Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:29 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon, and 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 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 those are set out on the agenda.
The first item today is questions to the Minister for Finance and Local Government. The first question is from Sam Rowlands.
1. What assessment has the Minister made of what additional resources local authorities will need to implement the new thresholds for self-catering accommodation qualifying for non-domestic rates? OQ57756
The process for assessing self‑catering properties for local taxes is well established and we do not expect local authorities to need additional resources. The Valuation Office Agency conducts regular reassessments to ensure properties continue to meet the relevant criteria, and it communicates any changes to local authorities.
Thank you, Minister, for your response. As you touched on the new proposals coming forward from Welsh Government, I see the change in the criteria for self-catering accommodation being liable for business rates instead of paying their council tax, and so I'd like to focus my contribution on the effect this will likely have on the role of councils and their involvement with this. Because it's likely, of course, that councils will be the ones, and council officers, having to ensure that properties and landlords are adhering to what it is they should be adhering to, and that they're the ones likely to have to monitor property use over this time as well. So, of course, it's going to take significant resource of council officers and councils to ensure that this does take place. So, I wonder what conversations you are having with councils, and discussions you're having with councils, as to their role in ensuring that the proposals that you're bringing forward to come into place in April, likely, next year and the resources they have to be able to support these proposals.
Thank you for the question. We did consult very widely in regard to these proposals, having more than 1,000 consultation responses, which obviously we considered carefully before coming to the conclusions in relation to the changes to the criteria.
I will say that it is the VOA that undertakes the bulk of the work in respect of the assessments and the adherence to criteria, and we do fund the VOA to undertake that work and to undertake regular assessments. Obviously any attempt to mislead the VOA, or to knowingly provide false or inaccurate information, could lead to prosecution or fraud, so it's very serious that businesses do make the correct returns.
I will say, and the Member has referred to the fact, that these changes won't come in until April 2023, so that does give plenty of time for these changes and the implications to be considered by those property owners who might be affected. But the VOA does have that dedicated team to validate the evidence provided about self-catering premises and list entries in Wales. It does carry out some spot-checks regularly as well and does investigate any concerns highlighted. So, if the local authority or, indeed, members of the public become concerned about the way in which a property is listed and used and that those two things aren't necessarily matching up, then the individual can raise that with the local authority, which can then report it to the VOA, which will undertake its investigation.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on what requirements were considered when determining the capital settlement for Isle of Anglesey County Council? OQ57750
The agreed formula for distributing unhypothecated capital for local authorities takes into account factors such as population, road length, sparsity and housing stock condition. The level of capital funding we received from the UK Government was disappointing and it's not sufficient to meet our ambitions to invest in Wales’s future.
And I certainly concur with the Minister about the need to ensure a higher level of capital funding. Ensuring adequate capital funding is vital to be able to invest in the future. Anglesey County Council, under the leadership of Plaid Cymru, has an excellent track record recently in providing property for businesses on the island, for example with important investments in Llangefni and Holyhead, and there are further plans to invest in other areas to ensure that prosperity is spread across the island, to Amlwch, for example. What assurance can the Government give that Ministers will be willing to work with Anglesey County Council to enable delivery as regards supporting more businesses and creating more jobs on the island?
I think the Welsh Government has a really strong record of working very closely with the isle of Anglesey. Over the last five years, for example, almost half of the council's capital investment has been funded through capital grants, demonstrating I think the effective partnership working between Welsh Government and local government. And of the capital funding that we have provided in the budget, which we agreed yesterday, I know that there are some areas of particular shared interest for our parties, including, across Wales, nearly £300 million for sustainable communities for learning, £10 million for net-zero fund, and nearly £20 million for Welsh medium. And I think those reflect our priorities of education and climate change, which are shared priorities. But, as I referred to, much of Anglesey's capital spend has been supported by Welsh Government funding, and obviously, we would be looking to continue that productive relationship.
Although local government revenue funding for 2022-23 will increase by 9.4 per cent, there's an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul here, with local authority general capital funding across Wales, and in Anglesey, down 16 per cent. Further, although prosperity levels per head in Anglesey are the lowest in Wales, at just under half those in Cardiff, and Anglesey is amongst the five local authorities in Wales where 30 per cent or more of workers are paid less than the voluntary living wage, Anglesey received one of the largest cuts in the local government settlement in 2019-20, one of the lowest increases in the local government settlement in both 2020-21 and 2021-22, and only seven out of 22 Welsh local authorities, including Gwynedd, will receive a lower increase in the local government settlement in 2022-23. Given that the Welsh Government tells us that its local government formula is heavily influenced by deprivation indicators, why does Anglesey therefore lose out?
So, the question here relates to capital funding and the capital settlement, and the speaker referred to robbing Peter to pay Paul. That makes no sense whatsoever. We have a revenue settlement from the UK Government, and we have a capital settlement from the UK Government. We've deployed both in full. We've over-programmed on capital and we plan to draw down the full borrowing. So, there's no element of robbing Peter to pay Paul. What we do see in the capital settlement is the direct impact of the UK Government's very poor capital settlement for Wales. We'll see in the next three years our capital funding falling every year, as compared to this year. And that is just not the way to invest when we're coming out of a pandemic, needing to invest in infrastructure, in creating jobs, and to cut capital spending in those terms I just don't think is the way forward. Certainly, our local authorities are crying out for additional funding. And that's one of the reasons why, this year, I was able to provide an additional £70 million of capital funding to local authorities, which they can use to displace funding this year, they can put it into reserves and plan to spend it in future years. I hope that that will smooth some of the disadvantage that they will feel as a result of the UK Government's very poor capital settlement in the spending review.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Peter Fox.
Diolch, Llywydd, and good afternoon, Minister. Europe, and indeed the entire world, has been shaken to its core by events in Ukraine. A totally unnecessary and barbaric war, brought about by an individual blinded by his own perverse view of the world, will have far-reaching consequences beyond the borders of eastern Europe. I'm confident that every Member sitting in this Chamber would agree with that. We have a moral obligation here in Wales to do absolutely everything within our power to support our Ukrainian friends fleeing the war. That's why I welcome the fact that the defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has stated that the UK Government can and will do more.
But the current crisis raises pivotal questions about the preparedness of our public services, which will be crucial in delivering the necessary help and support to our Ukrainian friends who will try to rebuild new lives here in Wales. This is where our local authorities, and the wider public and voluntary services, once again, will be on the front line. But for them to rise to the challenge, they must be given the tools for the job. Now, Minister, I know you stated yesterday you've held initial conversations with partners in local government about the issue. However, forward planning is going to be fundamental in preparing for whatever scenario may unfold, as I know a wide range of services will be required to support our Ukrainian friends. However, these services and, indeed, local authorities are already under huge pressure from the pandemic. Minister, what assessment have you made about the resources that councils will need to provide services to people arriving in Wales, such as accommodation, employment, education, housing, access to personal finance, and other vital resources? And, finally, what discussions have you had with colleagues from across Welsh Government about the lessons that can be learnt from the Afghan refugee settlement scheme, so that a new scheme can deliver the best help and support possible?
I thank Peter Fox for that question and very much associate myself with the remarks at the start of his contribution in relation to the horror of the unprovoked attack and our desire to do everything that we can to support people in Ukraine, using all the levers that we have at our disposal. I just want to reassure all colleagues that there is work going on all day, every day, in relation to this right across the Welsh Government and right across local government in respect of making preparations to welcome refugees from Ukraine to Wales. There is work going on particularly in respect of housing. Obviously, we need to ensure that we are able to have suitable places to receive people into Wales, and then to move on to communities where they will be hosted. And we're hoping that the UK Government will consider, in respect of its sponsorship scheme, to provide Welsh Government with that kind of co-ordination role because we've done it before. We've done it very successfully, I think, through the pandemic, where we've faced a similar challenge in terms of housing large numbers of people very quickly, and we've done that through our response to homelessness and rough-sleeping during the pandemic. So, we have experience recently that we can build on there.
We have had some really productive and positive conversations at official level with the UK Government in respect of funding. What we would expect to see would be a per head funding scheme, as we've seen with previous resettlement schemes, rather than a Barnett consequential, which would not be the appropriate mechanism in this particular case. But we are having those discussions about healthcare needs, housing needs, integration, and supporting people into employment as well when they get here.
Thank you for that response, Minister; that's reassuring, and those of us on these benches will do all we can to help in that quest to bring those positive outcomes.
Now, Minister, last week, it was reported by the BBC that around £200 million of Welsh local government pension schemes are currently tied up in Russian funds and companies. In more normal times, such investments would be usual practice, but, of course, we are certainly not in normal times. So, it's absolutely critical to ensure that Wales plays its part in punishing Russia for its illegal invasion by ensuring that not a single penny of Welsh public funds is inadvertently supporting the Russian regime in any way. As you will know, Minister, it will be up to councils to decide what action to take on this issue, but many councils will be left wondering what advice the Welsh Government will be providing about the future of local government pension funds, as well as minimising any financial impact on the pensions of people here in Wales. In saying this, I recognise that this issue is not unique to Welsh councils, or indeed to other public services. And so, I and, I'm sure, the wider public would be interested to know, Minister, what assessment you have made of the extent to which Welsh public funds are currently locked away in Russian assets. In the interests of Wales, we urgently need to be told whether the Welsh Government has any assets tied in Russia, which I sincerely hope you'll be able to speak of. Will the Welsh Government be reviewing its role in supporting responsible investment policies to help ensure that Welsh funds are used to support positive initiatives in Wales and further afield?
I'm grateful to you for raising that particular issue, and, over a period of time, I've had some very good discussions with the local government pension scheme representatives in respect of a range of issues—for example, divestment from fossil fuels, which again is a shared area of concern between Welsh Government and local government. But, specifically in relation to pensions, this is something that I wanted to investigate right from the start of the crisis, and we did have conversations with local government at the meeting that you've heard about, which took place close to the start of the crisis. At that point, local government provided reassurance that they'd done some early investigations and were looking at less than 1 per cent of their pension scheme being exposed to Russian interests, if you like. And, obviously, they are keen to do what they can to move that investment away and to repurpose it elsewhere. So, I did ask local government that question early on, but I wasn't happy to do it until I'd asked the same question of myself. So, we are awaiting some information from the Senedd's pension team as well to ensure that we have our own house in order, if you like, in respect of our pensions.
More widely in the public sector, it is only the local government pension scheme that is funded, so it uses contributions from members to invest in assets to provide future income for future pension costs. Most, if not all, of the other public bodies in Wales are part of unfunded schemes. So, the civil service pension scheme, NHS pension scheme, teachers' pension scheme and so on use current tax revenues and current members' contributions to fund those current pension costs, so they don't have investment in assets. And, again, more widely, thinking about assets, Welsh Government doesn't hold those kinds of assets overseas in the way that other Governments do, so we're clear of that kind of concern.
That's really helpful. Thank you for that, Minister. Minister, the international community has rightly come together to impose wide-ranging sanctions on Putin and his cronies. Of course, these are absolutely necessary, and these are likely to be increased. However, these sanctions will be felt right across the board—from hard-working families to small and large businesses and, indeed, our own public services. What assessment has the Welsh Government made with regard to the impact of the sanctions and the war on the Welsh economy and families right across Wales? For example, how is the Welsh Government going to address the impact of significant rises in fuel prices on public transport across Wales? And, finally, Minister, the war may impact on the cost and availability of commodities that are imported into Wales, what assessment have you made on the impact on public procurement?
Again, thank you for this question. There is a range of aspects to that question, which I'll try and cover briefly, but I'm obviously keen to have a further discussion with Members, if they are interested, on particular elements of it. So, we've done a lot of analysis across Welsh Government to understand what the impacts might be, both of sanctions, but also of the wider situation in respect of the crisis. So, we've looked at energy markets and overall inflation. The effects in Wales, in terms of our exposure to gas and oil from Russia, is less than elsewhere in Europe: under 5 per cent of our gas, for example, comes from Russia, with the rest coming from the North sea and Norway, as well as liquefied natural gas from countries such as Qatar and the US. But, of course, energy prices are set globally, so we will inevitably be feeling the impact of some of that, and we've done some additional work looking at what the impact would be on the economy if the price of a barrel of oil increased over $100. We've looked at various different scenarios, and what the impact might be, and what the choices then might be from the Bank of England in respect of interest rates and so on.
We've also looked at food in particular. The First Minister took some questions yesterday in respect of prices and what that will mean for the ability to maintain prices here in Wales. We are, I think, likely to see prices increase as a result of the situation. Fertiliser: again, the FM spoke to that yesterday. We've also done some research regarding metals and diamonds. There are some Wales-specific issues here, for example in the automotive industry. The Welsh Automotive Forum has spoken to members who supply components to Russian car manufacturing facilities, and so we're waiting to understand what the impacts might be there on sales and potentially further impacts beyond that. And obviously the aerospace industry—around half of the world's titanium for aerospace comes from Russia, and aerospace and the automotive industry are both really important industries for us here in Wales. So, we've done some analysis around that as well. So, we have these large potential impacts on the economy, but then also impacts on individual households. And I won't repeat the package of support that we've put in place, but Members will be familiar now with the package in respect of fuel prices and the £150 payment and so on.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. Minister, you will be aware that every 1 per cent of the value of public procurement that remains in Wales accounts for 2,000 new jobs, and that's why the Plaid Cymru manifesto wanted to see an increase, from the 52 per cent of value that stays in Wales at the moment to 75 per cent, so that that, in turn, creates 46,000 additional jobs in Wales.
