Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

01/02/2022

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

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

Statement by the Llywydd

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

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

Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

1. What support is available to children who have suffered sexual abuse and exploitation? OQ57540

Llywydd, the Welsh sexual assault service is led by the NHS, working with the police, social services and specialist third sector organisations. Together they aim to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation of children, to protect child victims and to support abused children into recovery.

Child sexual abuse has wide-reaching and long-lasting effects on physical and mental health. Children who have suffered multiple traumas may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. During the first six months of 2021-22, there was a 65 per cent increase in the number of National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children child sexual abuse and exploitation referrals, compared to the same six-month period during the previous year. The Welsh Government's action plan on preventing and tackling child sexual abuse is due to conclude during the summer of this year. With the knowledge that children who receive the correct support can recover without long-term effects, we need to keep the momentum going and prioritise the availability of integrated, child-centred specialist sexual abuse services for children. The Lighthouse in north London is one successful example of the Child House model, based on the Barnahus in Iceland, and is the only multi-agency child sexual abuse and exploitation support service of its kind in the UK. Will the First Minister evaluate The Lighthouse service and, using the evidence, explore providing the same service for children in Wales?

Well, Llywydd, I thank Buffy Williams for those important points and that additional question. The interim report of The Lighthouse service is available, but the final evaluation report will not be available until later in this year. We look forward, of course, to seeing what that evaluation says. The basic premise of The Lighthouse model is that it is better to bring services to children rather than children have to visit multiple locations to receive services, and clearly there's a great deal to be said for that. 

Picking up a model from an intensely urban part of London—five London boroughs contribute to The Lighthouse service—and simply dropping it in Wales seems unlikely to me to be the complete answer. In the interim report, Llywydd, it said that there were, on average, 29 referrals a month from the five London boroughs into that service. In Wales, the north Wales and south Wales services between them have an average of just over 19 referrals a month, which, in effect, would mean there would be a single centre for the whole of Wales, and that wouldn't deliver the basic premise of it being more convenient for young people. So, I think, as well as learning the lessons of The Lighthouse service and its success, we have to develop a hub-and-spoke model here in Wales, where there are specialist services for children in that awful position but where there are also services closer to their own homes, able to provide the sort of assistance I outlined in my original answer. 

Diolch, Llywydd, and it's great to be back in the Chamber. First Minister, unfortunately, the support services available in Wales continue to be woefully inadequate and we are letting our victims down. And whereas we are getting better, we still have a fair way to go. Trauma support has such long waiting lists it may as well not be there. So, First Minister, do you agree that, alongside the gold standard support, we should also be putting greater efforts into prevention? Will you ensure that all children's services adopt a trauma-informed approach, like they do in Scotland? 

Well, Llywydd, I agree, of course, that, particularly in an area like this, it will always be much better to prevent harm from happening than to try to help children to deal with the consequences of harm. I think the Member's question would be more helpful if he relied a good deal less on assertion and provided a little more evidence to underpin what he had to say, because I heard no evidence at all in the first part of his supplementary question, just a series of unsupported assertions.

In terms of trauma-informed practice, well, of course, we have the adverse childhood incident programme, established by my former colleague Carl Sargeant, which has done so much in Wales to make sure that front-line workers in the field of child protection, but far more than that, in housing, and in health, and in other front-line services, have that trauma-informed approach to the work that they do. So, on the substantive points that the Member makes—prevention on the one hand, trauma-informed practice on the other—I agree with what he said this afternoon.

13:35
Rail Infrastructure

2. What conversations has the First Minister had with the UK Government regarding funding for rail infrastructure in north Wales? OQ57560

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. Welsh Ministers take every opportunity to raise with the UK Government their shameful neglect of investment in rail infrastructure in north Wales.

Diolch. The Tory UK Government are investing just under £100 billion in HS2 rail infrastructure. If the Barnett formula were to be applied, Wales should be entitled to the population share of 5 per cent, which is £5 billion. Scotland will receive £10 billion. But because the UK Government says that the line from London to Birmingham is going to benefit Wales, we are therefore getting nothing. On top of this, a levelling-up funding bid was made to UK Government for investment on the Wrexham-Bidston line, which is desperately needed, but, again, the UK Government failed to deliver investment, and it will take significant time and resource to apply again for the local authority. All we are asking for is that Wales be treated fairly. First Minister, people in north Wales deserve their fair share of investment in the railway network—it is essential. What can we do for this to happen? Thank you.

Llywydd, as the Member has said, Wales is treated anything but fairly when it comes to rail investment by the UK Government. At the last comprehensive spending review, arbitrarily the Treasury reduced the comparability factor under Barnett for the transport department in England from 89 per cent to 36 per cent, meaning, as the Member has said, Wales loses out on billions of pounds' worth of investment. It is nonsensical—absolutely nonsensical—to claim that, because there is a new service from London to Birmingham, somehow that means Wales has had its fair share of that investment. The Welsh Affairs Committee in December 2020, chaired by a Conservative Member of Parliament, with a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament on that committee, concluded that HS2 should be reclassified as an England-only project. And if that were the case, then of course Wales would get the £5 billion to which Carolyn Thomas has referred. Scotland, where comparability is conceded, will have £10 billion to invest in rail infrastructure in Scotland, every penny of which is being denied here to Wales.

And all of that comes on top of a decade of neglect of investment in the infrastructure here in Wales. You've heard the figures here before—2 per cent of the railway line in Wales is electrified. Do you know how much that means, Llywydd? Twenty-two miles—22 miles of the railway in Wales is electrified. It is pathetic, and it is the direct result of broken promises by the party opposite. There are things they could do, there are things that they should do. This Welsh Government, by contrast, Llywydd, goes on investing in rail services in north Wales. This year, we will increase services on the line between Wrexham and Bidston. Next year, we will provide new services between Liverpool and Llandudno. And the year after that, there will be new services from the north to Cardiff. Where the UK Government treats Wales with contempt when it comes to rail investment, this Government goes on investing in the north and in the rest of Wales.

13:40

First Minister, I, too, want to see more investment from both the UK and Welsh Governments in north Wales in the rail infrastructure. One of the things I would very much like to see in my own constituency is a new railway stop train station in the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area. You'll be aware of the popularity of the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area as a resort: 50,000 holiday caravan bed spaces, and many of those people have to jump off the train in Rhyl or in Abergele in order to then jump into a car to get to the place where they want to get to. Now, if we're to make this modal shift in our transport, if we're to get the carbon emissions in transport down and provide real choice for people to get to their destinations, then a new station would make a big difference in that community. There used to be one; it was closed many years ago. It's time to re-establish it and re-invigorate rail transport in my constituency. 

Well, Llywydd, I don't doubt for a moment that the Member does wish to see additional investment in services in his own constituency. The Welsh Government does have an opportunity to bid to a UK fund to re-establish stations where they were closed, and, indeed, we did get one positive result out of that programme when it was last determined: a new station in St Clears in Carmarthenshire, which, I'm afraid, I remember being opened before it was closed very many years ago. And I'll say this to the Member, that the Welsh Government would be very happy to work with him and other local interests to make the case for a station in the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area, and then we will have to put that to the UK Government and hope for the best. 

First Minister, can I thank you for your answers to these important questions about rail infrastructure in north Wales? The most straightforward way to address historic underfunding would, of course, be to devolve responsibilities and appropriate funding to the Welsh Government, and we do still await UK Government funds to level up our railways in north Wales. But, First Minister, can you assure us that the Welsh Government remains keen to invest in rail services and rail facilities where and when it can, be it redundant railway stations or through support for incredibly important groups, such as the Friends of Chirk Station, the Friends of Ruabon Station in my constituency? 

Well, Llywydd, the union connectivity review that the UK Government established concluded that devolution had been good for transport—that when the decisions were made closer to where they would have their impact, better decisions were made. The report underlines the case that successive Welsh Governments have made for the devolution of responsibility in rail to the Senedd, accompanied though, as Ken Skates has said, by the funding that needs to go alongside that responsibility. Of course, the Welsh Government is keen to go on investing in the way that Ken Skates has outlined, Llywydd. I've had the opportunity to visit with him Ruabon station and to see the fantastic work that the friends of the station do there in maintaining it and making it such an attractive place to visit. For Transport for Wales, further improvements at Ruabon remain a priority: a new ticket vending machine, smartcard ticketing solutions to make sure that the station can be used as frequently as possible, both because it contributes to our active travel agenda and because it is a gateway to the tourism industry in that part of Wales with everything that it has to offer. 

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last month, numerous media outlets reported the discovery of the coal tip campaigner's damning document from 2014, which suggested that the Welsh Government at the time was prioritising the economy over safety where funding work would make a big difference to coal tips in the Valleys. This document says that the funding to reclaim coal tips was unlikely to be provided by Labour Ministers unless there was a business case. Specifically, it identifies Tylorstown tip, which was involved in a dangerous landslide in the devastating wake of storm Dennis in 2020, as one with stability issues for which there was no funding. You were obviously not the First Minister during this period, but you were of course a member of the Government. Do you regret the decision and the way this was handled by the Government at the time, First Minister?

13:45

Llywydd, there was no such decision.

Well, there's an awful lot of politics being played by your Government in particular when it comes to funding and the safety of coal tips, First Minister, but the responsibility is devolved. It was actually your party in the original devolution settlement that devolved this responsibility, albeit I do accept that there are issues around legacy. Nevertheless, this could be funded and resolved by now.

The funding for the airport, for example, could have been used on coal tips, some £200 million plus. That is money that you chose to put into another project that could have been used to make coal tips safe in the Valleys. So, First Minister, given the substantial increase—. I can see you laughing, First Minister, but there are many communities in the Valleys who look at this as a nightmare situation for them and cannot sleep at night. So, you might chuckle, standing in this Chamber, First Minister, but it's not a laughing matter. You have the responsibility—

Just get on with the question.

Well, there's no need to bite back, First Minister. You have the responsibility. You have the responsibility, you had the money and you had the choice to do it. Why haven't you done it?

Well, Llywydd, what the Member has to say is absurd. He starts off with an accusation that turns out not to be true at all. There was never a funding application turned down by the Welsh Government because a funding application was never made. So, that's the first piece of nonsense that we should lay to rest this afternoon.

Then, the absurd suggestion that investment in the airport in Cardiff—and, of course, an investment that his party has always opposed, never interested in making sure that there is that essential piece of infrastructure for our nation available to us—that that could somehow have been diverted to coal tip safety.

Let me reply to his original point. The programme that he referred to was a programme set up under a Conservative Government in the 1980s, it was run by the Welsh Development Agency and it depended upon a business case. Well, fancy that, before you spend public money, you need a business case; £4.5 billion-worth, of course, of fraud leading to the resignation of a Tory Minister in London, without a business case in sight. We understand the way that his party goes about these responsibilities. Here in Wales, if you're spending public money, of course you would expect there to be a business case.

The truth of the matter as far as coal tip safety in Wales is concerned is this, Llywydd, that the standards that were required in the 1980s and 1990s are no longer suitable in an era of climate change. We've seen over the last two winters the effect of extreme weather events in Valleys communities. The UK Government has a responsibility to put right the legacy that we have seen here in Wales and they have refused to provide a single penny piece. That is the truth of the matter. No nonsense about airport money being spent of coal tip remediation will disguise the fact that the responsibility for putting right the legacy that we see in Wales—with all the history that we have here in Wales, with all the fear that that engenders in Valleys communities—relies on a UK Conservative Government, and the answer they give is, 'There's not a penny piece to help.'

You know full well that the UK Government have made money available for coal tip restoration, First Minister, so you've misled the Assembly there by saying 'not a penny piece' has been made available. But I would say to you, First Minister, when you talk about business cases, the business case for taking over the airport didn't prove very sound, did it? But, you've invested nearly £200 million in the airport, and continue to have to bail it out, time and time again. That would have been a significant down-payment on making coal tips safe across the Valleys communities. 

Now, I'm prepared to work with you, First Minister, on this to make sure that communities the length and breadth of the Valleys can sleep easy at night and have those tips made safe by working with colleagues at both ends of the M4. But, to date, you have not brought a timetable forward and you have not lived up to your responsibilities. So, will you commit to working with me to make sure that we can put a timetable in place, so that communities that your backbenchers represent can have that safety and that confidence that the Government here is working in their best interest? Because it is your responsibility. That was part of the devolution settlement and the choices you made have not made that money available to make coal tips safe here in Wales, First Minister. 

Llywydd, there is a timetable in place, it's the timetable drawn up by the non-devolved Coal Authority, acting under the direction of the committee that I jointly chair with the Secretary of State for Wales. I don't need any lessons from the leader of the opposition here about working with others when I co-chair the group with the Secretary of State that has overseen this work. We have funded, however, not the UK Government, we have funded the extra work of the Coal Authority, and the Coal Authority tell us that the timetable is a 10-year timetable, that it will require between £500 million and £600 million over that period in order to carry out the remediation of coal tips in Wales, where the current standards are not fit for an era where climate change produces the sorts of impacts that we have seen in Tylorstown and in other parts of Valleys communities in the last two years.

So, the timetable is there. The work that's needed is there. What we lack is a single penny towards it. Now, the Member says I mislead the Senedd, which I don't take very kindly to, Llywydd, because I can tell you that I did not do anything of the sort. The money that we have received from the UK Government was to help with the emergency work that was necessary in Tylorstown. It is not a penny piece towards that long-term programme that the Coal Authority has recommended is necessary here in Wales. When the UK Government comes to the table to help Welsh communities, they will find a willing partner. In the meantime, this Senedd will have to find that money because I will not see coal communities go without the remediation that they require, and that money will have to come from money that otherwise is provided to us for schools, for hospitals, for transport infrastructure and all the other things that are devolved to this Senedd. And that's the solution that his Government, in the letters that they write to me, proposes that we should implement. 

13:50

Thank you, Llywydd. First Minister, on Thursday evening last week I attended a public meeting in my constituency called in light of the purchase of the local Frongoch farm by the Foresight investment fund in order to plant trees and gain carbon credits. There was a young family there who had made a proposal to purchase the farm and to farm the land, until Foresight offered a substantially higher sum for the land. And I'm sorry to have to say this, First Minister, but it's not a pantomime when a whole community is gazumped; it is a tragedy. There was passion in this meeting and the famous words of Gwenallt about a nearby village echoed the meeting, 

And now there is nothing there but trees... / Trees where there was community, / A forest where there were farms.

The Farmers Union of Wales and the NFU have this morning provided us with information that does suggest that this is happening at a substantial scale, particularly in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys. Is the Government willing to review this information as a matter of urgency in order to find the real scale of the problem?

Well, of course, Llywydd, any information that helps us to see the scale of the problem will be helpful. The information that I have goes like this: 

In the first 10 windows of the Glastir woodland creation scheme, there were 1,121 beneficiaries. Thirty five of those had addresses outside Wales, and amongst those 35 are organisations like the Woodland Trust. Now, if there is further information that is available through the farming unions, then of course that would be very helpful, and I look forward to receiving it. 

