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.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda.
The first item is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Buffy Williams.
I think you're unmuted now.
1. Will the Minister provide an update on the level of fuel poverty in the Rhondda constituency? OQ58137
In Rhondda Cynon Taf, 14,716 households have received our £200 winter fuel support scheme payment. Projections published in April 2022 suggest up to 45 per cent of all households in Wales could be in fuel poverty and up to 98 per cent of lower income households could now be in fuel poverty.
Thank you, Minister. Taking the 2021 modelled estimated fuel poverty and revising them using fuel prices from 1 April 2022, up to 45 per cent or 640,000 households could be in fuel poverty following the price cap increase, and energy price rises are likely to hit lower income households disproportionately. Having worked in the third sector before being elected to this place, I've seen first hand the devastating effects that fuel poverty has, but I also know the difference that third sector organisations and charities can make. So, with this knowledge, how is the Welsh Government working with the voluntary sector to safeguard families hit the hardest by the Tory cost-of-living crisis? And what steps are Welsh Government taking to ensure families have the security they need for the next energy price increase this winter?
Well, thank you very much, Buffy Williams, for that question. The third sector has been very involved nationally and locally in terms of addressing these issues for those families—so, many households they work with that are hardest hit by the Tory cost-of-living crisis.
Now, we held a round-table summit back on 17 February with key external stakeholders, including the third sector, National Energy Action, the Trussell Trust and Citizens Advice, and we explored what more could be done to support hard-pressed families through this cost-of-living crisis. We had a further one on tackling food poverty. But, importantly, our fuel poverty advisory group is taking place on 13 June, and they will help us from the voluntary and energy sector to co-ordinate action to improve household resilience in advance of winter.
Minister, it is without doubt that the rise in the wholesale cost of energy is pushing many households across the country into fuel poverty, and I welcome the efforts of the UK Government to help struggling households by providing £15 billion-worth of support, which includes a £400 energy bill rebate for all families in the autumn and additional payments worth £650 for 8 million of the country's poorest households.
As you know, another reason that can lead to high energy bills is the energy inefficiency of our homes. In Wales, we have some of the most energy-inefficient housing stock in the UK and this is a major contributing factor to household fuel poverty. Out of the domestic housing stock in RCT, 71 per cent of properties have energy performance ratings rated D or below. If you single out the Rhondda, this number rises to 81 per cent. In fact, only 62 properties in the Rhondda are rated A. This means that most people in the Rhondda are going to disproportionately feel the impact of wholesale price rises. It also means that it's unlikely that these homes will have improved energy ratings significantly in five or 10 years' time without massive investment, making them susceptible to further bill shocks. Do you agree with me, and many Members in this Chamber, Minister, that rather than spend £100 million on another 36 Members for this Chamber, the Government would be better off spending that money on improving the energy efficiency of people's homes and helping them out of fuel poverty, and, if not, can the Minister explain why 36 more Members is a greater priority than warmer homes?
Well, the Member makes a very important point about home energy. Since 2009-10 to the end of March 2021, more than £394 million has been invested to improve home energy efficiency through the Warm Homes programme, and that's benefited more than 67,100 lower income households, and also, importantly, energy efficiency advice, through the Warm Homes programme—160,000 people also receiving that. And we, of course, now have our Warm Homes programme consultation programme moving forward. What is crucial is that we invest in tackling both fuel poverty and food poverty, and we have actually—. Although we welcome many of the announcements made by the UK Government, these are very short term, and what we have done, in terms of a £380 million investment into tackling the cost-of-living crisis and fuel and food poverty, is still ask the UK Government to reduce household fuel bills by removing all social and environmental policy costs from household energy bills, and for these costs to be met from general taxation. In fact, I met with energy providers only two weeks ago, and many of them were calling for that, as well as introducing a lower price cap for low-income households to ensure they can meet the costs of their energy needs, now and in the future. But another key point, which I hope the Member would join me in calling for, is an increase in local housing allowance rates and increased funding for discretionary housing payments, because this is also another impact of the cost-of-living crisis, in terms of debt and the difficulty and the potential for more people to become homeless as a result of rent arrears.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with the UK Government regarding the establishment of a residential women's centre in Swansea? OQ58122
I've regularly engaged with UK Government justice Ministers, who are leading on this important programme of work, and I will continue this collaborative approach as the development of the residential women’s centre progresses.
Thank you, Minister. Obviously, you mentioned that residential women's centre in Swansea, which is set to open, hopefully, in 2024. And while I welcome the pioneering new initiative to tackle the root causes of low-level female offending, and the collaboration between Welsh and UK Governments bringing the centre to Swansea, we need to make sure that it's done in tandem with the local community in Swansea. While we all want to see the rehabilitation of the individuals involved, there is some concern from residents that these will be housed in this area with these specific settings. I'm pleased to see that the centre will tackle underlying and complex factors surrounding low-level crime, but we need to ensure that the community in Swansea are fully on board with it. We as Members know the importance of the initiative not only to women in my region, but across Wales, and what we need for this first-of-its-kind initiative, if you like, to succeed is buy-in from the local community. Without that community support, we won't see the full benefits of the project; the centre won't succeed without that buy-in. So, given it's such a new initiative, I fear doing more of the same when it comes to statutory engagement perhaps isn't the way to go here—we need more engagement from stakeholders at all levels, to highlight the importance and the benefits of such a scheme. Therefore, can I ask the Minister to commit to work with stakeholders and other partners to highlight the benefits of the scheme and to keep the community at the heart of the project, and to commit to going beyond the statutory minimum of engagement to ensure that the project becomes a reality?