Now, in the meantime, local authorities led by Plaid Cymru have been working to ensure that more of their funding remains within the local economy. Gwynedd Council, for example, has been trialling a 'keeping the benefit local' strategy, which considers the best way of using their funds locally, and over four years have increased local expenditure by the council from £56 million to £78 million, which is a very substantial increase of 39 per cent. And Carmarthenshire council, again led by Plaid Cymru, was the first local authority in Wales to put the COVID recovery plan in place, safeguarding 10,000 jobs and supporting far more microbusinesses that would otherwise have slipped through the net of Government support. And through the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, I'm extremely pleased that this target of establishing a procurement target is now being looked at in earnest in order to secure the best benefits possible for the economy here in Wales.
Now, we need to ensure, of course, simultaneously, that any national targets or objectives are transferred to the local level. Can I ask, therefore, what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that the good practice that we see in local authorities led by Plaid Cymru is emulated by other local authorities?
I would say that we have good practice right across Wales, to be fair to all local authorities run by a variety, of course, of different parties. We do see good practice taking place across Wales, and I am really pleased that part of our co-operation agreement is about increasing the amount of spend that is spent here in Wales and kept here in Wales in that kind of foundational economy approach that we're very keen to deliver on. We referred to 52 per cent—I had a meeting with your designated Member recently where we talked about some of the challenges of that figure in respect of it only accounting for where the invoice is sent, essentially, rather than really getting under where the spend is happening and particularly not getting under where the spend is happening in those supply chains. So, we've got a piece of work going on to try and further refine that figure to get a better understanding of it, and part of that work, then, is about looking at where these supply chain voids are. So, we procure things from outside of Wales—what are they and can we do them here and can we do them better and can we do them in a way that creates local jobs? So, that piece of work is an important one that I'm sure will take us towards our shared ambition to improve the amount of money that is retained here in Wales from the public sector.
And that prize of tens of thousands of additional jobs can happen without spending any additional funding, because it's funding that we're already spending on procurement, but it can be spent in a different way. So, I welcome the fact that this is being looked at properly.
But it's not only economic benefits that come in light of strengthening procurement policy; there are all sorts of other positives. We know that it could help to reduce carbon emissions. We only need to look at cutting food miles, for example, as one example. It can strengthen the circular economy, it can improve production standards, and in the food context that can lead to better outcomes in terms of public health too.
And the food sector and the agricultural sector specifically is one very important element of this work, because providing nutritious local food through schools, hospitals, care services and so on would not only create new domestic markets that would strengthen the sector economically, but it would also, of course, reduce imports. And in the international context that we heard of in previous questions, creating more food resilience and more food security should be a priority for us all.
Can I ask you, therefore, what discussions you as Minister responsible for procurement within Government have had with the Minister for rural affairs on the agriculture Bill, because it is crucial, of course, that the plans and objectives on procurement, which I'm sure we all share here, do tie in closely with that Bill, and that the Bill itself echoes and supports the efforts to create new local markets?
This is absolutely something that is part of the approach to the agriculture Bill, and it's one of the things that I know the Minister for rural affairs has also been discussing with Peter Fox in respect of his proposals for a Bill, which would seek to ensure that we procure more food locally. I think this is one area where we do have some good practice emerging in the work that's being led by Caerphilly. They're leading the procurement in terms of food to try and ensure that there is more opportunity for the public sector to procure together, to make those economies of scale work for them. We're also looking at what more we can do to start—. Actually, this is part of the supply chain void issue, but on a much smaller scale, but it is about looking at where we're procuring our food from. So, one of the weird things is, despite all the chicken farms popping up across Wales, we don't seem to be able to secure contracts for poultry from Welsh farmers, and that's because they prefer to sell to the supermarkets at this point. So, we're having some discussions as to how we can create a poultry line that would then use the markets into the public sector. So, we are actively working in this particular area, sometimes in a very detailed and focused kind of way.
3. What discussions has the Minister had with local authorities regarding the impact of council tax rates on the cost-of-living crisis? OQ57737
The setting of council tax levels remains the responsibility of each local authority, taking account of all the sources of funding available and local priorities for service delivery. Authorities must strike a balance between maintaining services and the financial pressures on households.
Diolch, Weinidog. As we all know, families across the whole of Wales are facing one of the most serious cost-of-living crises in decades. Rising costs, increasing energy prices and stagnating wages are all resulting in thousands of households in my region struggling to pay for everyday items. And come April, of course, energy costs will be rising even further, tax hikes will be hitting households, and yesterday the Resolution Foundation forecast how the awful war in Ukraine will also deepen this crisis.
Neath Port Talbot county in my region currently has the third-highest council tax in Wales, and has had one of highest council taxes in Wales for over 25 years. Many of my constituents have told me how unfair they think this is. The budget settlement from Welsh Government to the council was better than usual this year, and it would have been possible to cut the council tax and also invest in council services. The Plaid Cymru and independent councillors on the council jointly proposed a cut of 2.75 per cent, which would have left the council with general reserves of almost £18.5 million, the highest in Wales, but this was rejected by the Labour-controlled council.
Council tax disproportionately impacts those on low incomes in our communities, so what conversations is the Minister having with council leaders to ensure they're doing everything possible to keep the level of council tax as low as possible this year? And will the Government consider Plaid Cymru's call to cancel council tax debt as part of our cost-of-living crisis action plan?
Thank you for the question, and I'll just repeat again, really, that authorities have to strike that balance between maintaining services and considering the pressure on households, without being drawn into commenting on any particular authority's decisions, because these are decisions for local authorities to take, and it's not really for Welsh Government to dictate what those might be. Of course, there is a power to cap an increase, but that's not a power that we've yet used, and from what I'm hearing about the kind of levels that authorities are thinking about, although there is a range, we're not at that point where we're high into double figures where we would be really talking about using that power to cap and so on. So, it is, I think, for local authorities to make these choices at this current time.
On that point about a bonfire of the debts, which I know is something that has been raised from a number of quarters—I've looked at this to see if it would even be possible. Local authorities don't have the legal power to cancel debts in that kind of way. They have a power to work with individuals and then to take decisions on that individual basis, but they don't have that kind of power just to be able to wipe out debts. So, that, legally, isn't an option. But they can work with individuals, and we did work with local authorities to provide a framework for them to do so to ensure that they are able to identify struggling households and then to work alongside them to explore whether they're claiming all the benefits that they are entitled to and so on, or whether the family or household needs some kind of other additional support. So, I'm not going to get drawn in on individual councils, but just to say that they do have abilities to provide individual support to households.
Minister, the UK Conservative Government has provided Wales with £175 million to help hard-working families in Wales with a financial lifeline to help ease the pressure of the cost of living. [Interruption.] 'Yay', exactly. I welcome the Welsh Government's decision to follow England and provide £150 cash rebate for homes in council tax bands A to D, and to create a discretionary fund to further help struggling households. So, Minister, will you join me with welcoming this additional funding from Westminster, and can you please update the Senedd on your discussions with local authorities as to how and when this council tax rebate will be delivered to households that are already feeling the pressure on their daily budgets? Thank you.
Well, Natasha Asghar will be very pleased to hear that we've more than met what the UK Government has provided to its council tax payers in England, and gone much further by being able to provide a package of support that is worth almost double what's available across the border in England. So, yes, authorities will—sorry, households will—receive the £150 payment in all households in bands A to D, but also, in Wales, if you're a recipient of the council tax reduction scheme, whatever band you're in, you will also receive that payment. In addition, of course, households in Wales have been able to access a £200 payment if they meet the eligibility criteria to help them with the high winter prices, or the high fuel prices, currently being experienced, and we'll also be able to do that scheme again from next October to be sure that we're providing families with some support towards the end of the year, when things are going to bite in terms of needing to use more fuel and so on.
In addition, we've provided local authorities with £25 million to provide discretionary support, recognising that not every household is going to be able to fall into one of these categories. So, we've gone above and beyond what was available in England. I don't want to get into the issue of whether or not it was additional funding, because I've written to the Finance Committee on that matter, setting out the timetable of events and information shared with us by Treasury, which did actually mean that we were worse off after the UK Government's announcement in respect of the £150 rebate across the border. But I'm happy to put a copy of that letter in the Library for everybody to have a look at in their own time.
Minister, tomorrow Rhondda Cynon Taf council will be voting on their budget for 2022-23. Thanks to your local government settlement, which empowers Welsh councils, under these proposals services will be protected, and additional funding will be allocated to schools, social services and to support a minimum rate of pay above the real living wage, all whilst limiting the council tax increase to 1 per cent, which I believe is one of the lowest in Wales. Do you agree that this is an excellent example of a Labour-run authority supporting its residents during the cost-of-living crisis whilst protecting the key services upon which they all rely?
Well, I'm slightly in a difficult position now, having committed not to comment on individual authorities' decisions, but the Member does make an excellent point.
4. What additional allocations will the Minister make to the climate change portfolio to aid local authorities like Carmarthenshire County Council in supporting communities affected by flooding? OQ57730
Welsh Government has an emergency financial assistance scheme to provide special financial assistance to local authorities affected by serious emergencies like flooding. We have not yet received any requests to open the scheme following the recent storms.
My constituency, and communities in my constituency, like those of my fellow Members, have been affected consistently over the past few years by the phenomenon of more numerous and more serious storms. Carmarthenshire County Council, led by Plaid Cymru, of course, has been proactive in terms of supporting those communities in providing compensation and practical assistance, but there is general frustration, Minister, regarding their ability to provide the preventative investment, and to take those mitigation steps with regard to flooding, particularly because we're talking about rural areas along the banks of the Teifi and the Tawe. They don't always meet the criteria in terms of the number of residents that would unlock the investment that is required. So, will the Welsh Government be investing widely in flood prevention schemes so that we can have fair play, not just in terms of urban Wales, but also in terms of rural Wales, as this phenomenon worsens, unfortunately?
Yes, thank you for raising this, and, of course, as a result of the co-operation agreement that we do have with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Government is investing an additional £24 million revenue over the next three years and a total of £102 million capital up to 2024-25 to help fulfil our programme for government commitments in respect of flood defences. And, of course, this work includes building new flood assets, maintenance of existing flood and drainage infrastructure, and development of future schemes, natural flood management and flood resilience measures for properties, as well as mapping and modelling and awareness raising. This will provide additional protection for more than 45,000 homes.
I will ask my colleague the Minister with responsibility for climate change, and hence flooding, to consider the points that you've raised in respect of eligibility criteria. I've had in preparation a list of schemes that are planned or under way in Carmarthenshire, and some of them do have fewer properties in them as a result of trying to be responsive, really, to the needs of particular communities and ensure that rural communities aren't disadvantaged. But I'll ask my colleague to look at that, and I will have a conversation about it as well.
During the committee inquiry that we held into the Welsh Government's response to the February 2020 flooding and other times when Carmarthenshire and other constituencies have been flooded, the committee report published in 2020 highlighted that the level of revenue funding meant that authorities were a long way away from being fully prepared and resilient, and that authorities received the same level of revenue funding regardless of the flood risk within their own area. That cannot be right. So, our committee made a clear recommendation that the Welsh Government's approach to revenue allocation for flooding should take account of current and projected future flood risk in each local authority area. On Monday, the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change clarified that the allocation of future years' revenue based on current or future flood and/or coastal erosion risk is something that they could consider. So, Minister, would you clarify why revenue allocation still does not take into account flood risk to communities, such as Carmarthenshire and other areas, despite our clear committee recommendation? Diolch.
The criteria of spend for flood-risk schemes is slightly outside my area of responsibility and expertise, so I'd better ask my colleague to write to Janet Finch-Saunders so that she gets an accurate answer.
5. Will the Minister provide an update on funding for the invest-to-save scheme for the 2022-23 financial year? OQ57735
Yes. The invest-to-save scheme budget over the next three years stands at £7 million. This budget is a result of repayments being made in respect of previous investments. So, the budget from 2022-23 to 2024-25 is approximately £25 million, which includes £4 million capital.
Can I thank the Minister for that response? As Members here will know, I've been very supportive of the invest-to-save scheme and the innovate-to-save scheme over a number of years. They've been provided for several years. Can the Minister explain how successful schemes are rolled out across sectors and how many schemes that are planned for next year will be based on previous successful schemes? My fear is that some excellent invest-to-save projects take place but we do not learn from them, and the benefit that could accrue to the public purse by doing it throughout Wales just accrues to the one place that does it the first time.
Yes, as Mike Hedges says, he has long been a champion of invest-to-save and also innovate-to-save, and has been actually very challenging in terms of how are we demonstrating that this good practice travels. So, as a result of that, we did commission Cardiff University to undertake a piece of research for us so that we could really understand the experiences of those schemes.
There were some particular barriers for the travelling of good practice that were identified as a result of that research, including the availability of the finance—so, once a scheme comes to an end, do other organisations have the ability to undertake similar work? Obviously, there are some things that we can look at there in terms of responding to that. The availability of staff resources with the right skills to implement change was another challenge, alongside senior leadership support for the implementation of change, the willingness to take risks and the extent to which they take on board evidence from other schemes, and then finally contractual commitments, of course, which might mean some changes would incur financial penalties if they were broken. So, those are challenges that that piece of research has recently identified for us, and which we need to consider now as we start moving forward with schemes. But I will say that in 2022-23 we are investing in a significant carbon reduction project in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, and that follows on from many of the other initiatives in health boards across Wales in respect of carbon reduction, so we've learned from those smaller schemes and are now implementing it in a larger scheme.