Two years ago, Professor John Healey and his team at the school of forest sciences in Bangor University published a report commissioned by you as a Government, which set out two scenarios of possible ownership for the future of forestry in Wales. The first scenario, and I will quote in English: 

'transfer of larger land units...from agriculture to forestry...through the sale of whole agricultural land holdings...to forestry investors. This may cause concerns of loss agricultural cultural values and sub-optimal use of land resources'.

And the second scenario: 

'smaller forest blocks within continuing agricultural land holdings as part of a strategy towards diversification of income streams for farm holdings. Such smaller and more isolated woodland patches may also have advantages for reducing risk of tree pathogen infection'

and

'capitalise on and enhance existing social capital in the farming sector, through co-operative management'.

Is the Welsh Government willing to commit to support the second model and to oppose the first?

13:55

Well, I think, Llywydd, that the history of what we've done over recent years shows that the second suggestion is the one that we have pursued. What we want to see is Welsh farmers leading the way, Welsh farmers planting trees and ownership remaining local.

If every farmer in Wales were to plant 25 hectares of woodland, so, not the first solution that the Member—. Sorry, 5 hectares of woodland, I beg your pardon. If every farmer planted 5 hectares of woodland—mixed woodland, broadleaved woodland for carbon capture and productive woodland for house building here in Wales—we'd be well on our way to reaching the targets that we have to reach here in Wales because of climate change, while keeping wealth and control local. That would be exactly the sort of pattern that the Welsh Government would wish to see in future.

Carbon asset stripping is a global phenomenon. Just before Christmas, the Australian Government proposed a ministerial veto on woodland carbon-credit developments over 15 hectares or where they make up more than a third of a farm. Are you prepared to consider amending the planning system or introducing a social and linguistic dimension to the impact assessment process to prevent conifer and spruce doing to our agricultural communities what second homes have done to our coastal ones?

The lesson of the second homes experience is that you cannot afford to wait. Once the agricultural land is lost, it will never come back. Once the carbon credits, so vital in our own journey to net zero, are extracted from Wales, they will never return. Will you examine urgently the proposal, again in a Welsh Government-commissioned report from 2014, of a Welsh carbon credit market, which would mean that credits generated by Welsh forestry could only ever be utilised by entities based in Wales?

Llywydd, I know that Adam Price will know that the Minister responsible has already established an expert group of people to help us to see how we can bring further investment into woodland creation in Wales in a way that does not lead to the sorts of damage that he identified, and he'll know that that group has many interests represented on it—Llais y Goedwig, Woodknowledge Wales, as well as experts like Professor Karel Williams of Manchester University.

That group has provided its recommendations to the Welsh Government, and it has a series of proposals that Ministers were discussing only last week: to reduce payment rates in the new woodland creation scheme for non-farmers, for example, to make sure that the money goes to people who are active farmers on the land here in Wales; the option of reducing payments in the new woodland creation scheme for people getting carbon credits, to deal with the point that the Member raised; and work to define less productive woodland, so that there is a future for Welsh farming in which it makes its contribution, through tree planting, to dealing with climate change, but does not intrude on land that could be used for productive, commercially saleable food production as well.

Now, that report does not recommend changes to the planning system, believing that it would be an ineffective way of dealing with the issues that the report was asked to respond to. But Ministers will take that forward, together with other ideas that are available from other sources, in order, as I said, to make sure that what we achieve here in Wales is tree planting on the scale that the Climate Change Committee recommends to us. The Climate Change Committee says that we must plant 86 million trees in Wales over the next decade, if we are to achieve net zero not by 2035 but by 2050. If we're to do that, we can only do it with the enthusiastic support of Welsh agriculture. In order to do that and to keep the support of communities of the sort that the Member referred to—and I was interested to hear about his meeting with local people in the Cwrt-y-cadno area—of course we have to make sure that we have that investment in a way that is owned locally. And I don't mean just physically owned, I mean owned in the sense of people wanting to support it as well, because that is the way in which we will be able to make sure that we meet our climate change ambitions without doing harm to local communities and the future of Welsh farming.

14:00
Orthopaedic Waiting Lists

3. Will the First Minister provide an update on orthopaedic waiting lists in the Powys Teaching Health Board area? OQ57538

Llywydd, 4,433 Powys residents are waiting for orthopaedic treatment, of whom 2,532, or 57 per cent, are waiting for treatment in England. The number of Powys residents waiting over 36 weeks for orthopaedic treatment fell by 16 per cent between November 2020 and November 2021.

Diolch, First Minister. The number of people waiting for orthopaedic operations or assessments is increasing—the data is there—in the Powys Teaching Health Board area. This isn't just a Wales issue, this is a UK issue, with people waiting for operations. People are now living in day-to-day pain. A UK study found that 71 per cent of older people waiting for treatment said that their health had got worse during the pandemic. Many people are losing out on their lives and they're taking out private loans so they can access treatment in the private sector. I've been speaking to medical professionals across the NHS who believe that we need to look at having two specialist hospitals, one in south Wales and one in north Wales, that solely focus on orthopaedic care and rehabilitation, because the current model of every hospital doing everything is simply not working with the massive demands on surgery space. So, First Minister, would you consider looking at this model to get orthopaedic waiting lists down, so we can give those people in pain in Powys and right across the rest of Wales some hope and some light at the end of the tunnel? Diolch, Llywydd.

The Welsh Government is willing to consider all the ideas that are there in order to help us to deal with the backlog that has built up during the COVID pandemic. James Evans is right; it is not a Welsh problem, it is a UK problem, and that's very much borne out in the Powys circumstances.

We've had this debate on the floor of the Senedd previously, and I'd just say to him what I've said to others: in Welsh geography, that sort of solution is challenging, because if you are to turn over an existing hospital entirely to cold surgery, planned surgery, then everything else that people rely on that hospital to do will no longer be available to them there. I had this debate with Paul Davies in the Chamber, and asked him then how he thought the people of Haverfordwest would react if Withybush were to become one of those two centres, because then, everything else that people go to Withybush for would not be available to them there.

I'm not certain myself that our geography lends itself easily to turning over a whole hospital to be a planned surgery centre. But what that doesn't mean is that we cannot begin to concentrate those facilities in particular hospitals, like the hospital in Llanelli, Prince Philip, like Neath Port Talbot Hospital, which is going to be doing more planned work, while it can still go on providing those other outpatient and other facilities that people rely on. I think there is a way of using the idea. I don't think it will be as simple as giving over a whole hospital, but the idea that we concentrate facilities where operations aren't cancelled because emergency work comes in and overtakes it and so on—I think there's merit in that, and it's definitely part of the way the Welsh Government is planning for the recovery that we need in the future.

Vascular Services

4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of vascular services in north Wales? OQ57582

Vascular services in north Wales were reorganised in 2019. Specialist services have been developed at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, while other vascular services remain at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Wrexham Maelor Hospital. The new model was endorsed by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Vascular Society.

14:05

I thank the First Minister for that response. Llywydd, some years ago, the health board in north Wales had something to boast about, namely the vascular service at Ysbyty Gwynedd, which was among the best of its kind. Then, for some reason, as you have mentioned, beyond my understanding, somebody somewhere, under the guidance of this Government through special measures, decided to centralise services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. Now, the vascular service in north Wales is suffering huge problems, with the highest rate of deaths following amputations. Do you believe that this is acceptable? I certainly don't. Siân Gwenllian, our Member here on the Plaid Cymru benches, has already called for a public inquiry into this centralisation. It's disgraceful that a service that was at one point among the best of its kind has fallen to such a state. Will you ensure that there is a public inquiry held to the centralisation of services?

I think there are two things that have be distinguished here. There is the original decision to concentrate specialist vascular services at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. The Member said that that had happened 'for some reason' as though it was a trivial matter that had just been plucked out of the air. He will know perfectly well that the case for the concentration of specialist services was one, as I said in my original answer, strongly supported by the Royal College of Surgeons, supported by the Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland, because of the evidence from elsewhere that specialist services have better results when you have people who carry out that work day in, day out and do those specialist things. Twenty per cent of services were to be carried out at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, leaving 80 per cent of vascular services still to be provided in Wrexham and in Bangor. Out-patient appointments, varicose vein procedures, diagnostics, review of in-patient vascular referrals and rehabilitation are still carried right across north Wales.

I don't myself believe that the model, as originally proposed and supported by the board and not opposed by the community health council, was the wrong one. [Interruption.] I know there are people who don't agree with that. I noticed that the Royal College of Surgeons in its report said that the constant undermining of the model by local criticisms has made the implementation of the model more difficult to achieve. [Interruption.] Well, this is what it says. I know you don't like it, but that is what it says. They said that the constant attempts to undermine the model have made its implementation more challenging, and that the undermining of the morale of people who are responsible for the services by those criticisms could lead in the end to poorer services for patients. You may not like it, but that is what the report says.

I distinguish myself between the model, which I think was the right one, and the implementation issues, which have to be put right. The original report—there's a two-stage report by the Royal College of Surgeons—identified a number of things that still needed to be done to make sure the patients in north Wales derived the maximum benefit from the new model. It remains the responsibility of the clinicians who lead that service, and the board, to make sure that the investment that has been provided—investment in the infrastructure at Glan Clwyd and in the specialist staffing of the service at Glan Clwyd—now delivers the benefits that the model was there to derive. If there's more to be done, then I look to the people who are responsible for the service to make sure that they learn the lessons from the Royal College of Surgeons and put anything that needs to be put right right, because the model itself is the right one for people in north Wales. 

Thanks to the Member for submitting this important question today. I also note that a fellow Member has a question on this topic tomorrow, so it's clearly a pressing issue for residents in north Wales. First Minister, as already outlined here, the vascular services have seen that significant change in north Wales. Mr ap Gwynfor has highlighted many of the issues that he's aware of, and I'm certainly aware of similar, with those changes. You mentioned, First Minister, a report by the Royal College of Surgeons; they've highlighted significant bed shortages and confusion over staffing levels, and they've outlined also a safety risk to patients in their report as well. Of course, members of the health board in north Wales have outlined progress being made to rectify this issue. But, First Minister, as you asserted, if there's nothing wrong with the model that is there at the moment, wouldn't you accept that a public inquiry would be a good step to restoring that much-needed public faith in this service? Diolch.

14:10

I don't believe that a public inquiry, with the length of time that it would take, would be of much benefit to patients in north Wales. What I think is that there is an independent review of the service carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons, and there is part 2 of that still to report. I expect that report to be taken seriously by the board and by the people responsible for the service so that the changes that have taken place in vascular services, not just in north Wales, as the Member says—. Vascular services have changed across the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a more specialist discipline than it used to be, and if you need not just the day in, day out vascular attention but specialist services, then you are better off as a patient being looked after by people who undertake those procedures all the time, rather than by people who do it every now and then as part of that wider range of duties that they undertake. That is the nature of modern medicine. It's challenging, because people inevitably see things changing and people are very attached to the service that they have. But right across the United Kingdom in vascular services this has been the pattern—specialist services brought together, and the more routine aspects continue to be carried out more locally. That's what the model provides. It is now, as I say, for those people who are responsible for that service, clinically responsible for it and responsible for it at a board level, to make sure that all the investment that has gone into it pays off in a better service for patients in north Wales. 

Workplace Skills

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government initiatives to develop workplace skills for secondary school learners? OQ57561

Developing workplace skills runs as a thread across all areas of the new Curriculum for Wales. It prepares learners for later life by giving them the knowledge, skills and experiences to thrive in their future careers.

Thank you, First Minister. The employer skills survey has reported that a wide range of skills and attributes are lacking among applicants for jobs within Wales, with over 84 per cent of vacancies partially caused by a lack of technical or practical competence, and 66 per cent partially caused by a lack of people and personal skills, such as the ability to manage one's own time and prioritise tasks. We all agree that a good academic education is important for the workplace, but we must recognise that these abilities can be wasted if a person does not have the complementary skills that are needed to obtain employment. This situation is made even worse if they have the wrong academic qualifications needed for the employment that they want. It seems obvious that a viable solution for tackling both youth unemployment and job recruitment is for high schools to have much better relationships with local businesses whereby these businesses are able to demonstrate directly to learners the skills and education that are required for jobs and to allow learners an opportunity to better understand how businesses work, what skills they need, and possibly, even open up the doors for better opportunities for employment.

To give an example, the Construction Industry Training Board, which represents a consortium of construction companies in Wales, has been very effective in opening doors to secondary school learners to experience active building sites and for them to take a behind-the-scenes tour to see the latest projects and building designs. A lack of adequate and relevant careers advice and work experience has always been a concern of mine and I believe that we can do better for our secondary school learners, providing longer integration into the workforce and by providing in-depth experiences of industry that will enable them to understand and develop the skills needed for employment. With this in mind, First Minister, what commitment will you give to ensure that secondary schools are proactively working with local businesses to integrate learners into the workforce while they're at school?

I thank the Member for that. I agree with a number of the points that he made; as well as the technical skills and academic qualifications that people need, it is often the human skills, the soft skills that get people into the workplace and allow them to make a success of that first experience. I also agree that the more that can be done to make sure that young people, in our secondary schools particularly, have access to work experience, to employers coming in to schools and colleges, the more opportunities there will be for young people, on the one hand, to learn about opportunities that are there for them, but, actually, also for employers to attract young people into those jobs.

Because, Llywydd, I think in the time that I will have been associated with devolution, we've seen a really profound change in this way, that, for a long time, what we thought the task was was to find jobs for young people to do, and, in future, I think the challenge is going to be to find young people to do the jobs, because we have fewer young people in Wales. We have more people of retirement age. You see the skill shortages that there are already in the Welsh economy, and employers are going to have to work harder to attract young people to come into the jobs that they need to be done. So, I think it's a two-way street in that way: it definitely benefits young people, but sensible firms of the sort that Joel James mentioned, who make those efforts, they know it's to their advantage as well, because they will be better able to attract those young people into their jobs of the future.

The Welsh Government has issued fresh guidance this month to schools on careers and work-related activity in schools, and, actually, Llywydd, a great deal does go on. In Career Discovery Week in July of last year, 146 secondary schools were involved; 177 secondary schools, or 85 per cent of the total, report, in Wales, that they have engagement with employers during the year, with eight out of 10 saying that they have multiple contacts with them. So, I agree with what the Member said about the need to build from that platform, because the more that we do to bring those two worlds together, the more there will be advantages for young people and the more there will be advantages for good employers as well.

14:15
The Rising Cost of Living

6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the rising cost of living on people in Wales? OQ57562

Llywydd, this crisis will have a profound impact on thousands of Welsh families. Cruel and deliberate cuts to benefits, failure to counteract fuel price rises, and a decision to go ahead with a broken manifesto promise not to raise national insurance contributions demonstrates that this is a crisis made in Downing Street.

Supermarket grocery bills have risen and will climb further, households could end up paying £700 per year more on energy costs, and the Tory national insurance tax hike looms on the horizon. The Office for National Statistics is changing the way that it reports on living costs, so we'll get a more accurate picture of the impact of Tory decisions in Westminster. They party; our communities pick up the bill. In contrast, Welsh Government policy, such as the winter fuel scheme, provides help. How else will your Government prioritise supporting people in Cynon Valley and throughout Wales who are most impacted by the cost-of-living crisis?

