Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

09/02/2022

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

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 noted on your agenda.

1. Questions to the Minister for Social Justice

The first item today is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Sioned Williams.

The Rights of Disabled Schoolchildren

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language regarding the rights of disabled schoolchildren? OQ57596

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. The Welsh Government is committed to achieving equity and inclusion in education. Our sustainable communities for learning programme promotes access for all. Schools and further education institutions supported through the programme must ensure their buildings allow access for disabled pupils, students, staff and visitors.

Diolch, Weinidog. I wrote to the education Minister last year expressing concerns about the lack of tangible action to address the disruption to the education of disabled and additional learning needs pupils during the pandemic. Mark Edwards is one of many constituents who have contacted me on this issue. He feels that his son, an additional learning needs pupil at Ysgol Maes y Coed, Bryncoch, is being treated unequally, though through no fault of the school itself, as he is continuing to miss out on crucial and prolonged periods of his education. No provision of non-intrusive COVID tests forces many pupils, like Mark's son, into a mandatory isolation period every time they exhibit a potential symptom. The lack of adequate specialist teaching reserves to mitigate the impact of infection on staffing are just some examples of the need for the Government to act. Mark's son's class has been closed for weeks at a time on occasion over the last months, sometimes with less than a day's notice. Mark told me, 'It is as if children like my son and their education have less value.' How will the Minister uphold the rights of all children to an equal education during this time and what will the Minister do to ensure that children with disabilities and additional learning needs are not discriminated against in this way?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams, for that very important question and feeding back that evidence. We are addressing additional learning needs as a result of our commitment to children's rights and commitment to disabled children's rights, in fact, very much embedded in the Rights of Children and Young Person's (Wales) Measure 2011.

So, we're investing in disabled children's lives through our financial commitment. That's crucial in terms of resource—£21 million to deliver the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 in the Welsh Government budget for 2023. But, clearly, we've got to overcome barriers to learning so that disabled children can reach their full potential. The education Minister announced an extra £10 million this year to provide tailored support for children and young people with additional learning needs, including many disabled children—importantly, in response to your question—who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. And, of course, this is also acknowledged in the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021. 

So, I think, last month, again, the Minister for education announced £100 million in additional funding to make schools and colleges COVID-secure and £50 million will also help in terms of accessible buildings. So, this is clearly the commitment and principal objective, not just for myself as the Minister for Social Justice, but also the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language.

All children have the right to play, as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 of the convention states that every child has the right to:

'rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.'

Section 11 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 requires local authorities to have regard to the needs of children who are disabled persons in relation to the sufficiency of play opportunities in the local authority's area of responsibility. Despite this responsibility to have regard to the needs of children, there are many playgrounds across Wales that don't have a single suitable facility for a child with a disability. In my own constituency of Aberconwy, parents have spoken to me and say they have to sit and watch their children watching other children play. I'm sure, Minister, you would agree with me, this is incredibly sad and shouldn't be happening in this day and age. So, would you discuss the matter with the First Minister, and have a look at whether there's any intention to create a legal responsibility to provide adequate funding for local authorities to ensure that all playgrounds, in every community, do have at least one facility for children with disabilities? Thank you.

13:35

I thank the Member for that important question as well. Of course, local authorities do have a statutory responsibility for the preparation of an accessibility strategy, and that is, in fact, for the entire educational estate. I appreciate that you're also referring to playgrounds in the community as well, which are the responsibility of local authorities. But that is where the statutory responsibilities that are laid down in our children and young people's rights Measure is so important for us here in Wales. But I certainly will be taking this up and exploring this, particularly with the Deputy Minister for Social Services, who is responsible for children and young people. And I also draw attention to the funding that's gone into Playworks and the Summer of Fun last year, which of course did also reach out in terms of inclusive engagement with children and young people, and to make sure that the physical environment was inclusive in that respect.

The Cost-of-living Crisis

2. What action is the Welsh Government taking to protect people on low incomes in the face of the cost-of-living crisis? OQ57618

Diolch, Delyth Jewell. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, we have doubled the amount of the winter fuel support scheme payment, from £100 to £200, and extended our funding for foodbanks, community food partnerships and community hubs.

Diolch, Weinidog. I'd like to ask you specifically, please, about some more information on the round-table that you're going to be hosting next week, which I really do welcome. I know that the Government agreed to convene that following a Plaid Cymru debate in the Senedd. I'd be grateful if you could give us some more information, please, about the sectors and the groups that will be represented. And—this is something that came up, actually, with one of your colleagues yesterday in the Chamber—could you please give us more of an assurance that the voices of people who are going to be most deeply affected personally by these cost increases will be heard as part of that round-table? As well as that, if I may, quickly, Minister, I've had constituents—I'm sure that you will have had the same—contacting me, asking what the Welsh Government intends to do with the Barnett consequential from the English council tax discount. I appreciate you've said that you're working on ways to ensure that the support reaches the people who are most vulnerable. I assume this is going to be discussed as part of the round-table too, but could you give us an indication, please, about when you'll be in a position to make an announcement on that? Thank you.

Thank you very much for that very helpful question, because I can now give you a full response on the plans for the round-table summit next Thursday, 17 February. We have invited all of the organisations that are at the sharp end of tackling poverty across Wales. Obviously, that includes those not just in terms of food poverty—the Trussell Trust and other foodbanks and community food organisations responding to the challenge of food poverty—but also those responding to the challenges of fuel poverty as well, and including those advisers who are important to us, such as the Bevan Foundation, to ensure that we take on board their evidence. The lived experience is crucial. I met with the child poverty action group last week, and the cross-party group on poverty was extremely helpful, bringing us right to the heart of what's happening in communities. But I'm also ensuring that the whole of Government is engaged with this. So, I'm bilaterally meeting all Ministers this week. We have a cross-Government working group, to look at every portfolio, in terms of what they can do to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. This is for the Welsh Government a commitment with partners. This morning, I met with the single advice fund givers, Citizens Advice, Shelter, EYST—all of those partners who are working at the sharp end, delivering advice and guidance—and the discretionary assistance fund as well. So, I will be able to report on all of this. I will be chairing the summit, alongside my colleagues the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Finance and Local Government. In terms of the funding, we're confirming the detail of the funding that will come to Wales as a result of the announcements by the UK Government, but at the same time, as I've said, developing plans on how we can use that funding to support people during the cost-of-living crisis, and discussing the crisis and priorities—and that's crucial about the event next week—that are coming from those who are addressing and responding to that crisis on a daily basis.

13:40

Minister, the cost-of-living crisis taking hold across the UK is an extremely frightening prospect to many people in my constituency. Rural poverty is something many in urban Wales don't consider when making policies to counter economic hardship for many families on lower incomes who live in rural areas. There are ways in which we can counter the crisis within the devolution settlement. Your Government has partial control of income tax levels, and every year you can choose to vary these rates. So, what consideration has the Government made of cutting the rate of income tax for basic rate payers to alleviate some of the pressures being faced by those on the lowest wages in our society? Diolch, Llywydd. 

Well, as far as your Government is concerned, I wish that they would listen to the calls that we've been making to ensure that the costs that are placed on household bills, those social costs and, indeed, environmental costs, are actually met by general taxation. That is our call to the UK Government, and, also, that they increase the Warm Homes discount. The fact that they're actually announcing a rebate, which doesn't come in, as the First Minister said yesterday, until October, and then expecting everyone to pay that back is really insulting to those who are living at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis today. What we are doing with our Welsh Government is spending our money—you participated in the draft budget debate yesterday—and we may need to make sure that every pound of that goes out to deliver for those who are at the sharpest end. Where would the money come from, I have to say, in terms of those public services? We're certainly not going to go down your route. You need to persuade your Government in Westminster to invest through general taxation in the cost-of-living crisis. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. First of all, the Conservatives' spokesperson, Joel James. 

Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, almost a year ago the 'Procuring Well-being in Wales' report was published, and it clearly shows that after almost seven years of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 this Government has been found negligent of its responsibilities in ensuring that the Act is applied correctly for public procurement in Wales, and ensuring that the Act is delivering for the people of Wales in the manner and spirit it was intended. A particular area of the procuring well-being report that made uncomfortable reading was the response of the Government concerning the recommendations regarding climate change. As the Minister will know, the commissioner expressed concern that public money, especially when procurement was taken into account, was not being spent in line with the climate emergency that the Welsh Government has declared, and recommended that,

'In order to meet carbon emission targets, every public body should set out how they have considered the carbon impact of their procurement decisions'.  

Disappointingly, the response of the Welsh Government was that the proposed social partnership and public procurement (Wales) Bill will place a duty on public bodies to produce a procurement strategy and report compliance. Now, whilst this Bill might well place a duty on public bodies, it won't achieve anything in the timescales needed. It is nothing more than kicking the can down the road, because not only has this Bill not been introduced yet, it will be several years before it becomes law and implemented. There's an absolute and unprecedented need to do everything we can to meet our carbon emission targets, but it's almost as if the Government sees the social partnership Bill as a panacea that will resolve all of their issues, when, in reality, it is just another dose of the socialist mindset that prescribes that the only way to deal with legislative failure is to create more legislation. Given that between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of all public body carbon emissions come from procurement, and given the unprecedented need to get the Welsh public sector to understand the carbon footprint, can the Minister make a commitment to implement your commissioner's recommendations that make the reporting of the carbon impact in public procurement decisions mandatory and with immediate effect? Thank you. 

I thought the Member was asking quite a comprehensive and well-thought-out question, and then he went to that low level again in making those low blows with regard to the social partnership and public procurement Bill. He uses the term 'panacea'. It is a significant piece of legislation, and it is definitely not being kicked into the long grass; it is scheduled to still be brought before this Senedd in this first year of this Senedd term. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister, but I feel, once again, that this Welsh Government is missing the point, because, rather than introducing new legislation, you need to make sure that existing legislation works first. If the future generations Act has been so heavily criticised for not working, why should we expect the social partnership Bill to work? As mentioned in yesterday's budget debate, the future generations commissioner has very publicly declared that her budget is the smallest of the commissioners and is not big enough for her to fully implement the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. The commissioner has further complained that 43 per cent of her time is being taken up by instructing the Welsh Government on how to implement policy within its own organisation. The commissioner has, as a result, requested that her budget be increased to £1.592 million for 2022 and 2023, so that her office can, and I quote,

'plan for and meet known statutory work demands at the end of 2021-22 and beginning of 2022-23.'

The commissioner has stated that the flat-line underfunding her office receives means in real terms, and in her own words, she

'can do less while expectations and demands for support and advice across 44 public bodies grows',

and

'The level of support and advice offered to Public Bodies and Ministers increases year on year.'

In this week's Equality and Social Justice Committee meeting, the commissioner stated that she was, and I quote again, massively under-resourced, which means that the commissioner is highlighting that her office would be unable to meet statutory work demands as imposed by this Government if she does not receive more funding.

If the commissioner is complaining that she is financially ill-equipped to meet her general duties, how can it be, Deputy Minister, that the commissioner has wasted a sizeable amount of her money and her budget on hiring an outside body to undertake a universal basic income feasibility study and also to conduct research into a shorter working week, which are both reserved matters that neither her office nor this Government has any control over?

Surely, Deputy Minister, you agree with me that the commissioner is wasting public money on such research, especially since UBI has never been implemented wholesale, despite trials worldwide and despite repeatedly showing that human behaviour does not fit into the socialist model of how the world works. Given the extensive criticism—

13:45

I think I'm going to have to draw your attention to the fact that you've been over two minutes now. If you can ask your question now, I'd be grateful.

Yes, perfect. Given the extensive criticism by the commissioner of this Government, particularly that the Welsh Government has failed to show clear, joined-up leadership and that there's poor communication and integration between different Welsh priorities, and that the Welsh Government doesn't actually listen to many of her recommendations, do you think this warrants a rethink of how best to implement the future generations Act, and maybe, instead of a commissioner, the Act would be better implemented in-house by the Welsh Government? Thank you.

Llywydd, I think, like many in here, I managed to lose track of what the actual question was in the Member's contribution then. And just to make the point that, actually, this is a responsibility the Minister for Social Justice leads on, so please do write to her on these. But I'm able to actually advise the Member at this point that we are in discussions with the future generations commissioner's office on a range of options to alleviate the budget pressures faced by the commissioner, and this includes options with regard to the alignment exercise and the reserves the commissioner has to draw on to manage her work. We very much do recognise the work that the future generations commissioner does in promoting the sustainable development principle and advising bodies on how they can work in a sustainable way, including the Welsh Government.

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that, because at the moment it seems that the commissioner is free to waste public money at her discretion and on her own irrelevant pet projects. But, since being elected, I've read and heard of countless organisations complaining that the Welsh Government is not focused on implementing policy—

Can I just cut across? I do need to have some quiet. I'm struggling to hear Members and the Deputy Minister as well. So, if we can have some quiet on the back benches, and if you can keep your question as succinct as possible, thank you.

Yes, thank you, Llywydd. The Welsh Government is not focused on implementing policy and there is a climate of seemingly warm words and promises, but a distinct lack of action. During a recent meeting with one of the commissioners, the matter of policy implementation was again brought up, plus another very interesting point. They believe that the implementation problem that this Government has stems from the fact that portfolio responsibilities for Ministers are poorly aligned when compared to the policy areas that they cover.

From what I can gather, this has been brought up before in Government meetings and, though Ministers will no doubt work closely together, the reactionary nature of government means that many areas are being overlooked. It's easy to glance over the list of ministerial responsibilities and see how portfolios do not align. For example, the role of pollinators for agriculture, which should be a rural affairs matter, comes under the responsibilities of the Minister for Climate Change, and within your own portfolio, Deputy Minister, many of the responsibilities that lie with the children's commissioner, for example, come under the remit of the Minister for education, and not yourself.

Whilst I would never expect the Deputy Minister to ever admit to it in public that this issue exists, in the spirit of getting the best for the people of Wales, will the Deputy Minister or Minister commit to raising this concern of policy and role alignment as an item of business when the Welsh Government Cabinet next meets? Thank you.

