Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome you all 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.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Jenny Rathbone.
1. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle lifelong inequalities? OQ57234
Our strategic equality plan 2020-24 sets out plans to tackle long-term inequality, underpinned by separate plans linked to disability, gender, race and the LGBTQ+ community. Tackling inequality is also embedded in our programme for government and through our approach to mainstreaming equalities.
Recently, we’ve had some really excellent announcements about the way in which we may be able to tackle the inequalities faced by children: the provision of early years education from the age of two and free school meals for all primary school children are both incredibly important announcements and I look forward to working with you on that.
I just want to focus on the very first month of a baby’s life and particularly the first 1,000 days programme. So, I wondered what analysis you might have done on the effectiveness of the first 1,000 days, given that it’s such a key period in determining lifelong health inequalities as well as communication skills and learning outcomes. In particular, I’m very keen to understand the optimal outcome for pregnant mothers and their new baby, the development milestones at age two and the reduction in adverse childhood experiences in those crucial first 1,000 days.
Diolch yn fawr, Jenny Rathbone, and thank you also for starting by recognising the real prospects ahead in terms of tackling these issues with extending free school meals and expanding childcare, which, of course, are crucial to delivering on your all-important question. Because, quite clearly, the early years, specifically the first 1,000 days, as recognised by Public Health Wales, and the work that they have done, with the first 1,000 days collaborative programme, which, of course, requires action from all partners and all parts of Government—.
Now, crucial to that are the optimal outcomes for every pregnancy for mother and child, achieving their developmental outcomes, as you say, at the age of two. And, of course, this will be enhanced by the opening up of childcare for our two-year-olds, but also, as you say, fewer children will be exposed to adverse childhood experiences in the first 1,000 days. Flying Start has a crucial role to play, we know, in terms of that intervention. It has to be about working together with our colleagues in local government, developing and enabling those children and, indeed, with the parental engagement, the opportunity to develop those cognitive, social and emotional skills in early childhood. Because that will have an impact, as you say, that is lifelong in terms of educational attainment, employment and income, into adulthood.
Minister, in the Welsh Government social research paper published last month, 'Implementing the Socio-economic Duty—A review of evidence on socio-economic disadvantage and inequalities of outcome', people experiencing socioeconomic deprivation are less likely to participate in sporting activities and, as a result, that leads to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates.
One of the major areas that needs work in my opinion are those pockets of severe deprivation in rural areas—they are the ones that are most often overlooked and, although surrounded by wealth, are facilities poor. Therefore, those children are less likely to take up sport due to little or no access to facilities, with one of the major barriers being the cost of travel to participate in these sporting activities, as I spoke to Dawn Bowden about this morning, and she agreed and also recognised this. Minister, how are you working with the Deputy Minister for Sport, Dawn Bowden, and the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, to ensure there is true equality of access to sporting facilities and activities in all parts of Wales? There has been considerable investment in urban deprived areas and we welcome that, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that now it’s time to identify and invest in those pockets of severe deprivation in rural parts of Wales. Thank you.
Diolch. Thank you, Laura Anne Jones. Going back again to the evidence that we've got—the evidence review for the first 1,000 days—the evidence review does show that individual socioeconomic status actually has a greater impact on individual outcomes than neighbourhood-level measures. So, it's important that we look at it from all perspectives, but, obviously, you focused on issues and needs particularly relating to access to sport and sport policy in rural areas. Now, this is something where tackling poverty is a cross-Government engagement through our programme for government. Tackling poverty has been made a priority in the budget planning process, and it has to be integrated into the development and delivery of our programme. I'll be working closely with all Ministers, including the Deputy Minister responsible for sport policy, to make sure that we can expand those opportunities. It's crucial that we look at and we engage with people as well who have experience of poverty, to better understand the issues they face. One of the good things about my £51 million household living fund that I announced last week is that we're going to put some funding into the school day also, because we know that many children and young people are disadvantaged by not being able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that the school and the school day can offer.
Rhys ab Owen.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm glad to see the implementation—
Oh, I'm sorry—
Yes, sorry—that's why I was shocked there, Llywydd. [Laughter.]
The shock on your face made me rethink my decision, and I've just realised that I forgot to ask for the first question then, which is question 2, Russell George. [Laughter.]
How can you possibly get me mixed up with Rhys ab Owen? [Laughter.] Thank you, Presiding Officer.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on improving community safety? OQ57222
The Welsh Government is committed to keeping our communities safe. Through our Live Fear Free campaigns, we'll continue to raise awareness of stalking, harassment, abuse and violence against women in all aspects of life, including the street and other public places.
Thank you, Minister, for your answer there. My question is particularly in regard to, I suppose, street issues, in terms of the public highway. Often, my inbox is full of constituents concerned about the speeding of vehicles along some of our highways and trunk roads. It remains constantly an issue, and in my whole time as a Member of the Senedd. Obviously, parents are concerned, with young children in particular, along those routes, for the safety of their children, and in certain communities as well. Often what communities do is bring forward the solutions themselves, and often they ask for flashing speed indication signs. Now, I think these are particularly effective as well, because it triggers something in you as you approach these signs, having a sign tell you what speed you're going. That triggers something to say, 'Hang on, am I appropriately driving at the right speed level?' There's a variance across Wales, I notice, between local authorities in how they roll out some of these indication signs in local authority areas on highways responsible roads. But in terms of trunk roads, there is also a variance as well. I think that, in some parts of Wales, there seems to be a higher percentage of these indication signs than in other parts of Wales. But what is your advice in terms of a community—and to Members here—that want to lobby for a flashing speed indication sign for their community on a particular stretch of road? I appreciate this crosses over a number of your colleagues—it's not just your responsibility, Minister—but what discussions may you have had with your colleagues in this regard as well?
Thank you, Russell George, for that question. This is something that, I'm sure, many Senedd Members across the Chamber are involved in, in local road safety campaigns—I certainly am in my constituency. This is very much involving not just the local authority, in terms of their powers and responsibilities in terms of road safety, but the police as well, in terms of enforcement and engagement, with those GoSafe initiatives that you're mentioning, where residents and communities are working to try themselves to take the initiative, working in partnership with the police and local authorities. But also, of course, the Welsh Government, not just in terms of the road safety annual grant to local authorities, which is the responsibility of my colleague Lee Waters, as Deputy Minister for Climate Change, recognises that this is something where we need to look at it from across the whole Senedd—support for the 20 mph default arrangements that we'll have for residential areas in 2023.
But I would like to say, just in terms of my responsibilities, police community support officers play a very important role in liaising with communities, and it is the Welsh Government that has not only funded our 500 PCSOs in Wales, but is increasing them, and it was in our manifesto commitment. We're delivering another 100 because PCSOs are the eyes and ears of their communities—I think we all know that—very much taking a problem-solving and preventative approach to addressing issues within their local areas, and I know that they're at the forefront of many of these road safety campaigns.
Rhys ab Owen.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, I'm glad to see the implementation plans for female offending and youth justice blueprints. Not having an agreed time frame was a criticism in the Commission on Justice in Wales report. I was also glad to receive your written statement earlier this month, which mentioned the Visiting Mum service—children visiting their mothers in prison; it's so important to keep that link. However, we want to live in a country where no mother is sent to prison. The fact that 86 per cent of Welsh women in prison are there for non-violent offences is a national scandal, with many of them victims themselves. What is still missing in the blueprints, Minister, is the clear accountability and the real change we need within the justice system in Wales. Do you agree with me that the only effective way to make our communities safer is to align the justice system fully with health, with education and with housing? Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much for the very important question.
A really important question. Indeed, the Counsel General and I were only speaking this morning about the importance of the female offending blueprint strategy. This is an area where, I have to say, we have worked very closely with the Ministry of Justice. It's not devolved, but we are responsible, as you say, for so many of the services—preventative and then supportive—and aligning has to be the way forward, aligning those services, and, I would say, responsibilities. So, I'm delighted that we are going to pilot a women's residential centre here as an alternative to prison. We've made it absolutely clear that Welsh Government is not in favour of women's prisons. We don't want a women's prison in Wales, but we are going to pilot a women's residential centre.
And I've visited women in prison outside of Wales because that's where they have to go, and these are women who are imprisoned for short sentences as a result of poverty, as a result of trauma in their lives. As far as I'm concerned, I think the Jean Corston report years ago, you might recall, made it very clear that women should not be in prison, particularly because of their responsibility in caring for their children and families. So, I've got great hopes for the female offending strategy, not just the women's residential centre, but everything that we can do as a whole approach of all the agencies that need to engage in this.
Can I really welcome the Minister's opening remarks in response to Russell's question on violence to women, and particularly in this White Ribbon Week, the need for men also to speak out against violence to women—I'm sure it's something that all Senedd Members here will want to do—and to commend the work that's been done by campaigners outside, but also inside the Senedd, by Joyce Watson, our colleague, as well, on a cross-party basis?
But, Minister, can I genuinely welcome the investment now that's going into PCSOs? This is over £22 million now that Welsh Government is putting into it, with the initial £3.7 million that's been allocated going forward in this Senedd term. But they've had a tough time engaging with groups, obviously because of COVID. They've been unable to get to them, and that sort of eyes and ears you were talking about is what they do well, being out in the community. So, will you liaise with our police chief constables, and also with Alun Michael in south Wales, and others, to make sure now that they are back in the community, doing what they do really well, which is engaging with the community and stopping things getting out of control at that very early stage?
Diolch yn fawr, Huw Irranca-Davies. Can I say that the vigil that we held on Monday night, which, of course, Joyce Watson organised, and she's been organising year after year, with the National Federation of Women's Institutes, was really important? The Women's Institute took the lead, as they did at the cross-party group—the stakeholder group—earlier in the day. I just want to pause for a moment to say that it was well attended by the police force as well, and Gwent Police cadets, specialist agencies, and there was a very powerful contribution from a survivor of enduring male violence for so many years, which affected her and her children.
Can I just also thank the cross-party Members who spoke? I think it is worth spending a moment to thank those. Thank you to James Evans from Brecon and Radnor, who spoke extremely well, thank you to Rhun ap Iorwerth, who always speaks at these vigils, thank you to Jack Sargeant as well, and thank you to Jane Dodds. It's great that many of you are here today to say how powerful it is when we come together. We all said that this is something that I believe the whole Senedd is signed up to, because Wales will not be a bystander to violence and abuse. Also, we will ensure that we promote the recruitment of male ambassadors, men and boys, who have such a crucial role in clearly stating that violence against women is unacceptable, and all of you said that on Monday night.
But I will take back those positive points, Huw Irranca-Davies, about the PCSOs. It is crucially important that we are increasing the funding into this area. They have played such an important role during the pandemic and they are the face of policing on our streets. I'm chairing the policing and partnership board on 2 December. Actually, at that meeting, we're discussing substance misuse and misogyny, which is crucial. These are crucial points that the police and crime commissioners and the chief officers, the chief constables, want to discuss. They're putting it on the agenda. I will be talking about the vital role of police community support officers.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson first, Joel James.
Thank you, Llywydd. As you are aware, Minister, throughout the current pandemic, there's been ruthless targeting of vulnerable people by text scammers claiming to represent the Royal Mail. In these scams, fake text messages have been sent, supposedly from the Royal Mail, informing their intended victims that a parcel or letter is waiting to be delivered to them, however a small admin fee needs to be paid before this can be done. These messages, known as smishing texts, ultimately harvest and steal their victim's personal details, and, in some cases, it has seen thousands of pounds stolen from their bank accounts. A Which? report in June this year showed that 61 per cent of those surveyed had received these smishing texts, either claiming to be from the Royal Mail or another delivery company. The scams most often reported to the Which? scam sharer are fake text messages claiming to be from the Royal Mail. Worryingly, some victims also receive follow-up calls from these scammers, sometimes of an aggressive nature, trying to convince them to send even larger sums of money. Fortunately, the success rate of these scams is relatively low, with four out of five people surveyed realising that these messages are fake. However, for those caught, the financial and emotional impact can be devastating. Can the Minister outline what conversations they have had with the Royal Mail regarding these scam texts, and whether or not they've agreed a forward plan of action? Thank you.
Can I thank the Member for his question? He certainly raises a very disturbing phenomenon. We will have all known people that have perhaps contacted us in our constituency capacity to raise concerns not just on scams of this nature, but other scams, which is why we all actively in the Welsh Government support scam awareness campaigns. I'm actually due to meet Royal Mail in the next couple of weeks, and I'll make sure that that is on the agenda as well at that meeting. And I'm happy to report back to Members after that.FootnoteLink
Thank you, Deputy Minister, and thank you for taking the initiative there and meeting with the Royal Mail for that.
