a night out.

And whatever steps we take, the most important one will be awareness, and we all have a duty to ensure that we are vigilant, for us to make it impossible for the despicable creatures who seek to drug others to carry out their horrendous crimes. Let us stand up, take action and prevent any further young women and men from becoming victims. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

15:55

The spiking of drinks is not new. I had my own drink spiked in 1982. That was 39 years ago and it's a very frightening experience, and it's one that stays with you for life. In the case of my drink, I was in a friend's pub. I was a licensee myself. I'd stepped out of my front door and probably walked about 800 yards from my own home. I was living in a tiny village in Wales. I wasn't in a nightclub. There was no taste to it and I didn't know what had happened. But I was lucky because I had friends around me and they knew that something was wrong, and they made sure that I got home. I thought that I was ill. They thought that I was ill. I got home, my friend raised the alarm with my husband, I went to bed and I eventually woke up the next day. But what I do remember is I couldn't see any colour. My vision had restored itself to black and white only. It was many, many hours later before I could see the full spectrum of what was around me, but I still didn't know that I'd been spiked. It was many days later, reliving and retelling my experience to my customers that one of them had heard about the spiking of drinks, and suggested that's probably what had happened.

What I do know is that there was a stranger in that particular pub on that particular night, a male stranger, and he never, ever came back to the village. It is undoubtedly the case that he had spiked that drink. I know it, because there were only four or five people in the pub. They were all my friends, two of whom, as I've told you, made sure that I got home. So, it is really, really important that we get this message out. It's also important that we don't just focus on nightclubs, but that we make people aware that drink spiking can happen anywhere at any time. 

I do have to say that I agree that looking after your drinks, getting your friends to look after your drinks is important, but I also agree that putting the onus on the individual and blaming them is wrong. It is the perpetrator who is to blame, it isn't the victim. We've heard victim blaming for women's behaviour time and time again, and it's been alluded to here. We've heard people say, after women have been raped or sexually assaulted, that they've asked for it—after all, their dress was too short, their top was too skimpy. That lets the perpetrator off the hook. In this case, there is only one person who is clearly to blame.

I agree that we must tackle misogyny, because many, many things fall out from the misogynistic language and behaviour that we all see. It most definitely should be included in the end violence against women legislation as a hate crime. There is no doubt that, if you shout abuse at a woman just because she is a woman and use hateful language, it is a hate crime. I'm afraid to say that Boris Johnson, when he said that women chose to go around in burkas looking like letterboxes, used misogynistic language. The language that we use—we as public servants must actually be mindful of the replication of those views and expressions elsewhere. 

I couldn't be clearer about this incident. I know what it's like. I can retell that story today and I can remember the effects of it, but I know I was lucky, and I know other people are not lucky. But, this isn't about me. So, what I ask of all police forces across Wales is to take this seriously. I ask all men to join in the activities, particularly this month, November, when the international day to end violence against women is on 25 November, and stand up and be counted, as I'm sure many men will here. I ask the Welsh Government to work across all communities to engage with all voluntary, public sector and youth organisations to educate and also enforce action to end this crime. Thank you.

16:00

I'd like to start by thanking my colleagues for all the valid and important points they've raised so far in this debate, and to pay tribute to my colleague Joyce for raising her own personal experience. 

The issue of spiking drinks in pubs and nightclubs has been an ongoing situation for some time. Whilst everyone can be affected, it is, as we have already heard, predominantly women who are subjected to this. The issue is so bad that young people, especially women, are increasingly afraid to go out. In Swansea, for example, it's already prompted an organised response from university students, when they held a Big Night In on 24 October this year, as has already been highlighted by other Members in this Chamber, which encourages students not to go out nightclubbing on the busiest day of the week in the hope of raising awareness and forcing nightclubs to address the problem. 

Unfortunately, the major issue with spiking is the difficulty of, as you have already heard, catching and prosecuting those people who have committed the offence. There are several methods used to spike drinks, but the most common is adding alcohol to non-alcoholic drinks or adding extra alcohol to already-alcoholic drinks. Prosecutions are extremely rare given the number of instances, and this is largely due to the fact that there is little evidence to prove spiking has occurred. Blood tests are needed within a narrow window of spiking to provide evidence, and there are many people who feel that they are often not taken seriously enough by the police and health professionals when they report alleged spiking—basically that they have drunk too much, or they can't handle their drink.