I thank Vikki Howells for that important question, Llywydd, and I thank her for drawing attention to the winter fuel scheme, particularly on a day when my colleague Jane Hutt has been able to announce a doubling of the amount of help available from it—you know, a really fantastic thing to be able to do in the face of all the challenges that we know families in Wales will now have to live through. So, £200 available now. As of yesterday, Llywydd, there had already been 146,000 applicants for that fund, and over 106,000 applications had already been paid out. The application deadline has been extended to 28 February, and we want more people to come forward to take advantage of the scheme that will be available here in Wales, and only here in Wales.

And, Llywydd, in answer to Vikki Howells's wider question, that is just one element of a much broader package of help that we will go on providing to those families who see real difficulties ahead for them this year. The council tax benefit scheme, abolished in England, retained here in Wales—£244 million provided every year by the Welsh Government to make sure that the poorest families, the poorest households in our land, do not have to contribute to the council tax. The discretionary assistance fund, abolished in England, retained here in Wales, and for COVID reasons alone, Llywydd, has paid out over 280,000 payments at a cost of more than £19 million. And if you want to take just one example, Llywydd, the emblematic example, in April of this year, patients in England who find themselves unwell and need to get a prescription from their doctor will find it—[Interruption.] Patients in England—[Interruption.] Patients in England, Llywydd, who find themselves falling ill and who need help through a prescription will be paying £9.35 for every single item, and, in England, the Conservative Government will add to that by raising the age range at which prescriptions become free. Free at the age of 60 now, the plan is to raise it to 65—2.6 million more people later on in life will find themselves paying that £9.35, and not a single one of them, Llywydd, will pay that money here in Wales.

14:20
St David's Day

7. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's plans to celebrate St David's Day? OQ57549

Llywydd, I thank Rhys ab Owen for the question. We will celebrate St David’s Day at home and overseas, using our national day to raise the profile and awareness of Wales across the world. My own St David’s Day schedule includes virtual events in Japan and Germany, and face-to-face meetings with representatives of Quebec, Canada and key European partners.

Thank you very much, First Minister. It's good to hear the news of what is happening with the Welsh diaspora. It is a wonderful way to enhance Wales's profile across the globe. But it's a disappointment, but not a shock, to read once again that the Westminster Government is refusing to make St David's Day a bank holiday, but, of course, it's not just the Tories that have rejected this; the Labour Government also rejected the idea in 2002, after a request from the Assembly. It's good to see cross-party support here in favour of making St David's Day a bank holiday, and I very much hope that this can be part of the sixth Senedd, that we generate that cross-party support. Will the First Minister encourage other councils to, like Gwynedd Council and Aberystwyth Town Council, give a day's holiday to their staff on St David's Day, and has the First Minister spoken to the Labour Party in Westminster and has he been told that they wouldn't reject a request from this place once again? Thank you.

Llywydd, what I want to see is the responsibility being transferred to the Senedd for us here to have the opportunity to legislate to have a bank holiday on St David's Day. I think it's in the hands of the Senedd that would be the best place to make those decisions. They are with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland already. It's only in Wales that we can't make the decisions for ourselves on that subject. And I want to do it that way because I want to see a bank holiday for everyone here in Wales, not just people who work for councils or people working in the public sector, but all of us having an opportunity to celebrate St David's Day in that way, and that's why I want to see the powers in the hands of the Senedd to make those decisions that are better for us here in Wales on an important issue for the people of Wales such as St David's Day.

And finally, question 8, Jane Dodds. We can't hear Jane Dodds at th at the moment. If you'll just wait a second. Thank you. 

Support for Refugees

8. What support is available for refugees arriving in Wales? OQ57563

I thank Jane Dodds for the question. Our nation of sanctuary plan sets out the support that refugees arriving in Wales can expect to receive. This includes the advice and services needed to reduce inequality, prevent destitution, aid integration and help people seeking sanctuary to create a better future for themselves and for Wales.

14:25

Diolch, Prif Weinidog. On Valentine's Day this month, we are being asked to have a heart for refugees in a show of love, friendship and solidarity with people who have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. It stands in stark contrast to the UK Government's approach in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and I know that our approach here in Wales stands again in stark contrast to that of Westminster's. First Minister, since 2010, more than 850 asylum-seeking and trafficked children and young people have been supported by the Scottish Guardianship Service. It's a service run by the children's charity Aberlour in partnership with the Scottish Refugee Council. The scheme is unique across the UK in offering continual one-to-one support in everything from navigating the gruelling bureaucracy of the asylum system to settling into their new communities. I wonder, First Minister, if this is something we could consider replicating here in Wales to ensure that no child or young person has to deal with the indignity and cruelty this Conservative Government seems hellbent on baking into our asylum system. Diolch.

I thank Jane Dodds, Llywydd.

There is an independent child trafficking guardian service in Wales, and many young, unaccompanied asylum seekers will meet the definition of being trafficked to the UK and therefore will be within the scope of this service, and it is similar, but not identical, I can see that, to the Scottish Guardianship Service. I'm very happy to look at whether there are aspects of the Scottish system that might usefully be replicated here in Wales. The general point that Jane Dodds began with, Llywydd, is a very important one: the impending tragedy of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Because that's what it will be for so many people who are recognised as having fled a well-founded fear of persecution and who will now find that Bill adversely impacting on the delivery of integration support in Wales, exacerbating destitution, increasing exploitation of migrants and illegal working in our communities, and those people who are already vulnerable will find their vulnerability increasing even further.

And we will see the visible signs of it here in Wales, we fear, in increases in homelessness, in impacts on public health, as people without recourse to public funds are likely to be fearful of coming forward for healthcare. Llywydd, there will be an LCM in front of the Senedd later this month particularly in relation to clauses 48 to 56 of the Bill, which we believe will restrict the ability of the Senedd to carry out our devolved responsibilities in relation to the youngest asylum seekers. The Welsh Government will be proposing to the Senedd that we withhold consent from those clauses, because they simply do not reflect the values and the beliefs that this Senedd, through our nation of sanctuary programme, has led the world in in many ways in making sure that we say that people who need help, and who need help by coming to Wales, will find us a welcoming nation, understanding of the traumas that they have experienced and determined to do what we can to help them set their lives on a new path, and, by doing that, to make their contribution to Wales.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Member
Lesley Griffiths 14:29:16
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

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

Diolch, Trefnydd, for your statement. Can I call for a statement on updates to the NHS COVID pass system, please? I've been contacted by a number of constituents in recent weeks, and I'm sure other Members across this Chamber have too, who had third jabs, as opposed to booster jabs, for the extremely vulnerable earlier than the booster jab campaign started, and, as a result of that, they're unable to access evidence of those third jabs on the NHS COVID pass system. That is causing them problems, especially when they want to undertake international travel. I think it is important that that system is updated as soon as possible, and it would be welcome if we were able to get a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services to confirm that that will be the case. 

14:30

So, we are waiting for the UK Government to decide on a change in the definition of fully vaccinated, and once that decision is made, it will enable us to make the digital changes necessary to allow boosters to show on the domestic COVID pass. Unfortunately, that date has been moved a few times. 

You mentioned specifically international travel, and, again, the UK Government is due to consider if the definition of fully vaccinated for inbound international travel should include boosters, and whether there should be a time limit on primary courses, and we're expecting that decision the week beginning 7 February. 

Trefnydd, I'd like to ask for two statements please. Firstly, as you'll be aware, in September 2021, the World Health Organization updated the global air quality guidelines for the first time in 16 years. Could we please have a statement from the Minister for Climate Change, outlining the Welsh Government's response to the new guidelines and how they will be incorporated into legislation here in Wales?

Secondly, can I request a statement from the Minister for health regarding updating COVID guidance for visiting in hospitals? A constituent of mine contacted me from her hospital bed. She recently gave birth to her premature daughter and her husband is only allowed to visit for two hours a day. Not only is she unable to be supported during a traumatic time, but also her husband is missing out on seeing his daughter. She asked me, 'Why is it fair that I can go to a rugby game with thousands of people soon for the six nations but I can't have my husband with me in hospital?' Different hospitals have different policies. Can we have updated guidance please to secure clarity and consistency for these parents?

Thank you. I will ask the Minister for Climate Change to update Members around the World Health Organization air quality new guidance, because, as you're aware, we are looking at an air quality Bill and how it fits in with that. 

In relation to your second point, I think you've just described another harm of COVID-19—we can only imagine, as a new mum, how difficult it is—but, as you say, it is a matter for each hospital and each health board to look at how they wish visiting to take place. 

I would like to ask for two statements from the health Minister. The first one is regarding non-resuscitation in hospitals. I've been told by the COVID bereaved relatives group that non-resuscitation has been used without any discussion with relatives. Whatever your view on voluntary euthanasia, involuntary euthanasia must be a cause for concern. Can I ask the Minister for a statement on the use of do-not-resuscitate in hospitals and the safeguards that should exist?

The second statement I'm requesting is one that outlines the progress made to eliminating hepatitis C by 2030. Can the Minister in the statement indicate the number of patients that need to be treated each year, and how many were being treated each year pre-pandemic?

Thank you. Irrespective of whether a person does or does not have capacity, it remains absolutely essential that decisions relating to end-of-life care are made on an individual basis. It's unacceptable for advanced care plans, with or without do-not-attempt-resuscitation form completion, to be applied to groups of people of any description, and these decisions must continue to be made on an individual basis according to need. I know, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the chief medical officer and the chief nursing officer wrote to all health boards jointly to ensure that there was clarity around ethical decision making for people, and I believe a further joint letter reiterating this position was issued in March of last year. So, I will ask the Minister to consider whether a further letter is necessary.FootnoteLink 

In relation to hepatitis C, I think there is a need, and I'm sure the Minister for Health and Social Services would agree, to invigorate the drive to eliminate hepatitis C in Wales. You'll be aware of the unprecedented response to tackling the pandemic and, of course, there has been a shift in resources, but I know the Minister has been working very closely with health boards right across Wales to look at recovery plans, and there was a national workshop held last Ocotber where a range of work streams were under way, looking at how we can prioritise our next steps. I was reading about hepatitis C in Wales, and we were the first country in the UK to achieve elimination in a remand prison, and that's Her Majesty's Prison Swansea, and I know we're looking at a roll-out in HP Berwyn in my own constituency, because we really do want to eliminate hepatitis C in our prisons. 

14:35

Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I'd like to ask for an urgent Welsh Government statement regarding the upgrade of railway stock and the modernisation of trains in Wales. As we've already heard today, many people across Wales are trying to look at moving to using more public transport, supporting our environment and cutting carbon emissions. Of course, this is a significant part of the Welsh Government's programme for government. Nevertheless, it's clear to me, and from correspondence I receive from my residents, that the quality of rail stock and the age of trains in Wales doesn't always allow for this to be an easy choice. For example, on my way down to Cardiff here yesterday, the train noise on my four-hour journey from Rhyl, which has around 0.5 million passenger entries and exits a year, reached over 75 decibels, which is above the World Health Organization recommended levels for manufacturing workshops, and that was on a four-hour train journey. I'd be grateful if the Minister would provide a statement regarding this upgrade of train stock and the modernisation of trains in Wales. Thank you very much.

Thank you. Transport for Wales are working very hard on our programme for government commitment to deliver £800 million-worth of new rolling stock for our railways and to ensure that 95 per cent of train journeys are on new trains by 2024. And the first of these brand-new trains are already on test across north Wales—you may indeed have been on one—prior to their introduction into passenger service later this year. I did see your tweet, actually, about your journey down from north Wales, and, unfortunately, Transport for Wales did have to use alternative, lower quality stock on the 11.33 a.m. departure from Holyhead yesterday. So, unfortunately, the planned locomotive and carriage stock that they should have used was not available on this occasion.

Minister, I'd like to call for two urgent statements, please, the first on access to NHS dentistry. We've known for some time that there's been something of a crisis in accessing NHS dentistry in communities across the country. But in Ebbw Vale at the moment, there's a real emergency, where NHS dentistry has been withdrawn, there's no access for children, for pensioners, to an NHS dentist, and there are many people contacting me today who really don't know where to turn. The health boards, we know, have a responsibility to deliver dentistry services, and I'd like to have a statement from the Welsh Government on what the Welsh Government is going to do to ensure that health boards deliver on that duty.

The second statement I'd like to ask for is a very urgent statement. We've spoken time and time again in this Chamber about how, during the pandemic, the Welsh Government has sourced personal protective equipment from Wales, from social enterprises across the country—in my constituency, in sir Fôn as well. And those people, who worked so hard, face losing their jobs, potentially even this week, because we are no longer ensuring that those contracts are awarded to social enterprises in Wales, maintaining work and employment in Wales and ensuring that some of the people who are furthest from the labour force have an opportunity to work for delivering for our NHS. It's an absolute emergency for those people, Minister, and I'd like to have a very urgent statement, this week—a written statement if you're not able to produce an oral statement tomorrow—to demonstrate that the Welsh Government is going to take action to ensure the continuity of employment for all of those people.

Thank you. In relation to your second query, the Minister for Finance and Local Government recently made a statement on procurement, and I'm aware that you raised this specific issue during that statement and that you've also been in contact with the Minister for Economy's office. I'll ensure that you're updated on the matter, and I'll ask the Minister for finance and Local Government if there is any further update.

In response to your question around dentistry, you'll be aware that the Minister for Health and Social Services has put significant funding into dentistry—some additional funding—and that she's meeting monthly with health boards to see how we can improve access to NHS dentistry across Wales. The health boards will be able to invest that funding to address those local needs and issues.

Trefnydd, could I request a statement from the Minister for health on the national roster review currently being carried out by the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust? Specifically, I would like an update from the Welsh Government on what discussions officials have had with the ambulance NHS trust on potential plans to downgrade the ambulance stations in both Monmouth and Chepstow. This change has understandably caused concern within my constituency, as it may leave Monmouth and Chepstow with just one ambulance vehicle each. When each vehicle is out on call, this means potentially that there will be no ambulances to respond to a red call from either of these two stations. There is already great concern about the horrendous waiting times for ambulances in the area at the moment, and this threat to the service would make things worse.

Furthermore, it's my understanding that the plans to replace two what are rough old portakabins at the rear of the old ambulance station in Monmouth with a new building have also been shelved, and that doesn't bode well for the future of the service for many people looking in. I welcome that the chief executive of the Welsh ambulance trust has agreed to meet with me and the leader of Monmouthsire council abut the roster review and the trust's attempt to ensure that their resources are best placed geographically. However, I would be grateful, Trefnydd, if your Cabinet colleagues could look into this issue to help provide confidence to my constituents that an adequate ambulance service will still be available to them in the future and that staff will have access to the modern facilities that they need. Thank you. 

14:40

Well, I think you've done the right thing in asking for a meeting with the chief executive of the Wales ambulance services trust, who will be able to answer your specific questions. I am aware of the review that's currently being undertaken, and I am sure the Minister will await the outcome of that review before making a statement. 

Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I wonder if I could ask for two statements, please, the first from the Minister for education on the decision of the UK Government to bring forward regulations to freeze the student loan repayment threshold. This will result in a real-terms increase in repayments for graduates on plan 2 student loans. I think it's important that we have clarity about the impact of that decision on graduates and student finance here in Wales.