As you will know, a recent investigation by a national newspaper has shown that Royal Mail HGV drivers have been logging fraudulent overtime claims, regularly signing up for lengthy lucrative and long distance overtime shifts on weekends and bank holidays. However, these drivers are then alleged to take up lighter and much shorter duties, which include only office-based administration tasks, while leaving agency staff to take on longer drives instead. Apparently, according to the newspaper, this practice has gone on for some time, and it has even seen some Royal Mail employees manipulate their time sheets and working hours for well over two decades, allowing some to even earn double their annual salary. Employees across Royal Mail offices have highlighted how common this practice is, and that overtime is also routinely paid even before it has commenced to avoid claims of fraudulence. As the Deputy Minister with lead responsibility for Post Office and Royal Mail matters in Wales, what actions have you taken to investigate and address these allegations?
Llywydd, I always take what we read in the newspapers with a strong pinch of salt, and it's not for me to comment on alleged practice like that. It's certainly something that we would raise both in social partnership with the employers and with the trade unions, but it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that without knowing the detail of it.
Thank you. I appreciate your comments, and I would urge you to investigate this further and get more of the details, then, because if the allegations are proven to be true, I think it's a serious issue that needs investigation.
As someone who no doubt passionately reads The Socialist, the mouthpiece for the Socialist Party, formerly known as Militant, you would have been interested to see an article about a Llanelli postal worker who was sacked for whistleblowing to the Royal Mail internal investigations team regarding a fake working hours scam that was very similar to the one highlighted in my previous question. Apparently, according to this individual, senior managers have been paying delivery staff unworked overtime in order to manipulate their budget forecasts and to argue for higher departmental budgets over the summer months.
According to reports, the purpose of this fraud was to allow depots to build up reserves that would then be spent during peak seasons, with managers arguing that it allowed them to better manage a surge in parcel volume numbers. The whistleblower had allegedly been instructed by their managers to fraudulently pay staff for overtime that they had not worked, and the whistleblower was subsequently sacked after an internal probe discovered that they had reported this activity to the internal investigations team.
Thankfully, after a strike organised by the Communication Workers Union, the individual in question has now been reinstated to their role. But Minister, this begs us to ask several vital and fundamental questions. Firstly, given that whistleblowing policies are put in place to protect people, why was the identity of this individual made known so he could be sacked? Secondly, given that this practice seems to be quite widespread, why is it only after the individual was sacked that CWU became involved? Surely they would have known about these practices and actively opposed them. And third and finally, what assurances do we have that this fraudulent activity is no longer taking place in Royal Mail depots throughout Wales?
Llywydd, I need to refer the Member to my earlier answer—that it's not appropriate for me to comment on individual matters without being appraised and fully informed of the detail of that. But I would take the opportunity, perhaps, just to remind the Member that although I lead responsibility within the Welsh Government for Post Office and Royal Mail matters, they are actually non-devolved.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Llywydd. As we've heard, tomorrow will mark this year's White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the launch of 16 days of activism that aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, by calling for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions.
On International Women's Day 2018, this Government committed to making Wales the safest place in Europe for women. Since then, at least 23 women are suspected to have been killed by male violence. This is a tragedy, and things cannot change whilst services to prevent violence and support survivors are not fully equipped to meet rising need. We've seen the Office for National Statistics figures published today, which show a rise throughout England and Wales in domestic abuse-related crimes.
Welsh Women's Aid recently published a 'State of the Sector' report, and it reveals that compared to the last financial year, there's been an increase of 22 per cent in the number of survivors who could not be supported by refuge due to the lack of capacity or resources. This is at least 692 survivors that did not get the support they needed. The report lays out the necessary steps for developing a more sustainable model for the sector, pointing to the fact that current funding only covers existing duties and leaves no surplus for emergencies and expected rises in capacity such as we've seen over the pandemic, or a need to be flexible in offering support, or a better focus on prevention and early intervention.
With the new violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy and action plan in development, and with a clearer view now of Wales's budget position in the next three years post the UK spending review, now is the perfect opportunity to deliver on these commitments. Can the Minister confirm what action is planned in relation to safety and sustainability for survivors in Wales? Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. This is a really important follow-on from the earlier questions and discussion this afternoon in my oral Senedd questions. It's clearly shocking that we are still in this position, where we know there's an increase in violence against women, and the fact that we have this shocking increase—you gave us the statistic—of 22 per cent.
The survivors are the ones we now look to, particularly in helping to steer us on the way forward, with our specialist agencies. So, the crucial thing for Welsh Women's Aid, BAWSO and the organisations who were with us on Monday night at the vigil is about how we develop our next five years of the VAWDASV national strategy. We are of course developing that with the police, the specialist sector and survivors, and I will be making a statement before the end of this term on the consultation that we're having on the draft strategy for the next five years.
But crucially important is how we are supporting those services, as you say, to enable them to meet the challenge and the needs. So, the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence revenue budget for this year is £6.825 million, and that does include non-recurrent funding of £1.575 million, and it's an increase from the previous year of £1.575 million. That has actually helped VAWDASV organisations meet that increasing demand that you identified, of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we've also increased the allocation to third sector organisations by 4 per cent.
What's been very important is that we've looked at the sustainability of funding and brought all of the specialist services together to help us move forward in the way that you have quite rightly called for. I think it's important to recognise that this is something where all organisations work together locally and regionally with their local authorities, but also with police and crime commissioners, who are responsible for quite a lot of innovative funding. And it includes capital funding as well as revenue funding to strengthen the VAWDASV infrastructure.
Thank you, Minister. The relationships and sexuality education duty in the new curriculum should provide high-quality education through a whole-education approach to eradicating violence against women. So, could the Minister outline how the new curriculum will assist in the aim of bringing violence against women and girls to an end? Thank you.
This is also crucially important, recognising that, very much, tackling violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is a cross-government responsibility. I'm working very closely with my colleague Jeremy Miles in terms of safeguarding young people, but also recognising that the new curriculum provides a real opportunity to address this. I think this is something where we also have to recognise that we've had some shocking information recently from the Everyone's Invited website about sexual harassment in schools, and it is something where the education Minister and myself are working together, recognising that this is something that we have to address through the relationships and sexuality education element of the new curriculum for Wales. That's going to be statutory. It's crucial that it's not an optional part of the curriculum, and it will be focusing on developing healthy relationships from the early years. But also, there has been some very important ongoing work already with the Spectrum project in schools, which is making that kind of impact. I've talked to the police chief constables as well as PCCs about how we can use their schools programme to address these issues as well.
Diolch. I'm sure the Minister remembers the powerful testimony we had, and the important points made here in the Chamber recently, in the debate held on the prevention of spiking. What progress has been made, and what are the next steps for the Government, following the positive vote in favour of the motion, specifically with reference to supporting initiatives that actively challenge cultural attitudes that allow sexual harassment and assault to take place, producing a comprehensive strategy on preventing sexual assault and harassment in Wales's night-time economy, and seeking clarity from the UK Government on their plans to classify misogyny as a hate crime? Diolch.
Thank you for that question as well, because we did have a very powerful debate here on spiking, and I think what I did report at that debate is the role of the police in response to spiking—they have a key role—and all police forces in Wales, as well as the PCCs, are taking this issue very seriously, recording incidents and providing enhanced training and ensuring a robust response to hold perpetrators to account. I think there are also responsibilities with local government and health to get that joined up and coherent response. Now, this is what we're working on with this new violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, because we have to focus on violence in the home, but we're now also extending that to the public realm, and including the night-time economy.
I've already mentioned the fact, and I think the First Minister did yesterday, that tackling misogyny is being discussed directly at our next policing partnership board in terms of there's some good practice elsewhere that we can learn from in terms of how police forces are addressing this, but also the Law Commission's review in terms of recognising misogyny as a crime. What we're asking for is that we have that review outcome as soon as possible. We have to recognise that this is a hate crime, in terms of misogyny, and then we want the UK Government to act with legislation, and I hope our colleagues will all support that when it comes to it.
3. What plans does the Welsh Government have to introduce the real living wage across Wales? OQ57240
We're using all of our influence to improve real living wage adoption, including leading by example ourselves as a real living wage employer, progressing our commitment to the real living wage in social care, and encouraging employers to actively explore the benefits of the real living wage.
Thank you for that, Minister, and I was pleased to see the First Minister's announcement last week of the new real living wage in Wales—that announcement on the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the living wage movement. According to the Living Wage Foundation, there are now 360 accredited living wage employers in Wales. So, it is good to see progress, but of course what makes up fair employment is wider than the salary itself. So, I'm really concerned to hear from constituents of mine who are experiencing other aspects of unfair and poor treatment at work, such as fire and rehire tactics, including people who've worked for that employer in question for quite some time, for a number of years, loyally worked for that employer, and it seems there is very little they can do when they're victims of this sharp practice. So, I wonder, Minister, could you outline what action the Welsh Government can take, in promoting the real living wage, to also encourage and promote other aspects of fair work in Wales?
I thank John Griffiths for his follow-up question, and you're absolutely right there that the living wage is important and it's key, but it should always be seen as a baseline rather than a benchmark, and those other things you listed around terms and conditions, security of employment and progression are incredibly important as well. Using the threat of dismissal—we've heard of fire and rehire to tear up terms and conditions agreed in good faith—is an abuse of employer power, and we're clear that fire and rehire practices are not consistent whatsoever with our values here in the Welsh Government of fair work and social partnership. So, alongside the work we're doing to perhaps break down some of the barriers that some employers may find in terms of moving towards living wage adoption and living wage accreditation, it's also how we can use all those mechanisms in our fair work and social partnership approach to improve the well-being of people in work but also to demonstrate the benefits for the workforce of using all those levers we have through procurement and through grant funding as well.
Good afternoon, Minister. Minister, my constituents would like to see the Welsh Government focusing on boosting the Welsh economy and attracting businesses who will pay more than the bare minimum. Lidl will now pay shop floor workers £10.10p per hour—well above the real living wage. Minister, average weekly earnings in Wales are well below other nations and regions of the UK. What is your Government doing to ensure that Wales no longer languishes at the bottom of the earnings table, and what are you doing to attract businesses who pay good quality wages to places like Rhyl in my consistency, one of the poorest parts of the UK?
Can I thank the Member for his question and his interest in this area? We know it's important to all of us, and actually paying the real living wage—. [Interruption.] That's the strangest heckle I've had in here to date. [Laughter.] Paying the real living wage, actually, isn't just about bringing benefits to the individual; it does bring benefits to those employers as well, because you're more likely to have a more sustainable workforce and to increase productivity. So, we're working through our economic contracts, through our social partnership work, working with representatives from the private sector and public sector to actually see how we can take that sectoral approach as well to create sustainability in places like Rhyl, and I know Rhyl very well myself, having grown up just down the road. In fact, my dad's first job was actually on the fair in Rhyl, when it was still there. [Laughter.] But, I think it's sectors like hospitality and retail that are key, so although we don't have that responsibility over employment rights here in Wales—they're still mainly reserved to the UK Government—but what can we do across a sector-wide approach to create fair work, not just in places like social care but in hospitality and retail as well.
4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to make Wales a nation of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers? OQ57217
We continue to make progress towards our vision of Wales as a nation of sanctuary. And despite the pandemic, we've continued to implement actions in our 'Nation of Sanctuary' plan and support sanctuary seekers to integrate with Welsh communities from day 1 of arrival.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I recently met with Adult Learning Wales who told me about the barriers that asylum seekers can face in being able to take up education opportunities, such as affording public transport or being able to access childcare. I know that one action in the 'Nation of Sanctuary' plan commits to work towards changes to the education maintenance allowance and financial contingency fund to make asylum seekers eligible, and this may remove those barriers. So, can you provide an update, please, on this work?
I thank Vikki Howells for that question, and you have identified a commitment in the 'Nation of Sanctuary' plan. That commitment hasn't changed. We have had challenging circumstances with the pandemic, which has delayed moving forward on that, but we are going to pilot a new scheme in the new year that will provide young asylum seekers with the same level of support from the education maintenance allowance and the financial contingency fund. So, we're looking at taking this pilot scheme forward in the new year, rolling out in 2022, but in the meantime, I'm glad that in my announcement last week of the £51 million household support fund, we're embarking on a short-term discounted public transport pilot for asylum seekers, and that should help alleviate challenges about accessing education opportunities in the next academic term.
I was pleased to sponsor and speak at the second Sanctuary in the Senedd event with the Wales refugee coalition five years ago now, but as I said here in January 2019, integration is key to making Wales a nation of sanctuary, noting that unless we can break down barriers of understanding at home, then no matter how well we seek to integrate our new neighbours, those barriers will persist, so it's very much a two-way process. South Asian migrants to the UK have come for different reasons, including those escaping civil war or forced migration. As president of NWAMI, Networking for World Awareness of Multicultural Integration, I spoke at their South Asian Heritage Month celebration this summer. Launched in the House of Commons in July 2019, South Asian Heritage Month, 18 July to 17 August each year, aims to raise awareness of the profile of British-South Asian heritage history in the UK, and to help improve social cohesion across the UK and its nations. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support such initiatives in Wales?
Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. I think your support and your engagement has been strong through the years in terms of promoting and delivering on the 'Nation of Sanctuary', and I just want to mention that on Saturday night, I attended an event with your colleague Natasha Asghar for the launch of the Wales association of South Asian heritage. That was a powerful event, focusing on many of the points that you've made. But I think I will say that the way in which we have responded in Wales to the needs of the refugees from Afghanistan, which we discussed on Saturday night, has been a crucial example of the ways we have supported refugees who are relocating to Wales. And the Team Wales approach involving the Urdd and communities and also the local authorities—every local authority in Wales has agreed to support the refugees coming from Afghanistan, and, indeed, also refugees and asylum seekers from across the country who are coming to Wales. I mean, I do have to say that we have concerns about Home Office capacity issues in terms of the ways in which we are supporting particularly the Afghan refugees who are relocating to Wales. Also, we have some concerns about the national transfer scheme as well, but I know that this is something where we will be working to support particularly the unaccompanied asylum seeker children; it is so important that we give them the welcome to Wales that they need and deserve.
Good afternoon, Minister, and thank you very much to Vikki, as well, for this question. As we've said, Wales has long provided a warm welcome to people from across the world who are seeking sanctuary, recognising that welcoming people into our communities strengthens our cultural and social fabric. I'm sure you will agree with me, Minister, that the actions of Priti Patel and the Conservative UK Government are shameful. The Nationality and Borders Bill does anything but keep people safe and only serves to demonise those seeking sanctuary.
I would like to turn to the issue you've just touched on, which is the children who are separated from the care of their families, and I'm particularly concerned about their situation. In the year to June 2021, the United Kingdom—and it's not broken down to Wales—received 2,756 applications for asylum from separated children. Minister, you'll be aware that those separated children will be looked-after children under the care of local authorities, and there is no payment, as yet, to local authorities for every day a child is in their care. Could I ask what steps the Government is taking to ensure that those children receive the care and support that they need, particularly around the additional payments and the additional needs that they have? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. Can I just respond to your point about the Nationality and Borders Bill? I have to say that this will cause unforeseen and unequal impacts on people arriving in Wales, recognised as having fled fear of persecution, and the Bill is diametrically opposed to our aim of being a nation of sanctuary supporting a more equal Wales. So, the Bill itself is going to impact on the delivery of integration support, which was raised by Mark Isherwood earlier on. It could exacerbate destitution and increase the exploitation of migrants and illegal working in our communities. So, I'm glad that you've brought this to the fore in the Chamber, because this is something that we would encourage all Members to work on with their counterparts at the UK level to understand the adverse impact of this Bill, particularly on devolved policies and practices.
So, as far as unaccompanied asylum seeker children are concerned, local authorities in Wales are supporting, as you know, children in these circumstances; they're being effectively supported by our local authorities and they're playing a full part in the national transfer scheme. But we are concerned, as I said, about these latest plans to mandate all local authorities to participate. We don't think that that's in the best interests of the children involved. We have a voluntary approach to the national transfer scheme, which all local authorities in Wales are signed up to so that those who can provide that specialist support to those children and young people are supported to do that. And there's no additional funding provided by the Home Office, it's actually voluntary work, and £500,000 from the Welsh Government to support children in these circumstances. So, that is a huge issue, as I have mentioned, and also Home Office capacity issues in Wales. I've spoken, with Julie Morgan, to the Minister Kevin Foster about this earlier this week, and it is something that I'm grateful you've brought to the attention of the Chamber.
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve financial inclusion in south-east Wales? OQ57225
Within south-east Wales, our single advice fund helped over 27,400 people to deal with social welfare issues in the last financial year, resulting in over £9.7 million of additional welfare benefit income. Also, our credit union-funded projects across the region ensure that people have access to affordable credit.
Minister, I'm sure you'll be aware that there has been a dramatic fall in the number of bank branches across south-east Wales. Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent have the smallest number of bank branches, with around five each, whilst Newport has seen the biggest drop in the number of branches since 2010, which started at 90, to around about 10. From February next year, Barclays is closing branches in Chepstow and Monmouth. As a result, the nearest Barclays branch for people in Chepstow will be in either Newport or Westbury-on-Trym, while the nearest for Monmouth will be Abergavenny or Hereford.
Age Cymru has said that bank closures affect older people more than other age groups, as more than half of the over-75s do not have access to the internet, and even fewer have access to internet banking. Minister, what action are you going to be taking to improve the financial inclusion of older people in south-east Wales, who have been hit particularly hard by the loss of their local bank branches? Thank you.
Well, of course, it is a—[Interruption.] I thank the Member for the question. It's a serious question. It's a non-devolved matter, and I'm sure that you are bringing these concerns affecting your constituents to the attention of the UK Government to ensure that banking services in Wales are maintained. We're going to meet with the banks. In fact, the First Minister and myself and the Minister for Economy are meeting with some of the leading banks in order to make the continued case for access to free cash and banking services, and to halt the loss of the services.
It is quite clear that we need that high street presence for everyone, including the digitally excluded. Also, we continue to work towards achieving the development of our community bank, recognising that we are being failed by the banks and, indeed, the lack of UK Government action to address these closures, which of course are a blight on the lives of so many of our constituents in our communities.
6. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to encourage public bodies to consider the principles of social justice when discharging their duties? OQ57231
All public bodies are expected to meet their due-regard duties contained within the socioeconomic duty and the public sector equality duty. Monitoring of these is overseen by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which provides regular progress updates to Welsh Ministers.
Thank you, Minister. As a former leader of Monmouthshire County Council, for which I declare an interest, Llywydd, I was proud back in 2017 to appoint the first cabinet member solely responsible for social justice and community development. I was delighted that, together, we delivered the council's first social justice strategy.
This strategy, which is continuously reviewed and has recently been updated, aims to ensure that a core purpose of the council is to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Monmouthshire. It helps to improve the resilience of local communities, as well as supporting the well-being of current and future generations—something that all public bodies, I'm sure, would aspire to, and I hope that's the case.
Minister, do you agree with me that more councils and public bodies in Wales need to follow the direction of MCC that it follows in designing and delivering on a social justice strategy to help create fairer, more equal communities? What more can the Welsh Government do to encourage public bodies to put the principles of social justice at the heart of everything that they do? Thank you.
I thank the Member for the question and for highlighting the work of Monmouth council and the work that you did in your role as leader as well. I know that there are numerous examples, from across the country, of different initiatives that councils, local authorities, are taking to drive forward social value and social justice at the heart of what they do. Welsh Government is very much committed to building on this and strengthening this.
The procurement duties in the social partnership and public procurement Bill will require public bodies to focus on socially responsible outcomes when it comes to spending public money. It will also place fair work at the heart of that, and what we mean by socially responsible procurement, to bring about, like you say, economic, cultural and social well-being across the work of everything that we do. It's something that we are committed to doing and are committed to legislating to build upon as well.
7. How is the Welsh Government is tackling poverty in Mid and West Wales? OQ57238
Thank you very much. The region will benefit from the household support package worth £51 million that was announced last week. Last financial year, in Mid and West Wales, the single advice fund supported over 8,000 people to claim £6.4 million of extra welfare benefit income. This financial year, the region received £237,742 to tackle food poverty.
Thank you very much for that detailed response. As you know, one in three children in Wales lives in poverty, and rural poverty is particularly pertinent to the region I represent and often goes under the radar: fuel poverty; areas with low salaries and low gross value added in comparison to the Welsh average; and a paucity of crucial services. As you know, living costs are expected to increase by some 5 per cent by next spring, and we regret the fact that the Tories in Westminster have refused to change their mind on the removal of that additional £20 on universal credit.
I was very pleased to hear of the commitment that you've set out, particularly the £51 million to help families facing crisis. The Bevan Foundation, interestingly, noted recently that 10 per cent of households in Wales were behind in terms of paying their bills, and StepChange has said that 21 per cent of the population of Wales is facing financial difficulties. So, can you tell me, Minister, from the point of view of those particular details, how you intend to respond to the challenge of poverty in terms of energy bills particularly? Thank you.
Thank you very much for your question.
This is also, as you say, the shocking result of the £20 cut to universal credit, the end of furlough, rising prices, food, fuel, and, indeed, the Minister for Climate Change and I met with the National Energy Agency this morning, where we were discussing these issues. I met with the End Child Poverty Network Cymru on Monday morning. They welcomed the fact that we have used that funding. We have allocated £51 million for a household living fund, and I do take the opportunity to really promote—and I hope you will promote—the £38 million to support households with a winter fuel support scheme. It will be eligible households, and we think there'll be over 300,000 who will be eligible for this and will be able to access this funding, if we have good take-up, and we hope you will all help with that. It's a one-off £100 cash payment from their local authority, to be used towards paying winter fuel bills.
But, you know, we got £25 million out of that £500 million so-called household support fund. It was derisory and no way is it making up the money lost by 270,000 families in Wales, including in your constituency. So, we will do what we can in terms of supporting people in Wales with the cost-of-living crisis for families, and also not just the £100 payment from the winter support, fuel support, but also extra funding for community food organisations, credit unions and also other projects across the Welsh Government to make sure that we can do what we can to give support during these difficult winter months coming ahead.
8. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to mitigate child poverty? OQ57218
Thank you very much, Buffy Williams. Last week, we announced, as I said, a £51 million support package for low-income households; £38 million will be made available through a winter fuel scheme; £1.1 million to tackle food poverty, including extending the successful Big Bocs Bwyd project; and further announcements, including support with reducing the cost of the school day, will be announced shortly.
Thank you, Minister. The response I've received from families in Rhondda to the £51 million support package has been overwhelming. I know this will make a real difference this winter for children and their families. It's also great to hear funding announced for the extension of the Big Bocs Bwyd.
Ending child poverty in Wales will require partnership working. There are hundreds and hundreds of community groups, projects and charities like mine across Wales that play a vital role in ending child poverty. Many of them work with health boards and local authorities as part of a regional partnership board. Will the Minister review the impact of regional partnership boards on child poverty and explore what steps the Welsh Government can take to strengthen regional partnership boards to help mitigate and, ultimately, end child poverty?
Thank you very much, Buffy Williams, and you know what it's like, don't you, from your constituency and your community and what you've been doing to support people at the sharp end of poverty. We know the key levers for tackling poverty. Powers over tax and welfare systems sit with the UK Government, but we do everything we can to reduce the impact of poverty and support those living in poverty. That's why learning from the End Child Poverty Network Cymru at the meeting I had with them on Monday is so important, and why not only the announcements I've made with the £51 million, but also the council tax reduction scheme, our Warm Homes programme and free prescriptions—these all make a difference in terms of those who are at the sharp end of poverty. And, of course, it's about getting more money into the pockets of our Welsh citizens as part of the fair work agenda. So, partnership is crucial.
The regional partnership boards do bring together the key partners who can look at health and social care needs in their communities and integrate services as well. They're currently looking at their local populations in terms of population needs assessments, and also recognising that they—. In our programme for government, we're setting out attention to support the collaboration for those regional partnership boards, and linking them closely to the local public services boards, because they're responsible for addressing the well-being needs of the local population. So, partnership, but that partnership happens with the third sector, it happens between local government and the health boards, and it happens with those campaigning organisations and those research and policy think tanks, like the Bevan Foundation, who guide us so much in our policy making.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Jack Sargeant.
1. What advice has the Counsel General given to the Welsh Government regarding its powers to introduce a universal basic income? OQ57245
Thank you for your question. The Welsh Government has committed to piloting a basic income scheme for care leavers in Wales. The pilot will help to inform any future decisions of the Welsh Government, including whether to bring legislation before the Senedd.
I appreciate that answer, Counsel General, and, of course, I very much welcome the commitment from the Welsh Government to commit to bringing forward a pilot on the universal basic income, an idea that was sparked in interest because of the debate I led successfully in the last Senedd. But it is important that we do get a successful trial here in Wales, because that could really add to the case that you talked about in your first answer there. And to be truly successful, we do need the Department for Work and Pensions to agree to work constructively with Welsh Ministers, as the competence for welfare does sit with them. Counsel General, have you advised Welsh Ministers of the importance of a constructive conversation with the DWP, and what action can be taken to secure this agreement?