Worryingly, a survey conducted by the Alcohol Education Trust has, in some way, revealed the extent of this problem. This survey of 750 people found that 35 per cent of drinks were spiked at private parties, and 28 per cent in nightclubs, 13 per cent in bars, and 7 per cent in festivals. As many as one in seven women aged between 16 and 25 reported being targeted, though 92 per cent of the victims chose not to report their experiences to the police. Of those who did, the survey revealed that nothing happened as a result. The lack of criminal prosecutions for spiking drinks has left those perpetrators so confident they have now started injecting people. This extremely worrying behaviour is seemingly becoming more prevalent, and because these needles are being reused over and over again, it also increases the risk of the victims catching diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

While spiking a drink can carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, the problem lies in the ability of the police to reliably catch people spiking them and to prosecute accordingly. This remains an exceptionally difficult thing for them to do, and I believe that until an appropriate system is put into place, men and women will continue to be subjected to this abhorrent crime. At this present time, the issue of spiking drinks is at the forefront of people's minds because of recent media attention. People will naturally become more vigilant in the short term; however, this is simply pushing those people who spike drinks into the shadows. As time goes on and this issue is no longer covered by the media, they will return. Drink spiking has been an ongoing problem for a very long time, and there needs to be a long-term solution put into place. We need to ask ourselves what programmes have been put into place to educate teenagers and young people of the danger, but to also spotlight the inappropriate attitudes and behaviours that are conducted towards women. 

What have nightclubs and pubs done to help negate the problem? Drinks with lids are an obvious short-term answer, but until it is mandatory, then it will be nothing other than a short-term fix to alleviate the current worry. We need better CCTV installed in our nightclubs and pubs, better access to testing facilities, and better collection of evidence to identify repeating patterns of behaviour. Unless there is political will to make long-term changes, this will remain an ongoing risk for our young people for some time, and this is why we need to support this debate and put into place firm action to tackle it. Thank you.

16:05

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd also like to thank Darren Millar for bringing this important debate forward.

I'd like to thank Plaid Cymru for their amendments, which we'll be supporting. I believe the amendments actually all strengthen the purpose of this motion today, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to highlight what work the Welsh Government is doing to tackle violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Can I thank Tom Giffard for his powerful opening speech? It set the tone for the whole debate, I have to say, today. I think we can move forward on a cross-party basis, but obviously holding us to account as a Welsh Government in terms of taking this forward.

We've heard very strong messages, which has been very powerful today, from men, from our Senedd Members—our male Senedd Members as well as our female Senedd Members, and that's very welcome—speaking up today, speaking out today, and showing how you're going to take this forward in your own lives and with your own responsibilities: political, public, and wider responsibilities. Because, let's all again recognise that the act of spiking is an insidious crime. It removes a person's dignity, rights and freedom. It's a prime example of the misuse of power and control, as has been said by Members today, that typifies violence against women and girls. Acts like spiking are part of a pattern of behaviour, abuse and violence that blights too many women's lives and opportunities.

Can I particularly thank, as well, Joyce Watson for sharing her personal experience? When we have that powerful experience from elected representatives in this Chamber, in this Senedd, we know what it means to actually share that personally. It's very courageous, and I know that all of us, as has already been said, thank you for that, Joyce, because you represent the people who are experiencing this insidious situation. So, thank you to Joyce Watson.

I also just want to make two points, really, to start off with. I believe that we will all share these crucial messages. First and foremost, let us be clear that it's not for women to modify their behaviour—Delyth Jewell made this point—it's for abusers to change theirs, and the onus of these crimes does not fall on the women, it falls squarely on those insidious men who commit them.

The second message today is for those who know the perpetrators—and this is a public message; I hope that this debate can be shared more widely: if you know or see a person who's carrying out these crimes, you have a moral duty to report them as soon as it is safe to do so. So, we've got this strong message in our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy: don't be a bystander. It's a powerful message that we need to make sure reaches out today. We have a duty in our communities to call out inappropriate behaviour and offer support where it's safe to do so. Huw Irranca-Davies made this point about the role of men to be empowered to engage with other men and boys to call out abusive and sexist behaviour among their friends, their colleagues and communities to promote that culture of equality and respect. So, this is about this genuine concern of women and young girls around their safety, particularly in the night-time economy setting. Women should be able to enjoy a night out and be safe, women should be able to have a drink and be safe. Simply put, women should be able to enjoy their lives and be safe.