The second statement I want is from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the decision—very worrying—to grant a licence for the extension of Aberpergwm coal mine, which is a huge backward step in our efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Could the Senedd, please, receive a statement about the decision to grant an extension, whether there is any further clarity about where power lies to intervene in this matter, whether the Government would consider a moratorium on all new coal mining in Wales, and what steps the Welsh Government is taking to acquire any powers it believes it does not have to prevent such applications in future? Diolch. 

Diolch. Regarding student loan repayment thresholds, you will probably be aware that Welsh Government officials do work with UK Government officials to look at the threshold in the repayments regulations, and UK Government do not need the agreement of Welsh Ministers to amend the repayment threshold, but they cannot impose that change on Wales. So, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language will be looking at options in the coming weeks, and if there obviously is anything that he wishes to update Members on, I'm sure he will provide either a letter or a written statement. 

Regarding the Aberpergwm mining licence, we've been very clear that we do not support the extraction of fossil fuels, and we're very much focused on the climate emergency. As the original licence here was issued before licensing powers were devolved to the Welsh Government, Welsh Ministers are not able to intervene in the licensing process and unfortunately, then, appropriately apply our Welsh policy. So, the Coal Authority did inform us on 11 October it is considering whether conditions attached to an existing licence for the mine have been discharged, and then, on 26 January, the Coal Authority updated its website confirming the application to decondition the licence had been approved. 

Let me begin by echoing the calls from Alun Davies today on the need for a statement on NHS dentistry. It's been an ongoing issue for some time, and we do need to understand how Welsh Government will work with the dentistry sector to increase accessibility for our constituents.

But, on a separate issue, it's clear from questions today that I'm not alone in having received many enquiries in respect of the challenges facing immunosuppressed people with boosters and third jabs for the COVID pass for international travel. Now, I've raised this with Welsh Ministers, and I thank them for some clarification, not least that, in relation to the issue of third primary doses for people who are immunosuppressed not showing up on the COVID pass for international travel, this relates to an issue with the way NHS England has been recording the third dose on the system. Now, I know that Welsh Government has been pressing for this to be resolved, with the health Minister, with the Secretary of State for health, and officials behind the scene doing their part, but could you clarify, Trefnydd, when we are likely to hear more on the resolution of this for our constituents, and could we then have a statement immediately when we hear of progress, to see that the matters have been resolved by the UK Government?

14:45

Thank you. You will have heard my answer to Darren Millar. The third primary dose for people who are immunosuppressed has not been showing up on the COVID pass for outbound international travel because of an issue, as you say, with the way NHS England has been recording the third dose on the system. You're quite right that the Minister for Health and Social Services repeatedly pressed the Secretary of State for health around this issue and officials have been working very closely with the UK Government officials on this. So, we are continuing to work to push for these issues to be resolved as quickly as possible to enable third doses of the vaccine to be visible on the digital COVID pass, so people who are immunosuppressed can then use the COVID pass for international travel. So, as soon as that is accomplished—and you will have heard me say to Darren Millar that we hope later this month that will happen—the Minister for Health and Social Services will provide a written statement.

I would yet again like to endorse a request from Alun Davies MS and Huw Irranca-Davies for a statement on the lack of provision of dental services. Certainly, in my consistency of Aberconwy it's a big issue and I'm currently meeting with GPs and they're feeling the strain of people requesting appointments when they're in agonising pain. So, really, it's something that—. It's an urgent statement that is required from the Minister.

I also believe there's another statement overdue, and that's from the Minister for Climate Change on dangerous cladding removal in Wales. We have so many high-rise residential buildings. Here in Cardiff, Celestia Action Group, owners of Redrow properties in Cardiff Bay, are fighting to get their developer to put right such serious building defects. They undertook a protest outside the Senedd over the weekend and they spoke out last week at the lack of action by the Welsh Labour Government following the positive development that we've seen in England. Just two weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, wrote to the residential property developer industry asking for clear commitments from developers, including that they agree to make financial contributions this year and in subsequent years to a dedicated fund to cover the full outstanding cost to remediate unsafe cladding on 11m to 18m-high buildings, and also he's asked them to fund and undertake all necessary remediation of buildings over 11m in which they have played a role in developing.

I actually agree with the Secretary of State that it is neither fair nor decent that innocent leaseholders, many of whom have worked hard and made sacrifices to get a foot on the housing ladder, should be landed with bills they simply cannot afford to fix problems they did not cause. So, could you please obtain an urgent statement from the Minister for Climate Change, making a statement to this Senedd clarifying whether she is going to take the same bold action as Michael Gove and actually make sure that Wales is not failing and will stay hanging behind on this issue? [Interruption.] It's too important an issue. And the heckling is actually, quite frankly, disgusting.

We have made significant strides to improve building safety in Wales following, obviously, the fire at Grenfell Tower, and that includes: we've removed unsafe ACM cladding from the majority of high-rise buildings in Wales at no cost to leaseholders, and the last remaining buildings now have work under way, so that's all the buildings; amendments to building regulations banning the use of combustible materials on the exterior of high-rise residential buildings, hospitals and care homes; and we've also made amendments under the Fire Safety Act 2021, which brought the external envelope of buildings within the remit of responsible persons.

In September, the Minister for Climate Change launched phase one of the Welsh building safety fund, which provides funding for fire safety surveys and the creation of building passports. That essential first phase really takes a holistic approach that goes beyond just cladding and will identify what measures and actions are required for multiresidential buildings, to make them as safe as possible. We've also provided £375 million over the next three years to support the remediation of building safety issues in multi-occupied residential buildings that have got existing defects, and just a couple of months ago, in December, the Minister for Climate Change announced the development of the leasehold support scheme, which is intended to support leaseholders who are experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of these issues. So, a huge amount of work is being done by Welsh Government.

14:50

Trefnydd, I'm sure you're aware that winning the UK City of Culture status would give Wrexham a huge boost in confidence and lead to enormous economic, social and cultural opportunities. I know that, as the local Member, you have been giving unwavering support, which is incredibly well valued. Could I ask for a formal message of best wishes from the Welsh Government as the bid reaches a critical moment, and of course as we await the visit by one of the twenty-first century's most iconic pop culture figures, Will Ferrell?

And may I also ask for a statement from the Minister for Economy updating Members on the economic resilience fund, on the Development Bank for Wales's COVID loan scheme, and on other forms of support from the Welsh Government for businesses during the pandemic, which may offer assurance that here in Wales, as a result of the Welsh Labour Government, there are stringent safeguards in place that are preventing the sorts of levels of fraud that we are witnessing in England and across the UK from the UK Government's bounce back loan scheme, which has led to more than £4 billion of taxpayers' money being claimed fraudulently as many taxpayers lay dying?

Thank you. I am very pleased that the local authority that we share across our constituencies is applying for UK City of Culture 2025. I'm very happy to provide a formal statement of support from the Welsh Government. Just last Friday we held a conference, a virtual conference, to support the bid for one of the six visions that Wrexham have, and that was around being the UK centre for play, which of course is so important for our children and young people, and the First Minister opened that conference, so I'm very happy to provide another statement. The rumour about Will Ferrell coming to watch the football team that we both support, I think, is very much out there. We seem to be attracting some very famous people to the Racecourse these days.

In relation to your second, very important request for a statement, I'm sure the Member is aware that when we've been making emergency loans through the COVID-19 Wales business loans scheme, the Development Bank for Wales took steps to speed up the delivery of funding, whilst maintaining identity verification procedures to a very, very high standard, and that robust approach was really needed by DBW to make sure that we safeguarded public money. To be eligible for CWBLS, a business had to be trading for over two years, while the BBLS provided loans to companies that had to be engaged in trading since 1 March 2020, so, very, very quick. The DBW also applied standardised personal guarantees at a maximum of 20 per cent, and they capped the loans at £25,000 also, though they never supported by the applicant's principal private residence, which, along with that identity verification, mitigated some of the risks that were in place in pace of delivery. Therefore, this means that the risk of fraud with ours was far, far lower than compared to the bounce back loans and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, as they were audited accounts to scrutinise in the diligence process, and the DBW was not at risk from fraudulent new company registrations.

I endorse the comments about the Wrexham city of culture bid and the will-he-won't-he Ferrell visit, but I also call for an oral statement on mental health services in north Wales. On 29 September, the health Minister told the Senedd that a piece of work to ensure that the recommendations of the 2013 Holden report, documenting the failings of a north Wales mental health unit,

'provided assurance that action was taken and remains in place against each of the recommendations of the report'.

This, despite a Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report the previous week confirming that the recommendations had not been met. On 8 December, the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being told the Senedd that

'The health board took action at that time to address the issues raised, and commissioned work to ensure that the Holden recommendations had been implemented.' 

However, a Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report on 23 December confirmed that the issues raised by whistleblowers in 2013 were still in existence, including the profile beds used by patients to commit suicide in December 2020 and April 2021. The next day, North Wales Community Health Council's chief executive e-mailed me stating that,

'in the light of the recently released Holden report, we can be sure that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board cannot be left to implement recommendations without close oversight.'

The ministerial code states that,

'It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Senedd, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Senedd will be expected to offer their resignation'.

I call for a statement here from the Ministers identified accordingly. 

14:55

Thank you. Well, the Minister for Health and Social Services is in the Chamber and will have heard your statement, and if she has anything further to add, I'm sure she will write to the Member.FootnoteLink I do think it's also an opportunity to mention, obviously, this Thursday, it's Time to Talk Day. It takes place, as we all know, on the first Thursday in February every year, and asks everyone to have a conversation about mental health. So, I just want to remind Members that it would be good if we could all think about that on Thursday.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. I'd like to ask for a statement from the Minister for health on the diagnosis and treatment of women with endometriosis. You will recall that, back in 2018, the recommendations of the endometriosis task and finish group were published. It seems like a million years ago, given all that's happened since, but I believe that the Welsh Government sought assurances from all the health boards that they were in a position to be compliant with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on the treatment of endometriosis. And, we had a subsequent debate on endometriosis in the Chamber in October 2020. But, tomorrow, I'm going to be meeting Beth Hales, who will be handing in a petition with nearly 6,000 signatures, which paints a deteriorating picture of the situation, not least that the only accredited specialist endometriosis centre, which is in Cardiff, has lost one of its three endo specialist consultants. And, according to the petition, there are no plans to fill that vacancy. So, I'd be extremely grateful if we could have an update from the Minister on exactly how health boards are approaching the backlog for women who need diagnosis and treatment for endometriosis, and I'm sure that will help inform the Petitions Committee, who are going to have to provide a response to these petitioners as to how we in the Senedd and the Welsh Government are going to address what is obviously a very painful situation for many, many women. 

Thank you. We know, don't we, that endometriosis is a condition that affects a significant number of women. And, as the petition you referred to highlights, the impact on quality of life can be huge—really significant—and the diagnosis can take, unfortunately, a significant period of time. And I think, sometimes, there's a lack of understanding amongst the health profession around the condition.

I note that the women's health implementation group was set up back in March 2018; that was a ministerially directed group to consider reports into what could be used in relation to the condition. And, since it was established, it has been allocated £1 million a year to support its activities, and this funding has enabled a network of pelvic health and well-being co-ordinators to be in place in each health board. And, more recently, there's also been the recruitment of a network of specialist endometriosis nurses in each health board to develop national pathways. So, that could help to reduce diagnostic times across Wales, make sure women are supported, and make sure they get a timely diagnosis as well. You will have heard me say in an earlier answer around dentistry, and it's the same with endometriosis, the Minister is working very closely with the health boards to look at how we can clear the backlog as quickly as possible.

3. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Launch of the new Health and Social Care Regional Integration Fund

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the launch of the new health and social care regional integration fund. I call on the Minister to make the statement, once she has removed her mask. Eluned Morgan.

15:00

Thank you, Llywydd. It's great to be back in the Senedd and to see everyone face to face again for the first time in a while. 

In August 2021, I approved a new five-year regional integration fund to support the continued development of integrated health and social care services in Wales. Today, I am pleased to be able to provide more detail on the fund and to officially launch the guidance that my officials have co-produced with regional partnership boards in order to prepare for the launch of the new fund on 1 April.

'A Healthier Wales' is our long-term plan for health and social care in Wales. It sets out a future vision of a whole-system approach to health and social care, which is focused on health and well-being, and, critically, on preventing illness. It recognises the regional partnership boards as key drivers of integration, empowering them to pool resources and expertise to deliver seamless, preventive models of care at a local, regional and national level.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and with support from the integrated care fund and transformation fund, regional partnership boards have developed new models of care that have proved invaluable, including rapid discharge from hospital to home and admission avoidance models. We know there's a problem already in terms of delayed transfer of care. Had we not had these models in place, the situation would have been a lot worse. Now, more than ever, joined up, integrated planning and delivery of services is crucial to help us as we continue with our COVID-19 response, that we build for recovery and we transform our health and care system.

I want to see Wales build on the good practice and partnership working that has developed across health, social care and the third sector over the past two years, and embed effective and preventative community solutions. The new regional integration fund will support this activity by further embedding existing national models of care, and by developing new ones for the identified priority population groups. The new fund will run from April 2022 to March 2027, and will develop national integrated models of care around six key thematic priorities. These are: community-based care, prevention and community co-ordination; secondly, place-based care, complex care closer to home; thirdly, promoting good emotional health and well-being; fourthly, supporting families to stay together safely and through providing therapeutic support for care-experienced children; fifthly, home from hospital; and sixthly, accommodation-based solutions.

I've listened to feedback from regional partners and to the findings from the independent evaluations into previous funds, which stated that short-term funding made transformation and integration difficult to achieve. In response, I have committed to an annual investment of £144 million for five years.

The five-year investment period from April 2022 will ensure that longer-term investment plans can be established and delivered against a framework of set outcomes. To truly demonstrate a partnership approach to integration, the Welsh Government and regional partnership boards have co-produced a tapered approach to investment, with partners expected to sustainably source match resources throughout the life cycle of the fund. That will lead to ongoing support at the end for the integrated national models of care.

I have been clear that this new fund is not a continuation of the previous funds. Regional partnership boards will need to demonstrate that the money is being used for integrated services that will help to develop the six stated national models of care. This will help us achieve the ambition set out in 'A Healthier Wales', namely for people to be able to access the right care and the right support in the right place at the right time, and for people to take control of their own health and well-being to prevent the escalation of needs.

The regional partnership boards bring together health, social services, housing, the third sector, citizens and carer representatives and other partners to take forward the effective delivery of integrated services here in Wales. Under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, their purpose is to improve the outcomes and well-being of people with care and support needs, as well as their carers. The regional integration fund will support those people in Wales who would most benefit from integrated models of care. Priority population groups will include older people, including people with dementia, children and young people with complex needs, people with learning disabilities and neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism, unpaid carers and people with emotional and mental health well-being needs.

To ensure that the objectives of the new fund are being met, a clear framework of outcomes will be implemented, with key outcomes and measures. Communities of practice will be established that will play an essential role in sharing learning and supporting partners with the development of the national models of integrated care. Our response to the pandemic has shown what we can achieve by working together. With the launch of the regional integration fund, I am determined that we will build on these experiences as we deal with the ongoing challenges ahead of us. 