Well, firstly, can I thank the Member for the work he's doing to keep this very important policy initiative on all our radars and in the attention of Welsh Government? And it is certainly met with, I think, a very positive response. You'll be aware, of course, the First Minister's—the statement that he made some while back when he said:
'As far as universal basic income is concerned, what the Government proposes is what we said in our manifesto and that is an experiment and a pilot. We don't have all the powers that would be necessary'—
which is the point I think that the Member's referring to—
'let alone all of the funding that would be necessary to include a universal basic income for the whole of Wales, but we do have the ability, I believe, to design a smart experiment that will allow us to test the claims that are made for universal basic income.'
I can tell you that there have been a variety of discussions with counterparts, that an approach has been made to the DWP. I don't know what the response is, but that will obviously be shared when we have more information on that. But you're absolutely right: in order to make progress in this matter, those who hold other levers of power in this area are the ones who really have to seriously engage with us as well.
There's a lot to welcome with a proposed basic income trial, and Jack Sargeant alluded to an issue that I've been aware of and have asked questions of the Minister for Social Justice in this Chamber on. The reality is that unless an agreement is struck with the DWP, this pilot has the potential to leave recipients of the basic income worse off, which is something that none of us in this Chamber want to see.
Of course, one thing that could allow us to sidestep the DWP issue is the devolution of the administration of welfare. Could the Counsel General provide an update to the Chamber on where the Government is on seeking the devolution of these powers? And, of course, having these powers in Wales won't just be advantageous when it comes to UBI, they will also allow us to craft a welfare system that is far more sympathetic and far more just than that which we currently live with.
I thank the Member for his question. I think he's wrong: I don't think it is about the devolution of powers; it's actually about the devolution of powers with the resources to go along with that, because we have had our fingers burnt many times, where things have been devolved to us, sometimes without our support, but we have not had the full devolution of the finances that are necessary for that.
But you're absolutely right that the interaction between the benefits system and the concept of a UBI go hand in hand. And what Welsh Government is committed to is actually a pilot to explore, and I think also to show, the opportunities that can actually be done. I think the First Minister has, on a number of occasions, said that the issue of the devolution of welfare benefits, or even some welfare benefits, is an area that he's interested in exploring, but has always given the caveat that you've got to have the resources to actually enable that to happen and those resources have got to be adequate as well.
Good afternoon, Counsel General, and thank you to Jack Sargeant for raising this issue and also for continuing to fly the flag for universal basic income, which I wholeheartedly support. Wales has a real opportunity here with the universal basic income to really transform lives. Not only can a universal basic income tackle the persistent and growing issue of poverty, but we can see from trials across the world that there have been positive implications for both mental health and well-being and individual freedom.
I really want to just move away from the issues around what powers are devolved and what are not, and just focus in on the timescales that the Welsh Government has for the universal basic income pilot. We've heard about this for a few months now, I'm just wondering if we could tie down some timescales. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Well, listen, thank you for your comments and I agree with all the various points you made, and, of course, one of the key challenges is what actually a universal basic income is and what we mean by it. And what it is as a policy is an opportunity, isn't it, to reappraise how the welfare state has operated, and operated very successfully until more recent decades. But it is a way of looking at opportunities to actually alleviate and to eliminate poverty within our society.
In terms of the deadline, I think other Ministers have the portfolio responsibilities in terms of taking that forward. I'm sure there will be statements in due course and your comments have actually been heard. I can assure you that the interest is not a temporary one for the Welsh Government; this is a serious manifesto commitment. It will be taken forward. I'm not in a position to give you a date, but I'm sure that you will have the opportunity to ask the relevant portfolio Ministers more specifically on this in due course.
2. Will the Counsel General make a statement on access to public law advice in Wales? OQ57230
I thank the Member for his second question. [Laughter.] Law firms and the bar in Wales offer a range of public law advice, and current initiatives being taken forward should support access to such advice. This includes looking at how the public sector commissions legal services, and of course the recent launch of the Law Council of Wales.
I thank the Counsel General for his second answer. [Laughter.] Counsel General, there is a growing body of Wales-specific law and much of which is designed to empower residents in Wales to hold public bodies to account. Now, the availability of public law advice in Wales has just not kept up with the pace. It is my understanding that there are no Welsh public law firms and this is a real barrier to the people of Wales and to the people of Wales in trying to access justice. Counsel General, with that in mind, what action can the Welsh Government take to address this issue and help residents access the justice they so desperately deserve?
Well, it is a very important question and it's one that I'm hoping will be very much addressed by the Law Council of Wales. And we also must recognise the economic importance, as well as the social importance, of the legal sector within Wales. And I've often seen, for example, judicial reviews on Welsh matters that are being pursued from English firms. And I do sometimes raise the question as to why it isn't that so much more of it is actually based, utilising the skills and abilities that do exist, within Wales.
I don't think it's true that we don't have any public law firms. We certainly have firms, a number of whom have considerable expertise in the area of public law, but the geographic spread and the availability and access are probably part of the issue that I think you are raising. We have taken a number of steps that should help to build the public law capacity of the legal sector in Wales, to improve access.
Following the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, we did review the arrangements for the Welsh Government's panel of law firms and counsel who provide public law advice. The current panel of approved counsel, renewed in March 2021, comprises 47 per cent of counsel based in Wales, which certainly is an increase on the 2011 position of 30 per cent. We are discussing with the leader of the Wales and Chester circuit about setting up a working group to consider action to develop further the public law capacity and capability of the Welsh bar.
There have been other initiatives, but I think the point you make is one that is well recognised and does tie back to, I think, the need and the desire, which certainly I have, to see a growth of the legal profession and the legal service within Wales—economically, but also in terms of its importance socially as well.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
Diolch, Llywydd. In your 30 September written statement—update on the development of the justice system and the legal sector in Wales—you said that, although the UK Government had rejected the Thomas commission report's central recommendation regarding the devolution of justice and policing,
'a large number of other recommendations...are achievable under the current devolution arrangements or involve some element of devolution without transferring responsibility for justice in its entirety.'
In this context, I note that, when I visited the north-west regional crime unit early last year—a collaboration between six neighbouring police forces, including north Wales—I was told that evidence given to the Thomas commission by the chief constables and police and crime commissioners in Wales was largely ignored in the commission's report.
But in your 30 September statement, you also said that you expected discussions between the two Governments on a range of topics to begin shortly, including disaggregated justice data for Wales; exploring the possibility of problem-solving courts in Wales; support for advice service providers; quality and location of court buildings; Welsh language provision in the justice system; and the organisation of the senior judiciary, including representation in the UK Supreme Court. What therefore is the state of play with these discussions?
Thank you for the question. And it is the case that, obviously, we continue to pursue the issues around the devolution of justice—I won't go into that in detail, we've rehearsed those many times. But there are also many other areas that were identified in the Thomas commission report, which have resulted, and are continuing to result, in engagement with the UK Government and with the Ministry of Justice on those areas where we can co-operate and where we can make a contribution to improve the arrangements that are already in hand.
I was due to meet with and discuss with the Lord Chancellor, with Robert Buckland. Unfortunately, the day before I was due to meet him, there was a UK Government reshuffle and he was replaced. I have written to Dominic Raab, his replacement, in order to ask for a meeting. That meeting, I think, is in the process of being arranged, but, in the interim, Lord Wolfson, who has a ministerial responsibility in this area also, I am due to be meeting, I think, imminently, to discuss these areas, to discuss ways we can work collectively better, to discuss some of the issues that you've raised. And they are issues around the operation of the family courts, drug and alcohol courts, and the pilots, women's issues, data, digitisation, and so on. So, that is ongoing work.
Thank you. Three years ago, I attended the event held in Wrexham by Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service in Wales to discuss the 'Strengthening probation, building confidence' paper, under which all offender management services in Wales sit within the National Probation Service from last year. The HM Prison and Probation Service in Wales would explore options for the commissioning of rehabilitative services, such as interventions and community payback; they would build upon the unique arrangements they already have in Wales through their established prisons and probation directorate, and on existing successful local partnerships, better reflecting the devolved responsibilities of the Welsh Government.
In your September statement this year, you said that you're
'working with Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, the Home Office and the Police and Crime Commissioners on the Youth Justice and Female Offending Blueprints, including the establishment of a Residential Women's Centre in Wales'—
which the social justice Minister referred to earlier—
'and the development of a new delivery model for the Welsh secure estate for justice and looked after children.'
What therefore is the current state of play regarding this?
Thank you for that. And, obviously, the probation service has been through an incredibly difficult time, and again is an area where there is work that is under way in looking at the way in which it could be better co-ordinated with the various integrated services within Wales. And, obviously, this is an area that I think is primed for devolution. It fits very naturally within the host of devolved services that all interlink with the probation services.
But in terms of all the other areas, in terms of the residential women's centre, the Minister has already explained the progress that's been made there on the delivery models. Those discussions continue to be under way and that work is still in progress.
Okay. Thank you. My final question, a slight change of tack, but the latest Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales's annual report shows that of the 149 applications not still pending at the time of the publication, only 21 were dismissed, suggesting that the SEN system's operation was broken. Concluding my response to you in yesterday's debate on the president of the Welsh Tribunals' annual report, I stated that the report refers to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales, SENTW, referring to the clear need to ensure that the education of vulnerable children is not compromised, and to the transition from SENTW to the education tribunal. In this context, it is of extreme concern to the families I've represented that neither SENTW, nor it successor body, can take any further enforcement action when the relevant public bodies fail to carry out their orders.
This has been a recurrent theme in my casework past and present. The tribunal has confirmed that the new legislation does not change how compliance with tribunal orders are dealt with. Although the orders are legally binding, the tribunal still has no enforcement powers. However, as with any public administration, a judicial review could be brought against the local authority in the High Court, which is clearly beyond the means of the vast majority of affected families. What action, if any, do you therefore propose to address this?
Well, I thank you again for that comment, and of course the reference to the points that were raised by Sir Wyn Williams in his third report. And you do indeed make the case for the devolution of justice very, very strongly, and I endorse that.
I think the issues around the tribunals, the organisation of the tribunals, and the decisions of the tribunals are going to be a matter for what I think will be a tribunals Bill, where all these issues are going to have to be looked at, because what we are doing is actually creating a new, I suppose, structured part of the Welsh judicial system, which will incorporate the tribunals and we'll have to look at not only the operation of the tribunals themselves, their independence, but also the way in which the decisions that they carry out are actually either enforceable or operable.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhys ab Owen.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Wales could be a thriving independent nation—the words of the right honourable Michael Gove. I look forward to seeing him in the next Yes Cymru rally. Now, in fairness to him, and I can be fair to Tories also, he did go on to say that people in Wales benefit from having two Governments, and that devolution is the best of both worlds for Wales. I, of course, don't agree with that, but for devolution to work, there needs to be mutual respect and co-operation between Governments. And, time and time again, we are seeing the obvious breakdown in the relationship between Welsh Government and UK Government. That is clear from several legislative consent motion memoranda. With a No. 10 spokesperson saying yesterday about Boris Johnson's premiership,
'There is a lot of concern inside the building...It's just not working',
and with Conservative MPs voting against and abstaining time and time again in votes in Westminster, it's about time, isn't it, that Boris Johnson puts away the bluster and starts to work constructively with the Governments of these islands. And it was disappointing yesterday to find out that Boris Johnson didn't attend the British-Irish summit once again. Do you have an update on inter-governmental discussions, especially with regard to the implementation of independent arbitration, which is sorely needed, to resolve inter-governmental disputes?
Well, thank you for that question. I suppose just one caveat to start with is that you have to take very cautiously and carefully the comments of Mr Michael Gove, because he also said in that same statement that Mark Drakeford was one of his best friends [Laughter.]—and that immediately caused some suspicion to me. When he says that the benefit of having two Governments—. I suppose, with my background, I heard that an awful lot from Vladimir Putin, about the relationship with the Ukraine—how much better they'd be off with two Governments, and, of course, there, there's a war under way and tanks on the border.
On the serious point, though, about the inter-governmental discussions, of course, there has been considerable progress in coming to reach what, I think, will be effectively a memorandum or a set of arrangements that will allow for a disputes process of ministerial meetings between the First Ministers and Prime Ministers on a regular basis and an inter-ministerial arrangement as well. The difficulty with all of these things, of course, is that they are very dependent on goodwill and trust, and that, sometimes, has been in short supply in recent months and years, and it doesn't have the same thing as a constitutional status, which is what is actually really required. But if it does work, it is certainly a step forward, it is a stepping stone. I've had discussions with my counterparts in the other nations of the UK, and we will do everything we can to make it work, because it is in the interest of the people of Wales, and more broadly, to make it work, but we will have to see how that develops.
