Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are set out on your agenda.
As we begin our deliberations this afternoon, may I wish you all a very happy St David's Day? This is a day, of course, when we encourage everyone to follow the words of St David and do the little things. But today, we, like everyone else in the world, are facing major decisions too. So, with our national flower, the daffodil, alongside the sunflower and the Ukrainian flag, and in solidarity with the people and Government of Ukraine, I will ask Jack Sargeant to ask his emergency question this afternoon. Jack Sargeant.
Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Welsh citizens and businesses? (EQ0009)
Llywydd, this is the first time the Senedd has met since the unprovoked attack on the sovereign and independent people of Ukraine. And on this, our national day, the Welsh flag and the Ukrainian flag are flying together over the Welsh Government building in the civic centre of our capital city. [Applause.] And we do that, Llywydd, because the people of Wales are appalled at the invasion of Ukraine, and, as a nation of sanctuary, we will do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people. Wales is open to provide a welcome and safety to those fleeing war and persecution.
Diolch yn fawr, Prif Weinidog, for that answer. Can I also take the opportunity to thank the Llywydd, and extend my thanks to the Llywydd, for allowing us to have this emergency question tabled for this afternoon before First Minister's questions? And I am sure I speak on behalf of the Chamber—it's great to see a full Chamber—when I say that our thoughts are very much with the people of Ukraine, and those who have family in Ukraine, including our good friend, the Welsh Government's Counsel General, Mick Antoniw. [Applause.]
Llywydd, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the suffering that it has brought with it, is clearly a war crime. And Putin is a war criminal. Llywydd, I repeat that for the record in this Senedd—Putin is a war criminal. With so many being forced from their homes, fleeing for their lives, it is important that Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom play a leading role in welcoming those seeking sanctuary.
First Minister, can I ask you what conversations you have had with your UK counterparts about removing the barriers to those seeking sanctuary? Can I ask you what additional support the Welsh Government can put in place for those that arrive from Ukraine? And, finally, First Minister, what support can be provided to Ukrainians in Wales who are watching these scenes unfold and dealing with the accompanying trauma? Diolch yn fawr.
Llywydd, I thank Jack Sargeant for those additional questions. I've had a series of opportunities to speak with UK Ministers and the First Minister of Scotland and the Permanent Secretary of Northern Ireland. We last met on Friday afternoon of last week, and on Sunday evening, and with more meetings planned for this week. The meetings this week do need to focus on the part that the United Kingdom can play, and Wales can play within it, in offering sanctuary to those who are fleeing from the awful scenes we see in Ukraine. I see the Prime Minister has made further welcome announcements today, but there's more that can and should be done, and I'm pleased that there are open channels of communication between the four nations of the United Kingdom to work together on that agenda.
As far as what the Welsh Government is able to do, Llywydd, a written statement has been released shortly before this afternoon's proceedings began. It sets out £4 million that the Welsh Government has been able to make available to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, it sets out the actions we are taking within the Welsh health service to identify medical supplies and equipment that we could make available as part of the international effort, and it sets out the actions that we want to take at home. We have hundreds of people from Ukraine living in Wales with friends and family now on the front line, and there is work that we can do here to make sure that they know that, in Wales, they have the support of the whole of our nation as they face those deeply troubling days ahead.
I'm grateful to the Member for Alyn and Deeside for tabling this topical question. Putin's Russia is a bully, and all bullies must be stood up to. Ukrainian sovereignty has been violated and innocent civilians are being killed by Putin's desire for conflict. This is a dark period in Europe's history. We must all work to preserve the freedom, democracy and sovereignty of Ukraine, and we stand united with President Zelenskyy, the Verkhovna Rada and the people of Ukraine. Over a number of years, since peace returned to our continent, the west had become a sleeping giant, a giant that would awake when existentially challenged. The response we are seeing from a united, determined and compassionate west has shown that this sleeping giant has awoken in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, and I am proud that the United Kingdom has been the vanguard in the global response in this crisis.
Prif Weinidog, as the grandchild of post world war two immigration, when my grandfather, a German prisoner of war, and my grandmother, a German nurse, made Pembrokeshire their home, I believe it is absolutely incumbent that we keep a welcome in the hillside for those Ukrainians who take refuge here in Wales until they feel it is safe for them to return to their homeland. With that, can you outline what immediate support you are offering to charities and other third sector organisations here in Wales as they prepare to offer that much needed support to those who have fled the destruction of Vladimir Putin's war on the democratic, sovereign state of Ukraine? Diolch.
Llywydd, my predecessor, Carwyn Jones, used to say often when he was First Minister that you don't have to go back very far in the histories of any one of us here in Wales to find that we'd arrived in Wales from some other part of the globe, and, in that sense, our connections with one another and, through that, with people elsewhere in the world are enduring and strong. I thank the Member for what he said on that.
Tomorrow, my colleagues Jane Hutt and Rebecca Evans will meet with the Welsh Local Government Association, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and other third sector organisations to make sure that we are working together, planning together, pooling our resources to do everything we can to be in the best position possible to offer help and sanctuary to those people who may come to this country, maybe temporarily as they will hope, in order to re-establish their lives before they are able to return to the homeland from which they have been forced to flee. The Welsh Government will take a lead in that, in bringing people round that table together, and then we'll do whatever we can to support the efforts that others will want to make as well, because, as I think the question implied, this will be an effort that reaches far beyond Government and deep into civil society here in Wales.
Thank you for bringing this urgent question today, and I would like to echo 'Putin is a war criminal'. We are agreed on that. I would also like to state today that Plaid Cymru stands in complete solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We condemn unreservedly the Russian state's illegal invasion of Ukraine, and we reject Russia's assertion that the invasion is in any way a response to western provocation. We believe Russia's war aims are nothing less than the total destruction of Ukraine both as a sovereign nation and as a distinct national identity, and, as such, the invasion represents an attempt at genocide against the Ukrainian nation. It is an assault not just on Ukraine's independence and its right to exist, but on the right of nations' self-determination everywhere, as a central principle in international law. And despite some movement from the UK Government today, we would once again like to put on record that we are urging the UK Government to waive visa rules for all Ukrainian refugees—[Applause.]—a rule that should be applied generally to others fleeing war.
This morning, we saw a huge convoy of Russian military vehicles advancing on Kyiv, and, minute by minute, we are all receiving concerning updates from all parts of Ukraine. Last night's demonstration outside of the Senedd was a clear indication of our solidarity with the Ukrainians. And though messages of support are important, you are completely right, Llywydd, that this is the time—
—to do the big things, not the little things.
The Scottish Government this week confirmed that it would provide an initial £4 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as medical supplies, as part of the global humanitarian effort. You've hinted at this, but I would like to seek assurances from you, First Minister, in terms of what is going to be our response here in Wales. Will you also commit that we will provide financial aid and medical supplies, as a matter of urgency? And, following meetings tomorrow, can we please have that urgent update, because things are needed now? We've seen that request—it's not a matter of waiting; that direct aid is needed now. The Scottish Government has placed on record what it will do. Will the Welsh Government also commit to doing that today?
Llywydd, I appreciate, of course, that not all Members will have had an opportunity to see the statement the Welsh Government published earlier this afternoon, but it does confirm that the Welsh Government will make £4 million available for those humanitarian purposes, and it also sets out the actions we are taking within the Welsh NHS. We have now information about the sorts of medical supplies that are most urgently needed, and we're able to match that list against the goods that we may be able to supply.
Can I say to the Member in relation to the point she made about people seeking sanctuary that I wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday? I set out in my letter three simple and practical steps that I believe the UK Government could and should take further to assist people in Ukraine: to make sure that there is a simple, fast, safe and legal route for sanctuary in the United Kingdom; that the requirement for Ukrainians to provide biometric evidence before leaving Ukraine should be lifted—it is simply not practical in any sense to expect people to comply with requirements that in normal times might be sensible, but in entirely abnormal times are simply a barrier to people receiving the help that we would wish them to receive. And I asked the Prime Minister as well to extend the deadline for the European Union settlement scheme family permits—a scheme due to end on 29 March. We know that more than 12,000 Ukrainians have already applied through that route, and there would be more to follow if that deadline could be extended. Llywydd, these are, I think, entirely reasonable and practical measures. They allow the United Kingdom to live up to the ambitions that we have here in Wales to be a nation of sanctuary—sanctuary needed at this moment more than at any time in our own post-war history.
At the weekend, along with Rebecca Evans, I attended and spoke at a rally in Mumbles in support of Ukraine. Swansea had a large Ukrainian population immediately following the second world war, and until the end of the last century there was a Ukrainian club in Morriston. Does the First Minister share my concern that, despite a serious breach of doping rules, Russian athletes were allowed to compete in the summer and winter Olympics as the Russian Olympic Committee? Will the First Minister join with me in demanding Wimbledon does not allow any Russian tennis players to compete, and that no Russian team, however badged, should be allowed to compete in any international sport tournament?
Llywydd, can I say how proud I was to see what the Welsh football association, the FAW, had decided to do earlier this week, without cover from FIFA in doing so? A brave act by a small federation, but one which I think was entirely in line with the sentiments—[Applause.]—entirely in line with the sentiments expressed by Mike there. I congratulate him and Rebecca Evans on being part of that event in Swansea. It was a privilege to be here on the steps of the Senedd last night with other colleagues at another vigil to mark our reaction to events in Ukraine.
Actions are not yet exhausted, as Mike Hedges suggested. There are further measures that can and should be taken to bring it home to those people who are in charge of these decisions in Russia. It's very important, Llywydd, isn't it, that we continue to make a distinction between the actions of President Putin and those who surround him and the interests of ordinary people living in Russia. But, we still have to be prepared to take action to bring home to them that there are consequences from what has taken place, and consequences in the sporting field often make their way into the consciousness of people where other sanctions may not seem to have such a direct impact. So, I associate myself with what Mike Hedges has said in his contribution this afternoon.
Russia is a magnificent country with wonderful people, abominably led into disastrous actions with terrible consequences. But, following the theme of much of the questioning, further to confirmation by the UK Government yesterday that up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees are already eligible to come to the UK after measures announced in recent weeks giving British nationals and any persons settled in the UK the ability to bring over their immediate Ukrainian family members, the Prime Minister has announced from Poland this morning that the UK is extending the family scheme and could take in 200,000 or more Ukrainian refugees as the UK Government extends its scheme to help those fleeing the invasion of their sovereign, democratic, European country by international war criminal Putin.
In the written statement we received I think just as you started speaking today on the war in Ukraine, you say you're holding urgent discussions with local authority leaders to ensure that preparations are in place to accept refugees, and obviously you're engaging with the UK Government about the wider, joined-up, UK four-Government approach. How will you ensure that we learn lessons from the Syrian resettlement scheme, where local authorities were asked to volunteer the number of families they could take on board, where some were quick to respond and some were generous in their responses, but some were slow and less generous, stating that they lacked the resources to deliver? So, in addition to the £4 million you've announced to help the people of Ukraine, how will you be supporting the local authorities to enable and encourage them to come forward with a quicker ability to provide support than occurred with the Syrian programme?
I thank the Member for those questions. I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement earlier today, but I think there is more that could and should be done, and I look forward to opportunities to explore that with the UK Government and other colleagues this week. The WLGA has been very receptive to the meeting that will take place tomorrow. We expect the leaders of every local authority to be available at that meeting, and I think there will be a ready reception in all parts of Wales of the need to prepare to do the most we possibly can. And that does involve, as Mark Isherwood has said, learning the lessons from the Syrian experience and the more recent Afghan experience. I think all local authorities in Wales have played an enormously positive part at a time when there are huge demands on their own resources and their own housing services. But, in the face of the unprovoked attack on Ukraine, I think they will want to go further. We will want to support them in that and we will want to work with UK Government colleagues to make sure that the financial and other supports that will be necessary, if we are to ask our local authorities to take on these further responsibilities, that that funding flows through the system and does so in a way that overcomes any anxieties that front-line providers of those services may have, so that they can get on with the job that they want to do without feeling that they have to hesitate before doing so in case they don't have the backing that they will need to do the job we want them to do.
People all over Wales will be horrified about the plight being faced by refugees fleeing Ukraine, and, as has been said, humanitarian routes need to be open not just for people with immediate family in the UK but everyone fleeing war. I'm glad to have heard some of what the work is that you're doing as a Welsh Government, undertaking that with colleagues across the UK, to make sure that safe routes are open to everyone.
But, further to that, First Minister, there have been some reports of non-white people in Ukraine being turned away at the border in Poland, and there have been concerning rhetorics in some media outlets suggesting that we should help, because Ukrainians, as they put it, are 'like us'. Everyone fleeing Ukraine, whatever their race and wherever they're from, needs sanctuary, and the same is true for refugees fleeing other conflicts in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. Can this point please be stressed by the Welsh Government in any urgent discussions that you are holding with the Home Office?
Of course, Llywydd. Those of us who were able to be here last night will have heard a very powerful speech from the leader of the Welsh Trades Union Congress, Shavanah Taj, who directly made the points that Delyth Jewell has made this afternoon, that to distinguish between one group of refugees and another on the basis of the colour of their skin, or the heritage that they happen to draw on, is entirely not what we mean by Wales being a nation of sanctuary. We have been very pleased to welcome people from Syria, very pleased to welcome families from Afghanistan, and we will be very pleased to welcome refugees who need to come to Wales from Ukraine. But we do so on the basis of the need that they have, not the nature of their own ethnicity.
I'm grateful, Presiding Officer; I'm grateful to you for allowing this question this afternoon. I think many of us will have seen the footage coming out of Ukraine last night of doctors and paramedics trying to save the life of a six-year-old girl—a girl who was simply going about her daily life and was murdered by the Russian military. You don't have indiscriminate attacks without casualties. You don't have indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas and people's homes without killing people. And one of the most profound things I think we've all seen has been the impact of war on people in Ukraine, people who are entirely innocent, who have no argument with the people of Russia and have no argument with people elsewhere. People, like ourselves, who are going about our own daily lives. I don't think there's anyone in this Chamber or elsewhere who didn't feel the pain of watching the footage of that girl last night, and didn't put themselves in the minds and the hearts of her family and her parents as they watched her life slip away. We cannot stand by with this moral outrage taking place and take no action. I'm grateful to the First Minister for his words. I'm grateful to the Welsh Government for the power of their statement that they've made, and the power of the argument that they've made to protect the people of Ukraine, as we protected the people, and sought to protect the people, of Afghanistan and Syria before.
First Minister, can you give us an undertaking now that you will continue to work with the other administrations in the United Kingdom to ensure that we have the ability to respond to this humanitarian crisis, that we are able to reach out and put our arms around the people of Ukraine who so need that help today, that we will lead and we will continue to make the power of the moral argument that Putin is committing war crimes? And I welcome Lithuania's move this morning in the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into Vladmir Putin, and I hope that the Welsh Government and the UK Government will support that. And I hope that we'll put aside all our political differences here and elsewhere and put the interests of the people of Ukraine first and ensure that we work together across the whole of this country and the whole of this Chamber to ensure that this country, that Wales, on its national day, extends the hand of friendship and support and love to Ukraine and the people who are suffering so terribly there.