15:05

Thank you for your statement this afternoon, Minister; it's good to see you in person after several weeks of more Zoom meetings than you can count. Integrating care should be about the outcomes, so why are we integrating care if not to provide top-quality care to every citizen of Wales? Healthcare needs and social care needs are so intertwined, both on a patient level and an organisational level. Minister, how will this new fund and new models of delivering care ensure better, more timely care for patients? How will co-produced plans with regional partnership boards address the shortage in care provision?

One only has to look at the dropping-off points outside our accident and emergency departments across the country to see the impact the crisis in social care is having on our NHS. In health committee last week, as part of our inquiry into hospital discharge, we took evidence that highlighted and underlined the impact delays were having. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine pointed out that during the past year, excessive waits at A&E may have contributed to nearly 2,000 excess deaths; 1,946 Welsh patients died because they couldn't be treated in time. Minister, how soon will the people of Wales see improvement and an end to these totally preventable deaths?

I welcome the emphasis being placed upon prevention, but that will not help the tens of thousands of people waiting for treatment today. We currently have hundreds of patients who are medically fit for discharge but can't be released home or into a care facility, simply because they have no care package available. I was shocked to learn that for a number of patients the delays have been measured in years, not weeks. Minister, do you agree with me that it's a damning indictment of where we are when local authorities are putting out adverts calling for volunteers to provide homecare services?

Successive Governments have so undervalued the caring profession that it's little wonder we struggle to fill vacancies. Without carers, we can't provide care packages; without care packages, we can't discharge patients; and without discharge we can't admit new patients. So, Minister, do you believe that regional partnership boards will be able to eliminate delayed transfers of care, or DToCs? Will they be able to address the staffing crisis?

Forgive me if I do sound a bit sceptical, but regional partnership boards have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent times. The auditor general found issues with the integrated care fund and raised concerns that regional partnership boards were failing to share best practice. Do you believe that regional partnership boards have delivered value for money? Minister, what safeguards will be in place to ensure that this new fund fares better than previous funds? How will this expenditure be managed and monitored? I welcome the position on developing new models of care and providing care closer to home, so how will regional partnership boards bring care closer to home? Will they adopt a hospital-at-home approach as suggested by the Royal College of Physicians and supported by my party?

And finally, Minister, you state that the fund will support the identified priority population groups. What about others with complex needs? Would they not benefit from such a step change in care? Thank you very much.

15:10

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

Thank you, Gareth, and it's lovely to see you in person as well. I think it's really important to make sure that the outcomes framework is something that we are very focused on. The whole point here is that we've got to see deliverables at the end of this process. What is absolutely clear is the interrelationship between health and care, as you've pointed out. That is something that we've been very aware of. That's why we brought in an opportunity for that closer integration back in 2014, with the social services and well-being Act, and of course, the whole approach of the well-being of future generations Act is all also about long-term prevention, integration. So, all of those things are in place, and it's good to see that the UK Government is at last catching up with that philosophy and approach and we're seeing at least an aspect of that being developed in the Bill that's going through Westminster at the moment.

What's clear is that we have come a very long way through what we've learnt through the integrated care fund plans and the transformation fund plans. We are very keen, though, to learn from some of the lessons that were made clear and that were highlighted, as you suggested, by the auditor general. We are taking on board all of the points that they've made: timeliness on guidance, which is why you're seeing that guidance being published today, an alignment of multiple short-term funds, so we've knocked off several different funding channels here and we've put it all into one package, minimising duplication, strengthening those governance arrangements, better scrutiny, agree key outcomes, shared learning; all of that is absolutely now embedded into the next phase of the regional integration fund.

You talk about the difficulties with hospital discharges; there's nobody more aware of the problem than I am. We're still in a situation where we have about a 1,000 people in our hospitals who are ready for discharge. It's about that interconnection between the hospitals and the need to get them out into communities, making sure people are talking to each other. The Deputy Minister and I have been meeting on a weekly basis with local authorities to make sure everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet, to make sure everybody understands what needs to be done here. I think it is probably worth underlining that fundamental to this is the need for respect for people who are giving that care within our communities, and that means actually paying them properly. That's why we, from April, will be bringing in the real living wage, a manifesto commitment that we will be delivering from April—I'm very proud to see that happening—and the beginning of that process, to give respect to those people who are doing such sterling work in our communities.

However bad and difficult it is in Wales, I can assure you that it's a damn sight more difficult in England. I think it's been fascinating to watch in recent days how there's been this u-turn when it comes to vaccinations and now saying that actually, people who work in the NHS who haven't been vaccinated don't have to stop their jobs. But it's too late; they've already kicked out a whole load of care workers, so if there was a problem before, it's an even greater problem now in England. Of course, we are in a position where we already have very high numbers of our care workers who've been vaccinated; we'd like more of them to be boosted, but it's really important that we just keep on that pressure.

We do, of course, have lots of examples of things like hospital at home already across all parts of Wales. The whole purpose of this is to take those best practices and see how we can embed them and roll them out across the whole of Wales. Those kinds of examples, we do have lots of those already in Wales, but this is about embedding what works well.

15:15

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I also feel the need to say that it's nice to see the Minister face to face again after some weeks of working virtually.

Thank you for this statement today; I give a careful but general welcome to the principle. We're certainly agreed on the need to integrate as much as possible. Plaid Cymru for many years has supported putting funds in place in order to encourage collaboration between health and care. I think, although the Minister said that this isn't a continuation of the old funds, I do think that the intermediate care fund was something that emerged from a budgetary agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government some eight years ago. That was an integrated care fund and this is following the same design; it's the latest incarnation. I'll return to the question as to whether this is entirely new or a continuation of what's gone before. But I certainly agree that, where there is innovation and where there is good practice, that should be passed from one area to another more effectively and should be able to be delivered in the longer term. I think there are too many problems with short-term funding, which means that good projects are cut just as they're getting established, and, in that regard, I welcome the fact that five-year funding is being put in place as a result of this announcement.

One question that was raised by the auditor's report in 2019 was this question of what exactly do we get out of this. Yes, the principle works, but what was said in a report some three years ago was that

'the overall impact of the fund'—

the integrated care fund at that time—

'in improving outcomes for service users remains unclear, with little evidence of successful projects yet being mainstreamed.'

So, what will be different this time in order to ensure that the outcomes for patients are better? Because we can agree all day long on principles, but, unless those principles become tangibles that make a difference to patients, then there's not much purpose to them. 

To turn to this question as to whether this is a continuation of something that's gone before or something new, the Minister said that it is new, but what about those things that have worked well under the current funds? How do we ensure that those can become part of this new integrated regional fund? Concerns have been raised, over the last weeks and months since this plan was first mooted, by the third sector and other groups who have posts partially funded by past funds. What happens to those? What assurance can you give that those things that have been making a difference and working well can continue for the future?

One final question from me. There is a risk under the projects that were funded under the funds to date that they encourage collaboration rather than real integration. And where collaboration works well, well, all well and good, but it's not integration. Calling this integration in and of itself won't secure integration. So, where does the Minister think that this fits in to the broader agenda that I am very eager to see progress very swiftly to truly integrate health and care services? Because surely that's what we're seeking, ultimately. I need to know how we will measure, under the plan outlined today, whether that integration is truly happening, or is it a step towards another project of real integration.

Thank you very much, Rhun. I think it's important that we don't throw everything out, everything that's happened previously, because there was good practice that was happening with the ICF and the transformation programme as well. So, it's important that we do take that and we take the innovation. But the trouble was, because people didn't see that there was any continuity, they didn't mainstream it, so that's why the way we do things this time is going to be slightly different. People will need to bring match funding to the table, and that means that they will have to put a lot more of their own funding into it. And do I hope that that, then, will genuinely work towards that integration that you mentioned, rather than just collaboration. And the idea, then, is that things are embedded. And the other thing is that there will be tapering, so they will start off with funding from this budget, but then the idea is that they will see the benefit and they will move funding from other pots to the things they know that work. So, do I hope—at least, that's the idea—that some of the measures that, as you said, were shown by the auditor general—. It's important that we do learn from what we have seen previously.

There are very good examples, I think, of where things have worked well. For example, in Cardiff, the discharge hub has done things like had a full-time occupational therapist to ensure that people can move out and that there is someone on call all the time. And social prescribing has been very successful in Cardiff, with 10 clusters working with social prescribing. In Cwm Taf, we have the  assisted technology programme, which is very interesting, because it allows older people to stay in their homes and there is a responsive system if anything goes wrong. And then in Gwent, we have a home first programme, and the idea is that we put that hospital discharge in place, and the same thing at the Grange Hospital—home first. These are all examples of where we have seen innovative things happening, they have been successful, but we now need to see that things move into the mainstream. In the north, you'll be aware of the ICAN community mental health hub, which has also been very successful. So, there are many good things that are happening, but you're right, what we need to do is to take the ICAN model and ask, 'Why can't we see this happening in other places across the country?'

15:20

I very much welcome the statement by the Minister on the social care regional integration fund. Integrated social care and health, with patients at the heart of provision, has got to be what we're all aiming for. I remember when Jane Hutt launched the first joint social services and health scheme over 20 years ago.

I've long called for focusing on preventing illness and hospitalisation. That's really got to be where we're moving towards, not waiting for people to be ill and then trying to make them better, or in some cases not, but trying to stop them needing to go in in the first place and stop them needing medication. I welcome that there is going to be a clear outcome framework; too often, money is spent on health with no measurable outcomes, it's just, 'Money spent on health is good, isn't it? It doesn't matter what it does with it.' I once said that if somebody stood outside a hospital and dropped pound coins down a drain, as long as it was health pound coins dropped down the drain, a lot of people would be saying how wonderful it is.

So, I think what I would like to ask—[Interruption.] What I would would like to ask is: will the Minister arrange for publication of the expected outcomes? I apologise to the Minister for this, because I'm going to be asking this on every single thing that the Minister and others bring forward: what are the outcomes? What are we hoping to achieve? And not, 'We've spent a lot of money; isn't it good?' What are we hoping to achieve and how can we see whether this works? And sometimes it won't, and I think that we've all got to be grown up enough, even on opposition benches, to realise that sometimes it won't work, but doing it is the right idea and we'll learn from what hasn't worked out properly.

And the last question I've got is: will the community support for hospitals at home be funded by this or will it be funded separately? Because, really, that has to be one of the best things we can do. It's been pushed forward by a number—by the Royal College of Physicians, by the royal college of geriatric medicine—that, actually, dealing with people at home, giving them the full service at home, is going to make them better quicker and it will improve outcomes considerably. So, is that funded by this, or will you be coming with another statement saying that it will be funded somewhere else?

Thanks very much, Mike. Certainly, in terms of prevention, that's very much the whole philosophy behind the 'A Healthier Wales' programme, which you will be aware of. And if the pandemic has shown us anything, it has shown that, actually, it's the people who are the poorest, it's the most disadvantaged, who've actually paid the greatest price. And so unless we start to address that issue of prevention, getting in early, getting in from a young age, we're unlikely to see any significant shift in terms of the longer term health outcomes unless we address those very early issues that are clear.

In terms of the outcomes, well, what we've got is six priority areas. So, there are six priority areas: community-based care; complex care closer to home; promoting good emotional health and well-being; supporting families to stay together; home-from-hospital services; accommodation-based services. All of those things are things that are very clear in terms of the priorities. When it comes to outcomes, what happens next is that we'll be sitting down with the regional partnership boards—we have a meeting with them tomorrow—and we'll start going through, 'Look, what are the outcomes that we're looking for?' It's really important that, actually, I think they need to own these outcomes as well. So, they need a sense of ownership; it's really important, I think, for us to develop those together.

But, certainly, in terms of hospital-to-home, you talk about the Royal College of Surgeons—you know, we're very much in agreement with them. And you can see, as one of the six priorities there, home-from-hospital services—. There's that, there is the home-from-hospital, which is key. But you're absolutely right, what we need to do is the prevention work beforehand, and that can also be funded from this funding here, the regional integration fund.

15:25

I definitely support your ambition for effective and preventative community solutions, and we doubtless need a great deal more prevention, as we've got 20 per cent of the population awaiting hospital appointments across Wales—that's a pretty devastating figure.

Anyway, two years ago, almost to the day, I visited the Cwm Taf neighbourhood nursing team just before the pandemic broke, and I witnessed the amazing specialist care delivered by and with the people who needed these services, which ranged from everything from people who needed wound care to people who needed palliative care to those who just needed support in understanding how to manage their condition, whatever it might be, in conjunction with their families and friends. Very much based on the Buurtzorg model of co-production, the pilot just demonstrated, in the evaluation, just how well this works, and I know that there is a commitment to spread that across the whole of Wales. So, how does this announcement today fit in with that ambition to ensure that every community has a self-managed neighbourhood nursing team, to ensure that people are kept out of hospital who don't need to be there?

Secondly, I'd just like to ask you about these community centres you're talking about. I was at the Co-operative Party's conference on Zoom the other day, and the First Minister was talking about 50 local community hubs, bringing health and social care together with other services, with citizens regarded as assets, to share their skills and combine in resolving the problems that that community faces. How does that—what the First Minister was talking about—link in with what you're talking about that's going to be led by these regional partnership boards?

Thanks very much, Jenny, and, firstly, can I commend your enthusiasm for the Buurtzorg model, the neighbourhood district nursing model, which I know that you're very, very keen on? What we've got in relation to neighbourhood district nursing—. We have learnt some lessons from the Cwm Taf model. There's a lead nurse who has been appointed as part of the primary and community care strategic programme, and the idea is, because we've learnt that now, we're on a once-for-Wales approach, and one of the things that we're very keen to learn, as a result of what happened in places like Cwm Taf, is the e-scheduling—so, how you schedule tasks—and that's going to be rolled out to every health board in Wales by early May, I'm pleased to say. So, a national service specification for district nursing within community-integrated teams is being developed. That's slightly separate from what we're talking about here. So, I think it is important though that we understand that, actually, on all of these things, ultimately, people need to be co-operating even if they get their funds from different pots.

The 50 community hubs that you're talking about, which, of course, are part of our manifesto commitment, I think there are real opportunities to make sure that we use these as platforms to build that kind of local community support, and there's no reason why people can't be based in those community hubs as they develop, and I'm very keen to see those. We're developing proposals for where those are going to be, how they're going to be developed, how they're going to be financed, and all of that work is ongoing at the moment. 

15:30

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, I'm worried, and I hope you can reassure me. You're allocating £144 million a year for the next five years. That's over £700 million, and we don't know what we're going to get for it. That worries me. It worries me, because your starting point is that you're replacing previous funds, and I don't know what was delivered by those previous funds. The last plan available to us in Gwent was published for 2018-19. It didn't contain a single target, a single objective, or a single timescale.