Diolch. Later on today, there's a debate about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and I'm pleased about this, because I'm a strong believer that Acts of Parliament need to be enforceable, not only aspirational. I'm aware of three occasions that this Act has been in front of the courts and has tried to be used in a judicial review, and in each case the public authority under challenge successfully argued that the well-being duty placed on bodies by the Act was too general and too aspirational to be enforceable. Three experts say this about the Act: Dr Sarah Nason from Bangor says it doesn't endow individuals with legally enforceable rights against public bodies; Lord Thomas said on Monday to the Senedd justice committee,
'one of the problems with the future generations Act is that it is not specific and tight enough. It doesn't hold politicians...their feet—to the wheel.'
And, then, the final expert is you, Counsel General. You said here in 2014 that the principles of the Bill are far too loose and far too woolly. The Commission on Justice in Wales recommended early engagement when drafting legislation with the judiciary. Now, that's a common practice across the world. Is that happening in Wales? And isn't it time to amend the Act in consultation with the judges to give it some teeth and to make it enforceable?
Well, thank you. You raise a whole series of points that have always been part of the discussion about what was a very innovative piece of legislation. I think I was involved in the committee that actually scrutinised the legislation that went through. And it was very innovative, and I think it still is very innovative, and I think it is also very significant in terms of the culture change that it was partly about. You're right—there is this debate in terms of legislation, in terms of enforceability of specific powers, as opposed to the aspirational part of the legislation, which seeks to create frameworks for change and changes in culture. I think, with all legislation, once it has been in force for a while, it does need to be reviewed, it needs to be assessed, and that's not just true of this particular piece of legislation. The legislation is still internationally recognised as one of the most advanced, modern and progressive pieces of legislation, and other countries have sought to emulate it. But, I think, you're right, and we look forward to the report from the commissioner and the comments she will make, and those comments will be very seriously considered, and we'll consider them also within the context of other pieces of legislation, where it's not just enough to pass the legislation but you want to know what the outcome of that legislation is and that that legislation is effective. I confide that, over the course of the coming months and years, I'm sure I will have many of my former quotes that will be thrown back at me at one stage or another, so thank you for the advance notice. [Laughter.]
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Counsel General, it's not difficult to see the lack of primary legislation this term in this place. After six months of the sixth Senedd, I'm aware of only one Government Bill that has been presented to the Senedd. Indeed, Peter Fox's Bill was opposed by Government partially because of a lack of time. In the fifth Senedd, only 32 Bills were passed in this place, as compared with 85 in the Scottish Parliament. Time and again, we hear the argument about a lack of capacity, a lack of expertise and a lack of time being used by the Welsh Government as a reason to use Westminster Bills rather than passing Welsh Bills. The lack-of-time argument was used in relation to Peter Fox's Bill. Of course, I have been sounding like a stuck record: using Westminster Bills brings complexity to the devolution settlement, ensures that Bills are not bilingual, makes accessibility more difficult, and means that no real scrutiny happens in this place. If capacity, expertise and time are a real problem, what steps are you taking in order to enable us to do our real work here as a Parliament and to pass Welsh Acts?
Can I thank him for the comments? They do raise very serious issues in terms of the legislation, the way in which legislation is dealt with and, I suppose, the course we've been on for, really, 10 years as we've learnt to become what I think is an effective legislature. There are many areas, of course, where we would like to legislate and we have to look at the priority in terms of the delivery of that legislation, and the way in which we bring forward Bills, whether we look at the Rolls-Royce type of Bill that covers just about anything and everything that will go into a particular subject matter, or whether we have a more prioritised and a more focused area in certain Acts of legislation. That is something that is actually under way at the moment in terms of looking at the way that legislation process takes place.
It is also fair to say, of course, and this is one of the anomalies within our current inter-governmental relations and so on, that the scale of the UK Government's legislative programme into areas, the issues that raises with regard to devolution integrity, the grey areas in disputes over that, the timing and the lack of advance information on legislation and so on create enormous demands in terms of those, because we have to treat those as pieces of legislation that Wales might benefit from or where we have to draw the devolution lines and so on. So, that is a significant issue, and I am certainly looking at those in terms of an overview of the impact, not just in terms of devolution integrity, but also in terms of the impact and the extent to which we are having to resort to another Government's agenda on many occasions. So, there are issues there that have to be taken. There are also still the significant Brexit and COVID issues that are there.
I did make the statement in respect of the first year of the legislative programme. I am working very hard at the moment and engaging with colleagues and officials and so on, looking at the years 2 and 3 programmes. I can assure you there's a considerable amount of primary legislation that is being looked at, particularly the manifesto commitments. There may be other commitments or aspects of them that will arise out of the recent co-operation agreement and so on, and I will happily engage with Members over that programme in due course when I'm in a position to make further announcements on it. But I can assure you there will be, certainly, a significant amount of primary legislation coming through.
Can I make one additional point, as well? It's in terms of, I suppose, partly a consequence of the last Senedd and the COVID and Brexit situation, and that is that it's not enough just to be passing the legislation; we also have to ensure that we have to, within as efficient a time as possible, be implementing the legislation as well, and each implementation piece is almost equivalent to a piece of primary legislation, as the Member will know, in its own right, and there are an enormous number of those, particularly within the education field, but within others as well.
3. What steps will the Welsh Government take to encourage participation in elections in Wales? OQ57249
I thank the Member for raising this issue, and for the question. I issued written statements on 29 July and 9 November about our programme of electoral reform. We will use the local government elections next May to test different ways of voting and ensure elections in Wales are as accessible as possible and that everyone who wants to vote can vote, and that their vote will be counted.
I thank the Counsel General for that answer. Counsel General, like many Members of the Senedd, I was very pleased to hear the Welsh Government announcement on flexible voting pilots, which will make it easier for people to vote, but, at the same time, I think we have a regrettable direction of travel from UK Government in terms of its voter ID proposals, which will reduce turnout and particularly disenfranchise members of more marginalised sections of our population.
The next set of elections for us here in Wales, as you mentioned, Counsel General, are the local elections next year. So, I just wondered, with the general background in terms of what Welsh Government is doing but also worries about UK Government proposals, how Welsh Government is considering ensuring that we do have as good a turnout as we might have in those local elections in Wales next year.
Thank you for those comments, and I think it's fair to say also that—I think the Member referred to the initiatives under way, the pilots—they've been received with incredible popularity. I think the comments are positive comments, with people saying, 'Yes, these are sensible ideas', and they are. They are only pilots—they're there to test the way, I think, for electoral legislation that we hope to bring to reform, to modernise and to bring our electoral system into the twenty-first century.
I think it is also fair to say, about the proposals by the UK Government, that it's not intended that they will apply to Welsh elections, and, in any event, the UK Government's legislation is unlikely to come into force before or even be completed by the time of the May 2022 council elections.
So, the local government elections in May do give us an opportunity to work at improving the accessibility, and, of course, there is work under way as part of those pilots. Some of the work also is in terms of registration and the support we've given financially to the issue of electoral registration, because it is important that we do everything we can to maximise electoral registration, because no democracy has validity if significant numbers of people either are not registered to participate or in fact do not participate. So, we have to see this as part of the democratic health of Wales and I hope, as a Government, that we are a Government that takes that health of democracy very, very seriously indeed.
You made reference also, I think, to what are the significant concerns about the impact that the voter ID issue might have, and, of course, there have been a number of reports and representations, particularly by the Electoral Reform Society, who've expressed very serious concerns about the impact it would have on minorities and have highlighted the point that it has no evidential base.
So, we're also looking at how we might actually improve the mechanics of the elections, the simplification of the forms, the postal ballot forms, online registration, and so on, to ensure that fewer mistakes are made when people vote and, when people do cast their ballot, that ballot has the opportunity of ensuring that it is actually accounted for. So, those things are being looked at as well, and I think, once the local government elections are out of the way, we will have learnt a lot more and that will hopefully contribute significantly to what would be a much broader and more radical reform of the electoral system.
Minister, it's always pleasing to hear Ministers talking about the importance of participating in elections, as I'm sure you agree with me that confidence and trust in any government starts with the vote, and engagement with the vote is the foundation, of course, of democracy. And despite May's Senedd elections being the highest electoral turnout that the Welsh Parliament has ever received, it was still just 46.6 per cent turnout, compared to 63.5 per cent in May's Holyrood elections in Scotland and 67.3 per cent in the UK general election in 2019. I'm sure, Minister, you'd share my concerns regarding the turnout for Senedd elections considering the importance and responsibility that our Parliament holds. So, with that in mind, Minister, what discussions are you having with counterparts in the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament to understand why people turn out so much more for those elections than they do for elections here for the Senedd?
I thank the Member for the supplementary question, because it is a very important point, and I don't think there is any silver bullet with regard to turnouts. There clearly is an issue that many people feel disengaged from Government, from the law-making processes, or from the decisions that impact on their lives. I think that is why the work of the constitutional commission that we have set up, to be co-chaired by Professor Laura McAllister and Dr Rowan Williams, is actually so important, because it goes to the heart of our democracy.
You also raised a point that really confirms my own view in terms of some of the measures being taken by UK Government that would actually create unnecessary obstacles to people participating and voting in elections. I have many discussions with my counterparts across the four nations and with the UK Government; they have unfortunately been predominantly related to the issues around the Elections Bill, and I think that is disappointing, because the Elections Bill could have been something that actually sought to address those issues in another way. In actual fact, I think it probably does the exact opposite. What I would hope is that the direction that we will take with the electoral reform legislation that we will bring will also seek to improve and to maximise participation, to avoid unnecessary obstacles, and to be based on the principles of inclusivity as well as robustness in the confidence of the electoral system.
4. Will the Counsel General make a statement on support provided to families by the justice system in Wales? OQ57227
I thank the Member for this important question. Families can face a range of legal problems that may require support from different services provided by private professionals, state and third sector organisations. Too often, though, there are gaps in that support, not least because of the dramatic reduction in the availability of legal aid in the family courts.
Thank you. Counsel General, in September, you issued a written statement confirming that family justice would be a key area of focus for your tenure, and rightly sharing many concerns about the numbers of children in Wales sadly taken into care. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that there are now 7,170 children looked after away from home in Wales, which is 1.14 per cent of children. That sits above the current UK average, being 0.72 per cent of children. I am aware that the north Wales local family justice board is one of two pathfinder areas taking part in a pilot programme to test and evaluate a revised child arrangements programme. The aim of this work is to promote non-adversarial and problem-solving approaches to cases, and to help reduce backlogs. Can you confirm what discussions you have had to engage with this work and whether such pilot schemes will be replicated anywhere else in Wales to help address the crisis of looked-after children wherever they may be here?
Thank you, and thank you for those comments. The answer to that is 'yes'. There are a number of pilots that are in operation and problem-solving courts are a particular issue as well. As someone personally who's been very involved in the childcare area, I very much welcome those changes that have been taking place. I have visited myself some of the courts to look at these. I've also had discussions with a number of members of the judiciary about how that operates, and about the support that is ongoing. I liaise also very, very closely with my colleague the Minister for Social Justice, who also is carrying out considerable areas of work in this particular area. I think some of these pilots are really important. They are also one of the areas where we are working with UK Government and with the Ministry of Justice in terms of how to develop them and how to do the best we can to actually ensure that more and more children are actually kept with their mothers, and fewer are taken into care. You raise the anomalies that exist, and of course it's an issue that has been raised by Lord Thomas, who raised it recently, I think, in the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and also about the need to look, I think, overall within Wales at the data, the statistics that exist, to see why there are variations and what can be done to actually resolve those and deal with what is a very, very significant social issue. I think the remainder of the question really needs to be addressed to the appropriate portfolio Member.
I understand that you, Counsel General, will be taking part in a conference on justice and policing next week, which will be held jointly with Liz Savile Roberts. It will focus on the Commission on Justice in Wales report, which recommended the devolution of justice two years ago. Of course, the devolution of justice is now Welsh Government policy, and has formed part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government that was announced this week. But looking ahead to the conference, in that context I would like to ask about two issues related to support for families. First, I would like to ask for an update on the family drug and alcohol courts pilot. What progress has been made to date, please, and what will the next steps be? And finally, I'd like to ask for your views, Counsel General, on comments made by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on Monday. He recommended establishing an all-Wales criminal justice board as well as an all-Wales family justice board. What would your comments be on that proposal, please? Thank you.
Firstly, I look forward very much to the online conference that you refer to, which is a cross-party event, and one that also involves Lord Thomas, but also involves the trade unions, those people who actually work within the justice sector. I think there'll be a lot to learn from that, but I've no doubt in my own mind, and again, reiterating the comments of Lord Thomas, that the devolution of justice is not a question of if, it's a question of when.
In terms of the comments, I listened very intently to the evidence from Lord Thomas to the Legislation, Constitution and Justice Committee, and to those particular recommendations or suggestions that he actually made. I suppose the best I can say is that I'm very interested in looking at how we can explore them and develop them further.