Deputy Llywydd, I think it's crucial that we do get to the bottom of this issue—the causes, as Sioned Williams said. This is why the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence national strategy is so important; that's where the Welsh Government is taking this forward and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to account for where we are on this point. We are strengthening and expanding our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy; we're strengthening it and expanding it to include a focus on violence and harassment against women and girls in the public space as well as in the home. And we know that, from the last few weeks and months, the public spaces, the community, the street, including also transport—and we obviously need to look at this now very clearly in terms of the night-time economy. 

We have been focusing very much on domestic abuse and violence in the home and of course that will continue, but we have to now—and we are—strengthen and expand our strategy to the public space for women as well. It's a refreshed strategy and I will shortly be launching it. It's been developed alongside a group of key partner organisations, including those, of course, in the specialist sector that supports victims and survivors of violence against women and domestic abuse. It aims to increase joint working with the police and criminal justice partners, which has been called for today, crucially involving survivors who are also engaged in all aspects of the development of the strategy and delivery. We've got to make sure that it's co-ordinated and it's effective and includes all agencies.

But tackling male violence, gender inequality and misogyny requires action, of course, at both ends of the spectrum. We must support survivors, we must hold perpetrators to account, but we must create genuine behaviour change. And this is how we will combat that insidious and pervasive negative attitude to women that can manifest in acts like spiking. Working with children and young people and highlighting the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships is going to be very much addressed in our new curriculum, but the revised strategy, I think, will be addressing these issues very clearly.

I do want to just spend a moment on the police response, because this is where the key role of the police is crucial. Yesterday, I met with the lead chief constable, Pam Kelly, and deputy police and crime commissioner Eleri Thomas to discuss spiking, to ask for an account of all of the police forces in Wales, and they gave me their commitment, they assured me that all four police forces are taking this issue extremely seriously, and reported to me on all of the aspects of that work. In fact, the policing and crime partnership board for Wales, which I chair, is a very important and valuable opportunity. It’s on the agenda of our next meeting, which will also be attended by the Secretary of State for Wales, so it’s very much joint working as well.

So, it’s crucial that we move forward in this response, and I do want to just also, very briefly, say that, in terms of misogyny as a hate crime, we’ve been clear that the current hate crime regime is not fit for purpose. It fails to deal with misogyny as a major demonstration of this, and we wait for the Law Commission’s outcome of their review, and we ask the UK Government to expedite legislation to respond to that.

So, finally, can I just say that Joyce Watson drew attention to White Ribbon? The debate is a timely one. We’re coming up to White Ribbon Day on 25 November. The subsequent 16 days of activism call on all men to take a stand against sexism and gender-based violence in all forms and to end male violence against women. White Ribbon ambassadors—hopefully, all our male Members of the Senedd will take this on board. Jack Sargeant very much has led the way. Please consider becoming a White Ribbon ambassador and pledge never to commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women, because I think, together, we can unite to end violence on the streets and violence in the home. We must unite for change, and we must unite to allow everyone to live fear free. Diolch yn fawr.

16:15

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your response to the debate that you’ve heard today. In closing this debate it has been encouraging to see all Members, from across the Chamber, supporting the main thrust of our Conservative motion today to address the spiking situation that we face. And I’m proud that Welsh Conservatives brought forward this incredibly important debate to the heart of Welsh democracy here in the Senedd, and also putting forward some real measures and ideas that will help tackle this worrying state of affairs.

At this point, I also want to thank Joyce Watson and join others in thanking you for sharing your powerful account of an experience you’ve had, which certainly brings into focus the importance of this discussion here and the importance of us talking about this issue as Members, and for the public to hear.

Many Members have highlighted and shown that they are worried, rightfully so, about seeing a rise in the cases being reported, and it’s vital that those who have been spiked have the confidence to come forward to the relevant authorities. Joel James pointed out, and I find it deeply concerning, that despite a sharp increase in reports of spiking, convictions are extremely low. For example, so far in 2021, in my region in north Wales, there have been 22 reports of spiking, which have led to just one arrest. That simply isn’t good enough, and simply needs to be improved. It’s also extremely concerning that many people who are spiked also don’t report it, and this can be linked to the sheer disconnect between reports and arrests. Tom Giffard, in opening the debate, highlighted the research from StopTopps, alongside Sioned Williams and other Members here this evening. Their research conducted this year has revealed that 38 per cent of people have been a victim of drink spiking at least once, with 98 per cent of victims—yes, 98 per cent of victims—not reporting this crime. So, to hear that in the debate today was extremely worrying. And, additionally, as Mr Giffard also highlighted in his opening, around 70 per cent of respondents in the same survey said they were worried about being spiked.