Llywydd, anybody in the Chamber who saw that heartbreaking footage of that child and that child's mother last night cannot possibly not have been moved by it. It is, as Alun Davies said, the ordinary people going about their lives who are always the first victims of a conflict of this sort, and it may not be easy to say it, but I'm sure as well that, somewhere in Russia, there will be a six-year-old child today who will never see her father again, because of the actions that those people responsible for this conflict will have taken. So, it is the ordinary people, isn't it, who are forced into the front line of the consequences of these events. And I give the Member a strong assurance that there have been genuine opportunities over the last 10 days to work with both the UK Government and Governments elsewhere in the United Kingdom, that those meetings have been purposeful, they have been focused on the shared actions that we can take in order to do the most we can to respond to the crisis that we see unfolding, and the Welsh Government certainly will continue to participate in those meetings in that spirit.
Thank you, Llywydd, and thank you to Jack Sergeant for bringing this issue forward this afternoon.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats join with all of the political parties to condemn this war and condemn Putin. We have all heard the upsetting stories of people who are remaining in Ukraine and those desperately fleeing. I hope that the outpouring of support from people across Wales and the United Kingdom signals a shift in public discourse around refugees and migration more broadly. As we've heard, we have a moral duty, alongside our neighbours, to provide sanctuary to all of those fleeing violence and conflict, and these last few days have shown us the dangerous consequences of the United Kingdom Nationality and Borders Bill. I hope that, with humility and reflection, there will be a pause on this Bill. We have heard about the moderate shift today from the UK Government, but it is not enough. Prif Weinidog, can I seek your views on the Nationality and Borders Bill and whether you will continue to make representations to the UK Government on the concerns that have been outlined in the Siambr both today and previously? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Llywydd, in the final paragraph of my letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, having rehearsed the many areas on which we wish to work together, I go on to say that I have to take the opportunity of the letter again to emphasise that the Welsh Government believes the UK Government should reconsider the proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which we believe would create a two-tier system between asylum seekers depending on their route of entry into the United Kingdom. Jane Dodds is right, Llywydd. There is a wider context beyond the tragic events in Ukraine itself, and we have to find the moment in which we draw those lessons and apply them to a Bill that we in this Chamber have said at every opportunity we could not support because of the way in which it will exacerbate the difficulties that we see around the world, rather than helping to solve them.
And the final comments on Ukraine in this item from our colleague, Mick Antoniw. [Applause.]
Diolch, Llywydd, and thank you for this extraordinary opportunity to say a few words. The first words are really to recognise those brave Russian students and young people who have been demonstrating all across the Russian Federation, because they are the real future of the Russian Federation, rather than those around Putin.
Can I personally thank all of the people of Wales for their messages of support, their solidarity and generosity over the past week, to myself and in particular to the Ukrainian community in Wales? I have communicated these to people in Ukraine who are currently fighting for their freedom and democracy, many of whom I met whilst in Kyiv last week with my colleague Adam Price.
We've all watched with horror the missile and the bombing attacks on civilians and residential buildings and the escalation to the use of ground rockets, thermo bombs and cluster bombs. There can be no doubt that Putin and those in the Russian Government are guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. I'm pleased that the International Criminal Court has now begun an investigation into these crimes, and I fully endorse the action now being taken. In the statement of prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan QC on the situation in Ukraine, he says,
'I have decided to proceed with opening an investigation.
'Last Friday, I expressed my increasing concern, echoing those of world leaders and citizens of the world alike, over the events unfolding in Ukraine.
'Today, I wish to announce that I have decided to proceed with opening an investigation into the Situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible...
'I have reviewed the Office's conclusions arising from the preliminary examination of the Situation in Ukraine, and have confirmed that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with opening an investigation. In particular, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine'.
Llywydd, there are several lines in the Ukrainian national anthem that were sung on the steps here last night. The first line is
'Ще не вмерла України'.
Perhaps it's closest to 'Yma o hyd'—Ukraine has not died.
The other line is:
'Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу',
that we will lay down our body and our soul for our freedom.
Llywydd, the war in Ukraine has turned into a war against the people of Ukraine, and all our thoughts are with those people who have taken up arms to defend democracy and to fight for freedom, including members of my own family.
Слава Україні! Героям слава!
Thank you. [Applause.]
Thank you to everyone for those valuable contributions and standing in solidarity with the people, the Government and the Parliament of Ukraine.
The next item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Sarah Murphy.
1. What initiatives is the Welsh Government undertaking to end the stigma around mental health in Bridgend? OQ57728
Time to Change Wales has been a major, sustained initiative, tackling stigma and discrimination faced by people with experience of mental health problems in Bridgend and around Wales. On 23 February, we announced funding to sustain the programme over the next three years.
Diolch. It has been inspiring to work with organisations in Bridgend to co-produce our upcoming Bridgend mental health pathway project—a single point of access for services that aims to improve accessibility and enhance collaboration between support groups across my constituency. I want to thank you, First Minister, because I am delighted to hear as well that the Welsh Government is extending the Time to Change programme. So, from Lads and Dads to Mental Health Matters, Men's Sheds and Bridgend Youth Council, it is about those people on the ground who are making a difference, improving and saving lives. The Time to Change programme is an example of how this Government is prioritising mental health, but I do want to stress the importance of recognising that mental health conditions range wider than what is often presented. From postnatal depression to obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, we must ensure that we work to destigmatise all aspects of mental health and that it's backed up with the funding to improve the lives of those suffering with specific conditions. So, First Minister, do you agree with me that all mental health conditions should be recognised and represented, and that more will be done to diagnose, treat and improve the lives of those suffering with all mental health conditions across Wales?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Sarah Murphy for that, and I congratulate all those of her constituents who are involved in that initiative in Bridgend. It reminds us of the importance of third sector and voluntary activity in the mental health field, backed up, of course, by investment from the Welsh Government. The mental health part of the health budget remains the highest area of spending in the Welsh NHS—£760 million this year—and extra investment in the draft budget, to be confirmed when my colleague confirms it later this afternoon in the final budget, the draft budget showing additional investment in mental health of £50 million next year, rising to £90 million in the third year of the budget. That does allow us to do what Sarah Murphy said, Llywydd, which is to invest in that broader range of mental health services.
If I could pick up, maybe, just the very first point that she mentioned, the mental health difficulties that are faced, sometimes, by women post giving birth. Since 2015, we've invested in specialist perinatal mental health services across Wales, so that there are now those specialist services in every health board in Wales, and £3 million goes into providing them. And in April of last year, just on the border with the Member's own constituency, we were able to open a mother and baby unit within the Swansea Bay University Health Board area, providing significant specialist perinatal mental health services for people who have the most significant difficulties of that sort.
Can I start by thanking Sarah Murphy for tabling this question and associate myself with a number of the organisations you've mentioned, Sarah? I'm aware of a number of them. And can I also add Bridgend Samaritans to that list as well, who I know do excellent work in Bridgend as well?
I think it's really important, and I welcome some of the First Minister's statements there about ending the stigma when people have a mental health issue, and that's clearly crucial, and one of the ways I think in which people might feel more comfortable coming forward and asking for help is knowing that there is support there when it is needed, and that's particularly the case for our young people. Unfortunately, in Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board, which covers Bridgend, it's disappointing to see that 63 per cent of referrals to the child and adolescent mental health service in the CTM health board have to wait over four weeks just for a first appointment. As we start to, hopefully, put the worst effects of the pandemic behind us, it's important to remember that it's been our young people, I would argue, that have perhaps suffered the most and have made the biggest sacrifices over the last two years. So, it's vital that when young people recognise they have a problem, that urgent support is there for them in their time of need. So, can I ask, First Minister, what steps are the Welsh Government taking to reduce CAMHS waiting lists in Bridgend?
I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. I agree with him about the importance of the work that the Samaritans do in all parts of Wales—the Samaritans in our capital city, based in my own constituency—and a remarkable service based almost entirely around volunteers that they provide to people, sometimes in the most desperate of circumstances. I agree with what the Member said about the importance of people feeling that there is support for them if they have to declare a mental health challenge, and that's why it is good to report that one in four people in the whole of the Welsh workforce are now employed by a Time to Change employer. So, that means that the employer has committed themselves to the actions that they can take to make sure that if people face a difficulty of that sort, then stigma does not prevent them from coming forward to seek the help that they need.
As far as young people are concerned, while for that small minority of young people who suffer from such a significant mental health challenge that they need a tier 4 or tier 3 service of the sort that CAMHS provide, for most young people who need help as they grow up through adolescence, it is those other services—those direct access service, provided by third sector organisations, provided by school counselling services, provided sometimes by online services that young people can simply access for themselves—that have the greatest possibility of intervening early in a problem that somebody might be experiencing, that don't have the stigma of formal mental health services associated with them, and that's where, as well as strengthening those very specialist services, the greater investment by the Welsh Government has been concentrated during the period of the coronavirus crisis.
Thank you to Sarah Murphy for bringing forward this question.
I'd like to associate myself as well with some of the words Sarah said about how mental health can show itself in many different ways. I'm sure the First Minister is aware of the event held before the recess by myself and Huw Irranca-Davies for Men's Sheds Cymru, highlighting the vital work men's sheds do across Wales within all of our communities. I know that it's a source of pride for many in my community that the Squirrel's Nest in Tondu was one of the first men's sheds in Wales. Both myself and Huw realised very quickly from our conversations that there is now a difficulty being faced by men's sheds financially, especially when considering the number of referrals increasing, not just from individuals reaching out off their own back, but also being encouraged to get in touch by GPs. I can't emphasise enough how important it is to have organisations like men's sheds in our community, and we've written to the Deputy Minister for Mental Health to express our shared concerns. But I would be interested to learn from the First Minister what assurances he can provide to organisations like Men's Sheds Cymru when it comes to financial support from the Welsh Government, and how they might be able to access the additional funding he mentions.
Llywydd, the men's sheds movement in Wales has been a remarkable success, growing sometimes from very local and enthusiastic individuals to what is now a movement to be found in so many parts of Wales, and a very important movement it is. We know that men are particularly vulnerable to suicide at different points in their lives, and men's sheds provide an opportunity for people to come together and gain that mutual support that is preventative in the impact that it has.
I'm glad the Member has written to my colleague Lynne Neagle. She'll be aware of the men's sheds movement, of course, herself, and where the Welsh Government is able to provide assistance, normally through grants that we provide to other organisations who then make those allocation decisions, I know that she'll be very keen to do so.
2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Cardiff replacement local development plan? OQ57696
Llywydd, this is a matter for Cardiff city council. The council discharges its responsibility to produce an up-to-date local development plan with the framework set out by the Welsh Government.
Diolch yn fawr, Brif Weinidog. The most recent Welsh Government prediction for the growth of the Cardiff population was 0.6 per cent per annum, however, the three options provided by Cardiff Council in the replacement local development plan are far higher than that. The first option is 19,000 extra homes on 0.8 per cent per annum, the second is 24,000 with a projected growth of 1 per cent, and the third is 30,500 with 1.3 per cent growth per annum—more than double the Welsh Government's projection and nearly 20 per cent of the current homes in Cardiff. Additionally, the plan is to build on further greenfield sites in Cardiff.
I know it's a fundamental part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government to protect green spaces, to protect biodiversity, and to plant more trees. Does the Prif Weinidog know why Cardiff Council are using higher predictions than the Welsh Government, and will he encourage the council to revise their predictions to enable us to protect more of our environment and biodiversity? Diolch yn fawr.
Llywydd, well, it is a requirement of 'Planning Policy Wales' that, in drawing up plans, a local authority must take into account the latest Welsh Government local authority level housing projections for Wales, and as Rhys ab Owen has said, the latest projections are lower than when the original Cardiff local development plan was drawn up. But as well as those projections, a local authority is entitled to take into account other considerations. Certainly, in Cardiff's case, the local authority will be taking into consideration the fact that there are 7,700 applicants on its existing waiting list, let alone any future growth in population. They will be taking into account the fact that Cardiff is allocated as a national growth area in the national development framework for Wales. I think the council is in the early stages of this latest iteration of its development plan. There will be many opportunities for Cardiff citizens to have their say and to make the points they would want to make to the local authority as it goes through the different stages of that plan, including and up to the independent inspector's examination of the plan, expected in 2024.
Of course I agree with what Rhys ab Owen said about the importance of green spaces in the city. It was very good to see, in October last year, that the authoritative University of Southampton index named Cardiff as the third-greenest city in the whole of the United Kingdom, and that in November of last year, the city achieved champion city status under the prestigious Queen's Green Canopy scheme, the scheme designed to mark the latest milestone in the sovereign's reign. That's because of the council's project to increase the tree canopy coverage for Cardiff from 19 per cent to 25 per cent. Alongside that, as also set out in the co-operation agreement between my party and Plaid Cymru, the council will be doing everything it can to make sure that there is decent and affordable housing for all of its citizens.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, as we celebrate our national day here in Wales—and it's wonderful to see the national flower of Ukraine sitting alongside the flower of Wales, the daffodil—it is worth reflecting that, on the other side of the continent of Europe, a mad despot is trying to wipe out another sovereign nation state with brutal actions that we've all witnessed over the last five, six days, and continue to witness day in, day out now, in our newsreels. In fact, it is with sorrow, hurt and disbelief that many of us look at these actions that are unfolding, as I say, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I have to say, one of the images that will stick with me for the rest of my life will be the image that I saw this morning of a young child in an embrace with its mother, suffering from cancer treatment, chemotherapy treatment; the sheer fear and total terror on that little one's face was unbelievable and unimaginable.
First Minister, on these benches, we want to see as warm a welcome as possible extended from Wales to refugees coming from Ukraine, because they deserve that safety and they deserve that sanctuary. Have you, as a Welsh Government, been able to quantify the amount of help and support that we can offer the refugees that are coming out of Ukraine? Predictions indicate that it could involve the displacement of between 4 million and 5 million souls coming out of Ukraine. That is something that we haven't seen on the continent of Europe since the second world war. I think all of us thought that we would never see such images again, but we are now seeing those images. I think it's important for us to understand, whilst we all want to embrace and help the refugees, the exact quantum of help that we can, as a country, as part of the United Kingdom, offer those refugees here in Wales.
I thank the leader of the opposition for what he said about his party's support for the efforts that will be made to welcome refugees here in Wales. I know that's very sincerely meant by him personally and on behalf of his party. I welcome it. I think his question is a very difficult one to answer at this moment. As he says, the displacement of population from Ukraine is currently being felt most directly in those countries that directly border Ukraine, and it's very hard to know at this moment how many of those people will wish to move beyond those countries and how many will wish to stay as close as they can to where they come from in the hope that they will be able to return to their own homes as soon as they can.
I can give him the same assurance that I offered earlier, Llywydd. We have had, as a Welsh Government, regular opportunities in the last 10 days to have direct conversations with the UK Government and Governments elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I myself, at the initiative of the UK Government, have received a briefing from the national security adviser to make sure that we have the best possible information available to us for our planning. As the position becomes clearer—and it could become clearer in a way that tells us that things will be even worse than we currently fear, rather than hoping, as we must, that things will be better—we will work as closely as we can, and as co-operatively as we can, with other parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that Wales plays the fullest part we can in what has to be a national effort across the United Kingdom, but an international effort as well, with those other nations within NATO, within the European Union and beyond. Because it is only through that combined effort that the world will be able to make the answer to President Putin, so he is in no doubt about the consequences of the actions that he has embarked upon, but also deal with the humanitarian consequences that we all have to play a part in addressing.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. We've had many examples of refugees settling in Wales and the support that has been put in place by Welsh Government, by the UK Government and by public bodies generally, as well as private individuals. As I said in my opening remarks to you, the magnitude of what we are looking at today from Ukraine is something that we haven't had to deal with and experience since the second world war. Do you envisage—and I appreciate in your earlier responses that you alluded to meetings being held by the Minister for Social Justice and the Minister for finance tomorrow with partners in this operation—a new model having to emerge from Welsh Government and, indeed, from the United Kingdom Government, to deal with the magnitude of what we are facing, so that people can be genuinely supported in their desire either to settle in Wales or the rest of the United Kingdom, or, indeed, use it as a temporary haven whilst hopefully things stabilise back in Ukraine and Ukraine can become that proud sovereign nation that we across this Chamber want to see on the continent of Europe?