I thank the Member for his final question. I can give assurance to the Member and Members in here that, as a responsible Government, we very much work on a cross-Government basis. We do not operate in silos and we recognise that, actually, we work collectively, whether that be with the Minister for education, the Minister for Social Justice, with my colleagues in health, and right across the Welsh Government piece to make sure we work as a Government, as a collective, to make a difference to the people of Wales.

13:50

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Older people have endured a particularly difficult time during the pandemic, which has left many with anxiety about what the future holds. The cost-of-living crisis will add significantly to these worries, especially as fuel bills are already likely to be inflated due to the isolation requirements over the last two years.

The Government announcement on the winter fuel support scheme calculated that around 350,000 householders are eligible to apply for a payment of £200 under the scheme. According to the Older People's Commissioner for Wales, over £200 million of pension credit went unclaimed in Wales last year. Knowing that health risks increase due to cold homes for those over the age of 55, and access to inefficient broadband and the internet is difficult for many, can you tell us how many eligible households have successfully applied to date, and how will the Welsh Government be using the extended deadline to promote the support available, particularly to older people?

Diolch yn fawr for that really important question in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, and particularly our concerns about tackling fuel poverty. I can relay to the Member and to Members across the Chamber that, as I think I've already said, 350,000 people should be eligible for the winter fuel support scheme; the £100 has doubled in the last fortnight to £200; we've had 146,000 applications so far, and over 105,000 payments have been made.

Local authorities are playing a crucial role here in contacting all those who they deem to be eligible for our winter fuel payment support scheme. It is very important also—. It's been extended to the end of February, so I also urge everyone here across the Chamber, as I'm sure you will all want to make sure that your constituents who are eligible will apply for the fuel support scheme.

But it's also very important to recognise the needs of pensioners, and I'm glad you've raised the issue that two out of five people who are eligible for pension credit are not claiming it. So, I very much welcome the older people's commissioner, and indeed Age Cymru, and all those who are representing older people and pensioners of their commitment to support our 'Claim what's yours' income maximisation claims, and to ensure that they do apply for the pension credit scheme.

But also another message, which actually, I have to say, is for the UK Government as well, because energy bill rebates to older people and vulnerable households through the warm home discount and the winter fuel payment, as well as the winter fuel payment scheme, could be easily expanded by the UK Government to offer further support, so I'm sure you will join me in calling for that after what I thought was a derisory uplift, which was announced last week, in terms of the warm home discount. And can I also just take the opportunity to say that, of course, pensioners are also eligible to apply for the discretionary assistance fund? And we are investing through the Warm Homes programme in energy efficiency measures.

Diolch, Minister. You mentioned the Warm Homes programme. Despite a 2010 Welsh Government target to eradicate fuel poverty as far as reasonably practicable in all households by 2018, fuel poverty was only reduced by 6 per cent in all households between 2012 and 2016. This Government is consulting on the next iteration of the Warm Homes programme, first launched in 2009. Many, including the Bevan Foundation, have argued that a single programme cannot have a dual aim of reducing fuel poverty and decarbonising homes. The Warm Homes programme failed to adequately meet either objective, because of its dual aims. To address this, two separate programmes should be established, one focused on decarbonising homes and one on fuel poverty.

The consultation poses the question, of the twin objectives of alleviating fuel poverty and tackling climate change, whether one should take precedence over the other in a new programme. Surely these two objectives shouldn't have to compete. Isn't it time that we finally get to the root cause of these issues with two separate, but collaborative and focused programmes? Diolch.

13:55

Thank you. Again, a very useful contribution, because, as you say, Peredur, we are consulting on the next iteration of the Warm Homes programme. It started in December and the consultation goes on until 1 April, and we have a fuel poverty advisory panel. The points that you make are very important. I think it's important that we do see both as objectives that we should be pursuing in terms of our Warm Homes programme. But just to say, in terms of improving home energy efficiency through the Warm Homes programme, up until the end of March last year £394 million had been invested in improving home energy efficiency, and more than 168,000 people had received energy efficiency advice through the Warm Homes programme as well. So, yes, we need to ensure that this is supporting decarbonising Welsh homes and sustainable growth in the housing retrofit and renewable sector. So, let's see how the new programmes—however they pan out in terms of those objectives—can meet those needs.

Fuel Bills

3. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to help people with their fuel bills? OQ57605

Our existing Warm Homes programme for lower income households saves an average of £300 a year by improving energy efficiency. Additionally, on 1 February, I increased our winter fuel support payments to £200.

Thank you, Minister. Minister, the Welsh Government's Nest scheme offers a package of home energy efficiency improvements to lower energy bills. However, there are no specific grants for solar panels in Wales. In England, the smart export guarantee, launched on 1 January 2020, is a Government-backed initiative that requires some electricity suppliers to pay small-scale generators for low-carbon electricity that they can export back to the national grid, providing certain criteria are met. In Scotland, the Scottish Government provides interest-free loans through the Home Energy Scotland loan scheme, providing funding for various energy efficiency improvements, including home renewable systems. So, Minister, I'd like to ask what discussions have you had with ministerial colleagues here in Wales about schemes to provide grants for solar panels to be installed on domestic properties in Wales to provide people with long-term solutions to help with their fuel bills. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Natasha Asghar. This shows how cross-Government this policy area is, because this will also be a question for the Minister for Climate Change as well, but it also can feed into the consultation that I've just been talking about, responding to the question about energy efficiency, the Warm Homes programme and the consultation. So, clearly, we need to look at every opportunity in terms of investing in renewables, and that's for households as well. But I do have to say that this requires significant investment and I would hope you would support our call for increased allocation in terms of general taxation via the UK Government Treasury to help us with these really important ambitions.

Minister, the Tory cost-of-living crisis is impacting on every single household in Islwyn. Yet, while some Islwyn residents have to choose between eating or heating, yesterday, oil giant BP announced its highest profits for eight years: £9.5 billion. Last week, Shell announced profits of £14.3 billion, which analysts believe will grow to £23.6 billion by the end of the financial year in June. The Tories' unregulated capitalism is causing huge suffering for the people of Wales, whilst we await UK legislation on money laundering, offshore accounting and fraud. And, in contrast, the Welsh Labour Government's announcement of the expansion of the winter fuel support scheme, doubling the one-off payment to £200, is the sort of active mitigating measures that people need. Minister, BP's chief executive Bernard Looney has said himself that BP has become a cash machine. Therefore, what consideration has the Welsh Government given to making representations to the UK Tory Government to introduce a windfall tax on energy companies, to stand up for Welsh families who are suffering as multinational energy corporations enjoy excessive profits at a time of a national debt crisis?

Thank you very much. I think the strong support from this Chamber—some sides of this Chamber, anyway—in terms of calling for a windfall tax, which is precisely what Julie James and I called for last week when we responded to the Ofgem rise in the cap, which, of course, is devastating households across Wales, and in your constituency of Islwyn in particular—. I actually very much favoured the Western Mail editorial headline, 'Ease consumer pain with a windfall tax'. I believe that that actually does represent the views of people in Wales on those appalling windfalls—last week it was Shell and this week it's BP. With a £700 rise in the energy price cap, why don't they do a windfall tax now?

14:00
The Voluntary Sector

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's priorities for the voluntary sector? OQ57588

Thank you, Paul Davies. If we are to create a fair, green and just society, the third sector will have a vital role to play. A strong and vibrant third sector can help those disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

Thank you for that response, Minister. As you know, the sustainability of the voluntary sector has taken a huge knock in the last few years and there is a need to support the sector quickly as it faces significant challenges going forward. In the coming months and years, there could be a steep increase in demand for charities' services at a time when many charities haven't improved their sustainability from the pandemic. Minister, I know that the third sector partnership council agreed a recovery plan last year, which addresses some issues, but can you tell us what additional work is being done to ensure that the voluntary sector is sustainable for the future and is able to provide those much-needed services to people in their communities?

Thank you very much for that very helpful question, because we did have a third sector COVID recovery plan. I chair the third sector partnership council; it's co-produced, it sets out our joint priorities and it's got three work streams: support, relationships and volunteering. We've also got the third phase of our third sector resilience fund with over £6.5 million available, and again, I'm sure that you will all be ensuring that your third sector organisations can access that, particularly looking at your councils for voluntary service as a route to that.

I'll just finally say that volunteering is key to this, so we've secured an additional £1 million for our Volunteering Wales grant, and that's got a particular strategic element building on the work and momentum seen during the pandemic. Very interestingly, I met with representatives from Carmarthenshire Citizens Advice today, who say that they're now working with volunteers in west Wales to ensure that they can continue to play their part. Indeed, some of the organisations now are developing remote volunteering, which I'm sure responds to those needs. 

LGBTQ+ Action Plan

5. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government LGBTQ+ action plan? OQ57600

We remain resolute in our commitment to making Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe. Our LGBTQ+ action plan is a key part of our programme for government and our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. The consultation on the action plan closed in October and an analysis is under way, which will be used to further develop and strengthen it.

I thank the Minister for that response. Of course, this question was tabled before the courts reached the verdict on the tragic and brutal murder of Dr Gary Jenkins, and I'm certain that the Minister will want to join all of us in this Siambr today in paying tribute to him. This was a homophobic attack that took place in this very city, not far from where we speak today. I'm sure that I speak on behalf of every Member when I say that our deepest and sincerest of condolences go out to his family, to his friends and to every person who grieves. He was a man who dedicated his life to our NHS, who is described by all who knew him as kind and compassionate. Dr Jenkins will be remembered as such, and for his service to our nation. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Dr Jenkins and to every single person who continues the campaign to secure the equal, safe and just nation that we know that Wales can be when we are at our very best?

Diolch. My thoughts and those of the Welsh Government are with the family, friends, colleagues and all who knew Dr Gary Jenkins. Like everybody here, I was saddened by the horrific homophobic murder of Dr Jenkins. I actually attended the vigil in Cardiff on the steps of the national museum on Sunday evening with hundreds of people, where we were moved by people paying tribute to a kind soul, who was incredibly generous, humane and compassionate, and as you said, somebody who worked hard and dedicated his life to our NHS, and whose life had a positive impact on so many other lives. I think the vigil demonstrated the strength of feeling following this horrific incident, and I know that the LGBTQ+ community in Cardiff and beyond has really felt that deep impact of the attack.

We talked last week as part of LGBT+ History Month about how far we've come, but it demonstrates in the cruellest possible way how far we still have to go. It's the cruellest extreme, but so many LGBTQ+ people, myself included, still face slurs and snide remarks on a daily basis. We don't feel that we can hold the hands of our loved ones to walk down the street. That's why it's so important that we speak out and we use our platform for good in this Chamber and demonstrate the nation that we want to be. As a Welsh Government, that's why our action plan is so important. We've taken action already to make sure that we are, myself and the Minister for Social Justice, meeting with representatives of the LGBTQ+ community in Wales, and with the police, to see what more needs to be done to make sure that our communities are safe, as they should be, and secure, on the streets and in the communities of Wales.

14:05

Could I identify with the sentiments of the Member for Ogmore and also the Minister's comments this afternoon? Could I also question the Minister on the reports today on the BBC Wales Live programme about homophobic insults and attacks within the education system? Sadly, they're identifying an increase in that via the Estyn reports that are coming from the inspections that have been undertaken. We can talk all we want about action plans, and I'm sure they're put with the best intention in the world, but the reality is, from the real-life experiences, sadly, people who are going into some of our education establishments are experiencing homophobic attacks. Regrettably, the report does indicate that, where the teaching profession are made aware of these, there is a lack of experience, in some instances, of them being able to deal with them in a sensitive manner. Can you confirm that you work collaboratively with the education department to make sure that—you alluded to this earlier—this silo working isn't happening in Government, and where these concerns are raised by Estyn or other organisations, they are dealt with appropriately and the support and help is put before our teachers, so that when they do get presented with such reports, they are dealt with?

I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for his contribution. I'm familiar with the Estyn report and the reports that have been on the BBC today. It is incredibly sad that young people anywhere still face fear, whether that's physical attacks or just those remarks that make you feel that you can't be yourself and feel uncomfortable. I know that we are working very closely across Government with my colleague the Minister for education to ensure that not only are schools safe places and that children and young people have the support, but, actually, teachers and educators have the right resources and the confidence to deal with these things sensitively and that young people are able to approach them and feel that their school, as it should be, is a safe space.

I was looking at the BBC report earlier, and I think there was an example of a school in Cardiff. They've got a group called Digon, and they actually sit down, when perhaps somebody's said something and perhaps somebody might not understand the intent of the language that they've used, the harm it could cause—. It could just be a flippant remark for them, or they don't understand the significant impact it could have on another person. What they're trying to do—and I think this is a really good approach that we can learn from elsewhere too—is actually sitting down with those young people and explaining the impact that had and why it hurt and why it's wrong, in almost like a restorative justice kind of way, but in a way that actually is peer to peer and they understand. I think that's probably something that we can actually all learn from, whatever age we are.

Women's Safety

6. What discussions is the Minister having with nightclubs and other stakeholders about improving the safety of women in their venues? OQ57611

The Welsh Government is in contact with both representatives from the nightclub industry and the police regarding the safety of women both socialising and working in these settings. Building on our work in this area, we have now committed to expand the 'Don’t be a bystander' training and awareness campaign to include this workforce too.

I thank the Deputy Minister for that response. You'll of course recall, Deputy Minister, the Welsh Conservatives debate on spiking and women's safety, held on 10 November. Even though the debate motion was amended, it was clear during the debate that there was consensus right across the Chamber that action needed to be taken to keep women safe in venues like nightclubs. This is obviously an incredibly serious matter for many young women across Wales. Whilst the media attention today perhaps might not be on it in the same way as it was in November, it's still a reality of nights out for many, and I think it requires Welsh Government to work with partners to deliver real change for women. It can't be left to businesses to act alone. So, can I ask, Deputy Minister, 13 weeks on from that debate here in the Senedd, what has changed for women in Wales?