5. What legal advice has the Counsel General given to the Welsh Government regarding responsibility for flood damage? OQ57252
Our national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management was published last October and it sets out the roles and responsibilities. These are not always entirely straightforward, hence why we have a measure in the strategy asking the flood and coastal erosion committee to work with the Welsh Government to explore ways to clarify the legislation.
Diolch, Gwnsler Cyffredinol. I would like to declare that I am a councillor on RCT council. As you will be aware, RCT council has published to date four section 19 reports into the flooding that occurred across the country borough as a result of storm Dennis in February 2020. One of the reports focused on the flooding in Pentre, which of course also suffered subsequent flooding. Can the Counsel General advise what the legal position would be if people were to seek compensation from Natural Resources Wales given that it is a Welsh Government sponsored body? Would any potential liability lie with Natural Resources Wales or Welsh Government as the funder of the body? You alluded to complications in terms of liability in relation to the strategy, so I think clarity on this would be helpful.
Can I just say that it's not appropriate for me to give advice as Counsel General as to what the legal rights are of individuals, et cetera? They should, of necessity, if they believe there are issues, raise those with their own legal advisers.
Good afternoon, Counsel General. We all know that climate change is driving ever more frequent extreme weather events, extreme weather events that cause great damage and destruction—extreme weather events such as storm Christoph, which wrought devastation across my constituency at the beginning of the year. These events are beyond the ability of local councils to prepare for, beyond them to protect against. Counsel General, do you agree therefore that councils shouldn't be left footing the bill for this clean-up, and if you do agree with me, will you urge your Cabinet colleagues to make immediate funding available to Denbighshire County Council to fund the rebuilding of the historic Llanerch bridge, which was destroyed in the storms of 2021? Thank you.
Can I thank the Member for the question? I know that additional funding has been made available to councils in respect of flood damage and infrastructure repair. But I do very much welcome the principle he raises, because this is exactly the principle we've raised with the UK Government in respect of coal tips. This is a climate damage matter. There is a moral, political and an ethical responsibility for the legacy of coal mining and the risks that now exist, and the potential cost that will exist to many of our councils in respect of the instability that is developing, as a result of climate change, of those coal tips. I'm grateful for those comments, because they are certainly comments that we can now also forward to the UK Government with regard to their failure to provide the funding that I believe we are entitled to.
6. What legal advice has the Counsel General given to the Welsh Government regarding the ban on combustible cladding materials implemented by the Building (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2019? OQ57232
Thank you for the question. The Building (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2019 were made by the then Minister for Housing and Regeneration as an immediate response to the Hackitt report, following the independent inquiry into the Grenfell tragedy. The Welsh Government is using both legislative and non-legislative levers to make further improvements in building safety.
I'm grateful for that answer, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. You'll be aware that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in the last Senedd wrote to the housing Minister highlighting that the ban on combustible cladding materials did not extend to buildings below 18m. Was there a legal reason for doing that? They also raised concerns with regard to support for leaseholders. What recent advice has the Counsel General given with regard to fire safety, and isn't it about time for us to get rid of the archaic system of leasehold in Wales?
Thank you for the supplementary point. I'm aware, of course, that the Member has been very active on this particular issue. I suppose the starting point when we come to the root of the matter is that the developers are ultimately the people who should be shouldering the responsibility. As is often the case, it falls then to public bodies and state bodies to actually pick up the failures of the private sector in respect of those areas. We've consistently held the view that leaseholders did not create the issues that have been identified, and that developers should step up to their moral responsibilities and rectify these issues without charge to the leaseholders. The Minister for Climate Change has consistently made this clear to developers and to leaseholders.
There has been some funding that has been set up, and expressions of interest have opened for the Welsh building safety fund on 30 September for responsible persons of medium and high-rise residential buildings in Wales. This essential first phase will provide funding for fire safety surveys and the creation of building remediation passports. These will identify what measures and actions are required to make a multiresidential building as safe as it can be, and protect lives and property in the event of fire. And of course, the Member himself has been very vocal, quite rightly, in pointing out that it's not just a cladding issue—it's also the internal issues that are of considerable importance.
We intend to offer a package of support to leaseholders and residents that will allow them to feel safe in their homes, and allow them to make decisions about the future. So, building safety continues to be a priority for the Welsh Government, and once we have clarity on funding allocations, we will be in a better position to make decisions about the future funding to support building safety remediation.
In terms of the 18m issue, it's the first time I've been asked specifically why it's 18m. I will perhaps send a response to the Member specifically on that. I think I could probably hesitate to give a view as to why I think it is 18m, but I think it is important in these things just to be precise and accurate.FootnoteLink
7. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Welsh Government regarding the implications of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for civil liberties in Wales? OQ57247
Thank you, again, for raising a very important issue. The Welsh Government's position on the public order provisions contained in Part 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is set out in the legislative consent memorandum laid before the Senedd on 28 May 2021.
Counsel General, I chair the cross-party group on race and equality and the group met yesterday to discuss Part 4 of the Bill, which, as you will know, will end up incriminating Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families in terms of their way of life. At that cross-party group meeting yesterday, which was attended by over 60 people, we heard from a range of representatives of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community, including Travelling Ahead, community voices and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association, all of whom voiced alarm and anger at this proposed legislation. It would make it even more difficult for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers to have a nomadic way of life, which is difficult enough at the moment, given the lack of official sites, both permanent and transitory.
So, in those circumstances, Counsel General, can you outline what the Welsh Government might be able to do to protect the rights of such communities, which are very much under threat from this current UK Government legislation?
Thank you for that supplementary question. Of course, this particular Bill—it's actually three pieces of legislation that have been put together, which is why it's so complex. And there is an irony that there are some items in it that are certainly worth considering, and there are obviously a lot of amendments that are going through at the moment. There's one in respect of serious violence that is being considered at this moment in time as well that may fall within that category. But of course, the Bill has within it a number of what we would call, I think, what are illiberal—contrary to civil liberties—provisions that are wholly unnecessary. The restrictions that it would place on public processions, public assemblies, on one-person protests—and we talked earlier, didn't we, about people participating in democracy and feeling a part of democracy—. This is just another piece of legislation that actually divides people away from the democratic processes.
And, of course, the one that the Member is particularly concerned about—and I can understand that; I know that it is a concern that is seriously shared by Jenny Rathbone and certainly by the Minister for Social Justice and I suspect many people around this area—is the criminalising powers in respect of what are called unauthorised encampments. This is not something we will want to give legislative consent to. We believe that it impacts massively into a devolved area; we have a different policy agenda in terms of the engagement with people and engagement with the Traveller and the Gypsy community and that is something that we want to continue. So, that is something that is of considerable concern. There are a lot of discussions on it at the moment, and I'm sure that the Minister will want to report in due course. And of course, there will be, I suspect, in due course, further supplementary legislative consent memoranda where this issue will arise and be debated in this Chamber again.
And finally, question 8, Jenny Rathbone.
8. Will the Counsel General provide an update on the Welsh Government's policy regarding extending the franchise to prisoners? OQ57235
Well, thank you for that. It's an important issue within our electoral reform agenda. Because of the pandemic, we didn't amend the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, as we had planned to do, to allow certain prisoners from Wales to vote in local government elections. We will be returning to this issue during the current Senedd.
I'm very pleased to hear that, Counsel General, because there is so much wrong with the criminal justice system, in particular the failure to have any impact on the rehabilitation of prisoners, because of the underfunding of the prison service and the completely inadequate way in which we treat prisoners. They are there to be punished, but they are also there to be rehabilitated. So, I think that it's really, really important that prisoners—or, at least, most prisoners—get the vote, in order to ensure that the inadequacy of the public service that we provide through our prisons, which is extremely expensive, is actually being properly aired and discussed and considered by anybody who is an elected Member.
Well, thank you for those supplementary comments and the question. It's fair to say that the Welsh Government agrees with the 2005 Hirst judgment in the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the UK was in breach of the European convention on human rights, because the vast majority of convicted prisoners serving a prison sentence are disenfranchised for UK elections.
Now, we believe that it is right to reform the law in this area. We consulted on this issue in 2017. The majority of respondents agreed that we should give at least some prisoners the vote. As the Member will be aware, during the last Senedd, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee recommended that prisoners and young people in custody serving sentences of less than four years should be enfranchised for devolved Welsh elections.
The specific question of extending the franchise to young people in custody aged 16 and 17 wasn't included in the 2017 consultation. So, before we could consider that extension, we would have to consult again. But, we will also give further consideration to whether prisoners should be able to vote in the next Senedd elections. We will consult on this, and I can assure you that these are issues that we will be considering with regard to the electoral reform agenda that the Welsh Government has.
Thank you, Counsel General.
The next item is questions to the Senedd Commission. The questions will be answered by the Llywydd. Question 1—John Griffiths.
1. What is the Commission's policy on the use of the Senedd estate for external events? OQ57241
Events are held on the Senedd estate for a variety of reasons. They help Members to engage with the public and give us all a chance to listen and discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Wales. The rules governing the use of the estate for events make it clear that they must not be used for party political reasons, nor for commercial gain, and they must not contain material that could cause offence. It is the responsibility of the Members who sponsor those events to ensure that those policies are adhered to.
Diolch, Llywydd. Llywydd, last week, the Senedd estate was used for an event with Japan Tobacco International on the subject of tackling illicit tobacco sales. There is a great deal of concern about this event. Ash Wales, for example, is very concerned. There is a World Health Organization framework convention on tobacco control, which outlines how there must be a distance between the political process, public health policies and commercial interests in the tobacco industry.
I think, Llywydd, that over the last couple of years, it has become increasingly clear that the tobacco industry does seek to influence the decisions of Governments and legislatures and politicians and the public health agenda, through events and through such contact. Given the terrible toll that tobacco continues to take on the health and well-being of people in Wales and all over the world, I think that it's right that we carefully consider the World Health Organization policies, and whether the use of the Senedd estate may be in the opposite direction, really, to the direction of travel that the World Health Organization would like to see.
These matters do evolve and change, Llywydd. I attended an event myself two years ago with the same company on the Senedd estate. But, a lot of research has been done since—for example, by the University of Bath—and I think that it's becoming increasingly clear as to how the tobacco industry tends to operate to try and further its commercial interests. I wonder, Llywydd, if you might give some thought to these matters. I'm sure that you keep under constant review how the Senedd estate should be used and not used. I wonder if there might be a further consideration of particular events, such as the one last week.
Well, as I said in my original answer, we do have activities that are currently not permitted to take place on the Senedd estate, and they are business and commercial purposes, party political activities and any event that displays materials that can cause offence. I'm aware of the event last week and some press coverage around it, and the views that you've expressed. We understood that the objective of the event was to educate Members on the illegal trade of tobacco in Wales, and therefore it did not, as such, breach the criteria.
But you've raised the point about needing to keep the use of our estate and what we consider to be the appropriate use of our estate under review. And, as a Commission, I'm sure that we are willing to do that at all times. It may not be around individual issues of this kind, or, indeed, individual companies, but should there be principles that any Member feels should be considered by the Commission in how it revises any codes that we have for the use of the estate, then I'd be more than willing to take those issues of principle to the Commission.
2. What does the Commission do with IT equipment that is no longer fit for purpose? OQ57236
The Commission uses a local business in Barry, which specialises in electrical waste. The data on the equipment is wiped to our required standards before the equipment is sent for re-use or recycling, as appropriate. We are currently in the process of facilitating a mass donation of refreshed Members' IT equipment, and that equipment was refurbished, following the election earlier this year, and this package of equipment will go to worthy causes the length and breadth of Wales.
Well, thank you very much. It's good to know that this redundant equipment from our point of view will indeed be applied to worthy causes across the length and breadth of Wales. Has the Commission considered any of it going to developing countries with which we have a close relationship, through the Wales and Africa programme? Because most of these countries have next to no IT equipment, and in order to engage with the wider world, and certainly to take part in meetings, you do need a laptop to be able to do it effectively.
This may well have been considered in the past; I don't know the exact answer to the question you've made. The policy at the moment, and what we are undertaking at the moment is to look to reuse and recycle the equipment, using a variety of companies in Wales who can put that to appropriate use. Whether any of that then ends up in developing countries, I don't know the answer to that; I'm sure we could do a little bit of searching to find that out. I'll ask the question back to officials as to what activities we've undertaken to see whether there is the ability to look to directly link with charities and other organisations that work in developing countries, in order to see whether there's the potential of reusing our redundant IT kit in a developing country context. So, I'll certainly look into that for you.
Frankly, I'm disappointed at how much ICT equipment, which I think is relatively young, is actually being removed and new equipment is being purchased. It's incredibly expensive continually upgrading and buying. Can I ask that you will review your ICT replacement programme? And can I also ask that you will ask Members if they're happy with the equipment they've got before taking it off them?