Now, if we're to hold the Government to account for delivering on these matters, we need to know those things in advance, and we need to understand what the Government is seeking to achieve. We can all see the problem. It's the easiest thing in the world to describe the problem, and Members have this afternoon: you can see the ambulances outside the hospitals; you can see the people suffering; you can see the people who need the help and support. We can all describe the problems, but is the solution to all of those problems more committees and throwing money at those committees? I'm yet to be convinced, and I'm yet to be convinced because we've tried it before and it hasn't worked. And we've tried it before, and we've set these outcomes frameworks before, but what we've done is not set clear targets about what we want to achieve, but count what happened. And when you count what happened, you simply say, 'Well, we've done all of these different things.' And individual examples, local examples, are all very good, and it's not a criticism of any of those people who are working hard to seek to achieve different things locally—that's all admirable, to be supported—but it's not a policy, and it's not an ambition, and it's not a framework for policy, and it's not a framework for ambition.

So, my concern is that we have a broken system, but is yet another committee the way of repairing it? Twenty years of doing this has told us it isn't. And I'm concerned that we've got £700 million going into a system that desperately needs support, and before Mike Hedges corrects me, I mean the whole system not just the health part of it. It all needs support, but it needs support on the front line. What it doesn't need is another hierarchy that won't deliver on the front line.

Thanks, Alun. I've got to tell you that, actually, we have learnt a hell of a lot from the transformation fund, aspects of which have been extremely successful if you just look at some of the work that's been done on mental health in places like Gwent, some of the other examples I gave. We know that this approach works. I tell you what hasn't happened is it hasn't been mainstreamed, it hasn't been there for the long term. So, what we've had is lots and lots of good pilots. So, the issue is: how do you move from pilots to the mainstream? What we've got here is the opportunity to do that. We've got a five-year programme. We're telling them, 'If you want to play, put your money in your own pocket and you can play, because if you don't, you're not playing in this space.'

So, it's about bringing people together as well. And I think it's really important. This is not a new committee, Alun; this is a committee that's been around for a very long time that's come as a result of, actually, many, many years of people saying that we need to do things differently. This is what we've come up with. I'm certainly not in the business of throwing it all up in the air and saying, 'Let's start again.' We have something that works here. I think it's really important, and I've made it very clear to the RPBs that they need to be much more flexible, they need to be much faster, they need to be much more responsive—all of those things are absolutely crucial. And when it comes to the outcomes, that is what we're going to be discussing now, the outcomes framework—what do we get for this. And that's why what we'll be doing now in the RPB meetings is to make sure that we don't let any of this money go until we're absolutely sure about what we're going to get for it.

So, that outcomes framework, I think, is really important—that we develop that with them. It's much better if you work with people than if you impose something on them, because they're more likely to play the game with you. So, I think that, actually, we've got to take the best practice; there have been some great examples of best practice. We had that £6 million transformation fund, specifically to scale up hospital to home activity. We saw a difference there. Everybody is saying, 'We need more of this.' All of the royal colleges are saying, 'Do more of this.' That's our plan. But you're right, we need to count numbers—how many people have we managed to keep out of hospital as a result? Absolutely right, and that's what we'll be talking about in relation to the outcomes framework.

15:35
4. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Exploring reform of the school day and year

Item 4 is next, a statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, exploring reform of the school day and year. And I call on the Minister, Jeremy Miles.

Dirprwy Lywydd, in our mission to ensure an education system that delivers high standards and aspirations for all our learners, every policy, every decision of this Government can help tackle the impact of poverty on our young people's ability and chances to learn and to grow. But we can only do this if we support and value the well-being of all our learners and staff. Therefore, now is the right time to ask ourselves whether the shape of the school year and the school day helps us achieve these essential and collective goals. Is the long summer break advantageous for the academic and personal development of our more disadvantaged learners? Is the uneven calendar, particularly with a long autumn term, positive for staff well-being and avoiding burnout? Could we do more with how we support schools to plan their days and weeks, so that learners have greater opportunities to build academic, cultural and social capabilities?

We have gone too long without having a proper discussion on this issue. In fact, we have a school calendar virtually unchanged for 150 years, when the expectation on young people to combine studying with working on farms, in factories or supporting at home was far different to what it is today. The experience of the last two years has required us to look afresh at how we do many things. That has, obviously, been a necessity, but it's also an opportunity. So, now is the right time for a national discussion about the school year and day. We must explore how school time and how we use it best supports learner and staff well-being, narrows educational inequalities, and can better align with modern living and working patterns.

We are currently gathering views, perspectives and experiences on how we structure the school year. This includes hearing from learners, from families and the education workforce, but also the wider public and private sector, such as childcare, health services, tourism and transport. We have commissioned Beaufort Research to support us in taking this forward, so that we develop an extensive Wales-specific evidence base, and this work will inform our next steps.

To be clear, Dirprwy Lywydd, we are not considering changing the total number of teaching days or the amount of holiday. But we are listening to views on how we could schedule the school calendar differently, to ensure that we continue to support learner progression, to enhance staff and learner well-being, and align with contemporary ways of living. My initial conversations, and early feedback from this work, suggest that there is a real appetite to look at changing the calendar, and I will continue to gather views to help shape our next steps, in further discussions both here in the Senedd and beyond.

Turning to the school day, Members will recall that, in early December, I announced plans for a small-scale trial guaranteeing an offer to learners of additional well-being and learning activities over a 10-week period. Dirprwy Lywydd, I am pleased to confirm that these trials are now under way. Thirteen schools and one college, from five local authorities, have volunteered to take part in the trial, and more than 1,800 learners will benefit from a further five hours a week of additional enrichment sessions around the school day, including sports and arts, social activities, well-being support and academic programmes. We know from research that there be can be gains in attainment, as well as improved attendance, confidence and well-being from this kind of approach, especially for our disadvantaged learners. Programmes such as these trials, which provide stimulating additional sessions and support learners to re-engage with learning, can have a greater impact on attainment than those that are solely academic in focus.

Schools, including learners, have designed these activities, and we have also worked closely with the WLGA to provide an on-the-ground adviser to support the schools involved, to provide expertise and to help lessen the workload. 

The last two years have shown how important the school environment is and continues to be, as the place where children and young people learn, grow and feel safe. The importance of the connection between the school and the wider community has also been highlighted. Through these trials, schools are able to expand their links with local and national partners, to create the space and opportunities for activities and experiences that are wide ranging and that are culturally accessible. As we move forward, it is these connections with the wider community, the even stronger engagement with families, and the co-location of key services that will support our mission to tackle the impact of poverty on educational attainment, and ensure that everyone has high aspirations.

But as well as supporting learners, this is also an opportunity to gather insight and gather evidence. So, we will be evaluating these trials, and we expect to have the initial findings in early summer. The aim is to further develop our thinking about how we use and structure time at school, and to consider how additional sessions might improve well-being and academic progression, and increase social and cultural capital. I have made up to £2 million available to support this enrichment activity, and I will update Members on the progress of this work in the coming months.

Decades have passed since we had a serious conversation in Wales about how we structure the school day and school year. That is far too long. We are, therefore, delivering on our manifesto, our programme for government and our commitment in the co-operation agreement to explore options for reform and to think anew, so that we can reduce educational inequalities, support the well-being of learners and staff, and create a system that better aligns with with contemporary patterns of family life and employment.

15:40

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and, thank you, for your statement, Minister. Here we are again talking about another seismic change in education, which will have huge ramifications for years to come, if change is deemed to be necessary. There should be very positive changes if all this does go ahead. The current form of the school day has been around for decades, as you say, Minister, and was designed at a time to suit the needs of those, like my own family members, who were then working on the farm. But things have changed, changed and changed again since then, and the modern world moves at a fast pace, as we all know, and I do believe that the way we educate and how it's structured needs to adapt with the changing needs and wants of families, teachers, children and, of course, society at large, because of the wider impact that this change would have on them.

I strongly believe that our education system needs to adapt to reflect the needs of future job markets, locally, nationally, and now, also, internationally of course, with the opportunities that will come because of Brexit and opening ourselves up to the rest of the world, perhaps using the extra time to bring in the learning of new languages, as well as the new modern languages, but also perhaps the likes of Mandarin. Do we use the time for a greater focus on coding? Do we use it to enhance the physical activity and sport offering, which obviously would have a knock-on effect on obesity and the mental health of students? I'm just wondering, Minister, how you see the time being best used.

I also see in your statement that you say that you've commissioned Beaufort Research to take this forward. Obviously for about a decade now, the UK Government has been talking about changes to the school day, so would have done a lot of research on this already, and I was just wondering how much of that will be looked at—obviously that will Wales specific—and included in that. So, rather than reinventing the wheel, we can start with the evidence we've got and build on it.

I also see that it says here that the extra five hours a week of additional enrichment sessions will be around the school day. So, just wondering, 'around the school day', do you see these extra five hours being a blended approach, sort of intermittent, in between lessons, or do you see it just coming at the end of the school day? I'm just wondering what your vision is at the moment, Minister, before we see the evidence of what's happening. Also on that, you say that the activities have been designed mainly by schools at the moment. Obviously, in the future, I hope there will be a national approach, because obviously we want the offering of education to be the same for everybody. I think there would cause further disparity if we did it school by school on such a basis. But it's still interesting to me that the schools are designing it so far. I'd be interested to see what they're doing. Are they doing the blended approach? Are they doing it at the end of school day? I'm just wondering if you could enlighten us on that.

Also, I just wanted to ask about the £2 million. Obviously, it will be interesting to know how exactly that's been spent, and I suppose in the summer we'll see whether it's been spent wisely or not. But after 150 years of having the same systems, Minister, I do look forward to seeing the findings of this report. Thank you.

15:45

Thank you, Laura Anne Jones, for your welcome for this set of trials. I think, as you say, when you talk about reinventing the wheel, we're trying to reinvent a system that has been in place in some ways for a very long time. But you are right to say that it's important to draw evidence from all sources, and there is a very rich seam of evidence both in other parts of the UK and internationally, as well as already in Wales in fact, about the benefits that can be derived from the sorts of approaches that are being trialled in this number of schools over the next 10 weeks. 

You asked me about the range of things that I was hoping to see being trialled in schools, and you asked a specific question about how that might relate, for example, to the world of work and the broader economy. There is a range of activities that are being trialled. Some of that is around arts and music and dance, some of it's around sport, from rugby to judo, some of it is around cooking and the importance of food, and we are working with the Urdd. There is a variety of activities being trialled. Some of them have the sort of connection that she was specifying in her question around business and enterprise, robotics and coding, science, green technology—so, a really wide range of activities. We've just listened in the earlier statement to the importance being outlined in the Chamber of trying new things and being candid when some of them succeed and some of them don't succeed. I think that's part of what we're trialling here to see what the best mix is.

In terms of the vision for the use of those five hours, actually, one of the flexibilities we've given to schools is to deploy those five hours in a way that works for them. Obviously, putting an extra hour on each day is one of those options. I myself don't actually have a clear view at this point, because we do need to see what happens on the ground. In a way, it's the evidence of what works that needs to guide us here, given our objective, which is to make sure that our learners re-engage with learning and boost their sense of confidence and well-being, which we know will have a positive effect on progression and attainment. 

You asked finally about a national approach, if you like. This is obviously a set of trials, isn't it, so there is guidance that has gone to schools about how best to design the activities, but the very heart of this is to see what can be designed locally. Some schools are working with local organisations, some with national organisations and so on, to get the best blend that works for their particular cohort of learners. But the opportunity here is to learn from what we discover over the next 10 weeks and find ways of extending that into the future.

Thank you, Deputy Llywydd, and thank you, Minister, for your statement. In my role as Plaid Cymru spokesperson on children and young people, I look forward to working with you on this policy as part of the co-operation agreement between my party and your Government. 

A great deal of international evidence on reform of the school day and year already exists. There are some successful examples and some less successful. It's no surprise that the impact of extending the school day depends on how that time is used. Evidence from the EPI shows us that extending the school day is most effective when we use current staff who are well trained, integrated into existing classes and activities. This is based on strong, empiric evidence, and is more effective, according to evidence, for maths. As long as this approach is taken, then additional funding to allow an extended school day is likely to lead to wins that are strong and consistent. Given that the evidence shows that extending the school day is most effective when we use current staff who are well trained, can the Minister outline how the £2 million for this pilot, as well as the broader funding for education recovery, will be used to ensure that well-trained staff are in place to ensure effective educational recovery and to take full advantage of the possible benefits of reforming the school day?

You will also be aware that many stakeholders, including unions and teachers, have raised concerns that this isn't the right time for any changes such as extending the school day. There was a mixed response from the teaching unions, with Neil Butler noting and warning that there were implications for teacher workload and indeed health and safety as schools continue to have difficulty in coping with COVID. Indeed, some schools have the highest ever levels of COVID at this particular time. Although they as unions are open to changes to the school day and the school year, UCAC said that they as a union wanted to ensure that there won't be any damage to teachers' pay and conditions. Therefore, there are clear concerns in terms of workload, pay and conditions for teachers, and health and safety in terms of extending the school day and the school year. So, can the Minister respond to the unions' concerns whilst providing some assurances to teachers that they won't face a heavier workload and damaging impacts to their terms and conditions?

Another issue I'd like to raise is—. Whilst I welcome the fact that the pilot is proceeding, may I raise an issue that's a cause of concern to me? What I read in the press was that you wanted 20 schools to be part of the pilot initially, but only 14 have signed up to participate. I understand that of the 14, according to an interview that you gave to Radio Cymru before Christmas, not one of these is a Welsh-medium school, and all of the schools are either in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Neath Port Talbot or Blaenau Gwent. One challenge we have in terms of rural schools and Welsh-medium schools, particularly, is that their catchments are larger, and, therefore, pupils have to rely on bus travel to school, missing an opportunity, very often, even now, to join in breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. So, if the pilot is going to be as useful and transparent as possible, as we look at changing something that's been in place for 150 years, wouldn't it be worthwhile for the Government to look at trying to get an additional six schools that are specifically in those areas not currently represented, and look at Welsh-medium primaries and secondaries, if we are truly to learn lessons from this pilot?

Related to this, the pandemic has had a very detrimental impact on the Welsh language, as we know, and has deprived many children from non-Welsh-speaking backgrounds of the opportunity to use the language regularly and naturally. Without doubt, this has had an impact on the development of learners on their way to becoming confident Welsh speakers, and it has certainly had an impact already on our efforts to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Can the Minister therefore outline how he believes these plans to reform the school day and year will support the increasing use of the Welsh language? In addition to this, given the apparent shortage of Welsh-speaking teachers in Wales, can the Minister explain how you and the Welsh Government are aiming to ensure that the workforce is in place to provide the additional teaching time through the medium of Welsh? 

15:50

I thank the Member for the questions. In terms of the evidence, you are right to talk about the EPI evidence, which is one of the sources of evidence, as you acknowledged in your question. There is a variety of examples from other sources, including internationally, that show patterns that are important to us in terms of how to structure and how to test the different ways of extending the opportunities for learners. So, doing that with teaching staff is one of those versions, but it's possible to do with it with a variety of other things, so we're testing all of those options, if you like, in terms of external staff, assistants, and teachers as well. So, that's part of the value of the trials, seeing what the outcomes are in terms of every different mix.