I thank the Member for his question and that significant remark at the end. I think there's a theme today about actually making sure that people feel safe in places right across the country, whether that's spiking or women fearing for their safety because of perhaps the behaviour of certain men in these settings. I know we say it's not all men, but I could guarantee that most women have felt in a situation where they have been uncomfortable in a nightclub or in a bar. I know it's happened to me not too recently in a bar, where I sat there with my wife and I could see somebody—and I could see our home of democracy. I'll try not to use unparliamentary language, but I was quite firm when this person wouldn't go away.

Going back to the substance of the Member's question, I know that my colleague Jane Hutt, following that, has met with representatives of the police forces in Wales, looking actually at how we can spread that good practice in terms of the 'Don't be a bystander' campaign. But I think, really, there are opportunities. As you say, it's not for hospitality alone, and it's not for Government alone; it's a thing that we can only tackle collectively. I think there are probably broader opportunities we can look at in terms of licensing and things, and actually things that we can put in to make sure people are kept safe, and that people who work in these premises know the sorts of things we're looking for as well, to try and stamp them out and make sure we take a zero-tolerance approach to this.

14:10

As you know, Minister, thousands of women in Wales work shifts and that often entails unsociable hours, where they're expected either to start or finish work late at night. Understandably, many workers, particularly women, have expressed concern about their safety when travelling to and from work during the night. In most instances, it's the responsibility of the employee and not the employer to get themselves home safely during those unsociable hours. Unite's 'get me home safely' campaign, which addresses this particular issue, calls on employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure workers are able to get home safely. Minister, what discussions has the Welsh Government had with employers such as those in the hospitality sector regarding actions that they are taking to ensure that their employees get home safely? 

Can I thank the Member for her question? I'm familiar with the 'get me home safely' campaign she refers to from Unite, because I was actually at the same session when we heard from people that work in that sector now and their very real stories—particularly women, too, again, in these circumstances, who have been left to perhaps work longer on their shift when they hadn't planned it, and there's no public transport, or they're closing up on their own. I think it's a really important campaign they're doing, not just to raise awareness, but to demonstrate the tangible actions that we can take, going back to the previous question around, actually, the opportunities, I think, in licensing to look at these things. I have invited them, on the back of that meeting, to contact both myself and the Minister for Social Justice to see actually what we can do collaboratively to action some of the calls in that campaign.

People with Sight Problems

7. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the measures it has introduced during the pandemic on the equal rights of people who have sight problems in Arfon? OQ57613

Thank you very much, Siân Gwenllian. During the pandemic the disability equality forum commissioned research on the impact on disabled people, including those with visual impairments. As a result, the disability rights taskforce has been established to address the impact of the pandemic, and one of its first priorities will be to tackle health inequalities.

Thank you for that response. Almost 5,000 people in Gwynedd live with visual impairments, and as the use of lateral flow tests becomes part of our lives, and is likely to be for some time yet, we need to ensure that there is support available to them in terms of taking these tests and also in understanding the results. I am aware of the plan to provide support through an app called Be My Eyes, but it hasn't been successful for everyone, with many having to rely on support from others, and, of course, not everyone has access to digital devices. So, can you give us an update on what other steps are being taken in light of the findings of this specific pilot?

14:15

Thank you very much for your important question.

It's really important that I draw this to the attention of my colleague, the health and social services Minister particularly, in relation to Be My Eyes as one example of how we can reach out to those people who are finding it difficult in terms of the use of lateral flow tests because they are inaccessible to them. I will want to take this up with our accessible communication group, which was set up in 2022 to discuss and overcome barriers stopping people from accessing information, particularly as a result of COVID-19. Can I finally say as well, last week we had the second meeting of our disability taskforce, which is responding to the very strong recommendations that came out of 'Locked Out: Liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales beyond Covid-19' as a result of evidence of the impact of the pandemic on disabled people? So, I'm fully committed to supporting visually impaired and blind people in Wales. I will take this back and come back to you, because this is crucial in terms of us delivering on the social model of disability, which is about removing barriers and understanding from lived experience people's lives. 

Promoting Prosperity

8. How is the Minister using cross-cutting measures to promote prosperity in North Wales? OQ57615

We're working across portfolio and across Government to increase access to fair work. This includes promoting benefits of the real living wage for employers, for workers and for our communities. A better deal for workers, built on social partnership and fair work, is essential to broader prosperity throughout Wales including in north Wales. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your response. I'm sure that you'll agree with me that one of the best ways of tackling poverty is to promote prosperity, and one of the best ways to move out of poverty is to be in a good, secure job and for businesses to be thriving to allow that to happen. I'm sure the Deputy Minister will be aware that one of my favourite bedtime readings is the co-operation agreement between your Government and Plaid Cymru, and whilst there's rightfully a number of mentions in there in terms of tackling poverty, I was disappointed to see the word 'prosperity' was not used once through that document, which may feel like a small issue to some, Llywydd, but it's actually about setting a positive tone about ambition for us here in Wales. In light of this, Minister, what discussions are you having with the Minister for Economy to ensure prosperity is promoted, while ensuring that jobs and careers are available throughout north Wales in order to help alleviate poverty? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Can I thank the Member for his question, although I hesitate to say maybe he needs to get out more if his favourite bedtime reading is the co-operation agreement? [Laughter.] But, no, I take on board that language is important in terms of what we do in terms of actually how we frame things and how we connect things together, because like I said in the opening statement, fair work and opportunity don't just benefit the individual that we're creating those opportunities for, but benefit, obviously, particularly small businesses and benefit our town centres and communities as people spend their money and invest locally as well. So, clearly, I work very, very closely with the Minister for Economy and I think I'd say across our social justice portfolio we have that connection between what I refer to as social justice and then the economic justice side, so the fair work, the living wage and the partnership working. So, I work very closely with the Minister for Economy to make sure things are as aligned as they can be, and, of course, as a Minister for the whole of Wales, I always consider the whole of Wales, but as a proud north Walian, I keep a keen eye on matters in north Wales. 

2. Questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution

The next item, therefore, is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution. The first question comes from Janet Finch-Saunders. 

Retained EU Law

1. What advice has the Counsel General given the Welsh Government in relation to amending or removing retained EU law? OQ57594

2. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other UK law officers regarding the impact on Wales of the UK Government’s proposals to change the status of retained European Union law? OQ57622

3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact on Wales of the UK Government's proposals for legislation on retained EU law? OQ57599

4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other UK governments in respect of retained EU law? OQ57604

I thank the Member for the question. The UK Government has informed the Welsh Government that it intends to fully engage with the devolved Governments in conducting its review of retained EU law. We are pressing for further information in terms of what the review will entail, the proposals that may follow and the implications for Wales.

Thank you. Llywydd, I was really delighted upon reading the agenda that so many Members will be questioning the Counsel General today about retained EU law. And I'm sure that many, including my colleague Rhys ab Owen, are delighted that the UK Government is marking the two-year anniversary of Brexit by continuing to deliver on the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom in Wales. Despite our exit from the bloc, EU law made before 1 January 2020 continue to have precedence in our domestic framework. That is actually a disgrace and is simply not compatible with our status as a sovereign independent country. Officials across Government are currently reviewing all the EU retained laws to determine if they are beneficial to the UK. Now, you have stated publicly that you want to engage with the UK Government constructively. Will you, therefore, be co-operating in a positive way by making recommendations as to which EU law you would like to see amended or removed, and please tell us what they might be? Thank you.

14:20

Well, I thank the Member for that comment. I'd remind the Members—they may have read about it already—the concerns we have about the way this is actually being processed and suddenly rushed forward with apparently no clear reason as to why that might be the case. In December we received a letter from Lord Frost drawing our attention to a written statement setting out more detail about the review, in which he also offered to discuss the review at a future meeting of the new UK-EU inter-ministerial group. However, the devolved Government Ministers were only notified of the UK Government's intention to publish its policy document, 'The Benefits of Brexit', during a call on 29 January. It was published two days later. In fact, I think I saw it when it was published on 31 January. Details about the policy proposals being developed as part of the review have been extremely limited to date, and the policy document largely repeats Lord Frost's written statement. My policy officials are pressing for clarity in this regard, and have asked for a meeting this month for a further update on the UK Government's plans, which still remain extremely unclear.

I agreed to a request by the Counsel General for the grouping of questions 1, 2, 3 and 4, and so I'll ask Rhys ab Owen now to ask his supplementary question.

Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr i chi, Llywydd. Counsel General, you're probably aware of Philip Rycroft's evidence this morning to the Wales select committee in the House of Commons. He described Brexit as a shock to the system, and that one of the premises that devolution is built upon—the Sewel convention—came a cropper through Brexit. Maybe not the usual words of a civil servant, but they were his words, not mine. When you gave evidence to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee last month, you described the situation of the Brexit isolation Bill, as I like to call it, as having a massive impact on the devolution settlement in devolved areas. I know you were only made aware of it on the Saturday, and I'm sure you had better things to do on a Saturday than to be part of that telephone call, but you couldn't give us much detail then about the level of engagement. I'm glad to hear that there has been assurance that there will be more levels of engagement and I look forward to hear more details about that. Do you consider it appropriate that Welsh stakeholders and this Senedd should also be engaged in that process? Diolch yn fawr.

I thank you for the question. The points you raise are absolutely right—the issue of retained EU law and the review of law is something that is of significant concern to us, not just a constitutional issue, but the issue we have in terms of the statements that have been made across this Chamber from all parties about the importance of standards in the areas of food, environment and so on. So, it is unclear precisely what it is. I have to say, I read the document, and considering the earlier debate that was made—. Sam Rowlands, you can have a copy of my—[Inaudible.]—it will certainly be a cure for insomnia. [Laughter.] But I have to say, it does contain within it something I think will be on the lips of every citizen in Wales when they look to the wonders of achievement that are being declared. Listen: a reintroduction of our iconic blue passports, which are printed by a firm in France. But that's not enough—it actually gets better than that, because we're reviewing a ban on EU imperial marketing and sales to give businesses and consumers more choice over the measurements used. But it gets even better than that, because we're going to be allowing businesses to use a Crown stamp symbol on pint glasses. So, I think I can tell the Member we certainly have a lot to look forward to. But in all seriousness, this is a very significant and important document, and we will engage fully, and we will be discussing it fully with UK Government Ministers. 

14:25

I echo the points made by Rhys about proper engagement and the constructive approach being taken by the Minister, but can I just say, citizens across the nation were hanging the bunting out over the weekend. They were overjoyed to hear this news, and also the appointment of man of the people, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as Minister for Brexit opportunities, and that there would be a bonfire of regulations brought forward as this grandly titled Brexit Bill mark 2 proceeds on retained law. We're far beyond parody now, of course. As this coincides with the cross-party Public Accounts Committee reporting that Brexit and the increased bureaucracy of cross-border movements of trade has suppressed trade with the EU every day since we've left. We see the political impact in Northern Ireland and Éire playing out before us every single day. Hauliers are choosing to bypass Welsh ports and the UK to ship directly to the continent, and we learnt only these last 24 hours that exports into Germany from the UK have tumbled by 8.5 per cent during 2021, and before the opposition benches say, 'Well, that's been the same for everybody', it's compared to a 16.8 per cent increase in imports from other European Union member states. Minister, Counsel General—. Does the Counsel General believe that this new iteration of Brexit Bill mark 2 will build on these remarkable successes?

If I perhaps respond to the Member's first comment, which was about this wonderful new descriptive propagandist creation of ministerial titles—Minister for Brexit opportunities—it almost reminds you, doesn't it, of the former Soviet Union Government and 'The Minister for the over-fulfilment of the five-year plan'? [Laughter.] But the point the Member makes is very important, because the document that we have is a very propagandist document; it is full of very loose aspirations. We will obviously want to engage and to explore what they mean, but also we will want to seek guarantees in terms of the constitutional integrity. In the meeting I had on that Saturday I referred to, I raised very specifically not only that the process was unacceptable, calling us in that way, but that was not respectful engagement, but equally so, that we wanted assurances—and I know that others asked for the same thing—in terms of devolution integrity. I'm still not convinced that we have actually been given that, but we will see what actually happens. But the point he does raise, of course, is that if you are to look at EU retained law, if you are to look at it in the round, you have to look at all factors, not just the propagandist ones you want, but the serious implications that there are for trade in terms of some of the things that have either been removed or are proposed to be removed, and the serious implications there might be for the standards that we want to uphold in food, agriculture, environment and so on.

Counsel General, working collaboratively with other devolved Governments of the UK is essential. The majority of the people of Wales support devolution and have twice voted for it in referendums. Leaving the EU must not mean that devolution is diluted by the UK Government. Our devolved powers must be protected. What action is the Welsh Government taking to help ensure that all nations work together to defend their devolved interests?

I thank the Member for the question. We will be working co-operatively with all the Governments of the United Kingdom. I hope the discussions and negotiations will be in accordance with the principles that have already been agreed now in terms of the inter-governmental review, which are respect for the devolved Governments, mutual respect, and principles of integrity in the way the discussions are actually to take place. Now, if that happens, then we can have a positive and constructive discussion, but I make it very, very clear that we will not concede, we will not make any concession, if this is just an attempt to introduce another internal market Act mark 2.

14:30

Moving on, what is the position of case law from the European Court, such as the well known Bosman judgment? Will they still apply now that we've left the European Union and, if so, for how long? This is an issue of great interest and has major repercussions, not just in football.

Well, of course, the influence of jurisprudence—the influence of decisions from Europe, from the European Court, are obviously ones that are important, still taken into account, and of course we do have, as Members from all parties have mentioned, retained EU law. The assumption that somehow—an assumption was made by the first speaker—that somehow all this stuff is bad, that somehow it is all something negative, I think, will turn out not to be the case, but, again, until the review starts—. Now, the problem is, until we are properly engaged, we won't precisely know what direction UK Government actually wants to do, but I hope that what will come out of it is that we will recognise that there are many aspects in terms of existing EU law that we not only want to retain, we may even want to improve upon, and, where that happens, I hope that what won't happen is an attempt to actually basically negate all those positives that exist.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.