Personally, Llywydd, I think we will need a different system. We were very proud to welcome families from Afghanistan to Wales, and as Members here will know, many of them lived when they first came here just across the road, literally, from the Senedd in the Urdd building. It's been one of the great pleasures for me in recent times, from the office that I work in here, outside my window, to see and hear children from Afghanistan playing safely in the streets here in Cardiff. You think of what those children have seen and experienced, and here they were in the fresh air playing children's games, speaking in Welsh to one another within a few weeks of arriving here. It lifted your spirits to see and to hear it. But we do know that the onward allocation of those families for permanent resettlement has not worked as quickly or as successfully as the Home Office had originally intended. So, there are lessons to learn, as I was asked, I think, by Mark Isherwood, and one of those lessons is I think we will need a different system if we are to cope with a different sort of refugee need, and that will involve the UK Government, of course, but working with the Government here in Wales and through us with our local authorities.
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. Given the precarious state of peace in eastern Europe today, we have no idea what the madman in the Kremlin will do next. He could choose to invade the Baltic states—members of NATO, I might add. Could you therefore confirm that you would support the decision of the UK Government to abide by its NATO obligations should article 4 be triggered, as the British Foreign Secretary has said? And could you confirm the Welsh Government's support for NATO, as you indicated earlier when you referenced NATO, in these very dangerous times that we live in?
It is a terrifying prospect that the Member outlines, but he's right to do so, because, unthinkable only a few weeks ago, we have to think about what would happen if a NATO state were to be attacked in the way that Ukraine has been. We talk here about countries the same size as Wales—of Estonia and Lithuania, countries that now have the NATO protection around them but that sit right on the front line with Russia. Of course, the Welsh Government is entirely signed up to the NATO umbrella that protects us all. Every single person in this room will hope against hope that we never need to call on that. We've seen what President Putin has said just this week about the nuclear weapons that he has in his hands. I don't think any one of us would be willing easily to contemplate what might happen if that NATO protection actually needed to be called upon. But, the direct answer to the Member's question is that the Welsh Government is entirely signed up to the protections that NATO membership provides to us.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, currently, a ship carrying Russian oil is docked at Milford Haven; it arrived there on Saturday and the oil is destined for the Valero oil refinery. A second vessel, also carrying Russian oil from the oil-loading port of Primorsk in Russia, is due to arrive in Milford Haven on Friday. The UK Government has put in place sanctions to prevent Russian flagged, registered, owned or controlled vessels docking in the UK, but in this case, essentially they're getting around that by using a flag-of-convenience country, in this case the Marshall Islands. Do you agree with me that those loopholes that are clearly being used at the moment need to be closed off urgently and that not a single drop of Russian oil should be offloaded into Wales, through a Welsh port, while innocent blood is being shed in Ukraine?
I entirely agree with the last point that the leader of Plaid Cymru has made, Llywydd. The UK Government has moved to prevent access to UK ports by vessels using the Russian flag, and it did so because there was a vessel about to embark in Scotland under those circumstances. I think it is inevitable, Llywydd, that in such a very fast-moving picture, when Governments take one action, attempts will be made to try to subvert it and get around it. When those loopholes are identified, the UK Government will need to act again to make sure that the intent of their policy, which clearly is to prevent Russian oil being disembarked at UK ports, is effective, and when there are loopholes or ways around the rules that are found—and it is inevitable that others will seek that—that the UK Government gets that information as fast as possible and is then able to act on it equally quickly.
During Mick Antoniw and my visit to Ukraine, we met a very, very wide range of people—yes, Government Ministers, but, more importantly than that, ordinary citizens of Ukraine, trade unionists, human rights organisers, people in the women's movement and people in the LGBT community. The one thing that they were all united on was that the policy of sanctions that had been introduced so far was insufficient and that the gravity of the events required nothing short of, nothing less than, the complete and total economic, political, diplomatic and cultural isolation of Russia, including, by the way, a complete embargo on all oil and gas imports. Is that something that the Welsh Government supports in principle? And in that spirit, are you prepared, as a Welsh Government, to introduce a policy that no organisation—cultural, sporting—or, indeed, a company, through the economic contract that governs business support, that maintains active links with Russia, while the war is ongoing, or a military occupation continues, will receive any Welsh Government financial support?
Well, I think it's incumbent on all parts of the United Kingdom to press for the highest level of economic sanctions, and alongside economic sanctions, those other forms of action in the fields of the arts and in sports, and other forms of contact—the highest form of barrier to those continuing, in order to, as we've said many times on the floor this afternoon, make sure that the message gets itself firmly lodged in the minds of those who are responsible for this action. And now is the moment to do that, Llywydd. It's not a matter of being wise after the event. I hope that there will be Members in the Chamber who will have the opportunity to read again the intelligence and security committee's Russia report, published in July 2020, chaired by a Conservative Member of the House of Commons, which concluded
'in our opinion...the Government had badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required.'
It called, in July 2020, for enhanced sanctions against the Russian regime. That's then. Knowing what we know now, I don't think there can be any hesitation in making sure that we put every brick we can assemble in that wall of sanctions that will communicate to those responsible for the actions in Ukraine that those actions will have direct consequences for them.
There were two further requests for acts of international solidarity that we heard from our Ukrainian friends. One of immediate practical help, and one of huge symbolic significance. The practical help that they called for was the immediate cancellation of Ukraine's foreign debt. Even as we speak, in the midst of war, the Ukrainian Government is having to provide servicing of its foreign debt up to $0.5 billion a month—money that it clearly doesn't have.
The symbolic call following President Zelenskyy's signing of the application for EU membership by Ukraine yesterday is for the European Union to signal that they are committed to Ukraine's membership of the European Union, and they will fast-track it. What better way to symbolise the fact that Ukraine is a democratic country, and that the values that are at the heart of the European Union require a positive response to Ukraine's request for membership yesterday?
Well, Llywydd, I agree entirely with Adam Price that we've by no means exhausted the actions that need to be taken. Russia continues to earn $1 billion a day from the sale of gas and oil into Europe, and, at the same time, Ukraine is paying, as the Member said, $0.5 billion in servicing its debt, again to the west. And in the circumstances we are seeing, surely that cannot be right.
And on the second point, the foreign debt point, then there are actions that lie directly in the hands of sovereign Governments that they could take now. I understand that the President of Ukraine has addressed the European Parliament this morning. I will be in Brussels myself tomorrow, Llywydd, as part of St David's Day celebrations, and reaffirming our links with those important nations and regions in Europe. I will be meeting the Vice President of the European Parliament as part of that visit, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to discuss the President of Ukraine's address to the European Parliament, and the actions I understand the Parliament has already taken to begin the response to which the leader of Plaid Cymru has referred this afternoon.
3. What support does the Welsh Government provide to vets? OQ57708
I thank Heledd Fychan for the question, Llywydd. Most vets in Wales work in private practice, operating as private businesses. Some, by contract, also provide important public services. The Welsh Government provides a range of direct and indirect support, reflecting this diversity of veterinary provision.
Thank you, First Minister. Recently, I was contacted by Councillor Larraine Jones, who represents Gelli and Ystrad, to draw attention to the fact that there is a shortage of veterinarians in the Rhondda. She has shared many heartbreaking stories, including a dog dying at home and in pain because the local vet had closed permanently and no-one else had room for new animals. There is also a big problem in terms of getting vaccines for animals. Following Brexit, and also the pandemic, there is a similar shortage across Britain. And in Scotland, the Government has announced that it will establish a Scottish veterinary service. So what action is being taken by the Welsh Government to address this shortfall, and to ensure that more people train here in Wales to become vets?
I thank Heledd Fychan for that question. It is true that the number of vets from the European Union here in the UK has fallen, and has fallen by 68 per cent between 2019 and 2021. Now, we are doing many things here in Wales. We have a new school at Aberystwyth University, and we are funding young people through our Seren programme, particularly young people from the Rhondda and other similar areas. After 2020, we have funded 28 students from such backgrounds to study to become vets for the future here in Wales.
4. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote St David's Day? OQ57691
I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government uses our national day as a platform to raise the profile and awareness of Wales across the world. Today alone, events will take place in Tokyo, Dublin, London, Washington, Brussels, Dubai, Beijing and Bangalore.
Diolch, First Minister. And can I start by wishing you, your family, and everybody in this Chamber a very happy St David's Day? First Minister, with so much uncertainty and devastation in the world, we must be thankful on our special day here in Wales, St David's Day, gives us the opportunity to highlight some of the amazing things we do here in Wales, from the fantastic food and drink we produce, to promoting our Welsh language, our rich history, our culture and our heritage, and the warm welcome we give to everyone. St David's Day is promoted wider than here in Wales—our business sector do this via Wales Week London, where many top Welsh businesses go to promote their businesses and their products to a wider audience, to boost trade and tourism opportunities for Wales, along with other events around the world. So, First Minister, what more work and support can the Welsh Government provide to St David's Day, to our businesses and the people of Wales, to provide economic benefits to all? Diolch, Llywydd.
Llywydd, I thank James Evans for that question. It was very good to have this question, with St David's Day falling on a Tuesday this year. And it does provide a genuine platform for us to be able to raise the profile and awareness of Wales. I was very pleased myself to begin the day, quite early on this morning, in signing a memorandum of understanding with the Governor of Ōita province in Japan, building on the relations that were set down when the Welsh rugby team was based in that part of Japan during the Rugby World Cup, and what a fantastic welcome the team had in that part of Japan. And it's led since to both economic links, cultural links, links between young people from Wales and that part of Japan, and we were able to formalise that in a new memorandum between Wales and Ōita this morning.
The economy Minister, as I said earlier, is in Dubai today, where the UK pavilion at the World Expo event is being given over to Wales, a whole Welsh day there, and that is focused primarily on food and drink and on businesses promoting what Wales can do in that part of the world. I myself, at the end of today, Llywydd, will be in the Canadian embassy in London, again with a group of other people, because 2022 is the year of Wales in Canada. We've had fantastic support from the Canadian Government, and from the Government of Quebec where we have particular links, and this afternoon will be an opportunity to give that a different level of profile and to put the sort of energy into that year that will mean that it will match the success of last year's Wales in Germany events, which were outstandingly successful in raising the profile of Wales as an economic destination, as a tourist destination, as a place of exchanges between cultural and sporting organisations, and therefore to promote people's understanding of Wales and the opportunities that those links provide for them and provide for us as well.
One final question, then, before you go off to promote Wales in all those places. [Laughter.]
Question 5, Paul Davies.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future delivery of acute and emergency services in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area? OQ57692
Llywydd, the health board has developed a plan for the future of services in the Hywel Dda area over the next 20 years. That strategy was developed with clinicians, patients and through consultation with the wider public. A programme business case was recently submitted to the Welsh Government for scrutiny.
Thank you for that response, First Minister. As you mentioned, the business case has been submitted to you now as a Government, and as part of those proposals the health board intends to repurpose or rebuild Withybush hospital, which would see it lose its accident and emergency services. First Minister, these proposals have caused a great deal of upset and anger amongst the people that I represent, who yet again are campaigning to protect services at their local hospital. Indeed, Cefin Campbell, the Member for Mid and West Wales, and I attended a rally last week with some of those campaigners. Now, as you know, the golden hour is critical in saving people's lives, and so it's absolutely crucial that Withybush hospital retains its emergency services. Therefore, given the commitment that the Welsh Government has made to emergency services at Withybush hospital in the past by investing some £9 million in the A&E department, will you now work with me and indeed others to ensure that these services stay at the hospital in the future?
Llywydd, there are no plans to remove any services from Withybush, including its A&E provision, prior to any wider changes that there may be made in health services in that part of Wales. I urge anybody who has an interest in the future of those services to engage directly with the health board, with its clinicians who are responsible for the development of plans that will put health services in that part of Wales on a sustainable footing for the next 20 years. Opportunities have come and gone in south-west Wales because people's attachment to the status quo prevented them from being willing to move forward with plans that would have resulted in major investment in those services. I do hope—. While understanding the attachment that people have to the services that they know and have used and are used to, I do hope that the opportunities that there may be there for that investment, in that 20-year future for south-west Wales, are not set to one side by people who allow their fears of the future to get in the way of the engagement—the positive engagement, the constructive engagement—that I think they would wish to see and that the health board intends to offer them.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement. I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement—Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. I have two changes to make to today's agenda. Firstly, the statement on the new learning disability action plan has been withdrawn, and secondly, subject to a suspension of Standing Orders, we will debate two legislative consent motions on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Thank you, Trefnydd, for your statement. Can I call for two statements from the Minister for Health and Social Services, please, in the coming weeks? I'm bitterly disappointed that the Minister made an announcement to extend what we all hoped would be only temporary arrangements for abortions without the need to see a medical professional in person. An announcement was made last week. Obviously, they are significant changes to the permanent abortion regime, and there are many people who have contacted me to say that they are very concerned about risks to women's health as a result of these changes, and indeed the prospect that people can be coerced into taking abortion medication, and not only that, but that the system could also potentially be abused and people could obtain abortion medication and then pass them on to others. We need the opportunity to scrutinise this decision, and I think that there should be the opportunity for a debate or a statement in this Chamber prior to any changes being introduced.
Can I also call for a statement from the Minister for health on mental health services in north Wales? There was another damning set of media reports as a result of two individual reports into the deaths of patients at the Hergest unit in Ysbyty Gwynedd and Tŷ Llywelyn in Llanfairfechan last week. These were appalling situations, heartbreaking for the families of those involved, and they underscore the need for more determined and rapid action from the Welsh Government and others to get to grips once and for all with the crisis in our mental health services in north Wales. This is a board now that is not in special measures—people find it extraordinary that it was taken out—and people want to have some confidence in the future. Now, there was a huge amount of respect for Donna Ockenden, the person who exposed many of the failings at the Tawel Fan ward a number of years ago, back in 2016. Can I ask the Welsh Government to consider working with the health board to appoint Donna Ockenden to undertake a further review to determine what progress has been made and to establish an action plan in order to get this health board back into shape so that people can be confident that when they are in need of mental health services because of acute mental health problems, they can get the care that they need?
Thank you. In relation to the arrangements for early medical abortion at home, as you said, the Welsh Government has already published a written statement, on 24 February, and I can assure Members here, if they haven't had the opportunity to look at that statement, that new guidance in relation to making this a permanent position—as you said, it was a temporary position—has been developed by clinicians, working alongside the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and other partners. So, I don't think there's a need for a further statement. If you do have any specific concerns, I would suggest you write to the Minister for Health and Social Services direct.
In relation to your second point around very, very tragic events, my sympathies certainly go to the families, friends and loved ones affected by the two deaths specifically that you referred to in the report. You'll be aware the health board has now accepted the recommendations of the report, and the Minister for Health and Social Services—I met with her just before half-term recess with my Minister for north Wales hat on, to ensure that she was closely monitoring the situation—reassured me that the health board has taken immediate action, including reviewing and removing low-level ligature points, for instance. There were applications for a ward risk assessments tool, and it was utilising its therapeutic engagement policy. I certainly will ensure that the Minister for Health and Social Services listens and thinks about the suggestion you brought forward in relation to Donna Ockenden.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I want to ask for two statements, if I may. I want to ask you to ensure that the Minister for health brings forward a statement on the provision of dentistry services. The people of Dwyfor Meirionnydd have the worst access to dentistry services in Wales, and another practice is to close in Tywyn this month, which will make things even worse. The Government has targets in order to ensure access, but these targets have never been reached in north Wales. The board has allocated £300,000 for a new dentistry chair somewhere in Meirionnydd, but we need investment of £900,000 to get to the average level alone. So, can we have a statement from the health Minister as to how the Government is to ensure that targets on access to dentistry are reached, and that Dwyfor Meirionnydd particularly will see an increase in the number of dentists available?