Of course, we hear the argument that this is not the right time to trial this. Just to remind you, as your question acknowledged, these are small-scale trials. We have 13 schools and one college, and all of those have decided themselves that they want to take part in this trial. So, we were reliant on schools offering to volunteer for this, and they had flexibility in terms of when to start. Some have already started, the majority are starting this week, and some will start in the coming weeks. So, there is flexibility for the schools to provide within the period that suits their circumstances, and the provision is flexible in itself in terms of the design and provision. So, there is an element of flexibility in being able to respond to some of the challenges that you raised in your question.

Regarding the concern about pressure on the workforce, I just want to be clear: changing terms and conditions for teachers is not what this is all about. It's our priority to provide activities that are of value to our learners and we're not looking at terms at all. We're grateful to the unions. Some of them have helped with some of the guidance that we've provided to schools. We can't do anything in this area other than in partnership with the workforce and with local authorities, so we're working in the spirit of constructive partnership. 

I had a range of schools that would have been ideal to take part in this trial, between 10 and 20, so I thought that 14 struck the right balance in that sense. You're right to say that in terms of geographical distribution around Wales it doesn't mean that there are schools in all parts of Wales. I would have liked to have seen that, and I would have certainly liked to have seen a Welsh-medium school volunteering to be part of it. But, given that the schools were volunteering, I couldn't force any schools to take part. I should also say that the guidance does ask schools to provide an element of extra-curricular activity through the medium of Welsh, and the majority of schools have done that as part of this. But this is not the end of the journey in terms of testing these different ways. We will have data, information and evidence from this period, and then that will allow us to trial further measures, as you suggested in such a constructive way in your question.

In terms of how this relates to the broader aim of ensuring Welsh-medium education on a more equitable basis, you're right to say that the COVID experience, in some examples, though it's not the full picture, has had a detrimental impact on the progress of some who are from non Welsh-speaking households. I have provided a budget for reimmersion for some of the students who are in that position and to support parents in their decisions in terms of choosing Welsh-medium education for their children. We have an opportunity here to ensure extra-curricular activities through the medium of Welsh, which is also a part, as you will remember, of categorisation of schools. That extra-curricular element is very important in terms of that. So, those two policies are aligned in that sense. 

The final challenge that you mentioned, to ensure that we have the staff to provide activities and teach through the medium of Welsh, is a considerable challenge. As we've discussed previously, I do expect in the spring to publish a draft plan that we've been working on with stakeholders on recruitment generally for the Welsh-medium education workforce. But I'll be happy to have a further discussion with the Member on that.

15:55

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, thank you very much for your statement. I do welcome the fact that you're looking at the school year and the school day, and I think, obviously, with any system that's lasted for 150-odd years, there's sometimes a very good reason for keeping it, and sometimes there may be a good reason for ditching it. 

I notice that you've got a 10-week trial that's going to take place and that there will be an outcome from that trial in terms of feedback, but obviously 10 weeks is only a very small fraction of the whole school year, and in an area like mine, where the rhythm of the year is dictated largely by the tourism industry, there are many people who are concerned, particularly about changing the school year significantly and the impact that might have on their workforce, if they are tourism operators. I can see that you've made a clear commitment to engage with the private sector, including the tourism industry. Can you tell us what form of engagement that might be, just so that we can encourage tourism operators to take part in it?

16:00

Well, on the—. The Member's question is focused largely on the school year. I think, just to be clear, at this point we're at the stage of gathering the range of voices, if you like; the next step will be to see what the conclusion is of that process, and there will be an ongoing opportunity, if you like, for discussion and consultation with all affected sectors and parties. But in this early stage of those discussions there are round-tables happening with a range of sectors to test approaches, to test initial reactions to different shapes of the school year. So, at this point the sorts of things that are being tested, if you like, are whether a shorter summer holiday would make sense, whether a longer winter holiday might make sense, whether a more consistent approach to the spring, Easter, break makes sense, whether there's a case for better regularity between term times and holiday times. So, that's the sort of range of things that are being tested for people's reactions, really, at this point. But just to reassure you, I think I'm right in saying—I need to check, but I think—actually even this week there are round-tables happening with representatives of different sectors. But there'll be an ongoing dialogue in relation to what we hear from them. 

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

Plenary was suspended at 16:02.

16:10

The Senedd reconvened at 16:11, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.

5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership: LGBTQ+ History Month

We'll move to item 5, a statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership: LGBTQ+ History Month. And I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement—Hannah Blythyn.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Each February, we mark LGBTQ+ History Month. It's a chance to celebrate and commemorate the contribution LGBTQ+ people have made to our communities and our country, to shine a spotlight on and rightly recognise the rich history, lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ people, to reflect on how far we have come and to redouble our efforts towards greater equality.

We can be proud of the progress that’s been made in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality, from action to prohibit discrimination in goods and services to the end of the pernicious section 28 and equal marriage. In Wales alone, we are embedding LGBTQ+ inclusive education as part of the new curriculum. We have established a gender identity service to help our trans family to be their true selves. We became the first nation in the UK to offer pre-exposure prophylaxis free on the NHS. And we are well on our way to developing a ground-breaking LGBTQ+ action plan.

The freedoms and rights that we have today were hard fought for and hard won, but they are part of our relatively recent history. Within my lifetime alone, we could be fired, we couldn’t be ourselves and serve our country, we couldn’t be mentioned in classrooms, we were dismissed as a lifestyle choice, a curable disease, and an abomination to religion. In fact, when this institution first sat, we could still be denied in law service, somewhere to live and the right to marry the person we love.

In December, it was a privilege to host an event here at the Senedd for World AIDS Day, as we marked 40 years since the AIDS epidemic began. A lot has changed in the past four decades—HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, no longer has the impact it once had, and there is a commitment to eradicating new cases of HIV by 2030. Forty years ago, the gay community faced an avalanche of fear, hostility and vilification—an agonising and unacceptable period of history that was enabled by society, fuelled by the media and legitimised by Government policy and inaction. Yet, sadly, today, we see much of the same language of vilification, fear and othering targeted at the trans community. The difference now is that this Welsh Government stands with our trans community, alongside countless allies and activists.

Not knowing our history risks our future. This is no time to sit back, to not speak out and think the job is done, that rights are won. That’s why we are determined to see through our ground-breaking LGBTQ+ action plan. That’s why it's a key part of our programme for government and our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. And that’s why we are committed to making Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe. I'd like to thank the LGBTQ+ expert panel for all their support in getting us to where we are today. We are currently analysing the consultation responses to the draft plan, and I look forward to being in a position to publish the plan and put it into practice.

We are determined also to see meaningful and rapid action on that abhorrent practice of conversion therapy. Whilst the UK Government have signalled movement here, I am concerned by the delays to their consultation and the strength of their proposals, particularly regarding consent. I stand by our programme for government commitment to not only use all existing powers to end the practice in Wales, but to seek the devolution of additional powers should UK Government proposals not go far enough.

Despite the progress we have made, we know the sad truth that hate crime is on the rise. The statistics show a 16 per cent increase in recorded hate crimes across Wales compared to 2019-20. Nineteen per cent were sexual orientation hate crimes, 4 per cent were transgender hate crimes. The horrific consequences of hate crime have really been brought home in recent reports of a tragic and terrible incident that took place in the heart of our capital city. 

It's time we made hate, prejudice and fear history. It's time to move forward in common cause to create the more equal, just and inclusive Wales we all want to see. During LGBTQ+ History Month, we pay tribute to the trailblazers; the activists and the allies; the campaigners and the change makers; those who have lived through it and those whose lives have been cut far too short. Thank you. And to everyone who continues to blaze that trail and every LGBTQ+ person in Wales: you are amazing, you are valued and you are making a difference.

16:15

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I thank the Deputy Minister for making this statement today on LGBTQ+ History Month? I think it's a really important topic and something that I hope we can all work across the Chamber to raise the profile of and aid people's understanding of the importance of this month as well. I'm, like you, very proud to live in one of the most open and tolerant places in the world where people can identify as LGBTQ+, and I'm sure the vast majority of us strongly believe that everyone should be free to live their lives and fulfil their potential regardless of whom they choose to love.

But I think it's important that it's not a cause that we take for granted, particularly internationally, where the picture is often very different indeed. So, whilst foreign affairs are not devolved to the Welsh Government, we still have an international strategy to sell Wales to the world. Can I begin by asking what approach the Welsh Government is taking, via its international strategy, when it deals with countries where homosexuality is illegal or LGBTQ+ rights are not as strong as they are here in the UK?

But we mustn't be complacent here, either, about the picture here domestically. It was only in 1967—55 years ago—that it was illegal to be gay in England and Wales. Thankfully, the shameful section 28 was repealed in 2003 as well, just less than 20 years ago. Thankfully, our recent history has been a lot more positive. Last year saw the removal of the three-month ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, for example, and now Pride events across Wales form a crucial part of our annual events calendar, COVID permitting, obviously.

Perhaps the landmark change in LGBTQ+ rights in recent years in the UK was the introduction of same-sex marriage, which has literally been life changing for many gay and lesbian couples across the country. Next year will mark 10 years since the Act was passed to legalise same-sex marriage in the UK, so I wonder what plans, if any, the Welsh Government have to commemorate this landmark event next year.

Despite all of the progress and the history in recent years that we've both discussed, there's still much, much further to go. You mentioned statistics, and I've got some of my own. According to a report published by Gallup, eight out of 10 respondents had experienced anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime and hate speech online in the last five years in the UK, and five in 10 respondents had experienced online abuse 10 or more times. Furthermore, hate crimes based on sexual orientation have risen by 13 per cent since 2017, while hate crimes against trans people have more than doubled. Furthermore, almost one in four LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

I'm sure you'll agree with me, Deputy Minister, that these are really concerning figures. So, what discussions are the Welsh Government having with the UK Government to ensure that this abuse is tackled at its roots and to ensure that Wales is a safe place for everyone? What is the Welsh Government doing to encourage people to report these crimes in the first instance?

Deputy Minister, it's vital that LGBTQ+ individuals experience fair and equal treatment when accessing health and social care services, with staff trained to effectively support patients and service users with specific needs. Therefore, can I ask what discussions you've had with the Minister for Health and Social Services to ensure adequate equality training for the NHS and those working in social services, and to address intersectionality, including issues affecting disabled women, BAME and LGBTQ+ disabled people as well?

You also mentioned in your statement the Welsh Government's LGBT plan, which was launched in July of last year. At that time, my colleague Altaf Hussain rightly mentioned the importance of the Senedd having a clear and ongoing role in the scrutiny of that plan. He asked you to commit to an annual review of the plan in the Senedd. At that time, you said you were open to thinking about ways to involve the Senedd in the scrutiny of the plan to hold the Government's feet to the fire on it. So, six months on, I wanted to ask you what the outcome of that consideration is and whether you'll commit to Altaf Hussain's calls for an annual review by the Senedd of the LGBT plan.

Finally, Deputy Minister, you also mentioned in your statement the fact that there are now gender identity services here in Wales, which, of course, will be very welcome for those individuals who need those services. However, I'm sure you'll find it concerning that there's currently no gender identity clinic here in Wales, which means that those in need have to travel to England at the moment to find one. Two years ago, the Senedd voted to explore the possibility of opening a new gender identity clinic here in Wales, yet Wales remains the only one of the four countries in the UK not to have one. So, whilst the Welsh gender service was creating following a commitment made in 2017, why do so many people still have to make that journey to England to attend a gender identity clinic?

16:20

Can I thank the Member for his contributions? It's good to see you back and looking so well and I think that was a very considered and thoughtful response to what is a really important topic, and it's right that we as Members come together this time of year to celebrate the rich diversity of our nation and, like you say, how far we have come. But you're absolutely right: we cannot take that progress for granted, because progress is not inevitable, and the progress has happened because people were prepared to fight for it and to take that forward. And you touched on some of the things I said in the statement about how recent some of this history is, and we shouldn't forget that and lose sight of it.

And, at the same time, we recognise there is still more to do here in Wales. There's more to build on, so hopefully the action plan will offer us a good guide to that and a good barometer of how we take that forward, and I'm more than happy to commit the Welsh Government to having an annual review, making sure it comes before this Senedd. I think that's really important, not just to make us accountable, but that actually it's a living, breathing plan; it's not something to be put on a shelf, it's something to actually change people's lives, hopefully.

On the Pride events across Wales and how that's changed over the years, I've said to people in here before that I've been to Prides all over the UK—London, Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff—but the one that moved me the most was the one that went through the market town in my home constituency, where I grew up, and just seeing people going about their ordinary shopping at the market, stopping, clapping and joining in. It was a really moving moment, and it does show you how far we've come and the importance of bringing different communities together as well in those safe spaces.

You touched on the rise in hate crime and we've heard recent events as well, and I think one of the things that's really important that we do is to actually raise awareness at the same time, as well as making sure people report these crimes, that we raise awareness of what a hate crime is, and it takes different forms: it could be a horrific vicious attack, a physical attack, but it could be words as well. I think I've said in here previously that very recently, myself and my wife were on the receiving end of a hate crime and that person—. It was recognised as being a hate crime, just somebody who thinks it's okay to get in touch and basically tell you that you're going to hell and you need to have conversion therapy and things like that. I think it's really important that we do talk about it and recognise what it is, and that's why we've supported the Hate Hurts Wales campaign. I know my colleague Jane Hutt has regular meetings with the police forces from across Wales, and we also support Victim Support Wales, so the special project in terms of how they can support particularly people who have been victims of LGBTQ+ hate crime. And we're keen to take forward the recommendations and press the Law Commission's recommendations to make hate crimes for sexual orientation an aggravated offence like it is for other hate crimes as well.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm grateful to the Deputy Minister for her statement and I'm very pleased on behalf of Plaid Cymru to record our support for LGBTQ+ History Month and our ongoing commitment as a party to ensuring that the voices of LGBTQ+ people are heard, their experiences are recognised and their contributions to our communities and our nation are celebrated. I'm also pleased, through our co-operation agreement with the Welsh Government, that Plaid Cymru is helping to ensure through the LGBTQ+ action plan that the rights of LGBTQ+ people are promoted and supported, calling too for the powers needed to be devolved, so that we can enable Wales to be one of the safest nations in Europe for LGBTQ+ people in line with the aim of the plan.

Having the powers to improve the lives of and to safeguard trans people in Wales is crucial if we are to ensure fairness and to put an end to prejudice and inequality. Plaid Cymru and the Government are agreed in terms of our support to ban conversion therapies. Some recent statements by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the process of amending the legislation have caused concerns in the LGBTQ+ community here in Wales, across the UK and internationally. It is good, therefore, to hear the Deputy Minister confirming the stance of the Government on the banning of conversion therapy and the changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 as a result of this disappointing development, and Plaid Cymru echoes this. We cannot trust in a Tory Westminster Government, which is reactionary and corrupt, when it comes to dealing with inequality and securing fairness.

The theme of this year's LGBTQ+ History Month is art. The power of art to challenge societal norms to which Welsh artists have made a notable contribution is, of course, well recognised. And gay, lesbian, trans, queer and non-conforming ideas and images have been part of artistic culture for millennia, but the long history of prejudice often drove artists to conceal their inspiration, their message and their beliefs, and even their own identity. LGBTQ+ activism from the late 1960s onwards gave a new power and impetus to this art. And our cultural institutions and Welsh public art must recognise and celebrate the reach and power of art to open minds, to promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity. What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure this?