And our focus now is on proposals that further the programme for government agenda, and we'll be using the experience from those past schemes to help these initiatives, and I look forward to providing an update on these before too long.
Minister, I was very privileged to sit on the Finance Committee when it considered the invest-to-save scheme back in 2013, and Members universally recognised the merits of the scheme in helping to deliver better value for money for our public services.
Now, as we look forward, it's absolutely crucial that projects that receive invest-to-save funding achieve efficiency savings in the long term, and so, Minister, building on the question asked by the Member for Swansea East, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to test the effectiveness of completed projects and to assess the effectiveness of the invest-to-save scheme more widely, to make sure that lessons are actually learned for the future?
Yes. We do evaluate the projects that are funded through the scheme, and that helps us understand where we go in future. Of course, not every scheme is a great success; that's part, I suppose, of the point of these kinds of projects, that we test out what works, and we've had some that in the past that have less successful but part of the challenge then is about learning why it didn't succeed and what we can do differently in future.
Where we have seen some really good progress is in the schemes that relate to supporting children and young people who are in care and who are care leavers, and that's a particular area where we're looking to invest in future. So, there's some work going on at the moment that social care officials are leading on to identify what we can be doing in this particular space to support care leavers with that innovate-to-save model.
6. What discussions has the Minister had with the UK Treasury to ensure that the Welsh Government has the finance it needs to support those facing a cost-of-living crisis? OQ57738
I have raised the cost-of-living crisis with the UK Treasury on a number of occasions. Despite the difficult position we have been presented with, due to the UK Government support not going far enough, the Welsh Government will continue to assist people across Wales throughout the crisis.
I'm going to—to the disappointment of many, I know—strip out the politics entirely for this. In a mature democracy across the UK, when we are faced with several crises at once—we have the climate change crisis; we have the crisis we see involving now international issues within Ukraine and the humanitarian disaster there; and we have the cost-of-living crisis, which is going to get worse, not better—it would seem to me that there is a real need for Parliaments and Governments across the UK to engage constructively, collaboratively and meaningfully, so that ideas can flow back and forth, and that there is a genuinely interactive process.
I'm just seeking from the Minister an understanding of the quality of engagement, knowing that, I have to say, even in Whitehall itself, there were difficulties as UK Ministers in speaking to the Treasury—they're quite a cold and calculated bunch—is there that quality of engagement that can give my constituents assurance that, actually, Governments are working together to resolve this cost-of-living crisis?
I do think it is imperative for all Governments in the UK to be working together to solve these issues, and we have excellent meetings with colleagues in Northern Ireland and in Scotland who share many of our concerns about the way in which the UK Government is responding to the cost-of-living crisis in particular, and we've come up with ideas of simple things the UK Government could be doing to use the levers at its disposal while we do everything that we can in our power.
Things the UK Government could be doing at this point might include introducing a social tariff, for example, in respect of energy bills, to ensure that people on the lowest incomes don't pay the most. I was talking to someone just this morning about how, when you pay for your electricity on a meter, you go to the shop and you do it then, and you end up paying so much more than other people, and that just is absolutely the wrong way round for these things. So, a social tracked tariff could be something that it could do quickly.
Removing the—or reinstating the—uplift to universal credit of £20 a week would make a huge difference to people who are going to be facing an increasingly difficult position in the coming period ahead. So, we'll continue to engage constructively, providing the UK Government with things that it can do. And in these meetings, I always make a point of saying, 'This is what we're asking UK Government to do, but please be assured we're doing our part', and I let UK Government know of the interventions that we are making here as well.
I welcome the comments made by the Member for Ogmore and the Minister on that. If we're to weather the cost-of-living crisis, we need Government working together at all levels. And we have to remember that the crisis was started by Putin trying to strong-arm Europe over gas and oil supplies by turning off the taps. The fact that the whole world could be held to ransom by billionaire despots is shocking and depressing. The impact of this war in Ukraine will force up energy prices and food prices even further. Forecasters are predicting that UK households will see the biggest drop in incomes for half a century. Minister, while the focus is quite rightly on helping the immediate victims of Putin's war, the Ukrainian people, what discussions have you had with the UK Treasury about ways of mitigating the impact the conflict will have on Welsh families?
So, in my response to Huw Irranca-Davies, I set out some of the ways in which we've been pressing UK Government to use the levers at its disposal to help families and households here in Wales. But the UK Government does have a real opportunity now on 23 March, when it will be bringing forward its next fiscal statement, and that's a chance, I think, for the UK Government to set out some really strong interventions to be supporting people through this crisis. For example, they could be looking to increase benefits in line with inflation. I think that that would be a start. And it could be reconsidering some of the tax choices that it's making for the near future, because, clearly, again, the choice it made in respect of national insurance contributions wasn't the one that we would have chosen, for example. So, there are choices that the UK Government can make and can continue to explore different ways to support people.
7. Will the Minister provide an update on any proposed changes to the land transaction tax in Wales? OQ57755
We're currently consulting on possible local variation of land transaction tax rates for second homes, and that consultation closes on 28 March.
Diolch, Minister. Taxes on properties purchased in Wales are some of the highest levied in the United Kingdom. The average house in the town of Brecon within my constituency is £261,000. Based on this price, a first-time buyer, who has struggled to even get the deposit, will be paying a tax to the Welsh Government of £3,000. This compares to a figure of £2,050 in Scotland, nothing in Northern Ireland and nothing in England. Minister, can you explain why your taxation policy here is making it harder for those young people in Wales to own their own homes? And in your role as finance Minister, will you at least commit to ring-fencing some of that money collected from land transaction tax to be used to build affordable homes in Wales to assist the housing crisis?
I hope the Member sees some of the irony there in the way in which the Conservatives have opposed our efforts to take action on the second homes situation, when, as the Member says, people are struggling just to buy one, and, for many, it will always be unattainable. So, this is one the reasons why we are taking action on the second homes issue. But, in respect of our starting rate for land transaction tax, that starts at £180,000, so our main rate starting threshold is substantially higher than any other part of the UK. And in the year to date, this has meant that the majority of residential transactions in Wales are below that threshold, and this isn't the case for other countries in the UK.
Most first-time buyers in Wales still benefit from paying no tax at all, but with our approach, other hard-pressed people can also benefit from paying no tax. Because, actually, the average house price in Wales is £204,835, but the average price for a first-time buyer is £175,908. So, you will clearly see that the average first-time buyer is able to purchase that house without paying any tax at all.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the rights of community groups to purchase public assets? OQ57757
Yes. Community assets such as green spaces and community buildings are vital to the health and well-being of our communities. We support the community ownership of these assets, which is why we are working with partners to deliver the recommendations from our research into community asset transfers.
Thank you, Minister. As discussed yesterday during First Minister's questions, and despite conceptions that communities in Wales are more communitarian when compared to other communities across Great Britain, Wales has by far the fewest statutory rights in relation to land. Although there are a few limited mechanisms for community control, such as community asset transfers that allow communities to take over ownership and management of facilities, and the Local Government Act 1972: General Disposal Consent (Wales) 2003 that allows local authorities and some other public bodies to dispose of land for below market value should—and I quote—the authority consider that the disposal would improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of an area, these are ultimately processes driven by local authorities and public bodies rather than by communities.
The Community Land Advisory Service in Wales does support community green space projects to acquire land and gain all the necessary permissions to set up and manage green spaces, but there is no statutory right for communities in Wales to buy land or assets as in Scotland, and no right to bid, challenge or build as in England. Conscious of the First Minister's comments yesterday, what consideration has this Government given to a community empowerment Bill that establishes a register of community assets and gives communities a statutory first right of refusal over these assets when they are proposed to be sold or transferred? Thank you.
Thank you for raising this question. Obviously, I would associate myself with what the First Minister said in response to the issue yesterday. We have looked at the situation in England and I know that when the registers were introduced, there was actually quite a mixed response to the scheme when it was introduced in England. And our recently published Welsh Government community asset transfer research doesn't point to the need for a legislative solution. Instead, it recommends working with local authorities and with transferees to develop and share best practice. And that's where we're putting our focus at the moment.
I do think we have some excellent examples of schemes that have been taking place here in Wales. We've got our community asset loan fund and that's operated on our behalf by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and that provides long-term loans to incorporated community groups that are seeking to purchase those community assets. And then also our excellent community facilities programme that provides those capital grants to community groups to purchase or improve well-used and much-needed community assets. So, I think the kind of level of support that we're providing here in Wales is impressive, particularly in terms of finance, but also the sharing of best practice and so on. And I think that most of us, if not all of us, will be very familiar with community schemes locally that have benefited from the community facilities programme that is providing grants right across Wales.
Finally, Peredur Owen Griffiths.
I listened to your answer there and I hope that you were looking at the Institute of Welsh Affairs report on community empowerment that was and should have been a wake-up call for the Government, which found that communities in Wales are the least empowered in the UK. This chimes with conversations I had, actually, this week with somebody behind the project to reopen the Abertillery institute. With tears in their eyes, that person told me that many people had lost hope and that they believed that things wouldn't change in their community. It's a real anomaly that people in Wales have much fewer rights over their community assets than other counterparts in Scotland and even in England, which, you can't forget, is governed by a Tory Party traditionally not known for holding back developers. When can communities in Wales, which have inspiring community spirit, enjoy the same rights as communities across the rest of the UK?
So, as I said in response to the previous speaker, we have undertaken our own piece of research that didn't point to the need for a legislative solution. But we are looking with interest at the IWA report as well as the work that the Wales Co-operative Centre has undertaken, on 'Community ownership of land and assets: enabling the delivery of community-led housing in Wales', which was also published very recently. So, we're looking carefully at both of those reports to see what we can learn from them. But I think we do have some excellent work already taking place, but it's a case of how we best make sure that that is the norm rather than the exception.
I thank the Minister.
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and the first question is from Peter Fox.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's refreshed TB eradication programme? OQ57742
3. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to eradicate TB in mid Wales? OQ57749
Llywydd, I understand that you've given your permission for questions 1 and 3 to be grouped. The consultation on a refreshed TB eradication programme closed on 8 February 2022. Two hundred and forty-six responses were received, and these are currently being analysed. I will be making a statement on a refreshed TB eradication programme in July of this year.
Thank you, Minister, for that response. I would also just like to remind Members that I'm a farmer, as stated in my register of interests, and I currently haven't got TB.
Minister, your recent consultation on the refreshed TB eradication plan proposed changes to the current system for valuing animals compulsorily slaughtered by Welsh Government as a result of bovine TB. However, there are concerns that a tabular valuation system is not fair, as a system based on averages is likely to create many instances of overvaluation or undervaluation. Such a system doesn't take into account many important factors relating to the individual characteristics of an animal that may affect its valuation. Meanwhile, in the consultation itself, the Government suggests that its proposals are a result of an overspend of its TB budget. The only way to reduce overspends is to ensure that the disease is controlled quickly and effectively, so that the disease has the smallest possible impact on the national herd.
Minister, do you not agree that the only way to fairly compensate farmers for any loss of animals as a result of TB is to value them on the basis of their individual value? And how will your refreshed strategy tackle the disease in wildlife through a comprehensive eradication strategy to reduce the need to slaughter cattle in the first place? Diolch.
So, I think the first thing I would want to say is that I don't want to pre-empt the consultation. I haven't seen any of the responses yet. As I say, they're currently being analysed by my officials. And, obviously, the information that comes forward from the consultation responses will then feed into the refreshed TB eradication programme, which, as I say, I will be making a statement on in July. So, I think that is the first thing to say.
You're quite right, valuation is one of the aspects that we're looking at in the consultation, and I think, again, it's very fair to say that we have a statutory duty to compensate farmers in relation to TB, and we do always overspend. It is a budget within my own entire budget that is always overspent, and I always have to find that funding. And, obviously, that is public money, and we need to make sure that that public money is spent appropriately. The way we do the valuations now, I think, is correct. You'll be, I'm sure, very aware that the market value of an animal is defined as a price that the animal might reasonably expect at market, if it was unaffected by TB, and it is absolutely based on that market value. We appoint, as a Government, a panel of contracted valuers to assess the value of animals that are to be slaughtered because of TB. But this is an important part of the consultation, and, as I say, I don't want to pre-empt what we will be coming forward with.
I absolutely appreciate that it is a very distressing condition. I've been on farms where farmers are awaiting results of TB testing or are filled with gloom because it's approaching, and I absolutely understand the devastation it causes. And that's why it's really important that the TB eradication does what we want, and that is eradicate TB here in Wales.
I'm sure you will agree with me, Minister, that it's hugely stressful for a farming family and a farming business when they are under TB restrictions. And I'm sure you will want the Welsh Government to do all they can in limiting that stress and anxiety that a farming business and families have to go through. An issue raised with me over many, many years is the lack of communication that farmers have between their business and the Animal and Plant Health Agency. I've raised this with your predecessor; it's still an issue that remains. So, can I ask, do you recognise that there is a communication issue in terms of farmers having that direct contact with the agency? What more can the Welsh Government do to improve communication in that regard?
And finally, Minister, last year, a TB hotspot area was identified in Pennal in my constituency, and stringent measures were imposed on farmers in that area. Are those measures, those very stringent measures, are they now bearing fruit? And what are the Welsh Government's plans going forward for control measures in that particular area and, again, with communication?