Well, I think Members will be aware that, following the election and following the five-year cycle of ICT provision, that IT equipment was refreshed for Members, new equipment has been purchased for Members, and they've been able to select what equipment they want to use. I think the important point to make here is that we need to ensure that our equipment is fit for purpose at all times—fit for purpose in the context of IT now means that we have to be cyber secure, and to be cyber secure, you do need to have the most recent of equipment and more recent of hardware and software. That's the professional advice given to us by ICT experts and cyber experts, and I don't think that we would want to compromise our Senedd ICT security in order to enable one Member, two Members, to keep an old laptop that they may have become emotionally attached to. I think we need to ensure at all times that we are cyber secure. We need to continue our business; that's important for the people of Wales.
Thank you, Llywydd.
No topical questions were accepted today.
Therefore, we'll move on to the next item, which is the 90-second statements. First of all, Luke Fletcher.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. On 15 November, I had the pleasure of attending the annual general meeting of Baobab Bach, a community interest company that has been set up in Bridgend county with a goal of providing high-quality food to anyone who wants it—no means testing, no questions, no stigma. For £5, you can come into the community pantry and take as much as you need. Baobab Bach run a network of community pantries, currently numbering at 11 across the county, with the ambition to establish more, all staffed by volunteers. From Pencoed to Nant-y-moel to Porthcawl, these community pantries have provided a lifeline to our communities. Since October 2020, collectively, the community pantries have distributed 6,469 bags of food, the equivalent of 1.45 tonnes a week. And where do they source this food? From the supermarkets: M&S, Tesco, the Co-op. They take the food that is close to end of life, helping us all save on food waste; not just good for the pocket, but good for the planet too. I'm looking forward to seeing where Baobab Bach goes next, and to all the team, John and Alison and those committed volunteers, good luck, and thank you.
James Evans. James needs to be unmuted. Can someone unmute James Evans?
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. Next week, the Royal Welsh Show winter fair will be taking place in Llanelwedd after a two-year absence. Established in 1990, the winter fair is now one of the most popular attractions on the British agricultural show calendar as one of the finest prime-stock shows in Europe, showing the very best of Welsh and British agriculture. The event also showcases the very best of food and drink, allowing people to sample and enjoy the finest Welsh produce. Having been cancelled since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's great that the society will be welcoming back exhibitors and visitors back to the Royal Welsh showground. I'm sure the whole Chamber and Members online will join me in wishing the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society all the very best for a very successful winter fair. Diolch, Deputy Llywydd.
Thank you. We will now suspend proceedings to allow changeovers in the Siambr. If you are leaving the Siambr, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart, and any Members who are arriving after a changeover should wait until then before entering the Siambr.
Plenary was suspended at 15:33.
The Senedd reconvened at 15:44, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.
Welcome back. We'll move on to the debate on a Member's legislative proposal—a cladding safety Bill. And I call on Rhys ab Owen to move the motion.
Motion NDM7828 Rhys ab Owen, Mike Hedges, Peter Fox
Supported by Jane Dodds, Mabon ap Gwynfor
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Notes a proposal for a Bill to ensure safety of cladding on buildings in Wales.
2. Notes that the purpose of this Bill would be to ensure the safety of residents by making sure safe cladding is available on buildings.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd like to start this debate by quoting Non and Gwenallt Rees, who don't live very far from this place:
'Why are we as owners of flats responsible for facing huge costs of solving the problem of cladding created by others?'
And I believe that all of us can agree with that statement. It's not up to them to pay for the mistakes of others.
Through no fault of their own, hundreds, if not thousands, like Gwenallt and Non Rees, are facing huge insurance costs, service charges and bills to deal with the cladding scandal. Many have the mental strain of worrying that they might live in an unsafe building and cannot move. I have met many of these residents in my six months here in the Senedd, and the strain is obvious on the faces of so many. One told me that he lies in bed at night not only worrying about crippling financial costs, but also being terrified for the safety of his loved ones.
So, thank you from the bottom of my heart to those Members, across parties, who have co-submitted this debate with me, namely Peter Fox and Mike Hedges, and to the Members who have supported this debate, namely Mabon ap Gwynfor and Jane Dodds. This demonstrates clearly that there is obvious cross-party support here in the Senedd to support Gwenallt and Non and the thousands of others who are in the same situation. I would also like to thank two others: thank you to David Melding and to Leanne Wood, two others who raised this issue regularly in the fifth Senedd. And I'm very pleased that the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government includes building safety. There are vital principles in this agreement. I am pleased that significant reform of the building safety system is part of the agreement. As the agreement states, the current system has enabled, time after time, a culture of cutting corners at the cost of public safety.
I am also very pleased to hear about the introduction of the second part of the Welsh building safety fund, and I look forward to reading the details soon. So, when, Minister, will residents hear more about the details of this second stage? And when will the funding for the first tranche be released? And will that funding include investigation costs that have already been paid?
The agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government is a positive step forward, but we need urgent solutions to this. Over four years of mental anguish, of a lack of sleep, of financial pressures, have left their mark on residents. This has to come to an end. I was talking to one person today with his wife suffering from cancer; they shouldn't be having to worry about this too.
I'd like to work with the Welsh Government in future to seek powers to introduce a windfall tax on major developers. That funding in future would be able to pay for poor building outcomes, for builders cutting corners, rather than leaving it up to residents to fight a long and costly battle on their own.
The cladding scandal is a perfect example of where the devolution settlement is failing the people of Wales at the moment. The residents feel as if they're part of a ping-pong game between Westminster and the Welsh Government. They feel that they are not being listened to. We want assurances that the money announced by Robert Jenrick, when he was housing Minister earlier this year, the £3.5 billion, will be seen as UK spend, and therefore we, in Wales, will get a share. Has the Welsh Minister received an answer to that yet? But, if it does come down to the Welsh Government, in the additional £2.3 billion in block grant, as a result of the comprehensive spending review, with consequential does the Minister think it will be enough to resolve the cladding scandal here in Wales?
I sincerely hope that we go down the Australian model—the Australian approach—whereby Government firstly reimburses leaseholders for their costs and subsequently claims these costs back from employees. Obviously Government has the power, has the influence, which leaseholders don't.
Finally, this whole scandal has shone a light on the whole issue of the rights of leaseholders. Isn't it about time that we bring to an end this relic of the past, this archaic system, as they have done in Scotland, Ireland and across the common world? I look forward to a Welsh Bill that finally brings this cladding scandal in Wales to an end. Diolch yn fawr.
Can I first thank Rhys ab Owen for tabling this important debate and for inviting me to support his legislative proposal? I am very pleased to see cross-party support for the motion before us today, and I think this underlines the seriousness with which all of us across this Chamber are approaching this issue.
My contribution to the debate is focused on issues that are facing a number of my constituents that have been raised with me. In saying this, I would like to reflect on all of the work that has been carried out by my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders, who leads on building safety for the Welsh Conservative group. As I've mentioned, Deputy Llywydd, a number of constituents who own properties in the Celestia development in Cardiff Bay have contacted my office about their concerns about the scale of the cladding issues facing residents. In fact, as I understand it, some residents have recently been asked to pay a service charge of up to £20,000 next year to begin repair works on the development. This level of subsidy will be required for a number of years to meet the ongoing work that will be needed to ensure the safety of the building. I'm sure that Members from across the Chamber will agree with me that this is grossly unfair. Residents, many of whom simply cannot afford to pay anywhere near that level of service charge, should not have to foot the bill for something that is not their fault. Meanwhile, another constituent has said that they are unable to sell their property due to these issues, and this has had a significant impact on their retirement plans. Their money is tied up in what they call 'worthless homes'.
Now, I understand that this is a complex issue that requires close working between Welsh and UK Governments, therefore, I think Members would appreciate an update on any recent discussions that the Minister may have had with her counterparts from across the UK on this issue. Residents have said to me that the establishment of Welsh building fund is urgently needed, so that developments like Celestia can begin work to address their fire and construction defects. Minister, would you be able to confirm whether it is your intention to provide financial support directly to residents to support them to meet ongoing costs and when this will be made available?
Ultimately, however, action is needed to prevent these issues from happening again. We really need to see new legislation to not only tighten up the rules around the use of cladding, but to also ensure that the developers retain legal responsibility for addressing defects that are as a result of the design and construction of a building.
In closing, I would like to reflect on the words of a constituent who has given me permission to quote their feelings on this matter. They say,
'The mental health of residents is being damaged. In January 2022, our wallets will be damaged too by virtue of a 200 per cent increase in the service charge. This inflated request is likely to remain for around five years. The consequence: people will lose their homes, people will lose properties where bought to provide a pension, and remember that the only people who are suffering are the innocent.'
I hope all Members will be supporting this important proposal. Thank you.
I'm not going to repeat anything said by either Rhys or Peter, but the tragedy of Grenfell Tower saw 72 people lose their lives. It was reported earlier this year that surveys on high-rise buildings across the UK, following the fire, have shown that combustible cladding and fire safety defects are causing issues in other high-rise buildings—lots of other high-rise buildings. The Welsh Government estimated a third of high-rise buildings across the country may need remediation work, with defects ranging from minor to significant. There are currently 148 high-rise residential buildings across Wales.
The public inquiry that followed the incident at Grenfell Tower has revealed that one of the main reasons the fire spread was the type of cladding that was used on the exterior of the building. In my constituency, I'm told that residents of South Quay in SA1 will see their service charges increase more than £450,000 between them to pay for cladding and insurance work. However, the cost to rectify all issues across the site in the years to come has been estimated at over £3 million.
I agree with what the Minister has previously said, that developers who have made millions and millions of pounds out of these buildings ought to pay. Unfortunately, some of them were built by the defunct Carillion, others may have been built by other companies or single-purpose vehicles that now no longer exist.
In two places in my constituency, both the Copper Quarter and SA1 developments, there is a serious concern regarding the issue of cladding. People owning properties are concerned about their safety and the catastrophic drop in value of their properties, many of which have been bought on a mortgage and are becoming very difficult, if not impossible, to sell. To many of the people affected, the cladding issue is the biggest issue in their lives.
It's not purely a Welsh issue, and Members will be aware of the complex challenges facing multi-occupied buildings across the United Kingdom. This is a problem throughout the whole of Great Britain, and the funding will have to come from the Westminster Government. For too long, residents of affected buildings have been denied the right of confidence in the safety of their homes and the ability to move on, to sell their homes, move somewhere else; something all the rest of us take for granted, that if we've got a house or building, we sell it, we can then buy something; we can either trade up or trade down. These people can't; they are stuck, and they are really upset, and I can understand why they're upset. And people talk about mental health a lot in here. Can you think of anything to affect your mental health worse than having a position where you've got a huge debt, which you are paying, but you can do nothing with? You can't solve the problem of the debt, you've got substantial negative equity and you cannot see a way out of it, but you've got additional bills likely to come. I've had grown men and women crying to me on the telephone regarding the effect this is having on them. This is a real issue affecting real people. Something has to be done. We need funding from Westminster and a charge on building companies to deal with this serious problem, and we just have to deal with it, otherwise a lot of people are going to be in a very bad state.
Thank you very much, Rhys, if I may thank him, Deputy Presiding Officer, for bringing this debate forward today. And thank you also to Mike Hedges and Peter Fox for supporting this debate.
Here, we have quite simply an issue of fundamental justice. Who should pay for the work of assessing and remedying these large buildings that are a threat to the health and safety of the people living there? Is it the residents, the tenants of owners, who should pay through an increase in their rents? Is it the leaseholders who bought the flats without knowing of the problems because those problems weren't yet known? Is it the owners of the buildings? What about us, the taxpayers, through the Government? Or is it those who initially constructed these buildings that should pay for this? Four years after the Grenfell tragedy, we are still grappling with this question.
Now, unfortunately, the greed and selfishness of some means that they aren't willing to accept blame or responsibility for the significant problems that are a threat to people's health and lives. Today, hundreds if not thousands of people are suffering serious anxiety as they're concerned about the safety of their homes, or concerned as to how they can pay for the remedial actions when they have no blame in this situation.
In addition to this, the Government has no clear data as to how many buildings exactly need work, never mind how many people are affected by this. But in terms of the details of any legislation to tackle the issue of the safety of cladding, it's worth noting that there are no statutory measures to assess external walls and cladding or a document to confirm the fire safety of a building as far as cladding is concerned. That doesn't exist at the moment. These are fundamental failings that the Government could tackle without having to rely on Westminster. It's regrettable that four years have passed since the Grenfell tragedy and that the Government hasn't brought a Bill before the Senedd as of yet, and that the Government is now reliant on Conservatives in Westminster to push it into action. Wales has the right to see its own legislation with the voice of Welsh stakeholders at the heart of the formulation of that legislation. That's why I support this proposal put forward by Rhys ab Owen today. Thank you.