As well as celebrating during LGBTQ+ History Month, this month is also a time for reflection, as you said, on the struggle for rights, recognition and equality, which is ongoing in Wales and beyond. We know that it can take up to four years in some parts of the UK to see a gender specialist, and there are currently 13,500 people on this waiting list. But could the Minister provide equivalent Wales-only figures, and could data on LGBTQ+ healthcare provision in Wales be more widely available and accessible to the public?

Another worrying development, as we have heard from both you and Mark Giffard—Tom Giffard, sorry—is the steady increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes over the past few years. I'm sure we've all been horrified—and you made reference to it, I think—by the shocking allegations heard in the murder case of Dr Gary Jenkins who was brutally killed here in Cardiff. The most recent hate crimes statistics show also clear links between peaks in hate crime and the easing of various periods of lockdown restrictions. So, I'd like to know how the Welsh Government has accounted for this. Has the Government channelled any further resources, support or funding towards supporting victims of hate crime or their prevention? And could the Deputy Minister provide a timescale of when the LGBTQ+ action plan will be completed and ready, which wasn't really clear in her statement, given these worrying rises in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes?

The tag line for this history month is 'the arc is long', from the famous quotation by Dr Martin Luther King Jr:

'the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.'

We have seen far too often that bending that arc is a matter of will. It is not inevitable, and we in Wales must continue to ensure that legislation and policy play their part in the long battle that challenges hate and persecution and which forges change, allows progress and creates equality. Diolch.

16:25

Diolch. Can I thank Sioned Williams for the passionate and emotional contribution? I really welcome your support and the way we can work together on common cause and common ground on this. You picked up from the statement and talked a lot in your contribution about the legislative and policy change, but you talked about the power of art as well. Over the years, we've seen huge cultural change in terms of the representation of LGBTQ+ people in the media. When I was growing up in north Wales, I could never have dreamed that you'd just watch whatever programme and there would be positive representation on there. That is really important and we can't underestimate just how important it is to have visibility in all realms of public life, whether it's culture and art, politics or across the piece.

On the points you made around data and provision, obviously I don't have that information to hand, but I'm more than happy to take that up following this and to see what we can do to build on that and to take that up with the Member as well. In terms of the action plan, it's being summarised and collated, and I'm hoping that we'll be able to bring that before this Senedd very, very soon, but I will endeavour to update Members and keep them updated as we progress, because, like you say, I'm very keen to get the plan going and to actually start to implement some of those actions. But we're not going to wait just for the plan to be published; we are still trying to take forward a number of actions and a number of elements of the plan.

You touched on conversion therapy and we're very much committed to taking forward those programme for government commitments. Myself and Jane Hutt met with the Minister for Exports and Minister for Equalities, Mike Freer, shortly before Christmas to stress our points on that conversion therapy ban and how we wanted to see it go further, and our concerns around the element of consent as part of that as well. We are still keen, at the same time, to run that very closely to seek those powers if we need them, but at the same time actually looking at what we can do to take action now. I do hope to have, perhaps, an announcement for Members during LGBTQ+ History Month along those lines as well, to trail an announcement that I can't yet make. But, hopefully, we will be able to do something more by the end of the month.

I welcome the Member's support for this and look forward to working together, like you say, to keep that progress going; it's not inevitable and it falls on all of us to continue that arc.

16:30

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for your statement, Minister. Your own history of promoting equality speaks for itself. Wales's LGBTQ+ community has in you the most dependable ally in Government. Your recent decision to renew the equality and inclusion funding programme is a good example of your commitment to that. This Senedd, too, can be proud of its record and status as the No. 1 workplace for LGBTQ+ employees in the country, something I know that the Commission team were determined to achieve.

LGBTQ+ history month is, of course, about celebrating achievements like those and the progress we've made as a society, as well as remembering the sacrifices and the battles that got us here today. But it's time to take stock, too, and to look at how we can make a fairer future. So, where are we today on that arc of justice? There are two big issues now: conversion practices and protections for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. The UK Government is currently consulting on banning conversion therapy and that consultation closes this Friday. Campaigners are concerned that it could allow those who received—and I quote—'informed consent' from their victims to evade justice. We can't allow that loophole to stand; people cannot consent to abuse. It looks like Scotland will enact an immediate and total ban on these practices, and I should hope that this Senedd and the Welsh Government will call on the UK Government to ensure that the same applies here.

On asylum seekers, Minister, the written statement that you issued at the end of last year flagged your concerns about the inadequate protection it offers LGBTQ+ individuals. Despite being put through tests to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity, asylum seekers routinely see their claims rejected by the Home Office, often wrongly as it turns out, because almost half are then successfully challenged on appeal. Yet, the proposed new law would actually increase the burden of proof—

I've got one final sentence. Homosexuality remains illegal in around 70 countries, and 11 of those still operate the death penalty. What discussions are you having with the UK Government to end that heinous crime?

Can I thank Joyce Watson, not just for her contribution today, but her contribution and long track record of being a steadfast ally to the LGBTQ+ community in Wales and beyond? No, we can't do it on our own, we need those allies as well, and I very much appreciate everything that Joyce has done in this place and beyond as well. 

There's very little I could disagree with in terms of what Joyce said there. I completely share the concerns around how far the conversion therapy ban, as is proposed in the consultation, is going. As I said to Sioned Williams, this is a point that we have made to the UK Government, and we'll continue to press and to look at what we can do within Wales within our existing powers, should we actually need to press for further powers to do the right thing by the LGBTQ+ community in Wales. Because you're absolutely right about the concern around the fact that you can't consent to abuse. We're very concerned about the kind of coercive nature of conversion therapy as well and the impact it has on somebody's life, their physical and mental well-being. That cannot be underestimated.

I very much share your concerns around the position—I think it was in a statement that the Minister for Social Justice put out—with regard to how LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are treated. It's not just in terms of being able to be assessed at that first point; actually, we've been working very closely with organisations in Wales as well about actually making sure that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are in appropriate accommodation when they come here as well. That is another concern. So, we're working very closely with organisations such as Glitter Cymru to see how we can use the devolved levers that we do have here to make sure that LGBTQ people are protected and feel safe here in Wales.

Perhaps I could end on a slightly more positive note. I welcome the comments Joyce Watson made around continuing the equality and inclusion programme, and we also hope to bring in our pride fund as well. That's not just about supporting events, but it's actually supporting LGBTQ work in communities right across the country.

16:35
6. Statement by the Minister for Economy: Wales and Europe—Managing a new relationship

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Economy on Wales and Europe, managing a new relationship. I call on the Minister, Vaughan Gething.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It is now two years since the UK left the European Union, and 13 months since the end of the transition period, when our relationships with the European Union changed radically. Today I want to give an update with my assessment of the current impact on Wales, as our relationship with what remains our closest and most important trading partner moves into a new normal. I'll also talk about our plans to further strengthen our relationship with Europe.

The UK's exit from the European Union has radically changed both the UK's position in the world and the role of devolved Governments. We have significant new responsibilities and duties in relation to matters that previously sat with European institutions. Our EU exit has also led to significant changes in the governance of the UK and the relations between the Governments of the UK. Some of these are the product, I'm afraid, of the UK Government's hostility towards devolution, but others are even more fundamental and arise from our democratic devolution settlement being designed around the UK's membership of the EU.

Leaving the EU has given the UK the ability to enter into its own free trade agreements with countries across the world. Whilst we remain generally supportive of new free trade agreements, these deals have been comparatively small to date and will not make up for the loss of trade with our closest trading partners. For example, the UK Government's own impact assessment of the free trade agreement with Australia is that it could increase UK gross domestic product in the long run by 0.08 per cent. And, of course, the Office for Budget Responsibility's current assessment is that leaving the EU could reduce GDP by 4 per cent. We will continue to support our businesses to adapt to the new trading relationship with the EU, including those changes that have yet to take effect. However, there should be no illusions about the hit that EU exit is having on the economy of Wales and, indeed, the UK as a whole.

With that backdrop, I want to set out how we are trying to manage our new relationship with the EU, as set out in the trade and co-operation agreement. The TCA provides for a system of governance and oversight. This consists of a series of official-level specialised committees and trade specialised committees that ultimately report to the partnership council. Members will recall that we have consistently pressed for proper Welsh Government engagement in these structures, given our legitimate devolved interests. On the whole, in respect of the committees and working groups in which we do have a devolved interest, I'm pleased to report that engagement with the UK Government at official level has been generally good. Officials have been engaged in the preparations for a number of committees and have attended as observers. It is, however, disappointing that the UK Government has not responded to our legitimate call for devolved Government Ministers to be active participants in meetings of the UK-EU partnership council. I intend to raise this again with Liz Truss, who, as Members know, has succeeded Lord Frost as the lead UK Minister.

Before I turn to Wales’s relationship with Europe, I want to briefly mention the Northern Ireland protocol. Our position has consistently been that respecting and safeguarding the Good Friday agreement must be the first priority of the discussions about the future of the protocol. We also have a direct interest in anything that affects the way in which goods flow between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, particularly given the significant impact the EU exit has already had upon our west-facing ports. Only last week, Stena Line reported a 30 per cent reduction in volumes through Welsh ports since the end of transition, which it linked explicitly to leaving the EU. There is real uncertainty about whether this fall in trade will recover or whether the loss is permanent.

It’s vitally important that the issues at stake are resolved, and this can only happen through continued dialogue. I therefore hope that the more constructive tone that we have heard in recent weeks will continue. If agreement on the protocol can be reached, it might also help to move the relationship as a whole away from the antagonistic approach that has all too often been adopted by the UK Government and to put it on a more positive and constructive footing. We want to move over the medium to long term towards the stronger and closer relationship with the EU that we have always advocated.

Deputy Llywydd, following the agreement of the TCA, the First Minister wrote to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, setting out our vision for a close and constructive relationship between Wales and the EU. Our economic, social and cultural histories are intertwined with the rest of Europe and we share with the EU fundamental values covering human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights.

The EU will continue to be the UK’s closest and most important trading partner, and the influence of the EU on policy making and the regulatory framework in Wales will remain significant for the foreseeable future. It is for all these reasons that we have appointed Derek Vaughan to be our representative on Europe. Supported by our Brussels office, Derek will make connections, gather relevant information and work across the Welsh Government and with stakeholders to support developing policy priorities. He visited Brussels last week for the first time in this role and held very positive and constructive discussions with senior colleagues in the EU institutions, UK Government, other devolved Governments and stakeholders. There is much goodwill towards Wales still within Europe, but many challenges to develop a relationship that can support the needs of the Welsh economy and citizens.

All of our European engagement will support the priorities set out in our international strategy: raising our profile, growing our economy and being globally responsible. We in the Welsh Government will continue to do everything in our power to build a close and positive relationship with the EU, for the benefit of all Welsh businesses and, of course, our citizens. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:40

Diolch, Dirpwy Lywydd. Can I start by welcoming the Minister's, on the whole, constructive statement this afternoon? I'm sorry to hear from the Minister's tweet this morning that he's tested positive for COVID-19, but I'm pleased that he's feeling fine and I wish him well.

The Minister is right to say that it has been two years since we left the European Union, and in that time there have been a number of developments, some within the Welsh Government's scope and some, of course, outside its remit. Nevertheless, it's vital that Wales has a successful trading relationship with Europe, given that the EU is the main international export market for Welsh goods and agricultural produce.

Of course, trade is a reserved competence, and so it's crucial that there are strong inter-governmental relations between the Welsh Government and the UK Government in this area. Therefore, I am pleased to read in today's statement that engagement with the UK Government at official level has been generally good, and I agree that devolved nations should be as involved as possible in discussions going forward. For example, I know the ministerial forum for trade has been productive and has given the Welsh Government an opportunity to feed into trade deals in a way that was positive and beneficial for Wales. Perhaps the Minister can provide an update on the latest discussions of the ministerial forum for trade, and, in particular, what discussions have taken place in relation to trading with European partners.

Today's statement refers to the Northern Ireland protocol and the recent comments from Stena Line that Welsh ports have seen a 30 per cent fall in traffic as a result of the new trading relationship with the European Union and that the logistics industry has been hit quite hard following our departure from the EU. Whilst this is clearly disappointing, Stena Line made it very clear that

'If we look at the Irish Sea in its entirety, the freight volumes are roughly the same. What has been adversely affected is really the Welsh ports and the Welsh routes so far.'

Therefore, perhaps the Minister can tell us if he has met with shipping operators recently to discuss the impact of the new relationship on the logistics industry and outline what steps the Welsh Government is taking to support the sector going forward.

I'm heartened to hear that Stena Line have reiterated their long-term commitment to Welsh ports, and that they expect the situation to improve, and so perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he agrees with Stena Line that things are expected to improve, and will he publish the Welsh Government assessment of the new relationship with Europe and explain what modelling it's using to forecast future predictions for the Welsh economy? This is also important in terms of setting up border control posts, and the Minister and I have had several discussions regarding this matter in recent months. And I, of course, declare an interest, Dirprwy Lywydd, as there is a possibility that a border control post could be located in my constituency.

Now, the Minister has previously said that if there is a permanent or future reduction in trade, then it would affect the size of border control post, and so can the Minister provide an update on where we are with border control posts and what developments have been made? Of course, it's crucial that the site of a border control post is decided carefully, and I know from the representations that I've received in my constituency how controversial the location is. The Welsh Government must take into account the impact that a border control post will have on local communities and on local infrastructure, and so perhaps the Minister can tell us how he'll be ensuring that local voices are heard when deciding on specific sites. I know the Welsh Government is in discussion with the UK Government in relation to funding the operation of border control posts, but perhaps the Minister can update us on the latest discussion on this matter as well. 

Now, as the new relationship with Europe takes shape, it's vital that the Welsh Government prioritises exports and trade, and the export action plan shows some of the activity taking place to support Welsh exporters going forward. The export action plan looks to build capacity and capability for exporting to ensure Welsh businesses have the right skills, know-how and confidence to be successful exporters. Given that the export action plan was published over a year ago, perhaps the Minister can provide an update on whether that capacity has been built, by confirming exactly what new action has been taken to address any capacity and capability issues. And perhaps he can also tell us whether he's confident that Wales now has enough capacity and capability to drive the growth of Welsh exports in the longer term and increase the contribution that exports make to the Welsh economy.

Finally, Llywydd, today's statement talks about that

'the influence of the EU on policy making and the regulatory framework in Wales will remain significant for the foreseeable future.'

I know that the Welsh Government has been developing a diaspora initiative, which will include a small number of hand-picked envoys, as well as businesspeople in key markets who can support opening doors to export opportunities for Welsh businesses. Therefore, perhaps the Minister can confirm how many in-market opportunities in the EU have been identified so far and also tell us how much has been spent on these envoys.

Therefore, Llywydd, in closing, can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon and say that I look forward to working with him constructively to ensure that Wales has the best possible relationship with Europe so that our businesses can continue to trade successfully in the future? Thank you.

16:45

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Can we have the Minister unmuted? Sorry, I think we missed the start of your response there, sorry.