Thank you, and I hoped I did set out, in my answer to Peter Fox, that I absolutely understand how stressful and distressing TB can be for a farming family. I think you are right around communication. When I made the statement on the TB programme last November here in the Chamber, when I announced the consultation, one of the things I did announce was the establishment of a task and finish group. What I want that task and finish group to consider is how we engage and how we communicate better with the farming industry as a Government. We've recruited the members of the task and finish group. They met for the first time last week on 2 March. I'm awaiting a note of that first meeting. They met at Aberystwyth University. They will be meeting again soon and I'm expecting a final report from them in the late spring, ahead of when I'm able to announce the refreshed TB eradication programme. You mentioned APHA in particular; APHA officials have been invited to participate in the task and finish group in an advisory capacity rather than being full members of the group. But I do recognise that, of course, we can always better communicate, can't we, and better engage. That was absolutely the reason why I set up the task and finish group. You referred to an area of your constituency, and I know that Montgomeryshire along with the rest of mid Wales does span a number of our TB areas. I think we are seeing an improvement in the figures in the area that you referred to. The latest TB statistics have been released this morning.
The Farmers Union of Wales has warned that the proposals contained within the refreshed TB eradication programme will have a detrimental impact on farmers' mental health. This of course when we are already seeing 50 agricultural workers take their own lives each year, as well as veterinarians being three to four times more likely to commit suicide than any other profession. In light of that, I'd be interested to know what considerations the Minister has given to the effects of these proposals on the mental state of rural communities, because according to the FUW, there's been a fundamental lack of an impact assessment.
I did see the comments by the FUW. I'm meeting them as part of my regular meetings with the FUW next Monday, and I will certainly be interested to hear why they have those views. Going back to what I said in earlier answers, I absolutely recognise the stress that TB testing can place farmers under. You will be aware of the significant work I've done around improving mental health for farmers. I've worked very closely, particularly over the pandemic—I've attended the advisory and support group that we set up, I've funded some of the charities within the agricultural sector to assist in this way. So, I will be very interested to hear what the FUW say and why they feel that that's the case. As I say, I don't want to pre-empt the consultation—it's a meaningful consultation and I don't want people to think their views aren't going to be listened to. It's very important that we do take all aspects, and the ones that you've just referred to, into consideration. But I will be specifically interested to hear why the FUW believe that.
2. Will the Minister provide an update on TB valuations in Wales? OQ57753
Following consultation on a refreshed TB eradication programme, I will be making a statement on this in July, once the outcomes of the consultation have been analysed and reviewed. This will include an update on TB compensation and valuations.
Thank you, Minister. You answered some of the questions I was going to ask in an earlier response to Peter Fox, but what I do want to touch on, Minister, is the fact that you stated that the budget for compensation has been overspent almost every year since 2015, which does prove that really important work needs to be done in trying to eradicate this awful disease across Wales. Could I have an update from you please on where we are with the roll-out of a vaccine and whether the Welsh Government plans to take any further steps, wider than the vaccine, to address bovine TB? Thank you.
I'm not quite sure if you're referring to a badger vaccine or a cattle vaccine.
The badger vaccine.
In relation to the badger vaccine, you'll be aware that we did have a grant scheme. We're continuing to support badger vaccination on farms across Wales. Last November, I think it was, I announced an additional £100,000 that would be made available to expand the badger vaccination scheme in Wales. I think the window closes tomorrow, actually, 10 March, so I would urge anybody who wishes to pursue this form to please go ahead before tomorrow, because it does really give the opportunity to our farmers, to our landowners and to other organisations to vaccinate badgers against bovine TB.
Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Samuel Kurtz.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, in 2019, the Welsh Government invested £1.29 million to support and grow Wales's pig sector, with Farming Connect saying that pig production was experiencing a resurgence in Wales. Unfortunately, certain global events, such as the loss of the export market to China for certain pig processors, the international disruption to carbon dioxide supplies, and the global labour shortages, have meant that the Welsh pig industry has faced many challenges over the recent months. However, I'm particularly concerned about those pig farmers that are facing financial hardship at the hands of processors who refuse to honour their contracts. As this is a sector the Welsh Government has taken particular interest in, as I've outlined, I'm surprised that there's been no direct support for this sector from the Welsh Government at this time. Struggling pig farmers in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland have all been supported by their Governments. Why have you not supported struggling pig farmers in Wales?
I think you make a very important point about the pig sector. As Minister, I think I've only ever visited two pig farms, because it is a very small part of the agricultural sector here in Wales. At the time when we were looking at whether or not we should support the pig sector—you mentioned the carbon dioxide supply issues, in particular, and I think it was around that time when that really hit a peak that we were looking at that—it was decided not to, because of the number of farms that had come forward, I think, in discussions with officials around that. But I'm always open; if you have specific pig farmers in your own constituency, please do contact me about them. But it really wasn't something that had landed on my desk in a way that it had with other parts, such as the dairy sector, for instance.
Thank you, Minister. It's reassuring to know that, even if there are fewer, they're not treated less equally to other parts of the agricultural industry. Moving forward, you'll be aware that I've raised on numerous occasions the need to safeguard the funding for Wales's rural and wildlife crime co-ordinator position, which is currently occupied by Rob Taylor. I'm pleased that, after my repeated calls, your colleague the climate change Minister confirmed to me that funding for a further three years has been confirmed. This is positive news. One of the key issues Rob and I have discussed is attacks on livestock, namely sheep, by dogs. To use your own region of north Wales as an example, in 2018, 52 dogs were shot as a consequence of attacks on livestock, which corresponds against 648 individual livestock killed by out-of-control dogs. If we compare this to Devon and Cornwall, an area of similar rural background, but with a much larger population, only 10 dogs were shot, and only 205 livestock were lost. Minister, I'm sure you'll recognise both the financial and emotional costs such attacks have on our farming community. Given these concerns, does the Welsh Government have a strategy in place that works alongside both farmers and our general public to address this concerning trend in livestock attacks?
It is a very concerning trend, and I'm really pleased with the work that Rob Taylor has been doing, along with the police and crime commissioners, in particular. I'm very pleased that my colleague Julie James has brought forward further three years' funding for the post. Probably about four years ago, before Rob was in this post but when he had a specific interest in this issue in the rural crime team up in north Wales, I did try to lobby the Home Secretary around this, because you'll appreciate that a lot of the legislation sits with the UK Government. Some of it, I think, goes back to the 1800s, literally—it's completely out of date, and it's completely not fit for purpose. I think it would be really good if the UK Government could look at that legislation, and that we were able to assist in that way. Certainly, when Lord Gardiner was in place as a Minister within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it was something he was very keen to take forward, but I think it's stalled a bit. I do have a DEFRA inter-ministerial group a week on Monday, and I'd be very happy to see if there's anything further that the Secretary of State would look at doing, with the Home Secretary, to try and make sure that the legislation is fit for purpose and fit for 2022.
I’m grateful for that, Minister, because I know Rob is very passionate regarding this issue, and he's spoken at length about it in Westminster, in select committee sessions up there. I would be grateful if you could take that forward to your inter-governmental meeting.
Finally, I'm pleased that you were in the Chamber yesterday when my colleague Andrew R.T. Davies raised the concerns regarding the precarious position of Wales's food security, given the illegal invasion of Ukraine. The war has shown that the west has become over-reliant on imported goods and services, and the invasion of Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe will cause repercussions that will be felt across the world, especially on food prices. Indeed, experts have said that food shortages are on the horizon, a worrying prospect given that Wales's food production self-sufficiency rate resides at approximately 60 per cent.
Minister, I do find it frustrating when, on one hand, there's criticism of UK trade deals, which plug this production gap, yet, on the other hand, we're aiming here in Wales to introduce an agriculture Bill that increases our dependency on imports. I think we really do need to think again about the direction and travel of Welsh agricultural policy, and I strongly believe increasing our own self-sufficiency here in Wales to over 80 per cent, at least, must be a priority. Given this, and the calls by my colleague Andrew R.T. Davies, will you commit to a food summit for farmers, processors and retailers so we can build resilience, food security and self-sufficiency into Welsh agricultural policy?
I don't think we need a food summit at this time. I think it's important that I carry on having discussions with the farming sector, with producers, with processors as well. I think it is really important, because the food supply chain is so integral across the UK. I mentioned in my answer to Andrew R.T. Davies's question during the business statement that it was something that I'd asked to have on the DEFRA inter-ministerial group agenda a week on Monday. However, things move very quickly in politics, don't they; I think, actually, I'm going to be meeting with DEFRA and my counterparts from Scotland and Northern Ireland tomorrow, because clearly this is something that obviously is getting more and more of a concern.
I think the whole of the UK, indeed the whole of the world, is facing a long and unpredictable period of disruption in relation to food because of the invasion of Ukraine. As you say, it does supply a huge amount of wheat to the world. So, I'm very keen to ask DEFRA what their latest assessment of the situation is, how it might impact on the agri-food industry, and what it means to the public. I'm sure it does mean increased prices for food across the world. I think it is very important that we keep a watch on it. I don't think there's a need for a food summit in the way that Andrew R. T. Davies suggested at the moment. I mentioned in an earlier answer I'm meeting with the Farmers Union of Wales on Monday. I'm also meeting with the National Farmers Union, so it’s really important to hear what they have to say on it as well.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. I want to continue on the theme of TB, if I may. On a number of occasions over the past two years, the Government here has talked of the need to follow the science when it comes to COVID. We should use the same principles in dealing with other diseases such as TB. The work done recently in Gloucestershire and Somerset, where badgers have been controlled, has shown a reduction of 66 per cent and 37 per cent in the number of cases of bovine TB after four years of action. Ireland, New Zealand and other nations have found ways of tackling this disease. We therefore need to take the expertise that we have in Wales, and internationally, and bring it together in order to develop a policy that can work for Wales. Minister, will you consider establishing an independent taskforce to advise the Government and develop an effective response that is based on the science?
I think it is really important we follow the science. You may be aware that we now have Glyn Hewinson in place in Aberystwyth University, who is advising us in relation to our TB eradication programme. Again, I don't want to pre-empt. You will have heard me say in earlier answers to Conservative Members that I think it's really important that we see what has come back in the consultation responses. We've had 246, which is not an insignificant number, and it's really important we listen to people's views.
Thank you, Llywydd, and thank you, Minister, for that response. But to continue with TB, two years ago, DEFRA published a report showing the financial impact of TB on cattle farms in England and in Wales. It shows that the median cost paid directly by businesses is huge. Over nine months, a farm that has to deal with a chronic case of TB will have to pay £16,000. To put that figure in its context, the average income of farm businesses in Wales two years ago was £26,200. We must do more therefore to support farmers who experience this disease on their farms, never mind the impact on the mental health of people on those farms and on the wider community. However, despite this, the Government hasn't noted these costs or any impacts of the proposals on agricultural business in the latest consultation. The Government's proposals on TB will lead to significant impacts on agriculture here, but the Government hasn't published a full, comprehensive regulatory impact assessment alongside the consultation document. We must have such an assessment. Minister, when will we have one?
I mentioned that the consultation responses are being analysed and reviewed at the moment. My plan then is to bring forward the refreshed TB eradication programme, and I will be making a statement. I would imagine the two will go hand in hand—the refreshed programme announcement and the statement—in July of this year, and that's when all the documentation around that will be published, although I will publish the consultation responses ahead of that.
4. What is the Minister’s strategy for increasing the amount of vegetables grown in Wales? OQ57746
Thank you. Welsh Government provides comprehensive support and promotion of vegetable growing in Wales. This includes bespoke training and advice provided by Tyfu Cymru and Farming Connect, and our controlled-environment agriculture prospectus offers advice and encourages investment in this part of the agricultural sector.
Thank you very much. We've already rehearsed the disruption to food markets occurring as a result of Brexit and the war in Ukraine, but I just want to focus on what we can do here in Wales, because one of the most important agreements within the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru is the extension of free school meals to all primary school children. So, in line with the Welsh Government's foundational economy objectives and our legal obligations under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, what steps are your officials taking to stimulate Welsh horticulture so that local educational authorities can source the extra tonnes of fresh vegetables they're going to need so that they will comply with healthy eating standards, and also help to strengthen local food economies?
You may have heard the Minister for Finance and Local Government, in her answer to a question around food procurement, which is obviously part of the free school meals and the work that's ongoing around these issues—. The work is being led by Caerphilly County Borough Council, and they're looking at how we can increase supply of Welsh food in school meals. And I mentioned the support that we give to farming, because if pig farming is a very small part of the agriculture sector here in Wales, horticulture is even smaller; it only makes up 1 per cent of the agriculture sector. So, as you know, it's something that I've been very keen to promote, and, to encourage farmers, if they wish to go into the horticulture part of farming, we will offer support.
I think one of the things that we need to do, if we're going to maximise opportunities for local suppliers and encourage more producers to come forward, is that public procurement needs to change. We really need to move away from that lowest cost in food tenders and make sure that we build in social value and environmental value, and also quality considerations. I think people need to appreciate the value of local provenance. So, this is a piece of work that's currently ongoing, particularly in relation, as you say, to free school meals, which is part of the co-operation agreement.