Secondly, I had the pleasure of the company of some pupils from Ysgol Bro Tryweryn on a digital visit to the Senedd yesterday. We had a conversation about the things that were important to them, and this is what was important to the pupils of bro Tryweryn: family, a roof above their heads and food in their stomachs. They were also very concerned about the situation in Ukraine. So, on behalf of the children of Fron-goch and Penllyn, this is what they wanted me to ask of the Government: given the importance of family, a roof above people's head and food in your stomach, can we have a written statement from the Government following your meeting with local government tomorrow as to what steps the Government is to take in order to ensure sanctuary for refugees from Ukraine here in Wales?
Also, is there any intention to divest any investments of public funds from Russian assets in Wales? Thank you.
Thank you. I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services is doing a great deal of work around the provision of dentistry at the moment. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted where there are some significant gaps in relation to dental provision, so I will ask her to bring a statement forward. I wouldn't think it would be within the next half term, because I know this is a piece of work that she is currently carrying out, but certainly as soon as she feels able to do so.
In relation to your second point, I think one of the joys of being a Member of this place is welcoming schoolchildren from our constituencies, and, obviously, we haven't been able to do it in the format that we would normally do, but it's really good to hear that you did it in a digital format yesterday. As the First Minister referred to in his question session, the Minister for Social Justice and the Minister for Finance and Local Government will be meeting with the WLGA tomorrow, and I'm sure they will bring forward a written statement as a matter of urgency after that meeting.
I'm asking for a Government statement on diagnosing autism in adults and the information campaign explaining the common signs of autism. It was DSM-IV, released in 1994, that first categorised autism as a spectrum. Anybody born before 1976 would have left school before 1994. We know that some of the common signs of autism in adults include finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling; getting very anxious about social situations; finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own; seeming insolent, rude or not interested in others without meaning to; finding it hard to say how they feel; taking things very literally; and having the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes. I think we need to let people know, because anybody who was born before 1976 would have been there before DSM-IV was released.
Thank you. Yes, it's certainly a condition that we have got a far better understanding of, and, when you say those dates, it brings it into very stark reality. You'll be aware of the significant work the Welsh Government undertakes in relation to providing an integrated autism service. That's been operating on a regional basis across Wales since April 2019. That's a partnership between local health boards and local authorities also, and that does provide adult autism diagnostic assessments, and support and advice for autistic adults, along with their parents and carers. We've also published the statutory code of practice on the delivery of autism services, which came into effect on 1 September last year, and chapter 1 of that code of practice deals with autism assessment and diagnosis. And what that code really does, I think, is provide clarity to our health boards, NHS trusts, our local authorities and regional partnership boards regarding the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006, setting out their responsibilities and the services that they are required to provide to support autistic people in their day-to-day lives.
Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I'd like to ask for a Welsh Government statement regarding the future role of the fire service in north Wales and in Wales more broadly. As someone whose brother-in-law is a firefighter, I know the extraordinary work that the fire service do carry out in our communities. I'm also aware of some of the challenges that are facing them at the moment. Following a meeting with representatives of the fire service, one of the concerns I have is the fire service's ability to sustain itself through recruitment of retained firefighters. In the region I represent in north Wales, of the 44 fire stations, 39 of those are supported by retained firefighters.
Another issue of concern, I understand from the fire service, is the ability to reach the net-zero targets by 2030, which they would strive to do, but considering the size of the engines they're having to drive and carrying water, the ability to reach net zero by 2030 is certainly a challenge. There are some great opportunities given the skills and experience that firefighters have in supporting our public services and supporting our communities more broadly, which I'm sure Welsh Government are exploring and would want to share their thinking around. So, in light of that, I would be grateful to receive a statement on the future of the fire service in north Wales and in Wales more broadly. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you. Obviously, it is a very important aspect of the Minister for Social Justice and her Deputy Minister's portfolio, and I am aware particularly that the Deputy Minister does a great deal of work with our fire service to ensure that they are able to meet the very significant challenges that they have. Their work has changed very much, hasn't it, to much more of a prevention role at the moment and supporting other public services? And I know, as Ministers, we work right across Government in relation to ensuring that any organisations within our own portfolios are able to meet the net-zero challenge. I'm not aware of anything specific that the Deputy Minister would want to bring forward at the moment, but I will certainly keep an eye on that and, if need be, we can bring forward a statement.
Minister, children in my constituently as young as 11 and 12 are having to walk 45 minutes to school and back from Cornelly to Cynffig Comprehensive School in Pyle. I have met over 20 parents who have told me that they would not normally allow their children to leave the village without their supervision, and so they are very worried about their safety as their children have to walk to school alone. Since having held two public meetings in Cornelly, I have been made aware of two incidents of bullying of year 7 pupils: one child had a bottle of Lucozade tipped over her head and another was chased by older children all the way back to their home. Children have been calling their parents crying from school because they're having to sit there in wet clothes all day, and some pupils have had to give up musical instruments as they can't carry them to and from school. Could I therefore request that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change provides a statement on the review of the learner travel Measure, and echo what the Children's Commissioner for Wales has also called for in this respect? And I would also ask that it is considered by Welsh Government that we revert to the two-mile rule for public access to school transport and consider prioritising younger children for bus passes in schools too.
Thank you for raising that very important issue. There is a review under way and I will certainly ask the Deputy Minister to bring forward a statement at the appropriate time.
Can I start by reminding Members of my interest as a Bridgend County Borough Council councillor? Trefnydd, can I call for a statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the Welsh Government's strategy for transport in the Brackla area of Bridgend? A number of local residents in the Brackla, Coity and Coychurch areas have repeatedly raised with me the dangerous junction that lies between Simonston Road and Coychurch Road just outside Brackla. It's been an accident black spot for a number of years and is incredibly busy during peak times. And in response to a written question I submitted a number of weeks ago, it transpired that Bridgend County Borough Council, despite having funding for the survey and design work, has never actually submitted a further application for the funding to undertake any of the work on the junction.
Meanwhile, whilst the Welsh Government strategy appears to be to take people out of cars and onto public transport—and I think that's a noble aim—the Welsh Government has promised a railway station to be built in Brackla. There's even been a turf-cutting ceremony to start building work on the project. The problem is that that turf-cutting ceremony was in March 2001, 21 years ago this month, and today the land lies vacant. And despite it continually being considered as part of the south Wales metro, there's no firm timescale around when or even if any work will actually go ahead. Whether it be by road or by rail, residents in Brackla are being short changed when it comes to transport, so can I ask for a statement from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the Welsh Government's strategy for transport in Brackla so we can correct some of those wrongs?
I would think it would be better if the Member writes directly to the Deputy Minister. You raise a very specific point on which I have no information to hand, and, obviously, as a member of Bridgend County Borough Council, I think that that would be the most appropriate way forward.
First of all, I'd like to very much welcome the recent announcement by the health Minister that telemedical abortions are going to become a permanent service. This is a fantastically important issue, particularly for women living in rural areas, or women who don't have childcare or have other caring responsibilities. And it's very much supported by all the professionals in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and by GPs and nurses. So, I very much want to put that on the record.
On another matter, as it's St David's Day, this morning, I went and bought a leek from my local fruit and veg stall, because I was very interested to find out from him where had he got it, where it had come from. He sources all his produce from the wholesalers in Cardiff. Well, it comes from Lincolnshire. So, I wondered if we could have a statement on how many leeks are actually produced in Wales—this is our national symbol along with the daffodil—and what plans does the Welsh Government have to increase the production of leeks and other vegetables in Wales?
The leek can join the sunflowers and daffodils, Llywydd.
I did think I probably should know the answer to how many leeks are grown in Wales when you asked me, but I don't think we keep that information. But it was really good to enjoy Welsh leeks on the menu in the canteen here in the Senedd at lunch time. As you say, we've got a very long and proud association with the leek, and I think we've seen an increase in people who want to source Welsh food—you will have heard me say that many times here in the Senedd. The horticulture sector is such a small part of the agricultural sector here in Wales—0.1 per cent—and I'm very keen to do all I can with my rural affairs portfolio hat on to support Welsh producers. It may be of interest to everyone in the Chamber that we are currently supporting Welsh producers with an application to secure accreditation under the UK geographical indication scheme—that's the new scheme since we left the European Union—for protected geographical indication Welsh leeks. And it's currently—. The application is currently being scrutinised.
The Welsh Government is also supporting horticultural farms through funding for Tyfu Cymru and we're also looking at controlled environment agriculture, which is often referred to as vertical farming, to see what we can do to encourage an increase in the production of crops such as leeks.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next statement is by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being on 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'. So, Lynne Neagle.
Thank you, Llywydd. I'm today launching the second of five delivery plans as part of our 10-year 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy. Our delivery plan for 2022-24 will utilise a combination of funding, policy and legislation to develop approaches that place a strong focus on prevention and making the healthy choice the easy choice.
The plan will support recovery from the pandemic and address the new challenges it has presented us. Many of us have found it hard to make and sustain positive healthy behaviours during lockdowns and the pandemic has deepened already existing health inequalities. We will deploy targeted approaches, particularly in areas of deprivation, and will assist those who are already overweight or obese through a range of prevention, early intervention and specialised services. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have made progress over the last two years through our first delivery plan. This is despite many of our key partners rightly prioritising the COVID response. I would like to thank our partners for their continued and future support as we take forward our ambitious plan.
Obesity is a complex challenge, and there are no simple solutions. We know that no one part of Government or the NHS can solve this, so we will be taking action across Government, working with partners in the public, private and third sectors to drive delivery. I am today outlining our seven national priority areas, which incorporate a number of actions to remove barriers to reduce diet and health inequalities across the population. To enable delivery of these seven areas, I have allocated over £13 million of funding to deliver the programmes and projects identified through this plan.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
The plan will build approaches across a range of our environments, from the way we eat and buy food out of the home to our educational and recreational settings in order to identify how we can make the healthy choice the easy choice. However, we have to be clear: we are trying to roll back established ways of living our lives that have built up over time and are having a negative impact on our health and well-being. I will be introducing a consultation in May that will consider proposals to improve the healthy weight environment. This will include areas such as price promotions, calorie labelling, planning, licensing and banning the sale of energy drinks to children. I am committed to take this forward at pace and introducing legislation within the lifetime of this delivery plan. I am also committed to undertake work to scope options around taxation powers, which will build upon positive shifts we have seen through the sugar levy.
Schools make a vital contribution to support lifelong healthy behaviours and can help reduce health inequalities. Extending the provision of free school meals to all primary school pupils, with children having access to two healthy meals a day alongside the free breakfast initiative, will help to support our aims. We will also be reviewing the school food regulations to ensure that school meals are able to take on board the latest scientific nutrition advice to provide healthier options.
We know that many of us are more inactive than ever. We will continue to invest in active travel and within our natural environment to ensure that people have access to opportunities to move in their everyday lives. We will continue to invest in community facilities to increase opportunities to be active.
Tackling health inequalities is at the heart of our delivery plan. Through our children and families pilot programmes taking place in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and Anglesey, we will work with families directly to provide parenting support on healthy practices and setting boundaries relating to food, as well as guidance on practical food preparation. The aim of these pilot projects is to demonstrate approaches that have shown evidence of success and are scalable.
A refreshed all-Wales weight management pathway will put in place equitable service provision across Wales. Investment will support health boards and partners to continue to build a multi-layered system, offering range of flexible support options for people to manage their weight. For the first time, there will be specialist level 3 children and families services, providing a multi-practitioner approach, including psychological support, to address the range of complex issues associated with obesity. In parallel to this support, there is ongoing development of services and approaches based upon early intervention, including specific approaches through maternity.
We will work closely with health boards on the delivery of services that offer the greatest impact and put in place a set of data requirements to measure change. I want to take the opportunity at this point to remind us all that tangible change around obesity will take time, but I am committed to putting in the structures to make the changes required.
We will also build a long-term behavioural change campaign. Work is already under way to develop an online, bilingual, trusted NHS website to provide weight management support to enable people to take more control over their own weight and health. This will align with the all-Wales weight management pathway.
The steps I've outlined today are just some of the examples of the depth of work taking place. I am committed to my central leadership role to drive the change we need. I will be chairing a revised national implementation board that will oversee delivery within the plan. This board will bring together key senior leaders from across Wales to ensure that we are delivering at pace and to provide the critical analysis we need to drive progress.
I am committed to drive change at all levels. We have to take a radical approach that will harness all of the levers at our disposal to help achieve the changes we need to see. Obesity is a serious threat to our nation's health that has been building for generations, and reversing this will not be an easy task. I intend to report back regularly to the Chamber on progress and am absolutely committed to working across parties to achieve our shared desire to see people live healthier, happier lives, wherever in Wales they live.
Conservative spokesperson, James Evans.
Diolch, Deputy Llywydd, and I thank the Deputy Minister for your statement and some of the comments that you've made. Obesity is a plague on the health of our nation. It's a problem; instead of declining, it's increasing. Worryingly, two thirds of the Welsh population are now overweight or obese, and, as you pointed out in your statement, the pandemic—many people have struggled to maintain healthy lifestyles, and it has deepened health inequalities. And it is welcome that you have allocated over £13 million to deliver on the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy plan. However, I do agree with you that prevention is better than cure, and I want to know how are you going to ensure that the moneys allocated to health boards and other partners that you've mentioned are going to be monitored to ensure that they are delivering on the plan and the priorities that you have set out and ensure that that money is spent in the right places and it's not wasted on bureaucracy, which has happened in the past.
It's welcome to see in your statement that you're going to look at price promotions, calorie labelling, planning, licensing and banning energy drinks to children. I think that's very positive, and other measures are welcome. These are positive steps, but we need to have a targeted media campaign around healthy eating and better lifestyle choices. During the COVID pandemic, we were inundated with tv, radio, social media and leafleting campaigns by the Welsh Government to keep people safe, and you spent £4.6 million on social media adverts alone, and I want to know how much money is going to be allocated to a public awareness campaign around healthy lifestyle choices and healthy eating. And as you say, we are trying to roll back on established ways that people have lived our lives, and that's going to be extremely difficult to do.
I also saw in your statement about the roll-out of free school meal provision and you're looking to increase the nutritional benefits of the food, and I would like to know what extra support will the Government be providing to our local authorities to make sure that that good-quality food is fed to our children, because I do worry, if the funding is not provided, that local authorities will struggle to deliver on this.
It's positive also to see that there's going to be a website to help with people's weight management. I think that will massively help people who are struggling and people who do need support, and that's going to be bilingual as well. I think that's really, really positive.
I also agree that we need to see greater access to the natural environment and our sports facilities, and what discussions have you had with your deputy ministerial colleagues around helping boost participation in sport and physical activity across Wales, as physical activity is a great way to reduce obesity and also help with mental health problems, which I know you and I are very keen to see reduced?