I think Sioned Williams highlighted an important point around the legislation and laws that are available to enforce some of the issues here. It is, of course, worth noting, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, when a drink is spiked, and there’s a sexual motivation, it could carry a 10-year prison sentence. So, it’s clear that the police do have a number of levers they can pull, and have the power to bring those who commit these horrific crimes to justice, and they do need to use them as expediently as possible. Because if they’re not being used, then people, clearly, won’t be coming forward in the way that they should.

Aside from the police action, Members have highlighted some of the practical measures that have been proposed here today to alleviate spiking. And Gareth Davies pointed out powerfully that we do need to take action quickly, and work with stakeholders to provide those bottle stoppers and drinks covers free of charge at venues, improve security, train staff at venues as well, and also ensure that venues have sufficient means of enabling prosecution. Nevertheless, it is obviously good to see the work that venues are already doing to try and put steps in place to prevent drink spiking taking place. I was also pleased to hear, from the Westminster debate earlier this week, that there are measures being put in place, and the words of the Home Secretary have been shared this afternoon as well.

I must say I was disappointed when I initially read the wording of the amendment from the Government to delete all and replace, given the practical measures that we as Conservatives were trying to bring forward today, and we are often asked on these benches to bring forward actions and activities. But, Minister, I do acknowledge and appreciate your words in highlighting, actually, your support of the thrust of what we're trying to do here today, and I'm pleased that we've been able to start this direction of travel, as a group on these benches this afternoon.

I think Janet Finch-Saunders mentioned an important point from early in 2020 where the Minister for finance was questioned around the future substance misuse delivery plan, and the fact that there's no mention in there of spiking, and I think that is an issue that does need to be reviewed, and it needs to be reviewed fairly urgently.

I'm going to bring my contribution to a close shortly, Deputy Presiding Officer, but at this point, I do want to highlight—I too am a father of three young girls, and, like Sioned Williams mentioned, that is sadly something that sits not in the back of my mind but it's in the forefront of my mind from time to time, and I personally find this spiking situation extremely worrying and it's one that's close to my heart. One day in the future, I'm sure it'll be my daughters who'll be attending a bar or a nightclub, and I have a heavily vested interest to ensure that we create a safe environment for people—all people—to enjoy themselves without fear and without worry. Lots of Members have highlighted that issue today, and I thank Delyth Jewell for your contribution and Huw Irranca as well for highlighting the fact that there are societal and cultural issues that need to be addressed today, alongside practical actions that could be quickly implemented whilst we wait—sooner rather than later—for those societal and cultural issues to be addressed as well.

I think Gareth Davies pointed out the importance also of recognising the majority of victims are women, but there are men also who are victims, and we need to make sure that they feel able to come forward at the same time, and it's not seen wholly as a women's issue only. But, of course, the vast majority of perpetrators—all the perpetrators—seem to be a small minority of pathetic men, and we would all acknowledge that, and they certainly should face the full force of the law that's available.

To conclude, Deputy Presiding Officer, I want to thank all Members for the constructive contribution to the debate today, and it's extremely welcome that all sides of the political spectrum are fighting for the same outcome. I'm pleased that the Government Minister has seen that we are bringing forward suitable suggestions and solutions from opposition benches, and, as seen today, we are providing sensible and practical solutions for the extremely concerning issue. This is a national crisis and we as politicians have a duty to keep our nation and our people safe. Spiking is awful, it needs to be prevented, and perpetrators, as I said, need to feel the full force of the law. Our motion suggests many measures that can ensure this happens, and I'd urge all Members to support our motion today. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

16:20

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. I will therefore defer voting until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

6. Plaid Cymru Debate: Fisheries and aquaculture

Motion NDM7825 Siân Gwenllian

To propose that the Senedd:

Calls on the Welsh Government to work with industry stakeholders to further develop a fisheries and aquaculture policy, backed by a strategy that has sustainability, investment and industry engagement at its core.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. The purpose of this debate is to raise awareness of an important industry that was once very prosperous in Wales, but that has, unfortunately, been in decline for many years. However, with dedicated support from the Government, it could contribute to the economic regeneration of our coastal communities—socially as well. We have poetry, folk songs and sea shanties that are fantastic, which go back many years and that bear witness to the proud maritime traditions of Wales.