Horticulture in Wales has been in long-term decline, with fewer than 3,000 hectares now under cultivation for potatoes, field vegetables, small fruit and commercial orchards. The number of hectares has halved in 40 years. Now, according to Cardiff University, in order for Wales to produce the amount of fruit and vegetables required to meet nutritional recommendations of five servings a day, 2 per cent of Welsh land area would be required for production. Now, as you know, Minister, I believe that the Welsh Government should reward and encourage our Welsh farmers to continue producing food, and thereby taking us a step closer to being more self-sufficient. So, do you think you could clarify whether the agricultural (Wales) Bill is an opportunity where we could look to boost local food production in Wales, rather than see us become more dependent on imports from outside of Wales for our meat, our dairy, our fruit and our vegetables? Diolch.
So, I don't recognise the figures that Janet Finch-Saunders refers to, and, interestingly, I don't know if you were in the Chamber last week when Jenny Rathbone came in with a leek and asked me how many leeks were grown in Wales, so I made sure I had that figure just in case Jenny asked me again today.
What is it?
Not the individual, but 1,500 tonnes of leeks were grown just by Puffin Produce, and they're hoping to do 50 per cent more again next year. So, I wouldn't say the horticultural sector is in decline. I mentioned in my original answer to Jenny that we published the 'Controlled Environment Agriculture' prospectus in September 2021. It's been really interesting to see the interest in that. I visited a strawberry farm in the Vale of Glamorgan that uses controlled-environment agriculture techniques, and it's very good to see that circular economy approach that they were taking.
Your specific question was around the agriculture Bill. You'll be aware that the sustainable farming scheme is part of the agriculture Bill, and absolutely crucial to the sustainable farming scheme is the way that food is produced, having that sustainable food production, and we will do all we can to assist our farmers. It is different from the basic payment scheme, the sustainable farming scheme. What we will have is our farmers rewarded—the public money they get in bringing forward public goods—and while we've also always said that food isn't a public good, what we will do within the agriculture Bill is promote sustainable food production and pay for it.
5. What role will the sustainable farming scheme play in species recovery? OQ57743
Thank you. Responding to the nature emergency is a key objective of our proposed sustainable farming scheme. Future farm support will reward farmers who take action to maintain and create resilient ecosystems. This will help create the conditions that will enable species recovery at farm and landscape scale.
In a written response to me from the Minister for Climate Change six weeks ago, she said,
'Longer term, the Sustainable Farming Scheme will be an important mechanism and source of funding to address habitat loss and species decline, including some of our iconic farmland birds such as the curlew. Representations from the Gylfinir Cymru Partnership will be considered by the Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd as the Sustainable Farming Scheme is developed.'
But, with country-level extinction by 2033 threatened, I hope you'd agree that we don't have time to wait. As it's going to take the best part of a decade for the Wales-wide roll-out of the sustainable farming scheme, how will this help restore populations of rare and vulnerable species like curlew, which need urgent action now if we're not to lose them from Wales? And can the Minister confirm her acceptance of Gylfinir Cymru's request for an on-site meeting with farmers, land managers and Gylfinir Cymru partners to discuss curlew recovery, the wider multiple and multispecies benefits provided, and potentially support policy development like the sustainable farming scheme?
Thank you. Well, as we are already in the middle of a climate and nature emergency, you're quite right that we don't have time to play with. So, I wouldn't want people to think we were just waiting for the sustainable farming scheme to come in relation to protecting our species, and the Member will be very well aware of many schemes that now sit within the Minister for Climate Change's portfolio—the sustainable management scheme, for instance, which is already improving the resilience of our ecosystems, it's enhancing our biodiversity, and of course it's tackling climate change. There's been significant funding—I think it's about £235 million—already gone into around 50 projects across Wales. We've also got the national peatland action programme, which is helping increase the ecosystem resilience of our Welsh peatland. So, what the sustainable farming scheme will be looking at is the good practice from these schemes and building on that.
6. How is the Welsh Government engaging with partner organisations to ensure animal health and welfare standards are being upheld? OQ57745
Thank you. Partnership working is a key principle of our Wales animal health and welfare framework. The Welsh Government works collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders, including animal keepers, local authorities and delivery agencies to raise standards of animal health and welfare in Wales.
Thank you, Minister. It's welcome to see initiatives such as the ban on the third party sales of puppies and kittens—Lucy's law—coming into effect, but this is also increasing the inspection and enforcement roles of our Welsh councils. How is Welsh Government supporting councils to fulfil these functions, and is there any role for providing similar statutory responsibilities to, for example, the RSPCA so that they can also play their part?
Thank you. So, in relation to the final part of your question, there is no role for granting powers to the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. That is something that I'm looking at alongside other animal health and welfare issues. In relation to your question around supporting local authorities, at the time we brought forward the regulations to which you refer, we looked at the impacts of them on local authorities, and, from a financial point of view, commercial sellers were previously required to apply for a licence from a local authority and they were subject to ongoing inspections. But, in the way we shaped the new regulations, it was anticipated those who are eligible to trade and meet the required standards for licensing will continue to operate and only sell directly to their customers. Those who were ineligible would then cease to trade, and on that basis there would be no, or there shouldn't be, additional financial burden to local authorities. They will be able to set the new licence fee, and the fee that they set should be enough to meet the anticipated cost of registration, inspection and enforcement.
Minister, while there is a need to ensure all organisations adhere to animal health and welfare standards, of course, I think many ventures need more of a carrot and less of a stick approach. Ventures such as sanctuaries and rescue rehoming centres should be subject to regulation, but the vast majority do uphold the strictest animal welfare standards. Many animal shelters have struggled during the pandemic as funding sources have dried up, which can have a detrimental impact on their ability to care for abandoned pets. Minister, what more can your Government do to ensure animal shelters and sanctuaries, such as the excellent Pet Rescue Welfare Association in Dyserth, are supported financially? Thank you.
Thank you. Well, you'll be aware that many organisations, not just within my portfolio, suffered due to the pandemic, and we did all we could to support them, particularly financially. I've been very fortunate to visit many charities and organisations and sanctuaries in my time in this portfolio, and I think one of the things we are certainly looking at is what regulations are required in relation to sanctuaries.
7. What discussions has the Minister had within the Welsh Government and externally to ensure locally sourced food and drink are available in schools, care homes and hospitals? OQ57733
I've had discussions with Cabinet colleagues and continue to work with local authorities and health boards to ensure food and drink sourced from local suppliers is available in schools, hospitals and care homes.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. As we're reminded often by Jenny Rathbone, there are so many positives from rebuilding a local food economy: it creates jobs, it's great for the environment also, and there are so many excellent business opportunities here, as the local demand far exceeds the local supply at the moment. We've been reminded again, haven't we, recently about the importance of not being over-reliant on importing food to this country. Young people need to be given the opportunity to remain within their communities and to be supported by public sector organisations. Now, my friend Rhun ap Iorwerth gave a shout out to cyngor Ynys Môn, my friend Llyr Gruffydd mentioned cyngor Caerfyrddin and Cyngor Gwynedd. Well, Llywydd, I'm going to mention cyngor Ceredigion now, because there's a great example where the Plaid Cymru-led cyngor Ceredigion made sure that all their food parcels to vulnerable people during the COVID pandemic were the best of local produce. And I welcome the important commitment in the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government that free school meals will use locally produced ingredients, benefiting farms and local businesses across Wales. I'm sure we can all agree there's more to be done, so could you please give us an update on the issue and how we can ensure that locally sourced food is available and encouraged across Wales in all sectors? Diolch yn fawr.
You took me back a couple of years then to some sleepless nights around the food boxes at the start of the COVID pandemic. It was a great piece of work, and I certainly do pay tribute to Ceredigion council. They were tenacious in making sure that they used local food, and I think it was a great example of what we can do to support our fantastic Welsh food and drink producers far more.
You will have heard the Minister for Finance and Local Government mention the work that she's doing from a procurement point of view in relation to increasing supply of Welsh food into our school meals, for instance, through the Welsh public sector food frameworks that Caerphilly council have led on, and last summer I attended a meeting to see what more we could do to get Welsh food and drink into our hospitals. I'm really pleased to see that that work continues to be taken forward.
But I go back to what I was saying to Jenny Rathbone, really. We just need to change, I think, the way we think about tendering for food, and it doesn't have to be the cheapest. Again, Rebecca Evans referred to the fact that we're struggling to get a poultry supplier for our public services food provision here in Wales. So, there's a significant piece of work to do. I know that, as part of the co-operation agreement, we're looking at how we do it for free school meals, but I think we need to do it across the wider public sector too.
Some months ago, Minister, I raised with you the Bill that went through the National Assembly of France about local procurement and in particular setting targets for supermarkets to source local produce. My colleague Peter Fox has his Bill going through the Senedd at the moment. You said you would go away and look at that piece of legislation that has now been passed in the National Assembly of France. It does seem to be a vehicle that can make a genuine difference. I've been here now nearly 15 or 16 years—I know it doesn't look like that—[Laughter.]—and I never hear anyone dissenting about supporting local produce, but the reality is there have been nips and tucks here and there but no overall momentum behind this, and I do think a legislative proposal such as the French put through and such as my colleague Peter Fox has brought forward would make a real difference in this particular area.
I think I've been here for the same amount of time, so I'm saying nothing. [Laughter.]
You look better than me. [Laughter.]
We did look at that piece of legislation, and certainly in discussions I've had with Peter Fox—because, as you know, I didn't support Peter's Bill, however we are bringing forward the community food strategy. So, I think Peter has got some really good ideas that we want to incorporate in the community food strategy, and we did look, as you say, at that piece of legislation. And you're right, not many people do dissent from, 'We must do more, we must use more local produce et cetera', but I do think we need to change that mindset around what I said in earlier answers around it has to be the cheapest tender. We don't want to see cheap meat flood in; we want to see the quality meat that we have here in Wales, but people have to recognise that that does sometimes cost more. So, I think it is about changing that mindset, but, certainly, as we take forward the community food strategy, I actually don't think we need a change in legislation, I think we have the tools already to do that. But we are looking very closely at what Peter is suggesting, along with Plaid Cymru as part of the co-operation agreement, in relation to the community food strategy.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on the sustainable farming scheme? OQ57759
The sustainable farming scheme will reward active farmers who take actions to meet the challenges of the climate and nature emergencies alongside the sustainable production of food. I intend to publish an outline of the proposed sustainable farming scheme this summer and launch our second phase of co-design.
Thank you for that answer. Wales's agricultural industry is, of course, facing an uncertain future with the Australian free trade agreement being given the go-ahead last December. I've mentioned many times in this Chamber that I believe that that agreement has the potential to lower welfare standards here in Wales and the rest of the UK. The unrestricted importation of lower welfare products from countries like Australia could result in intense competition between imported products and those produced here in Wales. It's crucial that farmers are not required to cut costs and sacrifice animal welfare to compete with those cheaper imports. We know that production methods with higher welfare standards are often more expensive than more intensive farming systems, but they're also reflected in the costs that consumers will be asked to pay. The sustainable farming scheme provides, in my view, a fantastic opportunity to reward farmers who produce food to a higher welfare standard. Minister, what consideration have you made to how you can incentivise higher welfare standards in farming under the sustainable farming scheme?
I think the Member makes a very important point: the agricultural sector has and is facing a very uncertain time because of leaving the European Union, because of the cumulative impacts of free trade agreements. You mentioned Australia particularly, which does have lower environmental and animal welfare and health standards than we do. So, I think this is a piece of work—. We haven't just waited for the sustainable farming scheme, although, I think you're right, it's a great opportunity to reward our active farmers in a way that the basic payment scheme didn't do. But we've already been working with the agricultural sector over the past five years to make sure that we support them to ensure their standards are very high. Sustainable food production is absolutely an important part of the sustainable farming scheme.
Finally, question 9, John Griffiths.
Would you like to withdraw?
Perhaps I would, actually, Llywydd.
Question 9 [OQ57741] not asked.
Question 10 [OQ57736] is withdrawn. Question 11, Joel James.
11. How does the Welsh Government support community supported agriculture? OQ57752
The Welsh Government is committed to a sustainable agricultural sector and food chain that helps to underpin the wider rural economy. Support is available for community-supported agriculture through the Welsh Government rural communities rural development programme under the co-operation and supply-chain development scheme and LEADER.
Thank you, Minister. As you may already be aware, the majority of community-supported agriculture projects are based on small areas of land, with many of them being under 3 hectares in size. As such, they have, historically, been ineligible for financial support from mainstream agricultural policies, including basic payment schemes and Glastir, and those that are eligible have, unfortunately, benefited very little from a system based on holding area payments.
Now that the UK has left the EU and is no longer bound by the common agricultural policy, there is the opportunity to better support community agricultural and other community food businesses at an appropriate level to the public goods they deliver. As the Minister will no doubt recognise, helping to develop community agricultural projects through direct funding would fit well within the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and so is very much in the Welsh Government's interest. Therefore, can the Minister outline what proposals the Government are intending in order to make available finances specifically for the benefit of community-supported agriculture? Thank you.
Thank you. I think the work of community-supported farms absolutely provides tangible benefits to many people's lives, and it's really important that if we can support them and, if they want to meet our aims, that we're able to do so. The public money for public goods, which will be part of the sustainable farming scheme, will absolutely fit into community-supported farms. Also, I referred in earlier answers to the community food strategy that we're developing and, again, I think that's got the potential to deliver many benefits for the smaller community-supported farms. For me, it's really important that an active farmer, from a farm of whatever size, is able to access the sustainable farming scheme. And as we go through that co-design, what we want to make sure is that every type of farm, every size of farm, right across Wales, is eligible to apply.
I'm catching people out, left, right and centre at the moment. I would have called Andrew R.T. Davies now if he was in the Chamber. So, we'll bring your question session to an end. You've reached question 12 by Members supporting you in allowing that to happen by not being ready. Okay, fine.