Diolch, Llywydd. Well, last week, the UK justice Secretary announced that seven new regional Ministry of Justice offices will be opened across Wales and England as part of the UK Government's Places for Growth programme, with 22,000 roles moving out of London by 2030. This move will see more than 2,000 more roles in areas like finance, human resource and digital move out by 2030, with 500 of those heading to Wrexham, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.

A new collaboration centre will also open in Cardiff for teams to meet up or attend training and for home workers to use when they need to be in the office. The UK justice Secretary said:

'By having more of our staff based outside London we can recruit the best people wherever they live so that the justice system benefits from more diverse backgrounds, outlooks and experience.'

And the Welsh Secretary added:

'We want to make full use of the talent and potential of the Welsh workforce and moving hundreds of roles to Wales will help us achieve that objective.'

How will you engage positively with this, both to this end and to ensure synergy with devolved services, maximising the strengths of both Governments to a common end?

Well, I thank you for the question and I do support the proposal that has been made and welcome the statement that's been made. I can inform you, in fact, that myself and the Minister for Social Justice met approximately several hours ago with Lord Wolfson to actually discuss the very announcement and what the implications would actually be. These, of course, aren't new jobs, but they're jobs that, as individuals retire or leave, will be transferred to seven new regional hubs.

I think what is unclear is the timescale over which this will happen, because it seems that there are a number of factors. The point I made is: well, of course, if there are going to be significant numbers of Ministry of Justice jobs transferring to Wales, there might be opportunities in terms of doing something about the appalling state of the Cardiff Civil and Family Justice Centre—an issue where there are real concerns in terms of the facilities that are available, but just the very message that is sent out by the state of that civil justice centre and the need for a new purpose-built civil justice centre in Cardiff. And that would be an opportunity, wouldn't it, to actually look at where Minister of Justice facilities are placed. Unfortunately, it doesn't look as though there is going to be any significant progress on the civil justice centre, but, in terms of the jobs, we will of course give every co-operation and liaise and engage over how best to facilitate this, as we are doing in fact over other areas of co-operation within the justice field with the Ministry of Justice and with the various areas that are within Welsh Government responsibility. 

Thank you, and, of course, a new collaboration centre will also open in Cardiff. But responding to your statement, 'Legal Aid and Access to Justice', here three weeks ago, I referred to that week's UK Government announcement of additional funding into the family mediation scheme to help thousands more families avoid the courtroom to last July's House of Commons Justice Committee report on the future of legal aid, which identified a real need for a more flexible scheme that allows anyone with a legal problem who cannot afford a lawyer to access early legal advice, and to the UK Government's legal aid means test review as part of its broader legal support action plan, and asked what engagement you've had with the UK Government regarding these matters and the consultation that will follow. Your response then, unfortunately, failed to answer my question and made no reference to the actions regarding legal aid currently being taken by the UK Parliament and current UK Government. So, therefore, how will you engage positively with this to ensure synergy with devolved services, maximising the strengths of both Governments to a common end?

14:35

Thank you for the question. There is no doubt that, the last decade, the legal aid cuts have had an absolute disastrous impact on our communities and have disenfranchised many of our Welsh citizens from access to justice. In terms of the review—the two reviews, of course—the one review is in respect of criminal legal aid, with Lord Bellamy. I, in fact, met with Lord Bellamy to discuss that; I again raised the issue of Lord Bellamy's proposals with regard to criminal legal aid, and, in particular, some of the recommendations that are being made on the need to properly fund to deal with the issue of some of the advice deserts that we actually have. And we're still awaiting a decision from UK Government as to what they intend with that.

As important, if not actually more important, is actually the civil justice review, that I believe Lord Wolfson is engaged with at the moment. And obviously, there are significant areas there of concern to us, which are with regard to socioeconomic issues and legal aid, and generally other areas with regard to civil justice access. So, we look forward to really seeing what the proposals are that will be forthcoming. Obviously, means testing is relevant in both criminal legal aid and indeed in civil legal aid. As things stand at the moment, though, in terms of the massive cuts that there have been to legal aid, and the impact on our communities, an important lifeline is, of course, the single advice fund that the Minister for Social Justice is responsible for, and which has helped in the region of 250,000 cases for 130,000 Welsh citizens over the past couple of years.

Thank you. Thank you very much for acknowledging that. Well, last week, the UK Government announced that it will be bringing forward a Brexit Freedoms Bill—[Laughter.]—to end the special status of EU law, to make our businesses more competitive and our people more prosperous. I didn't make up the name of the Bill; that's the Bill's name. This Bill will allow EU law to be more easily amended or removed in the future. The UK Government also published a 'The benefits of Brexit' White Paper, setting out how regulations will be reviewed to, for example, create a fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for artificial intelligence, and to deliver cleaner air, create new habitats and reduce waste. Responding, you stated that you want to engage with the UK Government constructively regarding the Bill, but expressed concern that it might lead to reductions in farming and fishing standards, as well as environmental protections.

However, at the time of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the UK Government agreed that UK-wide frameworks to replace the EU rule book would be freely negotiated between the four UK Governments, in areas such as food, animal welfare and the environment, setting standards below which none can fall, with the existing common arrangements maintained until these are agreed. And of course, a number of these frameworks are being considered by Senedd committees currently. So, how will you therefore engage positively with the proposed UK Bill to ensure synergy with devolved powers, maximising the strengths of both Governments to a common end?

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

Well, thank you for the question. And you do raise a valid point, and that is: how will we engage, what will the synergy be, what will the principles be of that particular engagement? The problem with the document you refer to is it really is a number of headlines—there isn't anything you can take within there that actually gives you any indication of what the direction the UK Government might be. They may say, 'Well, maybe that isn't the purpose of the Bill', but I'll give you a 'for example'. It refers to EU law, and says how wonderful it is that we've taken back control and the supreme court is now the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom as a result of our leaving the EU. But then, at the same time, the UK Government wants to introduce legislation that actually debars the Supreme Court from actually dealing with the issues of judicial review, the rule of law and so on. So, on the one hand, it's about empowering the Supreme Court, on the other hand, 'Well, we'll only empower it insofar as it doesn't interfere with what we want to do and the way in which we choose to operate.' So, I think there are a number of principles and contradictions that exist within it. Certainly it would be relevant in terms of looking at how that interacts with the frameworks. Now, of course, the frameworks were massively intruded upon by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, and, of course, there are still outstanding legal issues in respect of that. But all I can do is repeat to the Member again that, of course, we will seriously engage; we will engage as a responsible Government on the basis of the principles that have been agreed between us. I just hope that the meeting we had last Saturday was an aberration and not a reflection of the way in which the UK intends to proceed in the future in those discussions. 

14:40

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. At the end of January, my Scottish National Party colleague, Kirsty Blackman, asked a question about post-legislative reviews within the Wales Office. In response to that question, Simon Hart, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, according to the Brexit opportunities Minister, answered that work was under way to assess the Wales Act 2017. As you know, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, this is a key piece of legislation with regards to the devolution settlement. In addition to that, the Welsh Government is suggesting that we consent to the Health and Care Bill, which will give UK Ministers power to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006, another key piece of legislation with regards to our devolution settlement. Given all the other steps that the UK Government are doing to undermine devolution, are you concerned about handing over that power? Also, were you aware of the review of the 2017 Act? And, if so, when were you going to notify the Senedd? Diolch yn fawr. 

Well, thank you for the question. The first thing is, in respect of all UK Government legislation, the Member is aware of the principles that are applied. One of the difficulties that arises, and particularly in the Bill that he's mentioned, is that there are a number of issues where there are issues of competence, there are cross-border issues that come into play and there are issues of disputed competence. The process, it has to be said, of engagement over what will be consented to, what will not be consented to, is certainly taken very, very seriously, and the issue of devolution integrity is right at the fore. We do not consent to something unless ultimately we accept that Wales will be better off as a consequence of the outcome of whatever is consented to, and, of course, it's not the Welsh Government that consents; the Welsh Government recommends to the Senedd to consent through the legislative consent motion process. 

In terms of the Wales Act 2017, I think there are likely to be a number of issues that are going to emerge as a result of a series of future reviews with regard to that particular Act. I think there are issues that are going to arise with regard to the review of the Human Rights Act 1998, for example, and I think there are other areas as well that we will be concerned with. But, any developments that do take place that engage me, I will certainly report back to this Senedd on developments. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. Now, we've had the long-awaited inter-governmental relations report, which sets to build a better relationship between the UK Governments, based on principles of mutual respect and to build and maintain trust. But the truth is, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, there is intense mistrust between the Governments, fundamental competing outlooks about the future of the constitution and the politics of the United Kingdom, and also attempts to reassert the sovereignty of the UK Parliament over devolved nations. Therefore, what is being done to implement the machinery and processes set out to assert mutual respect and trust into a positive and constructive inter-governmental relationship? Further, will discussions regarding the machinery and process involve us here in the Senedd? Diolch.   

Well, look, can I say that, firstly, the inter-governmental review, and the process that the Member has seen, is an important one? It is certainly, in my view, a significant step forward, but it's a cautious step forward, because we have to see how it will work. It does certainly outline the issues of respect and integrity that should apply constitutionally in terms of devolved government. And it's interesting to note the review actually uses the term 'devolved government', as opposed to 'devolved administration', of course, until you start looking at the Treasury part of it, where it reverts back to 'devolved administrations', but that's as may be for the moment. I know that officials are working together and looking at the issue of the creation of the independent secretariat and the structure that will take place, and also, I think, the schedule of meetings and so on that will take place. The fact that there will be a forum for inter-ministerial meetings is obviously important, as will be the meeting of the First Ministers and Prime Minister within this process. In terms of the Senedd, yes, as a result of the inter-institutional agreement—. Well, of course, there is already an agreement that the details of meetings that will be taking place and so on will be informed, and I would hope that there will be open discussion here. I think the whole process is one where, I think, there is even written into it a commitment to openness and transparency, and that is something that I will do everything I can to uphold, because we do want to make this new review work. It is to the benefit of the people of Wales if it does work, but we're not going to make assumptions on past practice that it necessarily is bound to work. Its one core flaw, of course, is that it does not have a constitutional status. It does not have a judicable status. But maybe we're on the way towards that. I think it is actually also the first indication of a federalised constitutional structure in terms of engagement. Now, there is a long way to go, but I will of course update Members on important issues as they do arise.

14:45
Welsh Tax Acts etc. (Power to Modify) Bill

5. What advice did the Counsel General give to the Minister for finance on the constitutional implications of the introduction of the Welsh Tax Acts etc. (Power to Modify) Bill? OQ57621

Thank you very much again. I am satisfied that the constitutional implications of the Bill have been appropriately scrutinised and evaluated. Powers included in the Bill as currently drafted are subject to four purpose tests, which may only be used where the Welsh Ministers consider it appropriate. These powers are sufficiently constrained. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. You're quite right about the wide-ranging powers when Ministers feel that it's appropriate, but I'm sure you also remember, back to your student days, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, being taught that, generally, laws should only be applied prospectively, rather than retrospectively. And I'm also sure, in constitutional lectures, you were taught about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. Now, whilst this Bill has many sensible features, such as the ability to change the tax process quickly to comply with international obligations, it limits the scope of scrutiny by removing the Senedd's lock. The Senedd lock is important, where power to change the Act was only contingent on Senedd approval. That's gone. Now, the broadness of the Bill fundamentally alters location of power in the Senedd to Ministers, and additionally it grants Ministers the powers to alter Acts retrospectively. That's clearly undermining the rule of law by creating uncertainty within the law. Now, we often criticise the Westminster Government for undermining the rule of law, but it is true about the Welsh Government in this case. In light of that, what safeguards will you introduce in this Bill in order to prevent the erosion of scrutiny and to prevent the erosion of the rule of law? Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you for the question. The Member raises a very important point and it's a point that has been very carefully considered; I've applied my mind to it and I know the Minister for finance has as well. And, of course, the Bill is, I think, at Stage 1 of the scrutiny process. I know the finance Minister gave evidence to the Finance Committee in the first session, I think, last week, and certainly there's another session next week, and I think is due to give evidence to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.

The first thing is really what the Bill is about. What the Bill does is it enables changes to be made to the Welsh tax Acts by regulations where Welsh Ministers consider that those changes are necessary or appropriate, and where they're required to have effect immediately or shortly thereafter. So, basically, where there are a number of external circumstances that can happen, it's about protecting the integrity of the Welsh tax system to changes that may occur. 

And you're right—the issue of the lock is an important one. I can't remember discussing anything like this when I was a student. Mind you, that was over 40 years ago, so perhaps your memory is a bit fresher than mine. But it is an important constitutional point, and I know it's one that's been the subject of a certain amount of commentary—that is, that a change would have to come before the Senedd for the power to be unlocked to enable it to actually be used. I think the difficulty with that is the immediacy of a change that might need to be made, and I think there's broad recognition that there is a need to have the power. But, you're absolutely right that, of course, it is a significant power. Any power to a Government to make changes, and potentially retrospective changes, is significant and requires significant scrutiny.

The approach that is being taken in respect of the way to do it is really to have a four purposes test to it so that it is there to ensure that it can deal with issues that arise unexpectedly, suddenly et cetera with regard to tax avoidance, or to comply with international obligations, or to respond urgently to court or tribunal decisions, or in fact to things that happen at a UK Government level that mean we need to actually respond. And, in some ways, it's a little bit like the COVID regulations, isn't it, in that they're made, they take effect et cetera, and so you have the made affirmative procedure or, potentially, the draft affirmative procedure being looked at.

I think what I can say is that you are absolutely right to raise the point. It is a matter that has to be very carefully examined. The finance Minister is attending the various committee scrutiny sessions in order to do that. And, no doubt, this will come back before this Chamber. I think, in terms of the balance and my understanding of what is needed and the urgency with which it is, from time to time, necessary to act, what is contained within the Bill I think recognises those significant constitutional issues that have to be addressed. But, of course, the scrutiny process will continue and the Minister for finance will obviously engage within that. 