Minister, one thing I think that was missing slightly from the statement is that the British Heart Foundation recently released the 'Bias and biology: The heart attack gender gap' paper. They identified that women are not being taken seriously when they're having heart attacks and in support for weight management services, so dealing with weight inequality I hope will be a top priority for you going forward. I hope you can raise that when you respond to me.
And finally, Minister, you ended your statement with saying that we need to take a radical approach, and I totally agree with you on that. This is a very deep-rooted problem in our society. I'd like to see us sometimes go further with further public interventions in certain areas, because if we are going to save millions of people suffering with obesity-related illnesses and diseases it's going to have to be a radical approach and it's going to have to be a very top priority for you and for the Welsh Government. Diolch, Deputy Llywydd.
Thank you to James Evans for that range of points, and also for your acknowledgement of the scale of the problem that we face and for your acknowledgement that that problem has become much worse due to the pandemic. And I entirely agree with you that prevention is better than cure, and this is a delivery plan, as part of our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, that is very much rooted in prevention.
I'm very grateful for your welcome for the legislative proposals that we will be bringing forward, and I will look forward to working with you and across party on those. Of course, there are not just our legislative proposals; we are also working closely with the UK Government around the changes that they are making around things like calorie labelling, restricting advertising, changes to the composition of infant food et cetera. So, there is a lot of work going on in that space.
You mentioned the targeted media campaign, and clearly this is an incredibly important area of work, but it is also a very complex area. So, there's a huge amount of work going on to make sure that we have the right type of behavioural campaign, because influencing behaviour, particularly behaviour that is so entrenched for many of us, is very, very challenging, but that is a priority for us along with developing this NHS resource, and further down the line we'll be in a position to say more about the funding of that, but we're absolutely committed to delivering on that agenda.
You mentioned the free school meal provision, and obviously that is a costed commitment as part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, but it's not just about giving children free school meals; we also want to make sure that what they have is nutritionally high quality, and that's why we've committed to reviewing the nutritional standards. So, I'm working in partnership and we're working across Government on this whole plan, with the education Minister on that, and in addition to that we're also introducing national buying standards, which will help with procuring more healthy food in the first place. So, we'll be able to look at the quantities of protein, et cetera, as part of what we're doing, so that will also help drive that work.
You referred to the need for us to all be more active, which is obviously correct. We are continuing to invest in making sure that people can be more active. We have the healthy and active fund, which is £5.9 million, which has been available over four years, which is aiming to improve mental and physical health by enabling healthy and active lifestyles. I've been very lucky to go and see some of those projects and to see the way that they are working with people's physical and mental health to improve their quality of life. In addition to that, in this year, we've invested £4.5 million in community sports facilities, and there's a further £24 million being introduced over the next three years.
You referred to the British Heart Foundation report, and obviously the British Heart Foundation are a key stakeholder for us and we very much accept the recommendations that they're making. The idea with our all-Wales weight management plan is that those services will be available for everyone, but I do very much take on board what you're saying and I think we don't always understand the wide range of impacts that can come from having cardiac health problems. It's not just heart attacks; it's things like dementia, which is a risk that we all want to mitigate. So, we're very committed to continuing to work with the British Heart Foundation and key stakeholders on that work. Thank you.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I thank the Deputy Minister for the statement today.
I know that this is an issue that the Minister has a keen interest in. We both served on the health committee in the fifth Senedd as we were going through the passage of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. I tabled the amendment that led to the Government agreeing to introduce an obesity strategy, and I know the Minister and I were in agreement that this really has to be a priority for us. The health of the nation in physical terms, I think, is directly linked to our health as a nation in every possible tangible way. So, I think there's much to be welcomed in the statement today.
I do question the numbers, the sums of money that are being allocated. It's welcome to see £13 million being allocated towards this. I can't help feeling that there's a nought missing still when we're talking about the scale of the problem that we face. Some Welsh Government figures I've seen suggest that obesity maybe costs some £86 million annually to the Welsh NHS. I'd question that, actually, when you consider the effect that obesity can have on type 2 diabetes, which takes up as much as 10 per cent of the entire budget of the Welsh NHS. So, we really, if we want to reap the results, have to be putting in the investment on that preventative side that we, across parties here in the Siambr, can agree has to be prioritised. We've got to invest in that preventative side if we are to reap the long-term rewards. And I'd welcome the Minister's comments on whether she agrees with me, really, that the discussion she wants to be having around that Cabinet table in Government is to be adding that further nought to that sum, which is something that we should be aiming for.
I welcome the work being done on a pilot scheme in my constituency on health inequalities, working with families and children in particular. It is never too late in one's life, of course, to think in a healthy way. I joined the Nifty Sixties club at the Gym of Champions, the Holyhead and Anglesey Weightlifting and Fitness Centre in Holyhead yesterday. I'm not yet in my nifty 60s, though I will soon be entering my sixth decade later this year. I could barely keep up with those young-of-mind-and-body men and women who were there, who were keeping fit of body and mind. Of course, keeping our weight down is a big part of that. You could see through them the benefit that they were getting from that wonderful facility that we have in Holyhead, but it's taken investment to get it up and running—we need to see that kind of investment in all parts of Wales.
A couple of other questions on advertising. The original 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' document stated that, by 2030, there'd be a ban on advertising, sponsorship and promotion of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in public spaces, including bus and railway stations, sporting events, family attractions and so on. There has been a study that concluded that similar measures on London Underground advertising boards since 2019 really did have an impact. It contributed, perhaps, to a 1,000-calorie decrease in unhealthy purchases in people's weekly shopping—people who had come across those adverts. Could you just update us on where we're at with those measures?
And given, finally, that the Minister has indicated that she will ask officials to consider measures around taxation, when can we expect further detail around that? I was on these benches when we were laughed at for suggesting that we could introduce a levy on sugary drinks. That's happening now, it's been accepted. We need to move on now to unhealthy foods as well. And has the Minister also considered calls from charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, to restrict promotions—buy one, get one free and the like—on unhealthy food and drink?
Thank you very much, Rhun, and thank you for your welcome for the delivery plan that I've announced today. As you rightly highlight, the genesis of the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy came from the Public Health (Wales) Bill, and it's been good to do the work that I've done on committees around tackling inactivity, et cetera—it has been really useful.
You referred to the funding and whether it is sufficient. In addition to the £13 million to support, directly, the delivery of the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy for the two years, we've also reprioritised the £7.2 million annual prevention and early years funding from April 2022, and that's going to be used by directors of public health across local health boards to specifically support interventions in the obesity as well as the tobacco policy areas, in line with our strategies in both those areas. And we're working with health boards to ensure that plans for this funding are in line with the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and we're in the process of finalising that. I've also referred to the other funding, such as healthy and active, and the money that goes out for sports facilities, which is, of course, in addition to that. The other thing that I'd say is that very thorough evaluation is being built in to the implementation of this delivery plan, and that will allow us to, obviously, look at whether we do need any more funding, and that's a really key part of what we are doing.
Thank you for your welcome for the children and families pilot—one of them is in your constituency. Also to remind the Member that we're continuing to invest significantly in funding for activity for the over-60s as well, so we're conscious that this is a life-course thing.
You referred to taxation: that is something that we have begun to work on. We commenced some initial work in 2019 when Public Health Wales published a report on this, and that looked at the international evidence and considered the potential powers that could be applied. That was a first-phase piece of work, and we're going to commission some further work on that to refine some potential proposals that we're going to take forward as part of this two-year delivery plan. I'm very happy to provide a further update on that in due course.
In terms of the price promotions, absolutely. I am launching a consultation in the spring that will look at a range of legislative options, and one of the things we will be looking at is limiting price promotions of foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt.
Thank you very much to the Minister for your statement, and thank you very much for your commitment to this area, because it really does require that level of persistence on this complex issue.
I was very grateful to the Farmers Union of Wales recently, who have promised to go into schools in my constituency and talk to children about where food comes from. I think that's a pretty basic starting point, and unfortunately, for many of them, it's a complete mystery. So, I would like to see market gardens in every school, particularly in areas of deprivation, and I very much support your approach, to focus on areas of deprivation. We've all met children pre COVID who have started school without ever having used a knife or fork or ever sat down around a family table to share a meal, so I appreciate that it's a really excellent opportunity to use the considerable investment the Welsh Government is making in free school meals for all primary school children to really try and change the culture around food, because it isn't like this in Italy. We have really lost the plot in this country. We have been completely dominated by the obesogenic food producers who want us all to eat stuff that's going to kill us.
Can you ask a question now, please?
My question really is on: if you're going to change the school meal regulations, I applaud that, but who will monitor the quality of school meals? Because at the moment we rely on school governors and for them, actually, it's a bit of a mystery, and I've not yet seen school governors as a whole who take an interest in this matter.
Also, what specific approaches do you plan for pregnant women? We put an awful lot of effort into helping women quit smoking, quite rightly, when they're pregnant, but isn't it a golden opportunity to get expectant families to really change their relationship with food? And, particularly, the benefits for the children of breastfeeding, and to the mother for losing weight after the birth, are just so huge and lifelong that I would like to see more investment in maternity assistants who are able to support women with breastfeeding, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.
Thank you very much, Jenny, for your welcome, and thank you too for your continued commitment in this area of work. It is really very much appreciated, and I recognise that we've got a lot of work to do in terms of encouraging children and young people to eat more healthily.
Yesterday I was at Ysgol-y-Graig Primary School in Cefn Coed in Merthyr for the start of Veg Power's 'Eat Them To Defeat Them' series of lessons. I was able to watch the children having a variety of different lessons, right up from nursery all the way through the foundation phase, and they were learning about vegetables, obviously some of which they had never seen. We are continuing to support the Veg Power initiative, but also, of course, we've got our new curriculum coming on stream, which is a huge opportunity with our health and well-being area of learning and experience. The strength of that is that it won't just compartmentalise these things into specific lessons. This will be an approach across the curriculum to make sure that our children have the opportunity not just to learn about what's healthy, but also to implement some of those things as well.
You mentioned the commitment on free school meals; absolutely, we're committed to reviewing the nutritional standards. At the moment, Estyn are meant to look at how schools comply with the nutritional standards. As part of that work, I'd be very keen to have discussions with the education Minister to make sure that Estyn has a continued focus in this area, because it is incredibly important.
You mentioned the importance of maternity, and national priority area 3 in our delivery plan is designed to support the best start in life, to enable families to make positive choices from pre-pregnancy to early years. It's very much recognised as a priority in the plan, and as part of that, we're going to be strengthening the work to make sure that pregnant women can access the all-Wales weight management pathway to support maternal obesity. We've also got a range of initiatives to encourage and promote the importance of being a healthy weight before pregnancy, and of healthy weight gain during pregnancy, through the maternity key performance indicators, including ensuring access to a Foodwise in Pregnancy app.
You also referred to the importance of breastfeeding. That is now going to sit underneath as a key part of our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and we've got a breastfeeding action plan. Some of the work on that was paused due to COVID, but that is now going to be recommencing. I'm really keen to see that delivered at pace, with targets and milestones that we can ensure that we meet.
And finally, Ken Skates.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I first of all thank the Minister for making an incredibly important statement today? I welcome every word that she has spoken, particularly when she made reference just recently in her response to Jenny Rathbone about the importance of the new curriculum. My first question is seeking assurance: will the Minister assure Members that she'll continue to engage with the Minister for education in the development and roll-out of the new curriculum, so that it can offer the space and enabling power for teachers to be creative and innovative in the way that they support the physical development of young people?
Secondly, can I congratulate the Government's sharp focus on early years and children, not just in regard to the statement today, but across all areas of responsibilities in Government that concern children? Can I also have assurance that the Minister will remain focused on early years, given the overwhelming evidence that shows that the first 1,000 days of existence are hugely, hugely important for the development of individuals?
Thank you very much, Ken. I'm very happy to give you that assurance that I am really committed to the early years in the round. You'll have heard me as a backbencher raise many times the importance of the first 1,000 days. So, it is very much a priority for me. As you've heard me explain to Jenny Rathbone, the previous speaker, it is a key priority area as part of the delivery plan that we have published today. You're absolutely right to emphasise the importance of the new curriculum, and that, as I said, it's not compartmentalising these issues. This is embedding health and well-being across the whole curriculum, and also, vitally, making those linkages between physical and mental health. This plan today is a cross-Government plan. All Ministers have seen the plan, agreed the plan, and I will very much be working closely with the Minister for education around the delivery of the education aspects of the plan, as I already do around the whole-school approach to mental health and well-being. So, I'm very happy to provide that assurance today. Thank you.
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
The next item is item 4, a statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Services on the children and young people's plan. I call on the Deputy Minister, Julie Morgan.
Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Today is an important day in the history of Wales, a day when we celebrate this incredible nation and show how excellent it is to grow up, live and work in Wales.
I am delighted, on this important day, to be announcing the publication of the children and young people’s plan, which sets out our ambition for children and young people in Wales, both now and in the future. In Wales, we want the best for our children—all of our children, no matter what their backgrounds are, where they come from, or where they live. We want them all to have the best start in life, to go on to lead the kinds of lives they want to live, and to know that they are valued.
As a Government, we are passionate about children’s rights. We were the first UK nation to write children’s rights into our laws, and today we are reaffirming our commitment to making children’s rights a lived reality. The plan I am publishing today brings coherence to the work we are doing across Government on behalf of children and young people, and puts them at the heart of our decision making. In this plan, we have set out our ambition, and identified seven cross-Government priorities where we've agreed to work collaboratively across our ministerial portfolios, to ensure the best possible outcomes for our children and young people, both now and in the future. These include ensuring all children and young people have the best start in life, are treated fairly, have the support they need to progress through education, training and into employment, are supported to help them feel mentally and emotionally strong, to have a fair chance in life, a good and secure home to live in, and receive the support they need to stay together or come back together with their family, if possible.
The plan is focused on what we will do to make our programme for government commitments a reality for children and young people. It provides a snapshot of some of the activities we've achieved previously and sets out some of the activities we'll take forward over the next 12 months. As a Government, we have achieved a great deal, but we know it's important to go further, and we're determined to go further throughout this Senedd term. In the coming year, there are some exciting projects that we plan to take forward. For example, we will give baby bundles to more new families, start our new curriculum for Wales, create more apprenticeships, improve youth work so that more young people can access a safe space, build residential homes for children with complex needs, and start creating a national forest for Wales, to name but a few. This plan is underpinned by significant investment, as our final budget for 2022-23, published today, demonstrates, with more than £1.3 billion of investment specific to early years and education, and almost £0.75 billion provided to local authorities to deliver essential services such as schools.
Listening, talking and responding to children and young people is key to understanding how the decisions we make as a Government affect and impact on their lives. We talked with 173 children and young people aged up to 25 about the priorities in this plan. They told us about the things that are important to them, including having places where they can play, have fun and learn, being able to fulfil their aspirations regardless of their family income, ability or ethnic background, receiving support when transitioning between life stages and when making life choices, and having decisions about them made with them and not for them.
Diprwy Lywydd, I would like to thank the children and young people who have helped shape this plan, along with Children in Wales and the organisations they worked with to gain these important views. I am determined to maintain this conversation. The plan outlines how we will continue to engage with children and young people as we deliver on our commitments. This includes reporting on progress and the contributions we are making towards reaching our national milestones. But of course, we understand we cannot do this alone. The success of the plan is dependent on us working together with our partners in the public, private and third sectors, and across society as a whole, to improve local services and achieve our wider ambitions for children and young people in Wales.
Let’s make this a St David’s Day to remember, and convey a strong message to children and young people that this is a Government that is working for them and that their voices are heard and represented consistently at all levels within Welsh Government.