However, let me paint you a picture of the position of the sector now. In 2012, 26,000 tonnes of fish were landed by UK vessels at Welsh ports. In 2016, this had dropped to 15,000 tonnes, and by 2020, it was down to 9,600 tonnes, with Belgian ships accounting for a third of the fish landed. In that year, just over 4,000 tonnes had been landed by Welsh vessels—less than half the annual catch. We could, therefore, conclude, based on these figures, that our commercial fishing activity is declining to such an extent that it is in danger of disappearing into oblivion. That's why we need a strategy to support and create a sector that's vibrant, sustainable and viable in Wales during this Senedd term.

Llywydd, the UK Fisheries Act 2020 provides the framework for UK fishing policy post Brexit. The Act extends the Senedd's legislative competence to include the whole of Welsh waters, known as the Welsh zone. So, clearly, this is a golden opportunity to revive the industry and develop a strategy to move it forward. Now, the previous Welsh Government consulted on post-Brexit marine and fisheries policies known as 'Brexit and our Seas' in 2019. In a written statement accompanying the summary of responses, the Minister said this:

'We must develop a sustainable, ecosystems based policy which works with all other marine polices.'

So, clearly, in the previous Senedd, there was a strong commitment to developing a sustainable fisheries policy.

Unfortunately, within the programme for government in this sixth Senedd, there is no mention of fisheries and aquaculture at all. It is as though they did not exist at all. We can only conclude, therefore, that the sector is not a priority for the Welsh Government. The Wales fisheries strategy 2008 and the strategic action plan for the sector for 2013 are now out of date.

The Welsh Government may wish to draw our attention to the 'Welsh National Marine Plan' as an indication of progress in this area. Fine, the plan does contain two specific sections on aquaculture and fisheries. However, these are not sufficiently distinct strategies with enough focus to drive significant progress in the sector. And the sector itself, very interestingly, certainly doesn't think that this is as good as having a comprehensive action plan. 

It is worth noting that the environment committee in the previous Senedd produced a report on the impact of Brexit on fisheries in Wales in 2018. The first recommendation in the report called on the Welsh Government to publish an ambitious strategy, with a focus on growing fisheries in Wales. Although the Welsh Government accepted the recommendation at the time, the reality is that very little has been done to deliver on this commitment since then. It may well be that the Welsh Government will again highlight the 2018 consultation, 'Brexit and our Seas', which I've already mentioned. However, while stakeholders have invested considerable time in responding to the consultation, once again, little has happened since then.

Now, the responsibility for the management of marine fisheries in Welsh waters lies with Welsh Government's marine and fisheries division. This centralised delivery model was adopted over 10 years ago. It was anticipated this new consolidated delivery model would provide scope for the better use of resources, provide a coherent approach to managing Welsh fisheries and improve the fishing industry's involvement in decision making.

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the perceived benefits of this centralised model have failed to materialise, even though budgets and human resources within the division have increased significantly in the last decade. The division has been without an up-to-date strategy or measurable plan to deliver coherent fisheries management since 2014. And to compound the situation, Welsh Government are currently without any formal stakeholder engagement mechanism with the sector. 

It has to be said, therefore, that the effects on the fishing industry of leaving the EU, together with the tardiness in providing better management of fisheries, make the future of Welsh sea fishing extremely uncertain, which is a matter of great concern, of course.

So, what sort of ambition does the Welsh Government have for creating a sector that is vibrant, sustainable and economically resilient for the future, given the marked decline in the number of fish landed at Welsh ports over the last five years?

The truth is that there has been chronic underinvestment in the sector over a number of years. Aside from investment in infrastructure at Milford fish docks seven years ago, the level of financial support has been very low. Also, there is concern that the fleet of vessels, ageing every year, is in decline due to a lack of investment.

Let me turn now to aquaculture. As the demand for seafood is increasing, technology has made it possible to grow food in coastal marine waters and the open ocean. Aquaculture is a method used to produce food and other commercial products, restore habitat and replenish wild stocks, and rebuild populations of threatened and endangered species.

The Minister has already stated prior to the summer recess that she was committed to delivering the strategic targets for aquaculture set for 2013 to 2020. For example, shellfish—the target was to double production from 8,000 tonnes to 16,000 tonnes, but it's apparent we've gone significantly backwards from that baseline even before COVID and before Brexit.

Recently, I was part of a Plaid Cymru delegation that visited the pioneering aquaculture facility in Penmon, with the Member for Ynys Môn, and I saw the opportunities that the sector can bring to Wales. This is the fastest growing food sector in the world. The staff at Mowi Ltd in Penmon have broken new ground in using innovative techniques for producing cleaner fish species, placing these farms in the vanguard in Europe.