14:50
The Diversity of Lay Magistrates

6. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the UK Government regarding increasing the diversity of lay magistrates in Wales? OQ57592

Thank you for the question. The appointment of lay magistrates is actually undertaken by the Judicial Office, not the UK Government. I have not personally had any discussions about magistrates specifically, but it is something we will consider with partners as we take forward the Welsh Government’s race equality action plan.   

That's good to hear. You'll be aware that the UK Ministry of Justice is presently undertaking the largest recruitment effort in its 650-year history to find 4,000 new lay magistrates. This step has been taken to combat the fact that the number of magistrates has fallen over the past decade from 25,170 in 2012 to 12,651 last year. So, of course, a lay magistrate, technically, is a voluntary position, with individuals expected to dedicate a minimum of 13 days per year, meaning many can look to fulfil this crucial role alongside their employment and their own caring responsibilities. The recruitment drive comes at a most pressing time, as statistics for November 2021 showed that 372,000 cases were outstanding in the magistrates' courts. It also provides now for an opportunity to diversify the magistracy, given that, as of last April, just over eight in 10 were aged over 50. Counsel General, what assistance can the Welsh Government provide on promoting this voluntary opportunity amongst our young people, and particularly so in our Welsh first-language communities, to ensure that those making these decisions are actually becoming more representative of the communities that they actually serve?

Thank you. It's an important question. It does beg the question why it is that, in 10 years, when you've had almost a halving of the number of magistrates, it is so late in the day now that action is being taken and also in such a minimalist way. Why are there so many fewer magistrates than there were before? But I do welcome the step to recruit 4,000 more magistrates and, of course, as a result of COVID, steps are being taken also to extend the capacity of magistrates in terms of dealing with more cases.

Can I also say that I think the magistrates perform an essential role, I think, in allowing our underfunded justice system to operate? And we do owe all these people who give their time and their expertise a debt of gratitude. I think one factor that may have contributed as well to the reduction is the closure of so many magistrates' courts. People identify with their communities, with their local courts, and the magistrates' court system has always been part of a localised justice system. That link between justice and the community has been very badly broken.

One thing I can say in terms of one of the things I think we can do and where we can work with UK Government—and, again, it's a matter that I and the Minister for Social Justice have actually been working on and discussing—is with regard to the disaggregation of data so that we actually know what the make-up is. Now, we know the age profile. We know also that about 55 per cent of magistrates in Wales are female as opposed to male. We also know that around about 5 per cent are from a minority background, but we don't have much more detail than that. We don't know whether some ethnic groupings are under-represented. We don't know where they are particularly located, and we also don't have the data that we need, I think, in respect of the ability to use Welsh language. And as we want to encourage and see a greater usage of Welsh within our courts system, I think that is something that's important to know.

I can say that discussions that we've been having I think have been very positively received. We will be writing to the UK Government to set out the criteria of the data that we do need, and I think that is an example of positive and constructive co-operative working that is taking place and that we have been developing.  

14:55
Inter-parliamentary Reforms

7. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to the need for inter-parliamentary reforms in light of the changes to inter-governmental relations at a UK level? OQ57602

Thank you for that. Inter-parliamentary arrangements are a matter for the Parliaments themselves. We are committed to strengthening transparency, scrutiny and accountability for inter-governmental relations. We have a formal inter-governmental review agreement with the Senedd, which includes the publication of an annual report.

The inter-governmental reforms do hold out some positive news, I think. If they can be made to be embedded in both the tone of respect but also the machinery of Government that they genuinely are meaningful between Governments, then they hold out some real hope for the future. But what we do know, of course, is that that strengthening of the inter-governmental machinery means that there is a need to have greater scrutiny of what's going on at that level. So, I wonder—and I do accept entirely what the Counsel General says, that this is a matter for Parliaments—would he personally, with his experience, support the concept that there now needs to be an equal focus on inter-parliamentary reform so that the scrutiny is up to the job of the inter-governmental reform? And that could be taken forward by intra-committee work across the nations, by the intra-parliamentary fora that we are reconstituting or, indeed—and with great respect to my colleague sitting opposite—by the Speakers' convention as well if they wanted to turn their attention to inter-parliamentary reform. 

Thank you, and you're absolutely right, and I'm glad that the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee is paying close attention to this, because, as these relations develop and deal with really significant matters that impact on people's lives, it is very important that there is solid, constructive and strategic scrutiny. The one side to it here, of course, is that there is the inter-institutional agreement between the Welsh Government and the committee that you chair. That is important. I think there's a recognition from Welsh Government of the importance of transparency and scrutiny of these issues as well.

But, can I comment then on the inter-parliamentary forum, because I actually think—? As you know, I was previously a member of that, and I know it came into existence in connection with Brexit, and so on. It seems to me that is a potential forum that offers the opportunity for the creation of a pan-parliamentary scrutiny committee that could actually operate very constructively across the constitution committees and legislation committees, whether it be the House of Lords, whether it be the constitution committees, and so on. I think that is a very interesting possibility, and I'm sure that's something that I imagine the inter-parliamentary forum, which, as you say, is being reset up, is going to look at how it would fit within that particular role. 

The Levelling-up Fund

8. What legal advice has the Counsel General given to the Welsh Government regarding the UK Government's proposals to directly fund projects in Wales under its levelling-up fund? OQ57620

I thank the Member for the question. We are still going through the detail of the levelling-up White Paper, but through their use of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, UK Ministers continue to override the devolution settlements and the democratic oversight of this Parliament. 

15:00

Thank you very much for that response. These levelling-up proposals look to co-operate directly with local authorities across the UK. There is talk of devolution in the White Paper, but it's devolution in the context of England, of course. The spin put on it is that they intend to reduce this gaping gap and the inequalities within the UK. But, working directly with local authorities here in Wales will undermine the devolution process, as you have just said. Do you believe that this programme, and the White Paper if it becomes law, will meet its objectives of reducing inequalities, or will it fail in this regard and, rather, be detrimental to the efforts of the Government here in Wales?

Thank you. I can tell you that Welsh Government officials have had no engagement from the UK Government on the levelling-up White Paper, despite economic development actually being a devolved competence. Our experience of this sort of inter-governmental partnership working on these particular matters has been, I would say, wholly unacceptable.

Delivering the levelling-up agenda in Wales without any partnership with the Welsh Government not only disrespects the devolution settlement, but it also badly weakens the potential of any investment programme. It is recognised, the need to actually respect devolved Governments in terms of the implementation of the use of funding. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee noted:

'the apparent absence of any meaningful strategic engagement with the devolved administrations around the levelling up agenda, amplifies the lack of clarity and focus around this major policy.'

And don't forget: the UK Government commissioned the Dunlop review to actually look into these issues and so on. The Dunlop review noted that

'funding by the UK Government in devolved areas must not replace core funding and must be applied with the support of the devolved governments.'

I can only say that, so far, there has been a total failure in that particular respect, and we've seen that also by the examples of the use of levelling-up funding. The fact that we are certainly not receiving the level of funding that we were promised: the Welsh budget is set to be nearly £1 billion worse off by 2024 as a result of the UK Government's failure to honour its commitment that Wales would not lose a single penny as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.

Question 9 [OQ57624] is withdrawn. Therefore, finally, question 10, Delyth Jewell.

Taxation Powers

10. What legal advice has the Counsel General given to the Welsh Government on the devolution of more taxation powers? OQ57617

I thank the Member for the question. Four years since beginning the process to devolve new powers for a vacant land tax, we have still not been able to secure these powers. It is quite clear now that the process is not fit for purpose.

Thank you for that answer. On a recent visit to Wales, Counsel General, the Prime Minister said that

'devolved governments had to take more responsibility on raising their own finance.'

Could you therefore tell us which new taxation powers the UK Government has offered the Welsh Government? And, if none have been offered, what do you, Counsel General, think that the Prime Minister meant when he said that the Welsh Government should take more responsibility for raising its own finance?

Well, I think that the best answer to that question is that I think that I will have to ask the Minister when I meet with him because, at the moment, as far as I'm aware, the discussions on the issue, for example, of a vacant land tax—. We want such a tax because of the potential of such a tax to deliver our housing and regeneration ambitions.

The crux seems to be that, what should be happening is that the engagement with the UK Government in respect of the devolution of tax powers in certain areas should be a matter of which taxes are appropriate for devolved Government. Well, that has already been established. Where the UK Government now seems to be heading is that it wants to know how we intend to use them. Well, quite frankly, if the power is appropriate to be devolved, it is for this place to determine the best way of using that particular power. Consequently, the discussions go around in circles and the powers, which I think come from the 2014 Act, really are not fit for purpose, and there is a desperate need for change.

There are other areas of taxation, of course, that would assist us, whether it is to do with value added tax, whether it is to do with air passenger duty, and of course there's a lot of talk by the UK Government about air passenger duty. Well, we've been asking for levelling up on the air passenger duty taxation side for quite some time, and it's still not recognised.

15:05
3. Questions to the Senedd Commission

The next item is questions to the Senedd Commission, and they will be answered by the Llywydd. Question 1, Jack Sargeant.

The Welsh Youth Parliament

1. How will the Commission support the Welsh Youth Parliament during the Sixth Senedd? OQ57585

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Youth Parliament continues to be a key priority for the Senedd. We were delighted with the success of the first Welsh Youth Parliament term, and with the enthusiasm and passion that the first group of Welsh Youth Parliament Members showed. We have recently elected our second cohort of Members and I'm looking forward to chairing the first full meeting on 19 February. That meeting will be held virtually, but I very much hope that there will be a meeting of the Youth Parliament very soon after that in this Siambr.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd, and I look forward to the outcome and the update from the first meeting of the newly elected Youth Parliament. Like many of us across here, I'm really keen for Members of our Youth Parliament to be given the opportunity to make a real lasting difference, to leave their mark on Welsh politics and to leave their mark and positive change on Welsh public life. One of the issues that's continually raised with me in my community of Alyn and Deeside by young people is the use of single-use plastics. Can I ask the Commission what thought they've given to facilitating the handover of this important policy area so that progress can be made by these passionate individuals on behalf of the people of Wales?

Well, it was a matter of great joy that the youth parliamentarians in the first Youth Parliament selected as one of its three areas of priority three very relevant, modern issues to be focusing on. One was, of course, the single-use plastics and environmental concerns that they have. The new Youth Parliament will decide of itself in a few weeks' time what its priorities will be for the next two years, and it is a matter of—I think—challenge for all of us that, as we listen to the voices of our Youth Parliament—. And I hope that Members will be able to join us on 19 February to join the meeting at some point. It's not a day when the six nations are playing, deliberately chosen for that reason. We made that mistake the first time around; we won't make it the second time around. So, please listen as they decide for themselves what their priorities for the next two years will be. I would be surprised if environmental concerns and climate change did not feature in there quite heavily.

Work Experience and Open Recruitment

2. What measures are in place to promote opportunities for work experience and open recruitment in the Senedd workplace? OQ57601

The Commission is committed to providing opportunities to young people and any others who may wish to access the workplace and to familiarise themselves with the activities of the Senedd through a variety of short-term work experience opportunities. The Commission operates a formal work experience scheme twice annually, and that's an opportunity for anyone above the age of 16 to engage with the work of the Senedd. Recruitment to established jobs within the Commission are advertised on a broad range of platforms and are promoted in line with the principles of fair and open competition. 

Thank you very much for that answer.

This is a genuinely open question, because I'm impressed, to be honest, at the extent to which the Senedd is opening up to people—young people and others—across the country in terms of saying, 'Come here and experience—get work experience,' or, 'Apply for work here, right at the heart of our national democracy.' And if you look at the website, it's very well signposted and so on. But my question, as a follow-up, is whether any analysis has been done to see where people who come here are from—whether they come from work experience in schools or whether they apply through open recruitment here to various roles. What parts of the country do they come from? Which offices do they go to work in? What socioeconomic background are they from? Are they from rural Wales and the Valleys and from the coastal areas? Do they tend to congregate within certain geographic areas or certain strata of our society? That would also be very interesting to know. But I commend the work that's been done, actually, as a very open recruiter and also to give work experience to young people in our schools.

Those are very interesting questions. We come here to this place from all parts of Wales, but where do the staff that serve the Commission and also our party political staff also come from is a good question to know the answer to. I don't know the answer to it as I stand here before you at this point, and I suspect that we do collect some of those statistics, but I'll certainly look into it and ask for some clarity on that to be shared with all Members. I suspect that there is an interest from around the Chamber to know how and whether we do that.

15:10
4. Topical Questions

Item 4 on the agenda is next, but no topical questions have been accepted.

5. 90-second Statements

So, we move on to item 5, the 90-second statement. I call on Jack Sargeant.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. This week is National Apprenticeship Week and it's not an exaggeration to say that apprenticeships change lives. Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm proud to have served my time as an apprentice engineer in DRB Group in Deeside. Apprenticeships deliver the skills necessary for individuals to embark on their successful careers. At the same time, they benefit employers, helping them to find the relevant skilled people they need to help meet the current and future needs of their businesses and the Welsh economy. Institutions like ColegauCymru and Coleg Cambria do fantastic work, working with over 1,000 employers locally and nationally to deliver apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities for the people of Wales.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I want to see apprenticeships flourish here in Wales, and be an even bigger part of our national life. I encourage all people of Wales, of all ages and all backgrounds, to consider an apprenticeship, and as we look forward to the future, who would not welcome seeing more trained apprentices sitting in this very Chamber and adding in their experience gained from the work industry to shaping policy and making decisions on behalf of the people of Wales? Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you. We will now suspend proceedings to allow changeovers in the Siambr. If you're leaving the Siambr, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart and any Members who are arriving after the changeover should wait until then before entering the Siambr.

Plenary was suspended at 15:12.

15:20

The Senedd reconvened at 15:24, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.

6. Debate on a Member's Legislative Proposal: Mabon ap Gwynfor (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)—Rent control

We move now to item 6, a debate on a Member's legislative proposal on rent control. I call on Mabon ap Gwynfor to move the motion.