Thank you to the Minister.
We'll move now to the topical question. The question today is to be answered by the Minister for health and to be asked by Rhun ap Iorwerth.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on Healthcare Inspectorate Wales's decision to designate Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's vascular services as a service requiring significant improvement? TQ605
Diolch yn fawr. I welcome the intervention announced by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales today. The escalation of the vascular service within Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to a service requiring significant improvement supports the strong steer I gave on 16 February 2022 that the health board needs to address the service issues with immediate effect.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
Thank you very much to the Minister. The announcement and the statement by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales is sobering. If you read the guidance for the inspectorate, they describe the process that they follow in placing an organisation under significant improvement. It's a body that requires action when standards aren't reached.
HIW tells us that this escalation process ensures that focused and rapid action can be taken by a range of stakeholders to ensure that safe and effective care is being provided. So, let's pause on that word 'safe'. HIW has put this escalation measure in place because the royal college of surgeons report identified a number of concerns that we believe indicate a clear risk to patients using the vascular service. Now, vascular patients have been put at risk because of poor management, just as mental health patients' lives have been put at risk through a number of scandals within the same health board. I genuinely feel for those trying to put things right and being knocked back time and time again. Now, this appears to me to be more special-ish measures, but I question if this process of escalation is enough in itself. So, I repeat my call today: put vascular services in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in the highest possible level of special measures you have, and do so with the patient in mind—those whose faith in their local health board has been rocked to the core, those in the furthest reaches of the north-west who've been left at vast distances from core services by the centralisation at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and who must see the strengthening of services accessible to them.
Now, I don't want reorganisation any more than the Minister does, but this again smacks of a health board that is too large, too unwieldy to be run effectively, and too distant from the people it serves. Episode after episode, such as the one we're discussing today, mean that the redesigning of health services across the north has to be left on the table. So, will it be that, or will Government at least bring back special measures for vascular services to show you're serious about resolving things within the current structures?
Diolch yn fawr, Rhun. I've said, and I'll say it again, that the vascular services and the services offered in Betsi are not at an acceptable standard. I did issue a written statement on 3 February following that report by the royal college of surgeons, and it was very disappointing to find that there were some really fundamental and basic things that were not being done—deficiencies in care, record keeping, consent taking, following up, all of these things that you would assume are basic things that happen in every department within the care service. So, I have been clear that I have given the board three months—and let's not forget that it was the board itself that called in the royal college of surgeons, so they did see that there was a problem. They took the initiative, they have looked at those 22 recommendations and they've put an action plan in place now. Now, I have made it clear that they've got three months to address these issues, and that has started already, and it's very clear to me that I will be receiving monthly updates from the health board, and if significant progress has not been made in those three months, I will require escalation measures or oversight, and we will convene a special tripartite meeting to consider that. I did receive the first update on Monday, and I'll be meeting with the chair of the health board to discuss this in more detail this coming Friday.
I thank the Llywydd for accepting this topical question this afternoon on an issue that's very important for every Member in the North Wales region, as it's such a pertinent and important issue to discuss.
Minister, while I welcome the intervention of HIW, the news is very worrying for my constituents, and I'd happily invite you to look at my e-mail inbox and the letters I receive week in, week out from constituents who are users of Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and have been victims of some of the failures in vascular services in the Vale of Clwyd and, indeed, across north Wales—both those who rely upon the service and the staff working at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. We have to remember that this is the failure of the systems, not the hard-working staff at Glan Clwyd. Rhun has already covered some of the points I wanted to raise, but it's worth reiterating the concern that Betsi was taken out of special measures too early. Minister, do you now regret the decision of your predecessors, and what steps are you taking to ensure that the failings are addressed as a matter of urgency? Finally, Minister, what has happened in the intervening two weeks, between HIW taking the decision to utilise its escalation process and making the announcement public? Thank you.
Thanks very much. Of course, the standards that we're seeing, in particular in that service in north Wales, are not acceptable, and that's why we will be keeping a very hawk eye on the situation and those 22 recommendations. I think it's really important that we understand that there probably is a failure in terms of systems and that's why, of those 22, there have been some very clear undertakings by the health board in terms of what they intend to put in place. They have unreservedly accepted the findings, they've focused on both rapidly addressing the issues most recently highlighted, and I think it's really important that we recognise that a new independent chair, Susan Aitkenhead, has been appointed. She has been appointed to a vascular quality assurance panel. She will be looking and taking overall responsibility for addressing this. There's been a memorandum of understanding that's been agreed in principle with Liverpool, and the clinical teams have already started closer working on establishment pathways. We've got two diabetic foot pathways that have been approved. The General Medical Council is working with health boards to provide professional standards training for the vascular team, but also more widely across the clinical workforce. Two of these training sessions have already taken place. So, there's a huge amount and there's a much longer list of things that have already been put in place, but, obviously, the key thing is that we need to see an outcome and outputs from those things that have been put in place. So, that's what we'll be monitoring and that's what we'll be doing in the next few weeks.
I thank the Minister.
Next we have item 4, the 90-second statements, and the first to speak this afternoon is Elin Jones.
Last week, Dai Jones, Llanilar passed away. How to summarise in 90 seconds what Dai Llanilar represented and what he achieved? He was that quirky combination of Cockney and Cardi—one of the London Welsh who came home. He was a farmer, he was a talented tenor who won the Blue Riband at the National Eisteddfod, and he then embarked on a hugely successful career as a broadcaster—Siôn a Siân, presenting Rasus for 25 years and, of course, presenting Cefn Gwlad for over 35 years. He became a champion of rural life in Wales, a strong voice in support of young farmers clubs and various livestock and cob associations. He was awarded a lifetime achievement BAFTA for his contribution to broadcasting, and was president of the Royal Welsh in 2010.
And he was a character, making people laugh and always happy to laugh at himself—falling into the Teifi from a coracle or legs akimbo when trying to learn to ski in the Alps. All of this made for unforgettable television. It's not an overstatement to call him an iconic figure, a national treasure, one of those people who had that talent of being ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Dai was a man of the people, able to support his dear Elystan Morgan and Cynog Dafis—people were most important to him. He supported me too and told me that I was worth supporting as my grandfather, Tim Moelfre, once gave him a good price for calves in Tregaron mart. [Laughter.] We remember Dai Llanilar—thank you for being such a wonderful Cardi, character and Welshman. [Applause.]
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. It gives me great pleasure this afternoon to highlight National Careers Week, and highlight some of the excellent work taking place across Wales in the further education sector. The theme of this year's National Careers Week is the future of work, which is rather fitting, given the publication of the Welsh Government's employability and skills plan yesterday, and the publication of Jobs Growth Wales+. We are at a critical juncture, and we must ensure that everyone has the skills to allow them to access jobs in the future. And I'd like to highlight an example in my own constituency that perfectly illustrates the importance of the FE sector to delivering skills that lead to meaningful employment.
In 2016, Pembrokeshire College launched their student employment bureau, providing candidates with a chance to match to the right position, supporting and preparing students with a wide variety of experience and skills ready for recruitment. One student, Elizabeth Collins, completed a level 3 diploma in textiles at Pembrokeshire College, and the employment bureau helped her to create a curriculum vitae and complete an application for a costume apprenticeship with the BBC in Cardiff. Elizabeth was successful in securing this role, and following her apprenticeship, she secured jobs as a costume trainee at the BBC, where she worked on television shows and films such as War of the Worlds.
Since then, Elizabeth progressed with her career and is now a costume design assistant, and has just finished working on a period television drama for Red Planet Pictures. Elizabeth's story is just one example, but there are countless more across Wales of learners being nurtured and supported through our FE sector. Therefore, this National Careers Week, I want to pay tribute to those working in our FE and skills sector for the invaluable role they play in supporting learners and delivering the skills we need to drive our economy forward.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. In this Senedd and previous Senedds, a number of us have adopted a threatened species in our regions or constituencies. Before this place, before the beard, I wanted, when I grew up, to be a marine biologist, so, presented with the opportunity to adopt a threatened species, there was no better place to look than in the waters that surround Wales. And that's why I'm pleased to have the opportunity to be the species champion for the basking shark, and the first Member to champion a shark.
A couple of quick facts: the basking shark is the second biggest shark after the whale shark. They're on average 30 foot long, weighing roughly 5,200 kg. Despite their size, they're filter feeders, opening their mouths up to a metre wide to catch zooplankton, filtering on average 2,000 tonnes of water an hour, and they can be found in almost all Welsh coastal waters.
I look forward to working with Wales Environment Link, the Marine Conservation Society and others to promote the protection of this magnificent fish.
We'll move on now to item 5, a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21 on the devolution of policing, and I call on Mike Hedges to move the motion.
Motion NDM7925 Mike Hedges, Alun Davies, Delyth Jewell, Jane Dodds, Rhys ab Owen
Supported by Sarah Murphy
To propose that the Senedd:
Supports the devolution of policing.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I believe the case for devolving policing is overwhelming. I am very pleased to open the debate. I thank my co-sponsors, one of whom, Rhys ab Owen, will be replying to the debate. This type of debate gives the Senedd an opportunity to show the direction of travel it wants devolution to take. Many of the levers that affect levels of crime have already been devolved to Wales, such as community safety, education, training, jobs, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, housing, healthy communities, as well as many other services relating to social factors. Tackling crime, reducing offending and reoffending necessitates working with other public services, which already operate at different levels across Wales. For example, support for those with mental health conditions both before they reach crisis point and need police intervention, and once they have entered the criminal system, means working with the Welsh NHS and local health boards. I believe if policing power was devolved, it would allow for much greater liaison between both services locally and by Ministers and civil servants at a strategic level within Wales, rather than between Wales and Westminster.
I think there's real potential for a successful Welsh model, which can build on the strength of devolution without cutting adrift of being part of the United Kingdom. That's why I believe this should not include the UK National Crime Agency, national security and counter-terrorism. It is important that police services continue to be able to provide mutual support for large events, which we saw with the successful NATO summit in south Wales.
Co-operation in policing clearly needs to extend not just to the British Isles, but into Europe and beyond. We know that crime and terrorism cross borders, more so now than ever before, and we need to co-ordinate measures to make sure that criminals cannot avoid charges by fleeing to Spain or other countries, which at one time seemed to be the case. It's why the Costa del Sol got called the 'Costa del Crime'.
The Welsh Government has shown the capacity for leadership and common sense, implementing policies developed by Welsh Labour, such as the investment in additional community support officers. How many people would like to stop those community support officers now? In Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, the powers of the police and crime commissioner have been merged in the mayoral role. I wait with interest to discover why people believe that Manchester and West Yorkshire should have policing devolved and Wales should not. Policing has been devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland; Wales is the outlier, very much the outlier.
I want to look at two exceptions, the UK National Crime Agency and national security. I believe they do need to be dealt with centrally, because national security knows no borders either, so I think it's important that we deal with things where they are dealt with best, and I believe that most policing is dealt with best in Wales.
The National Crime Agency is a crime-fighting agency with national and international reach, and the mandate of power to work in partnership with other law enforcement organisations, bringing the full weight of the law to bear in cutting serious and organised crime. The border policing command is a vital part of the approach to increasing border security. The economic crime command places the National Crime Agency at the forefront of the fight against economic crime affecting the UK.
We've provided a joined-up national response to cyber and cyber enabled crime. Not only does that know no borders within Britain, it knows no borders within the world, and those people who have been the recipients of e-mails telling them how somebody out in Africa wants to give them £10 million, or $10 million, will be well aware that these things come from all over the world. I'm not sure if anybody has actually had that $10 million, but my guess is that this cyber crime is working. People are being targeted now by cyber crime throughout Britain, telling them that they need to pay to have a test for COVID. And that, again, is the type of crime—. They don't think which side of the Welsh border it is; it's in the whole of Britain that is happening. So, it's important that these things are dealt with centrally.
What of the day-to-day policing carried out by the four Welsh police forces? Effectively, the role of the police and crime commissioners, who currently report to the Home Secretary, they should be reporting to whichever Secretary or whichever Cabinet Member we have here. And I assume that, under the current set-up, because I know that Jane Hutt is replying to this debate, it would actually be Jane Hutt. But whoever holds whatever role it is that covers that, they should be reporting to them, not reporting to the Home Secretary.
The police don't work in isolation. When you dial 999, you don't say, 'Which service do you want? Do you want a devolved one or a non-devolved one?' You dial 999 and you ask for an emergency service. Why are three of them devolved and one isn't?
Another argument in favour of devolving policing is the ability to better connect policing with other devolved services, such as support for victims of domestic abuse and the health service. Now, this is not a criticism of the police and crime commissioners in Wales, all four of whom I think very highly of. Two of them are personal friends, and people, I think, are doing a very good job under the circumstances in which they work. But, really, they're working to the Home Secretary, they're not working to the Minister here, and I think it's important that they are responsible to the Minister here.
The Welsh Government's expansion of community support officers, increasing their visibility, has had a positive effect on both crime and anti-social behaviour. You're more likely to see a community support officer when you're walking around the constituency or region you live in than you are to see a police officer walking around the streets. Now, that's, again, not a criticism of the police, it's just that they are the visible face of policing. Five hundred plus of those have been provided by the Welsh Government and, as a Member of this place said many years ago when we were discussing this the last time, and that was Steffan Lewis, 'Of course, the other advantage of devolving police, because of the way the Barnett formula works, we get 5 per cent more for policing in Wales than is spent at the moment.' That 5 per cent can make a big different to policing in Wales. We know that's how the Barnett formula works. And I pay tribute to Steffan Lewis who did a huge amount of work on supporting devolution of items such as policing.