I look forward to working with you all to deliver the children and young people's plan and to achieve our ambition to make Wales a wonderful place to grow up, live and work. Thank you.
On behalf of the Conservatives, Gareth Davies.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Deputy Llywydd. Thank you for your statement this afternoon, Deputy Minister. I of course wish you a very happy St David's Day.
I'm sure there'll be no dissent to your stated aim of creating a Wales that is a wonderful place to grow up, live and, indeed, work. It's an aim that all of us share, but it's one that will need more than just warm words to deliver. Children and young people have been badly affected by the pandemic and Government actions to curb the spread of COVID-19, and we can't underline enough the impact this has had on their education, their emotional development, their mental well-being, as well as their future prospects.
It is our children's generation that will be saddled with the crippling debt that has been built up during the pandemic. They've also had to contend with the impact of climate change, which, according to the United Nation's inter-governmental panel on climate change, is way worse than we previously thought. Not only that, they will also be feeling the fall-out from Russia's despotic tendencies, whether it's from the impact of the justified sanctions or the continuing aggressions of the Russian leadership. It is therefore disappointing that the children and young people's plan doesn't really plan to support our younger generations to deal with the current and future challenges.
Deputy Minister, why is there nothing new in your plan? Do you believe it's sufficient to just restate existing policy? Why did the Welsh Government settle upon 2050 as its target date? Do you believe that's ambitious enough with regard to individual milestones? Do you feel they are sufficient to deliver a Wales that children and young people ideally want? Previous Governments wanted to eliminate NEETs, yet your plan now states that over the next three decades you will reduce them by 90 per cent. Why not commit to 100 per cent? Deputy Minister, why does this plan not contain any actions or commitments to tackle adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs? What will the plan do about access to CAMHS services?
Deputy Minister, while I share your overall ambitions, I don't belive your plan is ambitious enough. If we truly want to create a Wales that is a wonderful place to grow up, live and work, then we need to do more than just what you have outlined in this so-called plan this afternoon.
I thank Gareth Davies for those comments. I'm glad that he agrees with me that Wales is a wonderful place to live, to grow up. I belive that this plan is ambitious. I do belive that if we're able to succeed in doing the things we are putting in this plan, then Wales will be an even better place for young people and children to grow up. It's certainly not just warm words. What is in this plan is an attempt to make a coherence of all the things that we are doing, so that we have put down some of things that we have done and what we plan to do. We want to have it there in one document so that we can be accountable. We want to be accountable to children and young people.
That's why, last week, I went with the First Minister to discuss this with children and young people—what they thought about this plan. They were absolutely thrilled that we had taken the time and effort to prepare a plan and to discuss this plan with them. They were most enthusiastic about it and brought up to us all the things that are happening in their lives that are causing them anxiety. They were really pleased that there was now something that they could look at and that each year could be measured. Because what we plan to do is meet with children each year to try to gauge what's happened to them in that year and what are the issues that they want us to improve.
You say there's nothing new in the plan, but it's new that we're having a children's plan, it's new that as a Government we're going to be accountable to children, and it's new that we are going to go back to children every year. I think it is an ambitious plan. Certainly, all the issues that we address here are addressing the issues that are caused by adverse childhood experiences. You mention that there's nothing in this that is going to try and support children. If you look at what we've already done in terms of having—. Well, just look at the Summer of Fun we had, which was a huge effort to reach children, and the Winter of Wellbeing, and the plans we have for this summer that's coming up, and the plans we have to improve the opportunity for youth work, the youth provision for children, where we're putting in over £11 million to try to improve the opportunities for children to have safe places to go. So, I think, on St David's Day, that's a very dispiriting response.
The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Heledd Fychan.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you for the statement, Deputy Minister. Yes, Wales is an excellent place to grow up, to live and to work, but, of course, there is huge inequality at the moment, and that isn't true for all children. We share the ambition that this should be the case for everyone, wherever they may be in Wales.
I'm glad to note that, through the co-operation agreement between my party and your Government, we will be able to start delivering for children and young people across Wales, whether that's through the expanded provision of free school meals and childcare to tackling climate change, or through education. Wales and the world face a myriad of crises, and the effect of these crises will weigh most heavily on the youngest members of our society and the generations to come. Our children and young people will bear the full brunt of climate change, of nature decline, the numerous and devastating long-term effects of the pandemic on our economy and on their education. As we speak, the housing crisis and the growing issue of second homes is impacting communities, effectively eroding communities before the children and young people born there can even experience them and live and work there. Children are also the most affected by the cost-of-living crisis, and I'm sure we can all agree that we need targeted measures to ensure the effects of the crisis on children and young people are prevented, stopped or minimised where possible through targeted action.
I was struck, even last night, when my eight-year-old son asked me to switch off the television because he was fed up of hearing the news, that he was feeling sad and feeling helpless as well on top of everything that our children and young people have been through through the pandemic to now find out what's happening in Ukraine and the impact that's having as well. It's a scary time for our children and young people—it's terrifying—and there's so much that we have a responsibility to do. So, it's only right that we are listening to them, that we are working according to those targets, but also that we are accountable to children and young people. And I fully agree, it's not about talking at young people and children, it's about working with them, with their solutions and voice equally important.
One area where we can indeed offer the most targeted and helpful support is in the realm of housing, and much of the worst effects of the pandemic on the quality of life and, indeed, education of children and young people are rooted in and have been exacerbated by the housing crisis. So, can I ask, Deputy Minister—? When we look now in terms of fuel poverty—and we know that this is a real issue affecting children and families in Wales, with one in 10 households with two children having to cut back on food for children, and they're also having to cut back on fuel—we know that low temperatures can cause myriad health problems whilst also increasing the risk of damp mould, which further increases the risk of respiratory diseases in children. We need to provide safe and warm homes for every child in Wales. So, what is the Welsh Government doing to proactively identify children who are in, or are at risk of being in, fuel poverty to ensure our support will benefit the most vulnerable children? When can we expect the Government to put an end to fuel poverty in households with children?
As was also referenced by Gareth Davies, we know that CAMHS specialist services—. We saw the data in February that confirmed that the percentage of patients who receive a first appointment within four weeks had fallen to an all-time low of 22 per cent. The statistics are staggering and indicate a failure to get to grips with the mental health crisis affecting children and young people in Wales. Let's be clear, nearly four in five young people are waiting over a month for a first mental health appointment, and this is not good enough. We all receive heartbreaking stories from families and directly from young people who are desperate to be seen. We must have robust provision in place so that patients can receive the best possible treatment at the earliest opportunity, before their situation worsens, as we have seen all too often. So, can I ask the Deputy Minister what the Welsh Government is doing to provide the necessary increase in CAMHS services, and what is the Welsh Government doing to allow young people to access support earlier, before they reach the point where they require this specialist care?
Thank you, Heledd, for those very important points, and I absolutely agree with her that there are inequalities in Wales that we have to address. And it was very touching to hear your comments about your son listening to the television, and a lot of people have said that to me about the misery that is coming over, and when you think of what's happening to the children, it's just overwhelming, really. So, I absolutely understand how her son needed to put the television off, and I think it's very important that we remember we're talking about the children in Wales here who are in a much better position than many children throughout the world, particularly at this present time.
It's absolutely right that the pandemic has been very hard for children, and we know that children have suffered from the isolation of having long periods of not being in touch with their friends, and that we've had to make efforts to reintroduce school, almost, to them. And so it's been a very difficult time, so I absolutely acknowledge everything that she says. This has been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, again, which the Government is doing all it can to tackle, led by the Minister for Social Justice in terms of looking for ways that we can help alleviate some of the very distressing situations that arise with people with not enough money to have food. Again, you mentioned the fuel crisis, and, again, that is something that we are trying to tackle in terms of the money, the grant that the Minister for Social Justice has been able to arrange.
But it is absolutely crucial, as the Member says, that we identify those children who are most at risk, and that's why I think it is so important that we have got our early years service, that we've got places like Flying Start that are aimed and are placed at the moment in the most deprived areas, where we will be able to identify where children are particularly at risk. And also, through the co-operation agreement, we are planning to extend Flying Start to two-year-olds throughout Wales, and that again will give us the opportunity that we will be able to identify those children, because we need the eyes and ears on the ground in order to be able to do that.
And, of course, the housing issue is a huge issue, and we are committed to building more houses that are available at a fair rent, and also for tackling the long-standing issues of houses that have been built without any consideration to the climate change that is there and that need retrofitting. So, we have an ambitious programme for that.
And then, what are we doing about the children who are suffering from mental health problems as a result of everything that's happened? I accept that there is a waiting list for CAMHS. We are trying to give more help lower down so that children don't reach the stage where they need the CAMHS service. For example, we put counselling services in schools, and the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being is trying to ensure that the treatment opportunities are available much earlier in the system. So, we want to reach children before they reach the need for CAMHS. I think that is where we've got to put the effort in.
But finally, I suppose, really, when we've had this exchange, it sounds very gloomy, the situation throughout the world. Everything that's happening does seem gloomy at the moment, so I'd really like to respond as well to say that I think there are lots of good things happening as well, and we are moving ahead with lots of policies where we're working together to ensure that children, with all these awful things happening, can have the best lives that they can, and that they can enjoy themselves and have the sort of childhood that we want them to have.
Thank you for your statement, Deputy Minister. I wholeheartedly welcome this plan, setting out a range of steps that we are taking here in Wales to ensure that every child has the best start in life, now and in future. But there are four elements of the plan I wanted to just touch base on, and I would appreciate a response on those four areas in brief from you.
First, I welcome the fact that advocacy for children and young people in care, or involved with care services, is included. The 2019 Tros Gynnal Plant research highlighted significant concerns with the provision of independent residential visiting advocacy services by private providers. Could I ask you, therefore, first, what steps will be taken to ensure that every child in care, no matter the provider, has access to independent advocacy?
Secondly, following on from what Heledd said, I very much welcome the focus given to mental health and well-being in this plan. But, as we've heard, with 78 per cent of patients referred to CAMHS services, we do need to improve. I do accept what you said: that we need to ensure that children don't reach CAMHS services. But for those who do, they need a faster response. Therefore, I would like to hear specifically what targets the Welsh Government have in reducing the CAMHS waiting lists.
Thirdly, there is an absence of any commitment with regard to the role that for-profit providers play in residential care for children and young people—a key issue repeatedly raised, as you and I have talked about, by care-experienced young people, and one that I know plays a significant role in financing children's services. Could I just seek your reassurance that this proposal remains a priority for the Government?
You've asked three questions and you've gone well over your time, so we'll leave it at those three. Deputy Minister.
Okay, thank you very much, and thank you very much, Jane, for welcoming this plan with such wholeheartedness. Advocacy for children in care I think is absolutely crucial. As you know, one of our main aims in the Government is to improve the lot of children in care, and that really links with your third question as well, about the not-for-profit providers, because we do want to transform the care system. We want to keep as many children as possible in their own homes and in their own families. We want them to stay at home with their families, if that's possible; if it's not possible, and they have to come into care, we want them to be placed near their families and we don't want children, if it's at all possible, to be placed a long way away from their home areas.
This does bring in the issue of advocacy, because, obviously, it's really important that children are able to speak up. We are in the process of looking at ensuring that independent residential advocacy services in independent residential services can also have advocacy for the children in those services.
In terms of the for-profit providers, this is something that, as you say, has been raised repeatedly by care-experienced young people, who do resent very much that the bad luck in their lives has resulted in other people getting a profit. So, this is one of the absolute top priorities of the Government, but it is part of the whole system of transforming the care system so that fewer children come into care and then that the children who do have to come into care—that as many children as possible who do have to be placed in care will be placed where there is no profit in the organisations that provide for them. So, I can absolutely assure her that it is one of our top priorities.
In terms of mental health and the issue about CAMHS, I will repeat that I do think it's important that we concentrate our efforts in trying to reduce the number of applications to CAMHS, which will then bring down the waiting lists, if we can get more children dealt with in the community.
And finally, Sam Rowlands.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Deputy Minister, for bringing forward today's important statement—one in which I, of course, have a keen interest, having three of the best children in Wales, of whom I am the father. As you mentioned, Deputy Minister, in your statement, the Welsh Government, of course, wants what's best for the children of Wales. Members across the Chamber would certainly agree that we all want what's best for the children of Wales. I am concerned, though, that we are moving away from a premise that it's parents who know what's best for their children, and parents who ultimately are responsible for their children, and parents who are the best role models for their children as well. And it's the role of Government, in my view—. And I think we'd all agree that Government should be there to support parents in undertaking this great responsibility in bringing their children up. In light of this, I was concerned to note in your statement today that the words 'parent', 'parents', 'mother' or 'father' were not mentioned at all. I'm not sure if this was an oversight or if this is an avenue that Welsh Government is going down, because it's crucial that proper support is given to parents and the role of parents is championed by Government and the voice of parents is at the forefront of Government here—
You need to ask your question now.
—so you can hear the voice of parents. So—. Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'll ask a question. How will you ensure that, in your plan, the role of parents is not disregarded, and what specific action will you take to ensure that the voice of parents is at the forefront of your plans?
Thank you very much, Sam Rowlands, for that important point, and, absolutely, we want to give support to parents. As I said in my response to Jane Dodds, we want to move to a system where we give as much support as we possibly can to parents in order for children to thrive and remain with them, and that's why we have put a lot of investment into parenting classes, why we have help offered to parents through 'Parenting. Give it time', where we give tips about how you can manage the difficult times that you do have as parents—how you deal with the terrible twos and the tantrums and the children who won't eat, and all the things that most of us have been through, where, from my own personal point of view, I was so pleased to have any help or advice coming from Government or from anybody, really. I think that's the way to look at it, that most parents are really looking for advice and help, and I don't think we should ever look at it as the Government coming in and taking the role away from parents. They are there to offer the advice, and, in most cases, people are oh so glad to receive advice and guidance and talk, from health visitors, from GPs, from teachers, from all the voluntary sectors, from all the groups who are there to help and support families. So, I don't think we should ever think of Government trying to take away the role of parents. We're there to help parents, and I think the amount of money and commitment that the Government puts into ensuring that those services are there is a sign of our commitment to parents as well as children.
Thank you, Deputy Minister.
The fifth item is a statement by the Minister for Social Justice on period dignity. I call on the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt.
Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Llywydd. Periods are natural. They are not a choice. We all either have them, have had them, or know people who do. They are not dirty and they are not something to be ashamed of. No-one should be disadvantaged because they have periods. Everyone should have access to period products, as and when they need them, to use in a private space that is safe and dignified. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case.
We last held a debate on this issue in 2018, when research by Plan International brought to light the impact of period poverty on girls in the UK. Four years on, people in Wales are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, fuelled by soaring energy bills. The Bevan Foundation's snapshot of poverty in December revealed that more than a third of Welsh households do not have enough money to buy anything beyond everyday essentials. I speak to stakeholders about this issue often. I have heard directly from women in Wales that, when choosing between paying for food, rent, bills or period products, period products are the first item to be left off the list. And let me just say that again: there are people in Wales today who are forced to go without basic period care so that they can feed their children. The Welsh Government cannot, and will not, accept this.
That is why, earlier this month, the Welsh Government committed an additional £110,000 to local authorities in Wales to ensure community venues such as foodbanks and libraries are fully stocked with free period products to assist those most in need. We are also allocating over £400,000 to expanding the reach of the grant in 2022-23, and this is in addition to the £3.3 million we already provide every year to schools, colleges and community groups across Wales. And it's also why we're working to ensure that there are free products in women's refuges across Wales. We've been committed to addressing period poverty for many years, and, since 2018, we've provided over £9 million of funding to ensure there are products available in every school and college in Wales and across communities for those on low incomes. We established the period dignity round-table, bringing together expert stakeholders, activists and young people to work together, and the round-table has offered advice and counsel throughout our work on period dignity, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank its members for their support.