Motion NDM7831 Mabon ap Gwynfor

Supported by Rhys ab Owen, Sioned Williams

To propose that Senedd:

1. Notes a proposal for a Bill on rent controls.

2. Notes that the purpose of this Bill would be to:

a) help combat some of the more severe effects of Wales’s housing emergency, affecting over a million people across the nation;

b) mitigate significant future rent increases, such as those seen in the rented sector over the last 12 months;

c) introduce a system which restricts rents and rent increases to affordable levels and local factors, closing the gap between wage growth and the cost of living.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. [Interruption.] Thank you for the welcome. I have to declare an interest at the beginning of the debate as someone who owns another property occupied by a tenant. So, why am I, of all people, putting forward a motion to control rents? Well, simply put, because this is the right thing to do.

There are pressing crises that have happened throughout history that lead to a financial squeeze that in turn leads to poverty. This is true without exception, and history is testament to the fact. At times of pressing crisis, Governments take action to show that they are there to protect and help, through providing a shield against the worst impacts.

Let us take one example from history. Following the second world war, what did Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan do? Well, they went about implementing the recommendations made in the Ridley report and strengthened rent controls, and embarked on a major programme of building public housing. Aneurin Bevan himself spoke about the need to safeguard tenants. And the people of Wales look to us today to do what we can to prevent them from falling into poverty following the huge post-COVID challenges. We don't know what the full impact of COVID will be yet—the picture will become clearer as time goes on—but we are starting to see its detrimental effect already, on top of over 10 years of stifling austerity. Wages have failed to keep up with inflation, inflation is about to hit its highest level for 30 years, and the cost of living is on the rise. But, on top of all this, rents have increased more in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom, with an increase of almost 13 per cent in the past year alone.

Over half the children who live in rented homes live in poverty. The percentage of people who live in poverty in the rental sector is higher in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Cardiff is having a particularly hard time, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimating that many spend 35 per cent of their income on rent alone. Young people can't afford to buy homes in their communities and waiting lists for social homes are very long. So, the only option is to rent privately or, for some, unfortunately, to live with their parents. It's little wonder that ONS figures show that a third of people between 20 and 30 years of age live with their parents here in Wales. Shelter Cymru has seen rents doubling in a month in some cases, and Acorn in Cardiff has seen landlords demanding more than an extra £100 per month in rent from their tenants. Without intervention, we will see more and more people finding themselves living in poverty or even becoming homeless.

I know that some will take fright at reading the motion and will instinctively oppose it, referring to examples where policy under the heading 'rent control' has failed. And that's true; some experiments have failed. But when they are designed in the right way, when they're targeted and when they dovetail with other successful policies, then rent control is a policy that succeeds and is popular. And they're popular today, with over two thirds of people supporting a policy of this kind in the United Kingdom, according to a recent YouGov opinion poll. Note that the motion does not propose a particular kind of rent control system, but it does note the need to impose controls on rents to a level that meets the ability to pay.

Let's look at some examples. The Government of the Republic of Ireland is not known for being particularly left wing; indeed, it is a more right-wing Government. But there, they have taken steps to control rents, with a rent review no less often than every two years and a 90-day period of notice of change. They have rent pressure zones in areas where the pressure is particularly high, which mean that rent cannot increase above the rate of inflation in those areas. In Catalunya, the Government there has introduced a regime that limits rents for specific cohorts of people, for example if rent equates to 30 per cent or more of their income. And, of course, rent controls exist in different states across the United States, having been introduced in a targeted manner.

It's clear, therefore, that careful preparatory work is vital to ensure success of this kind of policy. That's why I'm exceptionally pleased that this Government today has come to an agreement with us here in Plaid Cymru to look at the possibility of introducing rent controls as part of a wider package in a White Paper on housing. This will be the first step on the legislative journey to ensure that there's fairer housing here in Wales for our people.

This proposal, therefore, is an opportunity for an initial discussion on the potential for a fair system of controlling rents here, and the contribution that this could make to our wider objective of guaranteeing tenants' rights—people's right to live with a roof above their heads without the threat of homelessness casting a shadow over their lives. It is also a statement of a fundamental principle—that there is a fundamental injustice in our current housing regime, which is that people are living in poverty while a very small group of people profit from them.

I ask Members of the Senedd, therefore, to support this motion today, and to empower the Government to start the preparatory work to lay the foundations for the introduction of a rent control system, alongside our wider work to ensure that everyone has the right to a home here in Wales. Thank you very much.

15:30

I refer Members to my own declaration of interests, and indeed will be declaring an interest on this debate. I will also be voting very firmly against this legislative proposal, and it doesn't take away the fact that I know the work that you've put into this. There is actual clear evidence that rent controls can have large negative effects, both on landlords, tenants and, indeed, the quality of housing stock. San Francisco's 1994 rent control law led to a 5.1 per cent increase in overall rents over the course of the next two decades. The overall rise in rents created a cost of £2.9 billion accrued to current and future renters, and landlords substituting to other types of real estate, which then lowered the housing supply, shifting it towards less affordable types of housing.

Now, we're already seeing a pattern that's quite worrying in Wales. Private landlords, financial brokers, are telling me that they or their clients are fed up now with so many controls being placed upon them, when all they want to do is provide good-quality accommodation for a fair rent in return. Many are now selling up their stock or moving over to the holiday let. In fact, between 2018-19 and 20-21, Wales has seen over 4,500 private landlords leave the sector. And, Minister, you can shake your head, but I have that figure, firmly, provided to me by Rent Smart Wales themselves, in black and white.

Now, last week, I chaired an estate agents round-table, and it was made clear that there is an agent in south Wales that manages over 4,000 units, and they know for a fact that owners are voting with their feet and actually leaving the rented sector. Your proposal, Mabon, would make that wave a tsunami of landlords leaving, and the casualties will be the very people that you actually think you're trying to help. Studies have shown that rent controls lead to a deterioration in housing quality, resulting from landlords' reduced income and an inclination to keep the upkeep of the housing. Germany introduced a nationwide system of rent controls in 2015, but according to research, this had no persistent effect on rental prices, instead resulting in reducing housing quality.

Now, Dr Simon Brooks has made it clear that providing a sufficient supply of rental accommodation is particularly important in towns such as Llangefni, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Haverfordwest, and Caernarfon and Bangor in Gwynedd. There is no greater example of the failure of socialism in Wales than the absolute carnage that Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru are making of our housing sector. As was made clear in my estate agents round-table, they believe that you are just driving the quantity of stock available for tenants to rent—

This legislation will be the final straw, and will see the very people that you think you are trying to help worse off. I would ask all Members to support tenants themselves, landlords, and to ensure that our housing stock doesn't deteriorate further, and vote firmly against this. Diolch.

I actually believe in rent control, and I don't own any houses apart from the one I live in. With a shortage of rental properties compared to demand, then without controls, rents will increase continually. With large-scale council house building pre-1979, the private rented sector declined. The private rented sector began to grow again after 1989 and is now the second-largest tenure in the UK after owner-occupation. Increases in the private sector rent levels and a focus on reducing housing benefit expenditure have led several commentators, and I agree with them, to call for the reintroduction of some form of private sector rent control. The Rent Act in 1965, introduced by the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson, regulated tenancies, with fair rents set by independent rent officers. That ended with the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, brought in by the Conservatives, and we mentioned 1989 earlier, as the date at which the increase in private rented accommodation started to go up.

What are the benefits of rent control? Affordability, it prevents displacement, neighbourhood stability. The argument that is made—Janet Finch-Saunders made it, which I voted out before she even spoke—I expect is that it reduces availability of rented property for stock renovation and improvement. Firstly, the high rent of privately rented properties has driven out first-time buyers. But I'll just talk about the area I come from of Plasmarl in Swansea. Initially, it had large numbers of privately rented properties, but, as council houses became available, my family, like many others, moved to these new council houses, and the housing left behind was sold, and many people, via a mortgage, became owner-occupiers and then undertook improvement of those homes. Now, these properties are bought and made available for private rent. I must have missed the large-scale renovation of the cheaper privately rented properties in east Swansea.

Alongside rent controls, we do need the large-scale building of social housing. In fact, I talk about that probably more often than people would like to hear it from me, but we need to build council houses at the rate we built them in the 1950s and 1960s. Rent control increases the availability of houses to be bought by people to live in, reduces the cost of rental, gives security on rental costs, removes the incentive to move one tenant out to bring one in paying a higher rent. I urge everyone to support this today. This is, effectively, a Labour policy; it's something that the Wilson Government brought it, which worked very well at rolling back the tide of fairness to poor and less well-off people, but the Tories in the 1980s got rid of it. We've got an opportunity to bring it back in now for the benefit of all the people renting in Wales. I urge everybody, especially my Labour colleagues, to support what is effectively a socialist solution. 

15:35

The need for shelter is one of the most basic human needs, but this need can be exploited. Many of the problems that we discuss day in, day out with our constituents are related to the housing emergency that has engulfed our communities. Because be in no doubt, this is an emergency, and it is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the hardest. We must act to protect them. 

Housing is the single largest living cost faced by most families in Wales, and uncontrolled increases in rents are forcing too many tenants to pay landlords an unreasonable and ultimately unsustainable proportion of their limited income. The picture painted by the statistics quoted by Mabon ap Gwynfor reveals the extent and deepening negative effect of unaffordable unfair rents, which disproportionately hit those on low incomes, deepening inequality, exacerbating already too high levels of poverty. And we know that women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, young people, refugees, migrants, disabled people and LGBTQ+ people are all disproportionately affected by economic structures that penalise those on low incomes, whilst also facing discrimination as regards access to housing. 

As we've heard from Mabon ap Gwynfor, rents have increased by almost 13 per cent in Wales over the last year. Shelter Cymru's casework has seen cases of severe increases, in one instance by as much as 100 per cent per month. And the consequences for those unable to afford these increases are dire, often leading to problem debt, eviction, homelessness. Wages have not increased accordingly, and with fuel prices skyrocketing, as well as the rising cost of everyday essentials, the need to act to ensure an end to the way uncontrolled rents are contributing to the cost-of-living crisis and wider social inequality is urgent.

Economic justice is an equalities issue. The actions of those of us on the progressive wing of politics must match stated ambitions. As Mabon mentioned, we have an opportunity here to put in train the first steps of meaningful action to help tenants, such as considering targeted rent controls, and supporting the Government's White Paper on housing, and, in doing so, carry the mantle of the giants of Wales's radical tradition. Fellow Members, let's show we are the inheritors of that radical tradition. 

Poverty limits your freedom to enjoy an enjoyable and authentic life, but even the possibility of being plunged into poverty or losing your home is enough to curtail your freedom. So long as landlords continue to have the capacity to arbitrarily raise rent, tenants will continue to live under a dark cloud of economic uncertainty. This motion is an indication that we as a Senedd would stand up for the rights and freedoms of ordinary people to be able to live their lives without that constant threat. The housing crisis is the result of an economic system that is designed to protect the wealth of the few not the needs of the many, and without mitigation, such as a form of rent control, the system will remain intact. Diolch.

15:40

I should declare an interest as somebody who's currently renting a property.

Well, comrades, I never thought I would see the day that I would stand here this afternoon to fight against rent controls. Where have they worked? Where have they been a success for the people you claim they would help? No-one's told me so far, because the answer is they don't work. No-one is denying there are significant pressures for the housing market and there is a lack of homes for young people. However, the answer cannot be more red tape and more regulation because we are in this position now because of red tape and regulation. Across the whole of Wales in 2021, under this Welsh Labour Government's watch, your own draft budget highlighted a measly 4,314 new dwellings were commenced, and it's not going to get any better with the Natural Resources Wales's phosphate guidance stopping people building houses.

Rent controls and more red tape will not address the housing crisis, but they may make the housing crisis worse. There are landlords in this room today and wider who know that, if rent controls are introduced, some of those people may struggle to pay mortgages on those properties, they may struggle to pay the upkeep of properties, tenants will be evicted as those homes go on the open market and, yet again, we'll see more homes going on Airbnb. Rent controls pose a real risk to destabilising the market, and you all know it. Policies like these are just headline grabbers, they don't work, and people always find a way around the regulations. 

Young people need access to affordable homes, and we need to do that by deregulating and lessening the burden on the house-building sector, Minister, and let's get building, building, building. 

I have long supported rent controls and I back any move to address the poverty caused by unreasonable rent increases. The UK's housing market has been in crisis for decades. The fundamental foundations of the system have been broken. The idea that everybody should be entitled to a roof over their head, like so many other areas of our economy, is now subordinated to the whims of market forces and the pursuit of profit.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power her Government withdrew funding for councils to build economically productive housing, instead choosing to support rents and mortgages instead. The disastrous right-to-buy further entrenched market dogma into UK housing policy. Most of the houses sold under this policy were never replaced. It represented a mass sell-off of state assets into the private sector. This ripped up decades of mainstream political agreement on the need for councils to provide social housing.

Starting with Clement Attlee's Labour Government, the state provided funding to councils to invest in increasing social housing and, for decades, hundreds of thousands of social rented houses were built on average every year. Economically, the justification was obvious, mass scale home building meant that house prices and rents remained affordable because of high supply. When housing is viewed as a financial investment, the opposite is true. There is pressure to restrict supply in order to drive prices up, maximizing the profits of those who own the assets. Where house building does take place, it is now largely left to private property developers whose prime motive is to make profit for their shareholders.

The rapid and unsustainable growth of a class of buy-to-let landlords since the 1980s has not only undone much of the progress in conditions of tenants but has driven an explosion in house prices. The increased prices combined with the low supply lead to ever-increasing rents. Rent controls offer one of the most potent tools we have to address this situation. They aren't without precedent, they are fairly common across Europe. In 2016 the Scottish Government brought in the power to impose controls on rents, and in Wales we must learn the lessons of the failings of the Scottish approach, which were caused by a disappointing timidity and lack of ambition. The aim of rent control should be, first and foremost, to protect tenants. As a longer term aim, it should discourage the hoarding of property by buy-to-let landlords and increase those looking to sell. This will provide an increase in supply, allowing tenants to buy their own houses. The Welsh Government's ongoing expansion of social housing will ensure a home for those who do not wish to buy or who remain unable to, and I look forward to the White Paper and I'm pleased the Welsh Government will be embracing rent controls, as promised in the manifesto. The effects of the housing crisis are felt most acutely by the young and the working class. If we fail to act, we will consign tomorrow's young to a future without housing security. Diolch.