Llywydd, Wales—oh, sorry, Dirprwy Lywydd—Wales has the potential natural capital and knowledge base to further develop the aquaculture sector, but we need Welsh Government to realign and focus policy and resources on the sector in a more co-ordinated and integrated way. The aquaculture sector can support job creation, innovation, contribute to nature-based ecosystem services and truly take its place in Wales’s mission to become a sustainable food-producing nation. 

So, with exciting prospects for a rapidly growing sector, we need to know what the Government's future strategy is to support aquaculture in Wales, and indeed what its strategy is to take advantage of the potential to grow this industry in Wales for the future. Thank you.

16:30

I'm grateful to the Member for Arfon for tabling this afternoon's motion on behalf of the Plaid Cymru group. Last week, I stood here and championed the need for co-operation, partnership and teamwork in tackling some of the biggest challenges facing this country. And indeed, today, I and my Welsh Conservative colleagues are here with that very same attitude of collaboration. That's why we'll be supporting this motion this afternoon.

I'm pleased too that the Welsh Government has recognised the value of an opposition party's motion, and I hope this afternoon's debate will at least demonstrate a glimpse of what can be achieved when we work in unison.

Now, as the Member for Mid and West Wales rightly touched on in his opening speech, Wales possesses a wealth of resources, potential and opportunity, all of which can be targeted and utilised in supporting and growing our fisheries and aquaculture industry. I'm also pleased that the Member also highlighted the new opportunities for Welsh fisheries given our European exit; however, in order for the benefits to be felt, it is absolutely right that the Welsh Government works with a whole range of key industry stakeholders, both public and private, to further develop a fisheries and aquaculture strategy that focuses upon sustainability, investment and industry.

I'm sure the Minister will recall my very first rural affairs question to her, relating to a statement she made at an event in Cardiff as part of Seafood Week in 2016. At that event, she announced the Welsh Government's intention to double sea aquaculture production by 2020. Since then, the Welsh Government's 2019 marine plan and subsequent 2020 report failed to mention or address this aim, and, in her reply to me, she highlighted the issues around meeting our seafood export target. Whilst I still remain significantly concerned by this, and understand the issues the Minister raised with regard to the export issues at the beginning of this year, I'm confident that this motion today will ensure that the Welsh Government will prioritise its efforts in doubling down and ensuring that this target is met.

But let us not forget that the benefits of a strong and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture industry will reach every corner of Wales. In my own constituency, for example, Angle's Atlantic ocean oyster company are leading the way in developing restoration methods for Pembrokeshire's native oyster. Rather than just take from the sea, Atlantic Edge Oyster, headed up by Dr Andy Woolmer and supported by Ben Cutting, are working to restore oyster numbers off the coast of Pembrokeshire, and not only does this remove excess nutrients from our waters, but it also provides a better habitat for a healthier ecosystem for other marine life. The oysters also find their ways into the restaurants across Wales, further showing their benefit to our economy.

Indeed, we certainly shouldn't underestimate the role aquaculture can play in helping to meet a whole range of sustainability goals and targets either. Researchers at Queen's Belfast university are developing a three-year trial that seeks to evaluate the use of UK-sourced seaweed in helping to cut methane emissions in cattle. However, not only does seaweed reduce methane emissions—and we've heard much about this given COP26 this last fortnight—but early reports have indicated that its consumption can improve cattle health and enhance the quality of meat and milk that they produce. Yet another groundbreaking project with unrestricted levels of supply chain reach, and it brings a very new meaning to the phrase 'surf and turf'.

And I've seen the benefits of similar projects first-hand, as this summer I joined my colleague the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire on a visit to Câr-y-Môr, Wales's first commercial seaweed and shellfish farm. Not only does this zero-input farming project encapsulate the natural minerals and nutrients of the Celtic sea, removing the need for fertiliser and pesticides, but it also improves our coastal environment, encourages a swell in aquatic biodiversity and stimulates jobs growth, offering young people a direct route into a truly integrated Welsh aquaculture sector. While many of the seaweeds grown have a specific commercial value and destination, some of the seaweed grown isn't suitable for the retail market, but it is absolutely suitable as a cattle feed additive. We need not look any further than our natural waters for promising ideas and groundbreaking projects. However, they just need the Welsh Government's support and not to be seen as an afterthought in policy.

I commend Plaid Cymru for bringing this motion forward today. Not only should we be wholeheartedly backing our fishing and aquaculture industry, but we should also be developing policy that has far-reaching, undeniable benefits for a whole range of other sectors, economically and environmentally. Diolch yn fawr.

16:35