The closure of schools and community settings during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges in ensuring period products reached those in need and, according to research by Plan International, over 1 million girls in the UK struggled to afford or access period products during the pandemic. In Wales, we worked with local authorities to ensure that, even in lockdown, individuals had the products they needed. Welsh local authorities found innovative and creative ways of serving their communities, including sending products directly to people's homes, setting up subscription services and offering vouchers, and I'd like to acknowledge the positive response by all our local authority partners during this extraordinarily difficult time.
There, of course, is more work to do to ensure period products are reaching everyone who needs them, and we're committed to identifying and responding to our communities' needs. Just this morning, we brought local authorities together to share best practice and to consider how we ensure products are reaching under-served communities. But the provision of products is just the beginning of the work. Tackling period poverty is a priority for the Welsh Government, but, if we truly want to break the shame and stigma associated with menstruation, then we must broaden our ambitions and work to achieve period dignity for all.
So, what do we mean by period dignity? It means prioritising the eradication of period poverty and addressing the range of issues that affect a person's experience of periods across their lifetime. Period dignity considers the link between periods and broader health issues, which is particularly important as we mark the beginning of national Endometriosis Awareness Month. Period dignity also considers the environmental impact of many single-use plastic products, the impact of managing menstruation in the workplace, in education, and on engaging in sport and culture.
To achieve this definition of period dignity, we need to take cross-Government action, and that's why we will publish our period dignity strategic action plan later this year, and the plan considers period dignity for those with intersecting protected characteristics and seeks to make provision for additional challenges or cultural requirements. Period dignity and period poverty are children's rights matters, but the plan also takes a life-course approach to achieving period dignity by considering support for those who are going through the perimenopause and menopause too.
We've set out a number of ambitious actions to help achieve our vision, including a campaign to start a national conversation about periods to bust myths and tackle stigma; a commitment for 90 per cent to 100 per cent of all products bought under the period dignity grant to be plastic-free, made with reduced plastic or reusable by 2026; ensuring educational and practical period dignity resources are available to businesses across Wales to expand period dignity in the private sector; promotion of workplace policies on period dignity and the menopause; funding education and training programmes to promote the use of reusable products; and developing an interactive period-product map to help individuals find free products in their areas. Finally, education, of course, is also crucial in achieving our aim for period dignity. I'm delighted the relationships and sexuality education code and statutory guidance includes the teaching of menstrual well-being at developmentally appropriate phases. It will provide learners with the knowledge and confidence to seek support and to deal with the physical and emotional changes that occur throughout their lives.
I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to Children in Wales, Women Connect First, Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales and our period dignity round-table members for their ongoing advocacy and their support as we turn our shared vision into reality. And I'm confident, by working in partnership, we will achieve our vision to live in a Wales where no-one is ashamed or embarrassed about periods and can speak openly and confidently about them, whether or not they have periods. Diolch.
Conservative spokesperson, Laura Anne Jones.
Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. Thank you for your statement, Minister. It is very welcome and we on these benches completely support aims to eradicate period poverty and ensure period dignity in Wales. This is something that not just affects a small minority, Deputy Presiding Officer, but half of our population. It is a massive issue and it's something that actually should have been dealt with a long time ago.
For those that were in the last Senedd, and you may recall, Minister, I spoke about how we cannot always rely on parents and families to educate and talk openly about such important subjects as periods, which is often hard to understand for those families for whom it is quite the norm to talk openly about these things, but is a very real issue, for a myriad of reasons. And I was one of those girls that didn't see it coming or knew what to do about it, and I often found it very difficult to talk about it, so to stand up now is quite something for me. But it's something that needs to be talked about.
I said during the education Bill debates in that last Senedd that I was encouraged by the opportunity that the new curriculum provides in this regard to educate on, in an age-appropriate manner, important subjects such as these and to ensure that all children are armed with the knowledge that they need. We need to give all girls and young women full and proper education on periods within the RSE to make sure that this education will cover from the start of getting your period to the menopausal stage, including vital information on conditions such as endometriosis, which my good friend and former colleague MS Suzy Davies passionately campaigned for to be part of the new curriculum during previous Senedds.
But, alongside education, we also need to ensure, in my view—as a basic human right, I would argue—that sanitary products are available to all those that need them, and, as you say, Minister, in a discreet manner, and for free, particularly those in educational settings. As we know, Minister, children and young people spend a large part of their week in an educational setting and are likely to start their periods or have periods during that day. We, of course, welcome this Government's commitment to providing free products to educational settings since 2018, but what this Government hasn't yet ensured is the discreet delivery of those products within our schools. Currently we have a situation where pupils have to ask the teachers to go and unlock a cupboard to go and get them sanitary products. This doesn't strike me as discreet or in any way dignified for these girls to access what they need, especially, for example, if it's a male teacher that has to be asked. I would certainly have been too shy myself to ask for such things in school. There needs to be a more permanent solution and a more discreet solution. I would suggest something along the lines of permanent structures in our loos in secondary schools and colleges across Wales in the form of maybe a vending machine distributing these products, of which, of course, the products would be free, and arguably a more permanent solution offering in primary schools also, for, as we know, Minister, many girls are early starters in this regard.
Many girls I know, including myself, had a bad experience and was caught short. Luckily, there is no longer tracing-paper-like loo roll in our schools, but we absolutely need to ensure that all girls are armed with everything they need, including sanitary products that are easily accessibly to them. Therefore, can I ask, Minister, that you assure this Senedd today that you will do absolutely everything in your power to ensure a dignified solution to the provision of sanitary products in Wales in the shape of permanent distribution machines in our loos? I've talked to many schools in the last few months and there is a very real problem—an obvious problem—in the school delivery stage, and it's going against what you are aiming to do and what we all hope and we want to achieve.
Also, of course, you've outlined in your statement that some girls and women from families simply cannot afford sanitary products, exacerbated, as you say, by the pandemic. And, horrendously, due to their expense, they are not often bought, to ensure that families instead can be fed. And you're right, Minister, this cannot continue.
The Welsh Conservatives also agree with you, Minister, when you talk about extending support to local authorities in Wales to ensure community venues, such as foodbanks and libraries, are fully stocked with period products to assist those most in need—free, of course. Therefore, Minister, through my own knowledge, I'm also aware of the need for this to be extended into sports clubs throughout our country, so I'd ask that those plans extend to them also so that we never have to see another girl or woman having to forgo sport because of a natural bodily function.
Minister, I was delighted to see that, with our children and young being so very conscious of the environmental impacts and their wanting to actively do something about it, that you have a commitment, which was going to be my main question, to ensure that 90 per cent to 100 per cent of our products that are brought with Welsh Government money are plastic free, something that an incredible local Welsh campaigner, Molly Fenton, who's only aged 19, has heavily campaigned for. It is absolutely right that we take an environmentally cautious approach to this. So, Minister, what checks will be put in place to ensure that this is happening, please, and will the Welsh Government be proactive in helping our schools and local authorities in providing them with the right contacts to enable them to do this? Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Laura Anne, and thank you for such a constructive—. You know, it is all of us, women here, will know what you've been saying about your experiences, sadly. We've got to make such a change, haven't we? But actually, I think one of the things that I said in my statement is that one of our aims is to have this national conversation, so we're starting that today. And it is a conversation that we all need to have, and, in fact, the provision of those grants back in 2018 enabled local authorities to start having the conversations and schools as well.
But I want to just start on your point about relationships and sexuality education, because, of course, you were here when we were discussing this. I'd like to thank Suzy Davies, particularly—former MS, Suzy Davies—for raising the profile of menstrual well-being particularly during the scrutiny of the curriculum and assessment Bill, advocating for its inclusion in the RSE code. There is so much opportunity with the new curriculum in terms of the teaching of menstrual well-being at developmentally appropriate phases in life, and also providing our pupils, our school students, with the knowledge and confidence to seek support and deal with those physical and emotional changes that occur through life.
Now, I was very fortunate this morning to meet with a group of pupils from two local schools, from Radnor Primary School and Fitzalan High School. I asked to meet with them because they've been involved with Children in Wales in helping us respond to the consultation we've had on period dignity. It was wonderful that I had two young student pupils from Radnor Primary School, two girls, and then two boys and two girls from Fitzalan High School, and they'd all been involved in having workshops and discussions. Interestingly, at Fitzalan, they decided to have the boys and girls together for these discussions—all year 7 got involved in it and year 8 as well. And in Radnor, also years 5 and 6. So, they really spoke from the heart and from their experience. It was very revealing.
And I think it's just important that those schools, every local authority, every further education college, have actually accepted our offer of the period dignity grant since 2018. They've run with the scheme, they've learned ways of distributing products, they've tackled stigma. I actually asked them what did they think 'stigma' meant and they were spot on, they said that it's when you're pushed out to look different or you're made to feel different. They were just so clear about how they felt. They told us of changes in the school, where they used to have to go and pick up products in the corridor and now it was in a place where they felt comfortable to go. But as they all said, why should we feel embarrassed about picking up the products? But they were excellent.
I just want to say quickly that we've got to look at the impact of funding, we've got to reach out to those under-served communities; we've got to look to new locations to make the products available. We're doing an evaluation of the grant this year, and the key thing is to listen to those with lived experience of periods and also how it's being managed in schools. And what's interesting is that we did also discuss the fact that their school councils could get involved and put it on the agenda of the school councils. They really taught me so much very quickly just by being together, and I'm sure that other Senedd Members across the Chamber will find that they want to learn; the boys wanted to engage and they were talking about, actually, dads, fathers and male teachers engaging as well, which is crucially important, because it has to be shared by all.
So, just, Molly Fenton, I think we all know, is a very empowering young woman in terms of environmental impacts, and many of us have young people like this in our constituencies to make sure that we reach that target. We've said that 90 to 100 per cent of all period products have to be reusable or eco-friendly by 2026, but we've got to trial this. We've got to recognise that this is not something that's easy, straightforward; you also need to think about facilities within schools in terms of the loos, et cetera, private spaces, washbasins, private access to those. But we have, actually, also—and it's come from local authorities—agreed to spend 20 per cent of the period dignity grant on education or training, which is going to include information on reusable and eco-friendly products.
I think, just finally to say that I've said, in my statement—in response to your point about sport, for example, and access to wider facilities—that this has to be cross-Government action. That's cross-Government action that doesn't just involve me as Minister for Social Justice, but clearly the education Minister, health, mental health and well-being, children and sport. We've all got a role to play in this, as, indeed, everyone in this Chamber has.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Sioned Williams.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for the statement.
The first campaign I ever ran was on something related to period dignity. Similarly to Laura Anne Jones, we've been there. I remember we had outdoor loos in the comprehensive school I went to, which used to freeze in the winter. They were awful, awful things. And I remember that there weren't bins inside the cubicles for sanitary products, so you had to, you know, at a tender 12 years of age, troop out of the cubicle with your used sanitary product, put it in the bin in full view of everybody else. The teachers took all the girls into a room to give us a row because we were blocking the toilets, and I pointed out that there was a reason for that. My voice wasn't heard at the time, because unfortunately the learner voice wasn't as valued as much then as it is today. Thankfully, that has changed.
We know that the most vulnerable people in our society are the most badly affected by a lack of period dignity and period poverty, including people who are already facing homelessness, on low incomes, have disabilities, and suffer from systemic discrimination because they are members of peripheral groups. These are the people who have to go without other fundamentals, cut back on their limited budgets for other everyday goods, or who have to cope with the impact of a lack of period products or facilities.
Even before the cost-of-living crisis has an even greater impact on these people, the disgraceful poverty levels in Wales meant that far too many found themselves in this situation. And I'm proud of the efforts of Plaid Cymru and the successful campaign led by Elyn Stephens, a young Plaid Cymru councillor on Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council at the time, back in 2017, who highlighted the impact of period poverty and secured additional funding for councils to try and tackle this problem ultimately. And I agree with the Minister that it is inevitable that the cost-of-living crisis will intensify period poverty and a lack of period dignity, and therefore it's crucial that we do more to prevent the detrimental impact it will have on people who are under unprecedented economic pressures and, more broadly, on social, economic, health and gender equality.
It's a lack of income that, very often, is at the heart of a lack of dignity. The pandemic has also had an impact on the ability of young people to access support and to access period products in education facilities, as you mentioned in your statement. I welcome the additional funding and resources that have been provided by Government to tackle this problem, but I would like to know how the Government will ensure that the increasing number of people who are facing poverty and who need period products are supported during the cost-of-living crisis—beyond educational establishments, perhaps, and the public spaces that we've already discussed. Is the Minister asking local partners who receive this financial support to tackle this issue to report on their effectiveness in ensuring that those who need the support do receive it? What needs to be improved, Minister? As you mentioned, there are people who have to make choices that, in twenty-first century Wales, they should never have to make. So, how is that evaluation taking place?
Currently, the lack of period education and stigma around periods has resulted, unfortunately, in many young people who have periods lacking knowledge about what normal menstruation should be like. In most cases, period pain should not be completely debilitating or unbearable. However, we have created a society where some young people having periods are either expected to deal with the pain and accept that it's a normal part of their life, or, in many cases, the severity of the pain is not believed.
I welcome and support the fact that through education we can change this. I'm glad the new relationships and sexuality education code and statutory guidance will help ensure that learners have the knowledge to better understand menstrual health.
But the impact of heavy periods, of gynaecological conditions, will stay with an individual for life, and it does impact their education and their work. So, given this and given this month is Endometriosis Action Month, I would like to know how the Welsh Government is helping to foster a culture where people who are menstruating are given the space and dignity to take time off education or work without this impacting adversely on them, such as facing disciplinary action or missing out on education. Diolch.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Diolch, Sioned Williams, clearly a campaigner all your life from that time as a very powerful school student. You had that protest in your school and made a difference, showing the courage of your convictions and also bringing people together so that they could feel empowered by your statement. And, of course, we know that that has been reflected by many campaigners that have been mentioned this afternoon, and we need those voices. The young people I met today from Radnor Primary School and Fitzalan were certainly all of the same ilk as well, and really wanting to address many of the issues that you have reflected on.
I do see this very much as part of my role as Minister for Social Justice, so, yes, we had a very powerful round-table summit on tackling the cost-of-living crisis only on 17 February. We focused very much on fuel poverty, not enough on food poverty, and we're going to follow that up, so this statement today and your comments will feed directly into how we take forward our period dignity action plan. I think, in many ways, the sad thing is that we were talking about period poverty, we moved it into period dignity, but, actually, it is back so harshly: it is period poverty, except for the fact that we are reaching out and providing this grant.
Over the coming years—well, coming year—we're looking to widen provision, which was your question, for example, to include sexual health clinics, other local services. We've got to recognise at every age, it's not just school, it's young and older—all-age women until they reach the menopause. I didn't mention the fact that it was very important that we got FE colleges, that they're part of it as well as schools, but also they're available to all in-patients in hospitals.
A very strong message came over today from young people that they'd like this to be universal. The stigma, partly, is around periods, but also, they didn't want some people to have to just have this free product, they wanted everyone. I think you mentioned that, Laura Anne. This should be universal provision.
We even talked today about ways in which we could reach out to other young girls and women who perhaps, for example, we wouldn't necessarily—. How do we support the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities? Reaching out to them. And we actually did have a lot of sessions with Children in Wales, with Women Connect First, looking at the experiences of different people with different protected characteristics. We want to really ensure that we get through to those under-served communities.