15:45

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. In noting the proposal in the motion for a Bill on rent control, I think it is really important to set out the commitment in the programme for government. The commitment in the programme for government reflects the commitment in the 2021 Welsh Labour manifesto to develop a national scheme restricting rents for families and young people priced out of the private rental market and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The programme for government commitment now also reflects the inclusion of rent control in the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru.

Our commitment is to publish a White Paper on fair rents and new approaches to making homes affordable for those on low incomes. In line with the co-operation agreement, that will include proposals on rent control. As many of you know, though, rent control does have a somewhat chequered history, with many previous interventions not having had the planned benefit, or indeed having some serious negative impacts. We know, for example, that the rent pressure zone legislation introduced in Scotland has not yet been used, and measures introduced in Ireland have had to be substantially redesigned, as they've been criticised for having led to rent increases and a contraction in supply.

However, there are good examples around the world of rent controls working in the right way for the right purposes. I have to say to the Conservatives opposite that their 'phosphate crisis', as they call it, that is preventing the build, build, build approach is in stark contrast to their stated commitment to climate and nature emergencies.

How on earth you think that we can have rivers full of phosphates and build substandard housing all over green land in Wales and have a coherent approach to the climate and nature emergencies, I really cannot understand. So, you just really need to take a good look at yourself and get a coherent approach to this.

I have met with a large number of interested private sector investors who really like the approach that we have here in Wales. They want, of course, because they are decent human beings, to make sure that they contribute to ensuring that everyone in Wales has access to a decent, affordable and safe home, because they are very well aware that housing is not just about profit. So, I think you are hanging out in the wrong crowd entirely over there on the very right-wing Conservative benches.

So, we think the approach set out in our programme for government is the right way forward. We will be shortly commissioning independent research so that we can all understand what measures have the best chance of success. Building on that research, we will then produce a White Paper containing the policy proposals, which will be the subject of a consultation.

We are, of course, wholly committed to ensuring that everyone in Wales has access to a decent, affordable and safe home. Pivotal to this is ensuring that rents are affordable, and we are, of course, acutely aware of the cost-of-living crisis facing so many people in Wales. As I said in a debate, Dirprwy Lywydd, only yesterday, the Tories on the opposite benches, whilst shouting from sedentary positions at me are also the party that have frozen the local housing allowance, making sure that people do not have access to affordable rents in the private rented sector if they're on benefits. Really, you need to take a good look at yourselves.

We are putting a raft of measures in place already, including our commitment to building 20,000 new low-carbon social homes for rent. In terms of the private rented sector, I've already referenced the national leasing scheme. This builds on our successful pilot to enable local authorities to lease properties from private property owners for between five and 20 years. We have a large number of private investors interested in this. Local authorities will provide these homes at affordable rent to those who would otherwise face potential homelessness. They will provide the support tenants need to sustain their tenancies and thrive in their homes.

More broadly, of course, and I just remind Mabon, who didn't quite remember this in his speech, implementation of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will transform the landscape for tenants and considerably strengthen their rights. Providing they don't breach their contract, tenants will have a right to six months' notice if the landlord seeks to end the contract. That notice cannot be served in the first six months, so they'll have security of at least a year after moving into their home. The renting homes Act will provide greater security than elsewhere in the UK for all tenants. There are, of course, many other important provisions in the Act, including around improving the quality of rented homes and making sure that they are fit for human habitation.

We will publish a Green Paper later this year, as the next step in bringing forward ending homelessness legislation, that will fundamentally reform homelessness services to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing. In terms of the commitment to publishing a White Paper reflected in our programme for government, this will explore the role rent control can have in making the private rental market more affordable. It's an extensive and complex area of policy and law and it's essential to gather the evidence, including international models of rent control and the experience and impact of measures taken in both Scotland and Ireland, which Mabon referenced. It's important we learn from the approaches taken in other countries, and in particular this will include understanding what has worked well where rent controls are in place and what has not worked, and, critically, as Carolyn Thomas mentioned, any unintended consequences, so that we can iron them out in the measures that we take.

As I indicated, for example, in Ireland, the legislation was introduced allowing rents to increase to a maximum of 4 per cent in rent pressure zones, but actually it turned out that inflation was lower than that, and the 4 per cent became a target rather than a cap. So, we need to craft our legislation carefully so that we don't have rigid boundaries in place and we can calibrate it across the piece. Anecdotally, the measures there are linked to an increase in evictions, of course, because they have then got a ceiling instead of a cap, which we need to guard against. 

We will commission the independent research into the rent controls so that we do pick up the very good examples that we have. Mabon referenced Catalonia, for example, and we know that that's been successful there. Engagement with partners and citizens will be a very important part of this research, which will then inform the policy proposals to be included in the White Paper. 

So, in summary, Dirprwy Lywydd, I fully support the drive to increase the access to affordable homes and to make this the right of every person in Wales. It is, though, critically important to explore what is the most effective way of achieving this and securing more decent and affordable housing. The White Paper will be underpinned by the evidence gathered and provide robust options for future legislation on new approaches to ensure rental affordability. Diolch.

15:50

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you to everyone who has taken part in this discussion. Thank you to the Minister for her comprehensive response.

I'm interested, I have to say, in the responses of the Conservatives. I'm thinking sometimes that they have written a speech ahead of time and haven't paid any attention to what has been said, because whilst one acknowledges—the Minister herself has acknowledged—that there are weaknesses with rent controls, and I've said that, in some cases, there are examples of rent controls succeeding, and very prominent examples of that.

And we know that, in order for rent controls to succeed, they have to be coupled with a range of other policies, not least of which is build, build and build, as Mike Hedges said too. But, in talking about building, we have to accept that your friends in the Conservatives in private sector construction wouldn't meet demand, of course, because they are interested in creating profit only. We have to ensure that public housing is built once again, empowering our local authorities to enable them to rebuild council homes once again to meet the demand, because the lack of stock at present means that some of the rogue landlords, who want to take advantage of people, they know that they can increase rent levels consistently. James.

Do you not agree with me, then, that the Welsh Government's phosphate guidance is going to stop council house building and social house building in certain parts of Wales?

Well, that is a concern, that that policy does mean that a number of social homes down in the Teifi valley and in Monmouthshire won't be built at the moment, but it's a matter for the Government to respond to that point.

But I am very pleased to hear that the Government has commissioned a consultation into this, and I very much welcome that, because, if the policy is going to succeed, as we've learnt from Clement Attlee onwards, if it's going to succeed, it has to be a policy that's been investigated thoroughly and is dovetailed with other policies. So, I'd very pleased, Minister, if I could see the terms and guidance for that work. But let us today declare our support for this policy in its wider sense, that we want to see steps being taken, support that the Government is doing this with this research and will bring forward a White Paper and ensure that there are affordable homes for people in our communities here in Wales. Do support the motion. Thank you very much.

15:55

The proposal is to note the proposal. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is an objection. I will therefore defer voting until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

7. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Cancer services

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Lesley Griffiths and amendment 2 in the name of Siân Gwenllian. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.

We'll move now to our next agenda item, the Welsh Conservatives debate on cancer services, and I call on Russell George to move the motion tabled in the name of Darren Millar.

Motion NDM7911 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes the Welsh NHS COVID-19 recovery plan published at the end of the last parliamentary term.

2. Expresses concern:

a) that waiting lists numbers in Wales continue to rise, with nearly one in three patients waiting more than a year for treatment;

b) that Wales will soon be the only country in the United Kingdom without a cancer strategy.

3. Notes further concern at reports from the National Cancer Clinical Director for Wales that services will have to work at 120 to 130 per cent of previous capacity to deal with increased numbers of cancer patients.

4. Expresses disappointment that the 2021 quality statement on cancer lacks detail and only sets minimum standards for cancer services.

5. Urges the Welsh Government to:

a) urgently publish a workforce recruitment and retention plan for cancer specialists;

b) publish a full cancer strategy which will set out how Wales will tackle cancer over the next five years; and

c) support cancer patients through their treatment by, for example, introducing free dental care during radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd, and I move the motion tabled in the name of my colleague, Darren Millar. For some people in Wales, they worry that they will die without ever getting the cancer treatment they need, and that's the view of the board of community health councils and Andy Glyde from Cancer Research UK. Today's debate, of course, is extremely important for many people across Wales, and our motion calls for a number of measures, such as support for cancer patients through their treatment, by, for example, introducing free dental care during radiotherapy or chemotherapy. We're also asking the Welsh Government to urgently publish a workforce recruitment and retention plan for cancer specialists, and to publish a full cancer strategy that will set out how Wales will tackle cancer over the next five years.

Current cancer treatment times suggest that Welsh cancer services are not catching up with diagnosis and treatment. Last November, just 58 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with cancer started their first definitive treatment within 62 days of first being suspected of cancer, far below the target of 75 per cent. Meanwhile, the cancer waiting lists in Wales continue to rise, with nearly one in three patient pathways taking over a year to treat, while the national cancer clinical director for Wales has said that services will have to work at 120 per cent to 130 per cent of previous capacity to deal with the increased numbers of patients.

Welsh cancer survival rates have been stalling for many years. Prior to the pandemic, the Welsh cancer intelligence unit data showed that Wales had the lowest survival rates for six cancers, and the second lowest for three, across the UK. So, although the pandemic has, of course, caused more strain on the system—that's understandable, of course—the system was already broken, I would suggest, before the pandemic.

Every other part of the UK has committed to implementing a robust cancer strategy, and it is sad to see that, soon, Wales will be the only UK nation without a definitive cancer strategy. Welsh cancer services are struggling to cope with a tsunami of missed cancer diagnosis and the appearance of later stage cancers as the direct result, of course, of pausing NHS services during lockdowns. And added to this, we've got five years—or many years—of chronic understaffing.

Now, the Government seem to think that their cancer quality statement is a strategy. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but the Minister will no doubt confirm at the end if I've analysed that correctly, but cancer charities say themselves that the cancer quality statement lacks both detail and ambition and is not a national strategy. Wales needs a cancer strategy. Unfortunately, cancer workforce is also an issue in Wales. A specialist cancer workforce that is able to cope with demand and an increasing backlog should be a priority for the Welsh Government in order to prevent cancer survival rates from slipping further back. Wales already has a severe shortfall of cancer specialists—we know that, sadly—with some areas of Wales experiencing significant gaps across, and that's according to many, including the Royal College of Radiologists. Shockingly, despite these grave concerns, the latest 10-year NHS workforce plan fails to include a specific workforce plan for cancer specialists. In fact, the joint Health Education and Improvement Wales and social care strategy from October 2020 fails to mention cancer at all. Instead, the strategy has broad aims, including—I'm quoting here—to

'have a workforce in sufficient numbers to be able to deliver responsive health and social care that meets the needs of the people of Wales'.

Well, that's why we're holding this debate today, and I would urge the Welsh Government to publish a workforce recruitment and retention plan and a full cancer strategy that includes specific targets, as well as support for cancer patients through their treatment to make easier the difficult side effects that cancer treatment often causes.

Given the prevalence of cancer, the people of Wales, I think, demand and deserve treatments that meet their needs and bring them into line, most importantly, with the performance of services elsewhere in the UK. So, I would urge the Welsh Government today to urgently publish a workforce recruitment and retention plan for cancer specialists, to publish a full cancer strategy that sets out how Wales will tackle cancer over the next five years, and to support cancer patients through treatment, for example, by introducing free dental care during radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

I would hope this afternoon our debate is a sensible debate. It's a debate that I think is very worthy to have this afternoon, and I very much hope that we'll have positive contributions from other Members, and I very much hope we'll have a positive contribution from the Minister as she concludes at the end of the debate. I would urge Members, of course, to support our calls and our motion this afternoon. Diolch, Deputy Llywydd.

16:00

I have selected the two amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan, to formally move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Lesley Griffiths. 

Amendment 1—Lesley Griffiths

Delete all after sub-point 2(a) and replace with new point:

Notes:

a) the approach set out in A Healthier Wales, which includes the introduction of quality statements for the development of clinical services;

b) the Welsh Government’s approach to improving cancer outcomes was published on 22 March 2021 in the form of a quality statement;

c) the Welsh Government’s ‘Health and Social Care in Wales—COVID-19: Looking Forward’, which included cancer, was published on 22 March 2021;

d) nearly £250 million in year is being invested in the recovery of NHS services, including cancer;

e) the most recent official cancer statistics show the number of patients newly diagnosed with cancer who started their first definitive treatment increased to the highest level since comparable data was first collected in June 2019;

f) the expansion of NHS training places includes an additional four higher training posts for clinical oncology and an additional three higher training posts for medical oncology each year for five years;

g) health boards will be focusing on recovery of cancer services in their Integrated Medium Term Plans.

Amendment 1 moved.

I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Siân Gwenllian.

Amendment 2—Siân Gwenllian

Add as new sub-point at end of point 5:

'complete the roll-out of multidisciplinary diagnostic centres across Wales as a matter of priority'.

Amendment 2 moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd, and I'm very pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate and to formally move our amendment. In terms of the main motion, we will support the motion today, of course. As well as being a statement of very real concern about the state of health services in general after two years of pandemic, there are elements of the motion that I have certainly been emphasising over a period of years: how inadequate the cancer quality statement is as a way of driving improvements to cancer services, and the need to invest in the cancer workforce to support patients through their treatment, and so on and so forth.

But there are two things that I want to cover in the next few minutes. First of all, our amendment and the need to complete that work, as a matter of urgency, of establishing multidisciplinary diagnostic centres across Wales in order to ensure that that infrastructure is in place in order to diagnose and treat cancer as swiftly as possible. We can't overemphasise the need for swift diagnosis and the benefits that come from that, and of course the pandemic that we have lived through has created a broader crisis, possibly. According to the statistics, some 1,700 fewer people than we would have expected have started cancer treatment in Wales between April 2020 and March 2021.