Thank you to Rhys and others who support this.
And let's start with the individuals, because that is what it's all about. As Rhys, Mike and Peter have talked about, this is about people, people like the leaseholders in South Quay in Swansea, who are facing service charge increases of up to £4,000 a year; people like the leaseholders in Cardiff, facing costs of up to £8,000 a year, with that figure sadly set to rise; people who feel that they are waiting for action as costs rise, feeling that their lives are on hold. Now, imagine the mental health and stress that must mean for those people. It is beyond, certainly, my imagination.
Very briefly, I just want to say that I get that the Welsh Government say that this is something that is not the responsibility of the public purse and that it is down to developers, but that is absolutely no help to those people that we're aware of—those people in those flats who are just hanging by a thread. I would urge the Welsh Government to consider the model that has been outlined by my colleague Rhys that is in Australia at the moment, because this is about not just Wales, not just the UK, but other countries. We can learn, we can look at what works there. Let us make sure that we think about those people and those individuals. Let us adopt the Australia model—give the money, recoup the costs later—because that's what we should be doing. We need to protect those people and their mental health. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Over four years and five months have passed since the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower, where 72 people sadly and devastatingly died. Now, there are residents across Wales living in fear in flats to this day. So, how can it be the case that, four years on from the tragedy, whilst announcing that the Welsh Government will fund fire-safety surveys for multi-occupied buildings over 11m, the Minister for Climate Change could state that
'What we do not yet know is exactly how many buildings are affected and to what extent'?
I think that is a scandal. On the twenty-ninth, the Minister reiterated, and I quote,
'we do not yet know exactly how many buildings are affected by fire safety defects and to what extent.'
You just keep pushing it into the long grass. In my view, it's exactly what you have said, Jane, and others have articulately mentioned here today. This situation isn't going to go away with rhetoric from the Welsh Government Minister, and I am really quite upset to think that this could even be used politically by saying, 'We're waiting for the UK Government.' Such information that is required now to put an effective strategy in place is required. So, I would be pleased if the Minister would actually take this matter very, very seriously indeed and update us on what progress is being made in securing the figures and detail as to the extent of defects.
This, to me, is almost like another rehearsal of conversations we've held in this Senedd during the last term when I spoke up on issues such as this. You know, for all the new Members that are here, it is actually quite sad to be reiterating the need for us to be doing this. For one block, the total cost of repair work, including the replacement of cladding, has been estimated at £60,000 per flat. I've spoken to people living in these properties, and they say they go to bed fearful for their own lives and they cannot sleep, which again endorses what you've said, Jane, about mental health issues. We know there is cross-party consensus on the need to ensure that the financial burden does not fall on the residents. Avoiding such an outcome is a complex matter, but I am aware the Minister has had a round-table meeting with developers just last month, so details on this outcome would be helpful, Minister.
This legislative proposal would be a key opportunity through which we could legislate to ensure that this burden, to make sure safe cladding is available on buildings, falls with the developer rather than the leaseholder. It could also be a means through which to further explore the proposal of a buy-out scheme to support leaseholders who are impacted by building safety and would prefer to sell their property. However, I do hope that Rhys, Mike, Peter and Jane will also agree that legislation needs to go even further and address safety issues such as maintaining compartmentation. The building safety White Paper started this process, but, despite the consultation closing on 12 April of this year, the Welsh Government website is reporting just today that
'The responses are currently being reviewed and we aim to publish a summary and Government response in Autumn 2021.'
The Member needs to conclude now.
You do have my support, but I wonder whether the proposal for the cladding safety Bill could be incorporated into ongoing work on building safety. Diolch.
I call on the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. The remediation of unsafe high-rise residential buildings is absolutely a priority for the Welsh Government, and combustible cladding is one part of that. [Inaudible.]
Minister, we've lost your sound. We've got it back. Do you want to—? We heard the first sentence, but that was about it.
Okay. I don't know what's happening there. Can you hear me now?
Okay. So, I started by saying that the remediation of unsafe, high-rise residential buildings is a priority for the Welsh Government, and combustible cladding is one part of that. We've consistently—[Inaudible.]—and it's right—. Has it gone again?
There's something. We got it consistently and then we lost you again. I think your microphone up above your head isn't helping.
It's not above my head, it's right here. Anyway, I'll take my headphones off and see if I can make any difference with that. Is that better or is that worse?
Okay, I'll try it like that. There's a building site just outside my room here, so I just hope there aren't too many noises off.
So, I was just saying that we've consistently held the view that leaseholders did not create the issues that have been identified, and it's right that those responsible should pay to rectify them. In October 2020 I wrote an open letter to developers to that effect, and in October of this year I met with a number of developers, alongside local councils, to discuss their plans for remediating buildings with safety defects. We are very pleased that a number of Welsh developers have since set aside funds to replace cladding and address other fire safety work on properties in Wales. It's reassuring to see that, in some cases, the commitment does extend beyond just the cladding where necessary to make those buildings safe, and that they are also taking responsibility for buildings under 18m. However, it is a matter of regret that some of the large developers responsible for these buildings have not come to that process and have not yet responded to that, so I will be getting in touch with them again to try and force them to the table, though we have no powers at the moment to be able to make them do so.
We also put the Building (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2019 in place, and they came into force in January 2020. That bans combustible materials from the exterior of high-rise residential buildings, hospitals and care homes. We've made significant progress in relation to non-compliant ACM, as it's called—aluminium composite material cladding—as was found on the Grenfell Tower. We've already seen all unsafe ACM removed from the majority of high-rise buildings in Wales, and the last remaining buildings have work under way on them right now.
But we know that cladding is by no means the only building safety issue. The Welsh Government has always been clear that our approach needs to be absolutely holistic, dealing with a multitude of issues like firebreaks, compartmentation, fire escape routes, and so on. We know that the effects are having a significant impact on leaseholders and residents. I myself have met with a very large number of them over the course of many months, and we know that this is having an effect financially and from a well-being perspective, as all the Members who've contributed today have said.
We're committed to supporting residents and leaseholders and we're working hard to develop those options. Our expressions of interest opened for the Welsh building safety fund on 30 September. We've had well over 100 responses to that so far. They will identify the measures and actions required to make the multiresidential buildings as safe as can be, and protect lives and property. We haven't restricted that to buildings over 18m; we've taken that down below that in order to make sure we catch all of the people who are affected, and we intend to offer a package of support to leaseholders and residents that will allow them to feel safe in their homes and make decisions about the future.
We also are very keen to make further announcements on the next stage of our building safety passport fund, but as you are all aware, the comprehensive spending review has been disappointing for Wales. In terms of the consequentials, the UK Government did not make it clear that there was a consequential arising out of Robert Jenrick's remarks prior to his being sacked from the Cabinet, and of course now there's been a comprehensive spending review, so all of that has been realigned, so it's impossible to follow that through. What we do know is that, given the amount of money we've had through the comprehensive spending review, we certainly have not had the level of consequential we would have expected.
Nevertheless, we are going ahead with our building safety plans. We hope to have surveyors on site for all of the buildings that have expressed an interest in this in January. We are working very hard with the construction industry and the insurance industry to make sure that we have both the surveyors who are capable of doing these surveys and the work stream in place and the contractors available. As we understand what the extent of the remediation work that's necessary for these buildings is, we'll be able to look at how much funding we have. We've allocated some funding to it, but the truth is we don't know what the extent of the difficulty is in each of the buildings, and unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all; each building will have its own completely different, complex set of issues that require remediation. We're also working to finalise the detail of a buy-out scheme to help those who find themselves in the most difficult circumstances as a result of these issues. I'm hoping to announce that shortly to the Senedd.
The scale of the problem is enormous. Each building is different, and the answer about whether the funding is enough is I simply do not know. There's no point in Janet Finch-Saunders berating me about it—I can't make it up out of thin air—and unlike the UK Government, I'm not in the habit of just announcing things in order to make it seem better whilst not actually doing anything about it. We're only presented with the total change from Whitehall department settlements at spending reviews, so I have no detail of the individual UK programme changes. I am going to be bringing that up with my counterpart UK Ministers as soon as I'm able to meet with them.
On leaseholder reform, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill currently progressing through Parliament will reduce ground rents on new leases to a peppercorn, and we are working on a Bill to be introduced later in the UK Parliament to implement the wide-ranging reforms to leasehold proposed by the Law Commission, some of which are devolved, it is true, but many of which are not, and we require the things that are not devolved to be changed as well in order to help leaseholders.
In terms of the windfall tax, we have had real difficulty getting the UK Government to even agree with us about a vacant land tax, so goodness knows how long it will take them to do this. And, at the same time, we have to be sure that by putting a windfall tax on developers in Wales, we don't just drive them across the border to England. We are absolutely committed to financial support to help fund remediation in a way that's fair to the leaseholders and to taxpayers, and we are working with the UK Government on a windfall tax across the building industry in Wales, with the money coming to Wales.
The last thing I wanted to say, Deputy Llywydd, is that the building safety Bill that we are bringing forward will put right all of the problems from that point onwards. We are working with councils at the moment to make sure that we are doing what we can to ensure that people are safe in their homes, and that we have the right fire safety and protection in place for them. But, as I have said very many times in this Chamber and I will reiterate one last time, a home in Britain is not just a place to live—it's often an investment, and the difficulty is to remediate the buildings in a way that keeps people safe without them losing their investment, because I've every sympathy with the situation they find themselves in. And that, regardless of what anybody will tell you to the contrary, is a very, very difficult and complex thing to do, and we are working at pace to work our way through those complex issues.
I'm delighted there's cross-party support for this, and I'm delighted to have had this debate in the Chamber.
I call on Rhys ab Owen to reply to the debate.
Diolch yn fawr, Gweinidog. I'm glad to hear about the building safety Bill that will be brought forward in this Senedd. Hopefully, that can be done sooner rather than later. I'm also glad to hear about surveyors being on site in January, but I am very disappointed with two things—one being the large developers not willing even to entertain discussions with you, Minister. That is hugely disappointing, and I hope Welsh Government and local authorities bear that in mind when it comes to procurement policy, because if they're not willing even to discuss, there should be penalties for that because they're not the type of developers we should be working with.
The second huge disappointment that's obvious from your answers is yet again the inter-governmental breakdown of relationships between Welsh Government and UK Government, and I look here to my colleagues here and colleagues on the Labour benches. This needs to be sorted out, because only one group are missing out, are suffering because of this, and these are the leaseholders themselves. We need to sort this out. Work together, for God's sake.
Peter Fox, thank you for your support. Thank you for raising this issue previous to this in the Senedd. I know the residents are very happy, and I agree developers should not get away. You mentioned meeting people from Celestia; I met them again today. They had a kettle with them. I thought, 'Why on earth have they got a kettle with them?' It's because they are of the clear view that a person purchasing a kettle has more consumer rights, has more protection, than a leaseholder. Well, that is absolutely shocking.
As Mike Hedges said, people's lives are on hold. Young families, growing families can't move. Pensioners who are on the eighth floor can't move. It is not good enough.
Mabon ap Gwynfor asked, 'Who is responsible?', and he said that it's the greed of some causing difficulties and anguish to others. And I hope we will have this Welsh legislation that the Minister has mentioned as soon as possible.
Jane Dodds also mentioned people's lives being on hold, and reminded us again that people are at the centre of this.
I agree with Janet Finch-Saunders—we need to know the number. And I agree that fire safety is far more than just cladding, as the Minister also mentioned.
I hope—I see that time is up, but I very much hope that Members will support this motion. Thank you very much.
The proposal is to note the proposal. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next item is item 7, the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee and the Equality and Social Justice Committee debate on the well-being of future generations Act 2015: scrutiny of implementation. I call on the Chair of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee to move the motion—Mark Isherwood.
Motion NDM7841 Mark Isherwood, Jenny Rathbone
To propose that the Senedd:
a) the Report of the Public Accounts Committee of the Fifth Senedd, Delivering for Future Generations: The story so far, laid in the Table Office 17 March 2021;
b) the Welsh Government response to the Committee’s Report, published on 5 October 2021;
c) the Auditor General for Wales’s response to the Committee’s Report, dated August 2021;
d) the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s response to the Committee’s Report dated 3 September 2021;
e) the Llywydd’s response to the Committee’s Report dated 22 September 2021;
f) the Welsh Government response to the Auditor General for Wales’s Report, So, what’s different? Findings from the Auditor General’s Sustainable Development Principle Examinations, dated 8 October 2021; and
g) the Welsh Government response to the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’s Report, The Future Generations Report 2020, dated 8 October 2021.