We're constantly searching for new locations, not just in foodbanks. Yes, foodbanks are now, clearly, a place where period products are made available, but there was one suggestion today that perhaps we could look at, and I could imagine it's going to be something we'd have to pilot or trial to actually have period products delivered, like we did during the lockdown, directly to young people's homes, so that this is just something that happens: you get your period products. And also the fact that it's very important that you talked about the effectiveness of what we're doing at the moment. The evaluation will be important as we take this forward, but at this point in time we have to maintain that funding element, we have to ensure that we get it right and reach out to all of the other venues and places where it can be provided. It's something where I again think—and I'm glad that the Minister for education has joined us as well—that it's a learning thing. It's really great when you saw these young boys and girls today actually saying, 'Yes, we want to think about it, because we want to think about it in terms of our mothers as well as our sisters and our fellow pupils in school.'
Thank you very much for the statement. I was just listening carefully to what you've been saying and I also think we do need to think about the sustainability of what we're doing, because dignity is fantastically important and we need to ensure that everybody has the period products they need to deal with their monthly periods, but we also have to think about the environment and how we can promote reusable products where appropriate. I was talking to somebody in one of the poorer parts of my constituency the other day and she pointed out that you're only allowed to go to the foodbank three times, I think, so although you might be able to pick up some non-reusable period products, it won't get you through if you can't actually go back. So, I just wondered how much work is being done on promoting Mooncups for those women who are sexually active—I wouldn't give a Mooncup to an 11-year-old who had just got their first period—but also to reusable pants and pads so that the people who do need to get help financially with their period products actually still have them in month four and month five. Obviously, this has an implication, for example, in how we design our school toilets, as Sioned Williams has already talked about so visibly. We need to ensure that in every secondary school, and in the older age groups in primary schools, there is access to toilets with a hand-wash basin built into the toilet so that people can change their products with dignity.
I think it's fantastic that we're having this conversation here this afternoon, because I was just looking up an early day motion that was written in the House of Commons in January 2021 in response to the fact that VAT has been lifted on tampons and throwaway pads but not on the reusable ones. Only 31 people in the whole of the House of Commons, including, I have to say, one of the initiators, Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist Party, good man—. Why is it that out of 630 Members of Parliament, only 31 of them think that this is an important issue? I just wondered what conversations you might have had with the UK Government to try and get them to see the thing holistically and to ensure that we're removing VAT on the reusable products as well, because they're the ones we want most people to be using. They're not suitable for somebody who's camping or in temporary accommodation and who hasn't got a washing machine, but for other people they're absolutely the right thing to do.
Thank you very much, Jenny Rathbone. I do remember well—I think probably we co-signed and debated it together—putting the motion forward a few years back on period poverty and period dignity, and that started the conversation in this Chamber. It is very important that we look at the environmental impact issues in terms of the use of reusable or eco-friendly products. We did discuss that as well with the young people this morning, because they're also very concerned about it. They've got eco committees, they're very concerned about climate change and environmental impacts as well, but it's not going to necessarily be within the period products that have been provided that they have those prospects of choice beyond pads and tampons. We did discuss the fact that, again, reusable products like Mooncups, cloth pads, period pants and reusable tampon applicators could—. They wanted to discuss it, but this has to be a whole-school thing. This is also a whole-school awareness. I'm sure Jeremy will also recognise himself, and others too, that when you go to schools and new schools, I'm always saying, 'Where is the toilet with the washbasin actually in the room?' It can't just be the disabled toilet.
We've got to think this in every aspect of our sustainable learning, because it is about sustainable learning and a whole-system approach. We know, in fact, that this whole teaching of menstrual well-being through the relationship and sexuality education has to take on board the fact that, also, there can be pain and misery as well, which, so often—. These young people today, of the ages of year 7 to year 8 or 9, were still experiencing some of the things that us older generation women experienced, and that should not be the case. But they were so pleased that they were actually coming in to talk to a Minister about it, and felt that we were taking it seriously. I know that the points that have been made today will be very important to them. I'm going to share the statement, and I'm sure they'd like to also have the transcript of this statement as well.
Thank you for this very important statement. I'd like to declare that I am a councillor on RCT council, and I was part of the working group that looked at this. I was pleased to hear Sioned mention Elyn Stephens. She was extremely brave, as a young woman, coming into a council and starting to talk about periods. You should have seen the shock on the face of the councillors and they felt uncomfortable, but if you change the word 'period' for 'going to the toilet' and talk about toilet paper, which is exactly what Elyn did, then people start to listen. I think that's the thing here—if we were talking about toilet paper, it's a no brainer, but because it doesn't affect everybody then we're not having that same discussion. I would imagine that if we were having a debate on toilet roll, this Chamber would be full, because this is an issue that's important to men and women—each and every one of us—and that's what's important in terms of having this discussion.
Education is crucially important, not just for girls and young women, so that they understand what's happening to their bodies, but to those young men who will be friends and employers in the future, because that's very often where we can provide the greatest support. In my previous role, I was given training in terms of the menopause. There was a policy in National Museum Wales to raise awareness of the menopause across the board, and we had menopause champions. It's useful for me—I haven't got to that age yet, but I learned so much, and also in terms of how to manage people who are going through the menopause. It's extremely important that we are open about these issues.
I think the main thing that's a challenge to us all are the points that have already been raised in terms of inconsistency—the inconsistency in terms of accessing products in schools, the right even to go to the toilet that people have to ask permission for now, and this idea that there is a power dynamic where teachers can prevent you from going to the toilet in case somebody does something. Well, people were throwing wet toilet paper onto the ceiling when I was at school. It's entirely absurd. Although the products are available now, we still hear stories about girls bleeding through their clothing because they haven't been given that right to go to the toilet at times. There are inconsistencies. We need to discuss this so that it isn't a problem in contemporary Wales.
This is a fundamental right, it's a matter of dignity, we are all duty bound here to continue to talk about this. I'm extremely proud of Elyn Stephens, when she raised this, because she was challenged and told that it wasn't a problem and that there were plenty of products available. That isn't true. There is still more to be done, and I'm very proud to see this plan in place and to work across parties to ensure this issue of dignity on something that is entirely natural.
Thank you very much indeed, Heledd Fychan. Again, we must pay tribute to all of those pioneers who have made their mark. In terms of local authorities—and I recall when Elyn Stephens was taking this forward—actually, local authorities have embraced this. We have a round-table, we have local authority representation, officers from the council. We must never forget our officers, must we, because councillors can say, 'We want this, we want that', but actually, the officers have to deliver.
I remember Councillor Philippa Marsden, when she became leader of Caerphilly council, coming to a meeting. We haven't got enough women leaders of councils, and it was really great when she came to the meeting, in a busy schedule, because she felt it was so important. Actually, I'm meeting with cross-party cabinet leads on equality issues, and period dignity is high up on the agenda. We've got some great groups, charities—I always remember one in Bridgend, and one in Wrexham—who are doing work. It should not be, going back to the points that were made earlier on, about just being able to get them in the foodbank if you're in that situation. They have got to be available in our schools, and we've got to think of school holidays as well. We can think of this in terms of the school day, actually, and access to this—it's an important part of the consultation.
I think workplace enlightenment is crucially important. It's good to hear that the national museum had that enlightenment about the menopause. I would say that, just on the menopause, the Minister for Health and Social Services is contributing to a UK Government-led menopause taskforce—it's just commenced its work this month. I didn't respond to the point about endometriosis, but we have got our women's health implementation group, and they're also looking at the issues around endometriosis. It's a crucial workplace issue—it's the sort of thing that the equality committee of the Wales TUC also discusses. But we need to look particularly at those under-served communities where we need to reach out.
Just finally, on the issue of school toilets, the very first children's commissioner, Peter Clarke—and I'm talking 20 years ago—when he consulted young people on what they wanted him to take up, they said school toilets. I think that says it all, doesn't it? I think we've transformed, in our wonderful new schools, but it still is an issue. It's the most private and difficult place for girls in terms of periods, but often for boys as well in terms of bullying. It's the school environment that we just need to address when we look at this issue.
Thank you, Minister.
The statement under item 6 is withdrawn.
We move to item 7, a statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on 'Cymraeg 2050', the next steps. Jeremy Miles to make the statement.
Thank you, Llywydd. Today, I present the annual report on our language strategy, 'Cymraeg 2050: A million Welsh speakers', for the 2020-21 financial year, the final year of our previous Government.
Before I start today, I’d like to pay tribute to Aled Roberts, the Welsh Language Commissioner. Aled took every opportunity to inspire and support those who needed help and advice. A gracious, kind and honest man, losing Aled is a great blow to everyone who knew him and to the whole of Wales.
It was a challenging year for us all, with COVID-19 a presence throughout the reporting year, and all of us having to learn to adapt our ways of life—at home, at work and within our communities. Because of this, there have been some changes to our normal arrangements in terms of collecting and publishing data, and that’s why there has been a delay in publishing this year’s report.
Many challenges beset the Welsh language, as with all areas of Government work, during the year, but there were also various opportunities to experiment and innovate. I must thank our partners across the whole of Wales for their willingness to adapt and their enthusiasm to venture into new areas: Eisteddfod T and Eisteddfod AmGen were held for the first time, we published our 'Welsh Language Transmission and Use in Families' policy, we consulted on our policy on Welsh linguistic infrastructure, and a consultation on proposals to introduce new categories to describe schools according to their Welsh-medium provision was also held.
Yes, this was a difficult year at times, but it was also a productive year, and you can see the full details in the report itself. And although an annual report is a chance to look back, I’m also going to look forward today, just as I did during my recent speech on Anglesey, when I shared my vision for our language, whilst noting 60 years since the delivery of the 'Tynged yr Iaith' lecture. I was pleased to start today by announcing which projects will receive a share of the £30 million of capital funding to expand Welsh-medium education. I was also pleased to announce that we will allocate an additional £1.2 million to the Urdd, so that the organisation can continue to rebuild post COVID and to ensure continuity for its community services and apprenticeships.
This is the first time that we've come together to discuss our language since announcing the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. I'm pleased to say that I've already started on the work with Cefin Campbell, and I'm confident that our joint approach will prove productive. Our aim, of course, is to reach a million Welsh speakers and to double the daily use of our language by 2050. And this aim remains a constant in all parts of our work as we deliver a wide range of interventions to reach our goal. Not every intervention will work in every part of Wales, and every intervention must be tailored to the individual circumstances. So, as we move on our journey towards a million Welsh speakers, it's important that we hear, listen and learn from the experiences of those who live in our communities across Wales, those who are beginning their language journey or those who haven't had Welsh as part of their daily routine for a while.
And as I talk about listening to people, the online consultation on our Welsh language communities housing plan has just been completed. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to respond, and I'm looking forward to discussing this with Dr Simon Brooks and the new commission that we're setting up to examine how we will deliver the recommendations that come in its wake.
I've spoken in depth about communities over the past few weeks, about the idea of working with local communities to help them to create co-operative movements—organisations working in the community, for the benefit of the community and giving back to the community, empowering communities, creating local opportunities for local people to succeed locally, and being led by the reality of the linguistic situation in different parts of Wales.
I want everything that I do as Minister for the Welsh language to be based on maintaining or increasing the use of our language. You will recall that increasing the use of Welsh runs through all of our plans for this Senedd term. 'Welsh is for using, not just for service provision'. That's what I said in my speech a few weeks ago, and that's what I'm saying again today. You'll have seen the recent joint announcement with Plaid Cymru regarding how we'll be working with the National Centre for Learning Welsh to provide free Welsh lessons to the education workforce, both teachers and assistants, from September onwards. We're doing the same for young people under 25, creating a second chance for many to continue on their Welsh language journey. And I'm looking forward to chatting with some of these young people as they learn or renew their relationship with our language.
The census results are on their way over the coming months—and no, I don't know the figures; they're not shared before publication. But by the summer, we will know how many people in Wales can speak Welsh—can speak our language, not use our language, and we're back to that word, 'use'. The census doesn't measure use, but the figures are important, of course, as they provide useful data on our language across the whole of Wales, and there is obviously a clear connection between the numbers who can speak the language and its use.
Something else that you'll have heard me say over the past few months is that Welsh belongs to us all, and I'll carry on saying that. It's an important message and one I believe in strongly. It's part of what makes us us, and there is a responsibility on all of us to come together in this Senedd and across the whole of Wales to ensure the future of our language. And we must also remember that everyone has a part to play, everyone has a voice, and Cymraeg belongs to us all.
Thank you, Llywydd, and happy St David's Day to you, to the Minister and to the whole of the Chamber. I'd like to start by thanking the Minister for bringing forward this statement today, and I refer Members to my register of interests. I would also like to associate myself with the Minister's heartfelt words on the death of Aled Roberts. Let's hope that one of the gifts that Aled leaves us is to see the language that he loved prosper.
The Welsh language is a crucial part of our culture, our history and our heritage, and over the past week we have seen how easily these three national foundations can be eroded, attacked and broken. A nation's identity is based on its culture, its people and, of course, its language. I see the Cymraeg 2050 policy as part of a range of initiatives that will not only strengthen our identity here in Wales, but will also strengthen our unique place as part of the UK.
With this statement given on St David's Day, it would be erroneous of me not to note the celebration of our patron saint today, a man from west Wales who was recognised by the Pope over 1,900 years ago. Dewi Sant lived a godly life, and celebrating St David's Day is something that unites us here in Wales. The language is an aspect of our culture that adds value to our nation, and the Cymraeg 2050 strategy plays an important role in safeguarding and developing the language for future generations. Given the longevity of the Cymraeg 2050 strategy, opportunities to scrutinise the Government are crucial to ensure that outcomes are achieved and targets are achieved.
The Minister will be aware of my concerns about accountability in this programme, particularly as it's likely that nobody in this Government will be accountable in the year 2050. That's why this opportunity is so important, and I certainly welcome this detailed annual report that I read with great interest. I was very pleased to see the Minister recognising the important work of our voluntary organisations, and how they work within communities in order to promote and develop the Welsh language. As chair of Pembrokeshire young farmers club, I have seen how valuable the Welsh language is to our communities, particularly our young people. But the Welsh Government mustn't rely on third sector organisations alone to do the work for them. Wales has great potential, and we can develop our young people into bilingual or even trilingual speakers so that we can also work on the international stage.
Indeed, given this, I would like to draw your attention to my concern about the historic path in terms of those studying at year 11 who are registered to take part in first-language and second-language Welsh GCSE. In the past 12 years, the percentage of year 11 learners who have taken first-language Welsh GCSE has increased only by 3 per cent, a figure that doesn't accord with the Welsh Government's narrative or words. And although I'm pleased to see that the percentage taking the full Welsh GCSE as a second language has increased significantly, I do have concern about the appropriateness of this qualification. If this second-language course sees learners just learning simple phrases and don't develop a deeper understanding of the language, then when it comes to professions in later life, such as education, they could be disadvantaged.
But this isn't my only concern. I know of cases where first-language Welsh speakers have chosen to take second-language GCSE courses just to strengthen their chances of getting an A or an A* grade. Now, Minister, as you know, you have my full support for this policy. Yes, it's ambitious, but I support the intentions. With the best will in the world, you won't be Minister for Welsh language when this scheme comes to an end in the year 2050, and that is why it is so important that we do keep a critical eye on how it develops. I hope that my contribution today will be taken in the spirit intended, as a critical friend, because it's only through working and changing course, when and if that's needed, will this policy succeed. Thank you.