Wales was the first nation—and we can take pride in that fact—the first nation in the UK to trial these diagnostic centres. There are some in existence, others are in the pipeline, and there are two other areas—Powys and Cardiff and Vale—where there are no plans in place. I would appreciate an update from the Minister this afternoon on the work to ensure that those centres will be available to serve the whole of the Welsh population. There is no room for any sort of postcode lottery when it comes to cancer services, and that is the emphasis of our amendment today.

The second element that I want to mention—and it is referred to twice in the original motion—is the very clear absence of a national cancer plan or a national cancer strategy that could ensure that the Welsh Government could build the kinds of cancer services that we need here in Wales. We should bear in mind that we are facing huge challenges here in Wales. Some 20,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Wales on an annual basis, possibly 170,000 people living with cancer, and the level of health inequalities and social inequalities—things that we have discussed very recently in this Chamber—mean that the survival rates for certain kinds of cancer are worse in Wales than in the rest of these isles, and across Europe.

And in England, Scotland, and in Northern Ireland very soon, there are cancer plans, cancer strategies in place that set clear targets and give a clear focus to the development and support of services. So, in Wales, we have a collection of plans and frameworks, and it's simply not good enough. If we are serious about tackling cancer, then we need a strategy. What we got from the Welsh Government in March of last year, once the cancer delivery plan came to an end a few months before that, was a cancer quality statement. Not a plan or a strategy to improve diagnosis, treatment and research in Wales, but something that doesn't have that detail that we need, doesn't provide the accountability that we need, or the action plans, or the objectives, or the timetable that we need, and which doesn't have the vision that we needed, never mind the vision that's needed now to restore services post pandemic. 

Deputy Presiding Officer, just a quick word from me on the Government's amendment. We will be voting against that amendment. It does nothing to provide solutions to the crisis that we're facing in Wales; it's a list of what the Government says they've done. And, although they're just asking us to note that list, how can we support it when all it is is a list of things that actually fail to get to grips with the task of putting a proper strategy in place? I am sure that the Minister wants our cancer services to be as good as they can be. Of course, we all want to see that, but I'm afraid that we won't see that without a robust strategy in place. So, I would ask her again today to listen to the over 20 charities and organisations that are part of the Wales Cancer Alliance that are encouraging the Welsh Government strongly to formulate a comprehensive cancer strategy for Wales.

16:05

I want to thank Russell George and my Conservative colleagues for bringing forward this important subject for debate today. Cancer is something that, unfortunately, touches everyone in society, whether it be through a family member, friend, someone where we live, we all have a story of how cancer has affected us or someone we love in one way or another. My own family has been affected by breast cancer and skin cancer, and my two best friends have lost their fathers to prostate cancer. So I, like many others in this Chamber and in Wales, know all too well the toll it takes on a family and how crucial it is to get that diagnosis early so that everyone has the very best chance of survival. 

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Wales, with around 19,600 people tragically diagnosed with cancer every year. We all have a responsibility to stand up for our constituents and ensure that cancer services in Wales are the very best that they can be. Whilst survival rates have vastly improved in recent decades, the UK still lags behind some comparable countries in Europe and internationally. The same can be said here in Wales. Survival rates have improved in recent decades, but they're still not good enough, with one-year survival rates for stomach, colon, pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancers well below the UK average. The challenges facing cancer services in Wales have, of course, been compounded and exacerbated by the pandemic, but we now know that, in the year between April 2020 and March 2021, as has been said, 1,700 fewer people began cancer treatment in Wales.

The challenges that cancer services are facing need this Government to respond and require urgent and decisive action, not just to recover services to where they were pre pandemic, but to completely transform our cancer services so that they're fit for the twenty-first century—services that are digitalised, online where possible, responsive and accessible—in order to improve cancer outcomes and survival in the future. To achieve this, as cancer evolves, we need to evolve too and we need to heavily invest in new technologies and treatments. We need to make sure that Wales, perhaps, is the leader in some areas of this, that we are the ones that develop these new treatments and new technologies. Innovation is absolutely key in tackling cancer and improving outcomes, and we also need to invest properly in funding and expanding the access to treatments fund here in Wales. The pandemic has shown us what we can achieve. We need to make sure that we think more ambitiously to fight this big killer. 

In my own region of South Wales East, we are seeing waiting figures for cancer treatment that are the worst on record. My constituents feel let down. I am pleased to see the announcement, though, in my region of a new breast cancer centre for excellence, which is very, very welcome. This will be a vital step as we all know that, without access to timely diagnosis and the use of the most up-to-date and effective treatments, outcomes for cancer patients in Wales will not improve. Accessibility is key, so we need to see more announcements like this, with centres equally spread across Wales, as has already been said from the other benches, but I feel it needs reiterating: we need access to treatment equally across Wales, particularly in rural areas, which are so often left out.

Earlier this month, President Biden stated that we can end cancer as we know it. Sajid Javid declared a war on cancer. Minister, it leads to me ask: what is our vision for cancer services in Wales? When will we see a comprehensive cancer strategy for Wales? The Welsh Conservatives have consistently called for a new delivery plan or strategy for cancer, a workforce plan for the cancer workforce with deliverable targets, a rapid roll-out of rapid cancer diagnosis centres, expansion to the access to treatments fund, supporting patients in such ways as providing free dental care, as has been said. We need a strategy, Minister. Quite simply, we need to see much greater detail and ambition from this Welsh Government and NHS Wales, and we need to improve on preventative measures as well—obesity, alcohol, smoking, you name it. We need policies that finally are moving towards a preventative agenda as well as a reactive one. Thank you. 

16:10

It's a pleasure to take part in this debate this afternoon, and I'm proudly wearing my Marie Curie badge, the daffodil, in support of their work. Sadly, 50 per cent of the population will receive a diagnosis of cancer at some point in their lifetime, and we all know someone who has had cancer, and tragically, far too many of us know someone who has passed away. Wales has some of the worst cancer survival rates in the western world, which is why we have to ensure that our cancer services are world beating. Our population can't afford a cancer strategy that lacks ambition. As my colleagues have alluded to, the problems in our cancer pathways predate the pandemic, and like many of the issues facing our NHS, many of these problems could be put down to staffing issues, or rather the lack of coherent workforce planning. 

We all know that early diagnosis is key to long-term cancer survival, yet we have the lowest numbers of consultant radiologists per 100,000 patients of anywhere in the UK. And what is worse is that, according to the Royal College of Radiologists, we are due to lose as much as one third of that workforce over the next three to four years due to retirement. I can't imagine the impact this will have on existing staff as they will be expected to pick up the slack in the system. We know that the national cancer clinical director for Wales has stated that the service will have to run at about 130 per cent of capacity just to catch up to where we were pre pandemic. But, we don't want to return the service to pre-pandemic levels and, to coin a popular phrase at the moment, we want to build back better.

In order to achieve that, we have to urgently address historical staffing shortfalls. We have critical shortages across the field, not just in diagnostics. We have gaps right across clinical oncology; nearly one in 10 posts remain unfilled. As a result of shortages, one in five cancer patients in Wales lack specialist cancer nursing support during diagnosis or treatment. This means we are struggling to provide proper care now, let alone allow for new or expanded services. Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that Wales will need to increase its specialist cancer support nursing workforce by a staggering 80 per cent by the end of this decade in order to meet the demand. And Cancer Research UK highlight that these gaps in the NHS workforce are a fundamental barrier to transforming cancer services and improving cancer survival rates. Yet, despite the well-founded concerns raised by the third sector and clinical cancer leads, the Welsh Government has no plan for the specialist cancer workforce.

In fact, the workforce strategy for health and social care fails to even mention cancer. One of the biggest health issues facing our nation and this Welsh Government has no plan to tackle it. Unless Ministers grasp the nettle and address these concerns, then cancer will continue to be a death sentence for far too many. Our cancer survival rates will continue to plummet, and Welsh citizens will continue to lose loved ones needlessly. It's time we had an ambitious cancer strategy with the aim of eradicating needless cancer deaths, and a plan to deliver a workforce to meet the future needs of cancer patients; a plan to support patients throughout their cancer journey from diagnosis to cure; and a plan that builds in capacity to meet the challenges of the COVID backlog and for future pandemics. I urge Members to back our motion today.

16:15

Minister, we all know that the battle against cancer will often be the most difficult battle that any person and, indeed, their family will face in their lifetime. It is society's solemn responsibility to provide them with the best care, treatment and support possible, in order to have the best chance of beating and surviving this truly devastating illness. However, on the watch of this Labour Government, thousands of residents across Wales have been let down in their time of need. We are seeing a tsunami of missed cancer diagnoses, and a growing number of later stage cancers as a direct result of pausing NHS services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, though, this issue has not crept up on the Welsh Government, with cancer waiting targets not met since 2008 and with only 56 per cent of patients receiving treatment within 62 days across Wales. Additionally, Wales cancer intelligence unit data shows that Wales has the lowest survival rates for six cancers, and the second lowest for three across the UK. The Welsh Government's failure to address this matter pre pandemic has only served to compound the issue. Alarmingly, just four months ago, it was reported that only 57.9 per cent of patients newly diagnosed with cancer started their direct definitive treatment within 62 days of first being suspected of cancer. That's far below the 75 per cent target.

In that same month, it was reported that over 27,000 people were waiting for radiology services after being referred by the consultant for cancer diagnostic work, with one in eight of these people waiting more than 14 weeks. A further 30,000 people were waiting for radiology diagnostics after being referred by their GP. As it stands, Wales will soon be the only country in the United Kingdom not to have a cancer strategy. I urge the Minister to ensure fast implementation on this. Furthermore, it is recognised that radiotherapy and chemotherapy can have a detrimental impact on dental health. However, free dental medical assistance is not currently offered to these patients, leaving these individuals in more pain and feeling rather unsupported. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a golden opportunity for the Welsh Government to review, and for you to amend your approach.

Cancer Research Wales has highlighted that Wales needs a futureproofed, sustainable cancer workforce. They highlight the significant gaps and variation within the diagnostic, treatment and nursing workforce. Consultant radiologist posts remain vacant. They advise that developments such as the single suspected cancer pathway are welcome, but can only achieve so much without the right staff in situ. So, Minister, will you listen to these organisations that work extremely hard, trying to support people with cancer? Will you publish a workforce recruitment and retention plan for cancer specialists? And will you publish a detailed and comprehensive cancer strategy to set out how Wales will tackle cancer over the next five years, aside from bringing the relevant legislation before this Senedd to provide free dental care to patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy? I think that we all know, stood here today or sat here today, that considerable change is required, and urgently. The people battling cancer now and their families do not have the time to watch this Government continue to fail to meet its targets.

I am going to make a personal plea. I have raised this with the First Minister, Minister. I have had situations where my constituents have approached me, where they have received a very fatal diagnosis on the telephone. One of them was at 3.20 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The family were devastated by this, and that then impacted on the person's well-being. The First Minister said that it's up to clinicians to decide how they tell their patients that they have cancer. In this instance, they weren't clinicians, they were administrative staff. That is not the way to learn that you have cancer. Certainly, at 3.20 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, imagine their defeat and their fear. When asked, 'Well, what's the next stage?', it was, 'We'll be in touch.' Three weeks later, they approached me, and believe me, I was able to then say to the health board, 'Please help these people.' That should not happen, and that is first-hand experience of what is happening. I thank you for listening, Minister. Diolch.

16:20

Diolch yn fawr. I'd like to thank Russell and the Conservatives for bringing forward this important debate about cancer services and outcomes. I can tell you that I've listened very carefully to everything that's been said and I will go away and I will consider your deliberations and make sure that I give some serious thought to what you have been talking about this afternoon. I'm afraid I won't be able to support the resolution on a number of grounds, and I'd like to explain why. But I do acknowledge that we need to do better on cancer. It is genuinely a matter of life and death. I accept that the quality statement has got to be the start of the story, not the end of the story, and certainly there's a lot more work to do in this space. 

One of the problems with the motion is that it conflates overall waiting times with cancer waiting times. The waiting time for normal elective care is very different from the 62-day cancer pathway. Cancer patients have always been treated with clinical urgency in Wales. Cancer was designated an essential service at the start of the pandemic, and, whenever possible, we've maintained and we've prioritised cancer services throughout. This has resulted in new pathways and seeing patients differently. Some of those lessons are genuinely positive and we need to embed them. 

The motion also implies that a cancer strategy is the only way to improve cancer outcomes and alleges that Wales is an outlier across the UK. But I'm afraid that that's just not the case. At the moment, England includes cancer in its long-term plan, Northern Ireland doesn't have a strategy, and Scotland's strategy predates the pandemic. It is self-evident that in order to recover cancer services we will have to deliver more cancer treatment than we have historically, but the difficulty is that we're still in the middle of a pandemic where productivity is reduced by infection controls and by staff having to isolate.

Nonetheless, I don't wish to dismiss the concern that we all feel about how the pandemic has impacted on cancer services. I've said on many occasions how concerned I am about the impact on cancer services. That's why we brought forward our new approach to cancer services during the pandemic. That's why cancer was the only disease that was singled out in the March 2021 recovery plan. It's why I'm making recovery in cancer services a key focus of health board planning. It's why I'm investing in recovery activity, new equipment, training more cancer clinicians and new facilities across Wales. It's my intention to publish a planned care recovery plan in April, and this of course will include a range of actions and measures that will support cancer patients. 

There has been much criticism levelled at the concept of a quality statement for cancer, but I'd remind Members that our intention to publish a series of quality statements was set out in 'A Healthier Wales'. It was the response to the parliamentary review. It said that quality statements would describe the outcomes and the standards we'd expect to see in high-quality, patient-focused services. 

Thank you. I do appreciate your willingness to take into account the debates and the conversations this afternoon, and your openness to what's been said this afternoon, Minister. I think, on the quality statements, the issue is that—tell me if I'm wrong—there are no targets in there. There is no vision in there. It's just a series of statements. Surely you recognise that that is needed if we're going to have a—. I'm just asking: do you accept the need for a cancer strategy above and beyond the cancer quality statement?