I know how popular police community support officers are in Swansea East, and I know people who their first point of call when they've got a problem is to go to the local PCSO, many of whom they see walking up and down the street. Many of the older generation will remember when we had watch committees responsible for policing in Wales. During most of the twentieth century, policing was a local government function controlled by the watch committee of the relevant country or, in the case in Swansea, Cardiff, Merthyr and Newport, county borough council. We then moved from local watch committees to the police committees, with South Wales Police covering, for example, the whole of Glamorgan, but with very little control over the local police force. The replacement of police sergeants by police commissioners is the only major structural change that's taken place in policing since 1960. South Wales, Dyfed-Powys, North Wales and Gwent have been in their current form, with minor amendments in local government reorganisation in 1996, since the 1960s.
With policing devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is anomalous it's not been devolved to Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of it. Now, Northern Ireland you would think would be the last place you'd devolve policing, with all the problems that have existed there and with political parties in existence there and with representatives who are associated with people who had been involved in armed struggle. The vote underpinned the Hillsborough agreement, brokered between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, and stabilised the region's power-sharing Government. The Assembly then created a Department of Justice for Northern Ireland after the powers were devolved.
If the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of devolving policing today, who thinks we'll have it devolved within a few months? But it will show what we want to happen; I think that's the important thing. We tell the Westminster Government this is the direction of travel we want to go to.
Looking at continental Europe and North America, it is Wales, again, that appears out of step. Across most of the democratic world, other than control of national security and serious crime, policing is carried out by the regional or local police forces. Law enforcement in Germany lies with the 16 federal states; each lays out the organisation and the duties of its police. Germany also has a central police force responsible for border security, protection of federal buildings, and a mobile response force that is able to help out or reinforce state police if required. Policing in the USA consists of federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state agencies, such as highway patrol, and local policing by county police and sheriff's departments. What these have in common is that local policing is local, and major crime and national security is dealt with at the national level.
What do the Welsh public think? A survey carried out by Beaufort Research and the Silk Commission on Devolution in Wales found that 63 per cent of the 2,000 responders polled were in favour of policing powers for Wales being devolved from central Government in England. I believe that the way forward is to devolve most policing to the National Assembly. I will say this now: I hope that we're not going to have the Conservatives saying, 'We don't want to devolve the national crime agency and national security.' I don't either; it's the normal, everyday policing that I want devolved. Just remember that, up until 1960, the large cities of Britain policed themselves without anyone outside the Home Office having any concerns. We should get back the right to police ourselves and hand local policing to the Welsh Government.
In their evidence to the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales, the Police Federation of England and Wales stated:
'we had concluded to The Silk Commission that "policing could be devolved" the question of whether or not is "should be devolved" is of course a political issue and decision.'
They reiterated their neutral and evidence-led stance in their briefing for this debate.
In their evidence to the Thomas commission, the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales stated,
'The Home Office currently support the Police in a wide-ranging capacity; examples of which are leadership, development, transformation, vulnerability, collaboration, intervention, prevention, security, counter terrorism and pay, pensions and conditions. Any new arrangement will need to ensure that the Governmental support for policing is not diminished or eroded and with a devolved policing structure.'
They added that the,
'Devolution of policing in Wales will be a significant change and it is vital that such a question is considered with a stringent benefits analysis and equally importantly involves the public and all stakeholders in any future redesign options.'
In this context, Gwent's former deputy chief constable, Mick Giannasi, has written that a change in the nature of Welsh Government's relationship with the police service may ultimately prove to be less productive. And my contacts in both North Wales Police and the region's police federation have repeatedly told me that they have a closer affiliation with north-west England than the rest of Wales and that there is a lack of competence in Welsh Government to handle the devolution of policing. With crime and justice operating on an east-west axis, not just in north Wales, but across Wales, North Wales Police share services including regional organised crime, firearms, intelligence, custody, property and forensics with their sister forces in north-west England. They also express concern about any desire in Welsh Government to merge the police forces in Wales as they stated that the geography and current calibrations with various English forces makes the concept of an all-Wales police force very difficult, adding that to force such a move to satisfy the egos of certain politicians should be carefully monitored. I'm quoting.
When the Assembly's Social Justice and Regeneration Committee reviewed the structure of policing in 2005—I was part of that—our report noted that criminal activity does not recognise national or regional boundaries and that cross-border partnerships must reflect operational reality—
Will you take an intervention, Mark?
I'll have one intervention.
We are talking about devolving the police, not devolving crime.
Yes, and policing must reflect demographic, geographic and historic reality and where crime actually happens and how it moves, not the aspirations or otherwise of certain politicians.
The work of the Assembly's sub-committee considering the then proposed Welsh police merger, of which I was a member, led to police mergers being aborted across England and Wales. As I said in the February 2006 debate on this, the police authorities told us that the additional all-Wales annual cost of reorganisation would be up to £57 million, with the chief constable saying that it would be even more. And that was 16 years ago.
Comparison is made, of course, with Scotland and Northern Ireland, where policing is a devolved matter, but for reasons of geography and history, the situation in Wales is entirely different. Successive UK Governments retained a commitment to re-devolve policing in Northern Ireland after direct rule ended, and if you don't understand why, I'd check your history books.
Forty-eight per cent of people in Wales live within 25 miles of the border with England and 90 per cent within 50 miles and that reflects the crime patterns. In contrast, only 5 per cent of the combined populations of Scotland and England live within 50 miles of the border between those countries. Despite this, the Thomas report makes only one reference to the key issue of cross-border criminality, in the context of county lines, and the only solution it proposes is joint working across the four Welsh forces, in collaboration with other agencies, without any reference to establish joint working with neighbouring partners across the invisible crime and justice border with England.
Well, as I learned when I visited Titan, the north-west regional organised crime unit, a collaboration of North Wales Police and five north-west England forces, all north Wales emergency planning is done with north-west England; 95 per cent or more of crime in north Wales is local or operates on a cross-border, east-west basis; North Wales Police have no significant operations working on an all-Wales basis; and that evidence given to the Thomas commission by the chief constables and police and crime commissioners in Wales was largely 'ignored'—I quote—in the commission's report.
As I said here last month, devolution of policing would therefore be operational insanity and financial lunacy. The devolution of policing—[Interruption.]
Listen to the evidence, stop making silly comments, grow up, and listen to the experts, who I'm actually quoting here.
The devolution of policing would deliver the opposite of real devolution, threatening to take more powers from the Welsh regions, and to centralise these in Cardiff—
The Member must conclude now.
[Inaudible.]—the power to hire and fire chief constables. I'll conclude. Given Labour Welsh Government's record of creeping and often intimidatory politicisation of devolved public services, this is a chilling proposition. [Interruption.] I can introduce you to the whistleblowers who are victims of what I've just described.
I'm pleased that we're having this debate, and I'm very grateful to Mike Hedges for bringing it forward. There is increasing consensus that responsibility for policing should be devolved to this place, and that it makes no sense constitutionally or practically for these issues to be governed elsewhere. I believe that policing should be local. Members here will be familiar with the constitutional arguments that now that Wales makes its own law, it makes sense that we should be responsible for implementing it too, but there is also an ethical justification for devolution too.
The English word 'policing' comes from the Ancient Greek 'polis', which has a double meaning, namely the city and the citizens living within that city. So, the history and concept of the word links the institution with its people. The police don't simply administer the law, they are an incarnation of the law on our streets. And of course, the Welsh word 'heddlu' literally means 'peace force'.
But, Deputy Llywydd, we don't need to look back over centuries to see the link between authority and the people through the police, and how that, unfortunately, is being eroded. We have seen damaging erosion over recent years in terms of public trust in the police. Although the vast majority are good and conscientious people, the damage is done by a minority and a culture that needs to change. It's not just a problem for the Met in London, it's a problem in Wales too. Research by Dr Robert Jones from the Wales Governance Centre this week shows that black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.
This is true of the justice system too, as well as the police. Recent research by Dr Jones shows that people are five times more likely of being imprisoned if they are black, as compared to white people. And sentences for black, Asian and mixed race people are significantly higher than they are for white people, on average. And the deaths of Mohamud Hassan and Mouayed Bashir, after they came into contact with South Wales Police, continue to pose serious questions.
We've had debates in this Senedd over recent months on spiking, stalking, and there have been questions raised on the appallingly low conviction rates in rape cases and male violence against women. Yes, these facts are part of broader, structural problems within society, but they are not exceptions—they are an emergency alarm, telling us that something is gravely amiss. In devolving policing, as well as the justice system, we can start to tackle these deep-set inequalities within our society. We can link justice and policing with health, education and social policy, as Lord Thomas acknowledged. We can look seriously for the reasons for crime in order to prevent it from happening in the first instance, rather than simply continuing with the vicious cycle of crime and punishment.
This Senedd doesn't have the powers to solve the problems with the Met police, but there is an incontrovertible case for devolving the powers to resolve our own problems to this place. By implementing a justice system that is more just and policing policies that are more enlightened, we can restore public trust in our systems, reduce crime and, through that, safeguard the public from avoidable harm.
The police should work for the people. They should be visible, transparent and accountable. But this will not happen as we continue with the current system, which clearly isn't working. Policing should be local, which means that decisions should be made as close to the people as is possible.
Thank you to Mike for tabling this debate. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to participate.
I'd like to start with a very quick response to my colleague Mark Isherwood. And I really do understand his passion and the need for us to look back and to see what has worked and what hasn't. But I want to look forward. And this isn't, as we've heard, about the devolution of crime. This is about us looking at how we respond to it, and how we can prevent crime as well. This is about us in Wales taking power back to say, 'This is how we want to do it differently to what is happening at the moment.' And I want to focus on the situation with women, particularly women in prisons.
There are seven facts I just want to lay before you. Women are more likely than male prisoners to serve short sentences for non-violent offences. The average distance a woman is held from home is 63 miles. Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence or emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child. Women are more likely than men to self-harm whilst in prison. And, finally, black and minority ethnic women are more than twice as likely to be arrested than white women.
The female offender strategy, published in 2018, four years ago, was designed to deliver vast improvements on community-based solutions, well-being and better custody. But the National Audit Office in England said that since the strategy was published in 2018, the UK Government had made limited progress towards its goals because it had not prioritised investment in this work. And funding for the strategy was less than half of the minimum £40 million that officials estimated would be needed, but £150 million was found to fund an additional 500 women's prison places when it was needed, against the direction of travel under the new strategy.
I want us to look differently at how we treat women in our prisons, and to look at how we deal with women offenders. We can do better here in Wales; I know that. Let's not imprison our women; let's look at community sentences, women's centres, how we look at residential alternatives, some of those being with children, not just with babies, and much, much smaller units. I believe that improving how the criminal justice system responds to the needs of women should be at the heart of that call, and for the call for devolution of powers to Wales, which I hope that the Minister can address in response to today's debate. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
May I begin by saying how much I agree with what Jane Dodds has just said? And I think much of what I will have to say will complement those comments.
I think if we had responsibility here in Wales, Dirprwy Lywydd, for policing, and indeed criminal justice, we would have a much more progressive, and indeed productive, system that would really improve life for our communities here in Wales, because I think there is a discredited UK model that does involve sending more people to prison per head of population than virtually any other country, if not any other country in western Europe. And many of those people, as we know, have mental health issues, are illiterate, have alcohol and drug misuse problems and are really, in many ways, victims themselves in our communities and society.
If we had a different model, which was much more about prevention and preventing reoffending when people do come into the criminal justice system, then we'd have fewer victims of crime, we'd have fewer people who are incarcerated and in the criminal justice system with all the misery that brings for themselves and their families. We badly need a more enlightened approach. It would very much benefit women, as Jane said, it would complement our youth service here in Wales and, indeed, our drug and alcohol abuse services as well. I give way to Mark Isherwood.
Do you recognise, as has been debated here, and referred to by the Counsel General, that the UK Government has announced precisely that policy in relation to women—that they should not be in prison, they should be in the community—and that they're funding a series of new women's centres, including one in Wales? The Counsel General told us last November in this Chamber that that was developing well and discussions were ongoing to establish that centre.
I think we hear a lot of rhetoric from the UK Government, Mark, but it's not always evidenced in practice. Yes, there may be individual examples, but we want to see a consistent approach, in terms of policing and criminal justice, that moves on to that more, what I would say, progressive and enlightened territory that we've already heard about in this debate today, which I think is badly needed.
I know, for example, from providers of drug and alcohol misuse services, that they feel that they are trying to serve two masters, as it were, in Wales. They've got the Home Office, and Home Office policies on illicit drugs, for example, which are very much about criminalisation and the criminal justice route, and then they've got Welsh Government policies, which are much more health-orientated and about prevention and treatment. It's not easy to serve two masters in that way, and I know those who provide those crucial drug and alcohol misuse services feel that they're not operating to maximum efficiency and effectiveness as a result. We've got many initiatives. I know that in Newport, Positive Futures, which is run through Newport Live, the leisure trust in Newport, and seeks to work with young people and divert them from the criminal justice route, find it difficult, because they're, again, working within this non-devolved system of policing, although they're funded partly, at least, by the police and crime commissioner. Life would be much easier for them if there was a more consistent, integrated and joined-up approach.
There are many regional variations across Wales, in fact, in policing, and the way that commissioning takes place jointly with the health services or not. Much of that could be better integrated and not varied across Wales if we had Welsh Government dealing with policing as well as the health service here in Wales. We've heard about domestic abuse services; that is another example. I think that that argument about a better fit between policing and devolved services if policing was devolved is very well established and recognised, and much work within the Senedd points in that direction, including work by our health committee, I think, back in 2019, when they made important recommendations about mental health in policing and police custody. I know that within Gwent the police service works very closely with mental health services. They have a team of mental health professionals trying to deal with the very acute strain that policing comes under, because police are not mental health professionals, but are, very often, faced with these mental health issues in carrying out their policing duties, and they are also trying to train their own police force to a much greater extent, as well as working with the health service. I think that fit between mental health services and policing is one that would benefit greatly if we had devolution of policing.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I see that, as ever, time is short. Can I just say that I think most people would recognise that eventually policing in Wales will be devolved? It's a question of when. There are so many important benefits. The sooner that devolution takes place, the better.
It's a real pleasure to participate in this debate and follow that contribution from John Griffiths, and also the contributions from Jane Dodds and other in this debate. When I took responsibility for the policy area in the last Government, it shocked me just how poorly the whole criminal justice system serves Wales. It cannot be seen as a success when, for however long we've had the joint England and Wales jurisdiction, women are treated so appallingly by the whole of that system. We didn't have a secure facility for anyone in north Wales until a few years ago. For centuries, the needs of people in north Wales were simply ignored by the criminal justice system. The needs of women across the whole of this country are still being ignored. I recognise the point that Mark Isherwood made about the latest UK Government plan, but, you know, they have had since 1536. So, you'll have to excuse my cynicism when I hear these things. This has been a journey for us, and this has been a journey that we've participated in, sometimes at different speeds, but usually—[Interruption.] Yes, I will give way.
Do you agree that, in 1536, the penal systems of every place across the world were treating women and men abominably within the criminal justice system?
Yes, but most have improved considerably since then. Unfortunately, the system that serves Wales is yet to find a way of serving women, and you need to reflect on that in making your argument.
It's an important point that we need to raise, because we have been on a journey here. I remember sitting in Government offices having long conversations with Carl Sargeant on these matters when he talked about adverse childhood experiences and of the role of police in dealing with the consequences of that. I remember how we developed our thinking together on lots of different issues, with the police not being something that is foreign or outside of our communities but police as part of our community, as a part of a suite and range of public services delivering for people within our communities.
I hope and believe that policing, when it is devolved—. And I think it will be devolved at some point. The question to ask yourselves is: how many people must suffer before that happens? When we do devolve policing, I hope that we are able to do things differently. The points made by Rhys ab Owen in First Minister's questions yesterday are another standing rebuke to the current criminal justice system. We are not treating people properly in this country and we need to recognise that. When we devolve policing, we don't simply devolve the responsibility, we don't simply provide, Mark, another politician with another feather in another cap, but we then do things differently.
Do you know what I want to see? I want to see policing as a part integrated into our other services, but I also want to see it being held to account differently. I would like to see a greater role for local government, for example, in holding local police forces to account. I would like to understand how local people can have a greater say in how policing is delivered in our local communities. Because the model we have at the moment does not provide for that, and I don't believe anybody seriously argues that it does so.
The findings of the Thomas commission on these matters were absolutely devastating. They were devastating—possibly the most important piece of work that we've seen completed and published since the introduction of devolved Government over 20 years ago. Policing and the criminal justice system should be at the heart of Government, but they're failing the country they're supposed to serve. And people recognise that of course, because the UK Government is devolving policing in England—it is devolving policing in England. It recognises the power of the argument of democracy and accountability in delivery of police services, everywhere except in Wales.
Wales is the only part of this kingdom where there is no local control of policing, where there is no local accountability of policing. And we are told and we are invited to believe that that's a good thing—that it's a good thing that we don't have that level of democratic accountability, that it's a good thing that we don't have that level of local integration, that it's a good thing that we don't have any level of local support and control of the criminal justice system and the police. I will bring my remarks to a close. I don't believe that history supports that case. I don't believe that the facts sustain that argument. And I don't believe that the future will entertain that argument either.
I call on the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd like to thank Mike Hedges for bringing this Member debate before the Senedd, and for all the contributions this afternoon, which are important in terms of this very key issue. The Welsh Government will be supporting this motion.
It's been over two years since the Thomas commission published its report on justice in Wales. The report is the most comprehensive exercise ever undertaken, examining the state of the justice system in Wales, and it sets out a clear evidence-based need for action. The Thomas commission recommended policing and crime reduction policy be determined in Wales, to ensure policing is firmly integrated within the same policy and legislative framework as health, local government and other public services, as has been described today in this debate, with very many clear examples. These services need to work together holistically to prevent offending and reoffending in the way that Jane Dodds described regarding women caught up in the criminal justice system. And John Griffiths endorsed this in terms of the preventative approach being the right way forward. But the Thomas commission recommended that this integration, policy and legislative, can only be achieved through the devolution of policing. We strongly support that. Only when we have full oversight of the justice system in Wales will we be able to fully align delivery with the needs and priorities of the people and communities of Wales.
Yes, there is a constitutional element. Wales finds itself in a position where it can make laws but cannot enforce them. The Senedd is the only Parliament in the common-law world that we know of that can legislate without the jurisdiction to enforce its own laws. This is why we're pursuing the case for devolution of justice and policing, and it remains a firm ministerial commitment within our programme for government, which people in Wales voted for overwhelmingly last year. The second edition of 'Reforming our Union', published in June 2021, consolidated this position. It includes 20 propositions to put the union on a sustainable footing for the future, including the proposition that devolved institutions should be responsible for policing and the administration of justice. Devolution of policing is needed to make the constitutional settlement coherent and practical. The devolution of justice and policing to Wales should and will happen. It is a question of when, not if. This is not merely political sentiment; justice is better delivered at a more localised level, where it can be tailored, prioritised and influenced according to its societal needs. It is welcoming that the police and crime commissioners in Wales are supportive of the case for devolution. We're looking forward to engaging with them and other stakeholders on this issue. I do value my regular liaison with the police and crime commissioners' rotating leads, and it's been very beneficial in terms of practical outcomes.
We recognise that the UK Government takes a different position from us, and we're working on a justice publication that will outline how we're already actively enabling the delivery of justice services in Wales. This includes initiatives that prevent people coming into contact with the justice system in the first place, as well as activity that helps people who are already in contact with the system to make the journey away from it. This publication will only reinforce the point made by the Thomas commission that policing is intrinsically intertwined with the devolved services that support people and prevent crime. It will also underline that we're already delivering on our distinct vision for how criminal justice should work in Wales. In line with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, we're supporting a preventative, collaborative approach founded on the evidence of what works to break inter-generational cycles of reoffending. Our work with partners is at the centre of this vision. Wales already works collaboratively, breaching the difficult fault lines that permeate our reserved and devolved services. We share the collective goal of ensuring the effective delivery of justice in Wales.
The current devolution settlement has created a myriad of unnecessary challenges for policing in Wales. Despite these, police in Wales have worked tirelessly, in partnership with us, to circumvent the legislative shortcomings. In particular, the Welsh Government would not have succeeded in its emergency response to the COVID pandemic without the exceptionally strong and collaborative working relationship with Welsh police forces and with other justice agencies who play a vital role to engage with people and enforce our regulations where necessary. This is a partnership that has strengthened further as a result of the pandemic, and the partnership approach is also evident in the programme for government commitments we're delivering, together with police and crime commissioners and police forces in Wales. Our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, which builds on what's already worked so well to improve outcomes for women and young people in the justice system, is a perfect example, and I will co-chair the national implementation board for the strategy with police and crime commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, working together to make Wales a safer place for women and girls.
Our race equality action plan ambition of becoming an anti-racist Wales allows us to work together to collectively bring about tangible change. Criminal justice in Wales has always made this a priority, and we're working closely with them on their race equality plan to ensure there is consistency across both, and we welcome the strong commitment from our justice partners to be part of the solution to eradicate racism. But as Delyth Jewell has highlighted, the figures published by the Wales Governance Centre in relation to stop and search, as the First Minister also commented on in the Chamber yesterday, are truly shocking. And that's why we have a commitment in the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru to ensure that justice elements in the race equality plan are robust and address the clear evidence of disproportionality within the justice system.
We're also committed to keeping our community safe and the crucial role of neighbourhood policing, which has been expressed this afternoon. That's why our programme for government commits to maintaining funding for the 500 police community support officers and to increase the number by 100. This is where, again, in all our communities, we can see the power and the strength of those police community support officers engaging with the people and communities at the front, absolutely in everything that affects people's lives and communities.
The policing partnership board for Wales, which meets quarterly, and is chaired either by myself or by the First Minister, provides a valuable opportunity for policing in Wales and Welsh Government to tackle these important issues for Wales that cut across devolved and non-devolved aspects of public service. Even without devolution of policing, we achieve so much when we work in partnership with our police forces and PCCs, but just imagine what we could achieve for the people of Wales if policing was devolved, and I am today urging you to support me in agreeing this motion. Diolch yn fawr.
I call on Rhys ab Owen to reply to the debate.
Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you very much to my colleague Mike Hedges for tabling this debate today. Thank you also to John Griffiths for his work chairing the cross-party group on police, an important job of work, and also to my colleague Alun Davies. When he was a Minister—remember he was a Minister at one time—Alun Davies established the Welsh policing board, an important group that Jane Hutt has just reminded us of.
Because this is not a new debate. Like last week, with St David's Day, we have been here before, and, let me say this quietly to you over there, it has previously had Tory support. Back in the early 1990s, Lord Hunt, the then Secretary of State for Wales, had come to an agreement with Ken Clarke, the Home Secretary, to devolve justice to the Welsh Office. Now, that was stopped because of the bureaucracy of the Home Office, the empire building within the Home Office—civil servants did not want to let it go. But the Conservative Party, back in the 1990s, were in favour of devolving it, and if it had been, we wouldn't have this debate now, it would already have been devolved. And do you remember Boris Johnson in 2014? He wasn't just satisfied with policing, he wanted the whole criminal justice system devolved to London. Where's the logic there that he wants all the criminal justice devolved to London, but we can't even have policing here in Wales?
Whatever Mark Isherwood says, it does have the support of police officers at every level. Look at the brief, Mark Isherwood, we had from the Police Federation, the shift that's happened since the Silk commission, they are now—. Even though still in neutral stance, the question they're asking now is, 'Why shouldn't it be devolved?' It's a huge shift, and it has the support of every PCC, and, despite their neutral stance, the support of every chief constable in Wales. Peter Vaughan, the highly respected former chief constable of South Wales Police has been a firm advocate of the devolution of policing.
Now, the cross-border issue that Mark Isherwood has raised once again—it is incredible. This is the same party that last week voted in favour of St David's Day being a bank holiday in Wales, separate to England. Just imagine the chaos: a bank holiday in Wales on 1 March and not in England. Look at the cross-border chaos that would create. And, gosh, what about Luxembourg? How do they survive with their own police force?
Now, as John Griffiths, as Mike Hedges, as Alun Davies has reminded us, policing is not an island, it's not isolated—it's completely aligned with sectors that are devolved to this place. Every 13 minutes, South Wales Police receives a report relating to a mental health issue, and of those incidents, which police officers have to attend, only 4 per cent require the exercise of police powers.
Now, funding—funding hasn't been mentioned this afternoon. Funding of the police in Wales is very complex, and Alun Davies alluded to this—the lack of accountability that leads to. Now, funding comes from the Home Office, from the Welsh Government as part of the local government finance settlement, and, thirdly, from local police precept, and finally from the Welsh Government, as Mike Hedges said, funding the 600 community support officers. More funding comes from Wales through the police forces than from the Home Office: 67 per cent of the funding of Welsh police forces comes from Wales, and yet there's a lack of accountability in this place. Now, £113.47 million will be spent in the next budget year on Welsh police forces—Welsh Government money. And through Welsh Government funding, and not setting a limit on council tax precept, we have not seen the huge cut in police numbers in Wales that we saw in England.
Now, finally, the political symmetry argument. I've not heard a single good argument why policing is devolved to Greater Manchester and London and not to Wales. If there are cross-border issues, Mark, in Wales, what about Greater Manchester and London? Go on, Mark.
Do you recognise that the devolution to Manchester, for example, you refer to, are the powers of police and crime commissioners? We have those in Wales. If you're talking still, however, about merging into a single force and having powers in the Government, then you're talking about political decision making over the hiring and firing of chief constables.
Well, that exists already with police and crime commissioners, and this is executive devolution in Manchester and London, which is completely different. And nobody here has mentioned the unification of the Welsh police force except for you, Mark Isherwood. The Thomas commission did not recommend it; the Silk commission did not recommend it.
Now, the political symmetry—if you really are that concerned about the union, why can't we have political symmetry within the union? Or is Wales inferior to other places, so that we can't have control of policing? And the 'cannot enforce laws' point by Jane Hutt—and I'll come to an end at this point, Dirprwy Lywydd—we saw it in the COVID pandemic, didn't we? Welsh police forces enforcing Welsh laws, but yet there was no accountability to the Welsh Government, and no accountability to this place. We've been reminded by Jane Dodds and by Delyth Jewell that the current system does not work. Well, I look forward to the day, like Mike Hedges said, when I can call Jane Hutt the Welsh justice Minister. Thank you very much.