I thank Tom Giffard for the question, and, indeed, for his support for this pioneering residential women's centre. And I'm sure he will join me in welcoming the fact that Wales is leading the way. This has come about as the result of a partnership. Although it's the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, I've pushed very hard for a residential women's centre to be piloted in Wales. In fact, my predecessor Alun Davies actually started these discussions. It's a key element of the women's justice blueprint, and I can assure you that there has been extensive engagement with stakeholders. Close partnership working with the Welsh Government, the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, Wales's police and crime commissioners and local authorities have been pivotal to this work.
But, again, I take the opportunity to state what this residential women's centre will be: it is the first in Wales, and it's a pilot for the UK. It will provide accommodation for up to 12 women, with a wide range of needs, so that they may stay close to their homes and communities. It will offer services that tackle the underlying causes of offending—for example, support for domestic abuse and mental health. And it's a residential women's centre that will be supporting women—local women—to maintain contact with their children, their families and local communities, encouraging contact and visiting as appropriate. And it will provide the first community centre option for women in Wales, offering the additional support of a residential element, and also, very importantly, in terms of positive contributions to and with the local community, as they move into settled accommodation. So, I think, in terms of the opportunities that this will have, the investment that will take place and the partnership working, this will be something that will be welcomed in the community in Swansea.
I thank Tom Giffard for his question, and I thank the Minister for all her work with regard to this valuable women's centre in Swansea. The Minister will be aware of my concerns that it's a five-year pilot not starting until 2024 at the earliest, and will only be able to support 12 women at maximum in the Swansea area. My concern is what happens to the other women in Wales. The pilot doesn't come to an end until the end of this decade, there will be an analysis period afterwards, and in all of this time Welsh women are being sent far away from their families to prisons in England. What can you do, Minister, in combination, in partnership, with the UK Government to support these Welsh women?
Thank you. Diolch yn fawr, Rhys ab Owen. This is a major step forward, isn't it, to have that transformation. It can't come too soon as far as I'm concerned—2024 feels a long way off, and it cannot be then just waiting to see how this works. It is being planned so that it will work; it will offer all those services that I have described. And we need to start the pressure—thank you for the question and making the point—now to extend this provision, because I think what's going to be so important about this is it's an investment in the women and their families, and in the community, because it's going to improve their skills, their health and relationships, and they will look forward to their prospects as they leave the women's residential centre. And it's very much part of the women pathfinder approach.
But I would also say that this is something where, in terms of the unjust way women are treated in the criminal justice system—. I spoke at a virtual summit at the end of March, where I heard that at least 57 per cent of women currently coming into contact with the criminal justice system are victims of domestic abuse. Sixty-three per cent of girls and young women serving sentences in the community have experienced rape or domestic abuse in an intimate partner relationship. I've met women in prison outside of Wales who are there basically because of poverty and austerity and domestic abuse. And, actually, at this event, I have to say that I heard from a young woman—and I'm meeting with her, Ellie Anderson—who shared her childhood experience of being a child of a woman who'd been in prison several times. Ellie grew up in Wales, and her mother was in prison outside of Wales, and I'm meeting her shortly.
So, together, and with your support, we will press for this provision to be extended, not just in five years' time, but as soon as possible.
Questions now from party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Well, as we heard, 13 days ago, the UK Government announced a new £15 billion cost-of-living support package targeted towards millions of low-income households, bringing its total cost-of-living support so far to £37 billion. As we heard earlier, this includes £650 cost-of-living payments for every household on means-tested benefits, and doubling of the October energy bill discount from £200 to £400, with the requirement to pay it back scrapped, something I know that you had also called for. It also introduces a £300 pensioner cost-of-living payment for every pensioner household in receipt of winter fuel payments, £150 disability cost-of-living payments for those in receipt of disability benefits, and an additional £0.5 billion for the existing household support fund. This new package will mean that the lowest income households in Wales will receive over £1,000 of extra support this year. There will also be a £25 million consequential funding flow to the Welsh Government from the extension to the household support fund. So, how will the Welsh Government ensure that this funding will be targeted in its entirety at households hardest hit by the cost-of-living increases, beyond the funding announcements you made before this additional funding was announced?
I thank Mark Isherwood for that question. We called for what was a very welcome announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 26 May. We actually called for additional support for households and, indeed, we called for the fact that we should not just get the funding, but that it should be clearly targeted at those who are most vulnerable. So, it is welcome that there will be that energy bill rebate of £400 to be applied to household bills in October. We called for it to be paid as a grant not a loan. It was always utterly wrong to say that it should have been a loan to be repaid. So, the UK Government has listened to us, listened to the Welsh Government and calls from this side of the Chamber, I know, for action.
We have still called for action from the UK Government in terms of the fact that this is a one-off, and we still do need to see more support given in terms of, for example, the warm homes discount, currently planned at £150. So, we have made that commitment, as you say, the £380 million, and we had our winter fuel support scheme. This is where we are learning how effective that can be and how we can extend our discretionary assistance fund. Perhaps it's an opportunity to update that, as of 30 April, local authorities have paid 166,049 households with crucial support from our winter fuel support scheme. So, we will be looking at all the ways in which we can support and learn from our investment not just in terms of tackling fuel poverty, but tackling food poverty as well, bolstering community food partnerships and also raising awareness of affordable credit.
Thank you. Of course, we've also called for that, as have large numbers of Conservative MPs, alongside Labour MPs and other parties also. I hope that answer meant that that money will be going in its entirety to hardest-hit households. It wasn't exactly clear. But on the directly related question of fuel poverty, because my first question was more general around fuel poverty in Wales, National Energy Action—NEA—estimate that the increase to the price cap from April will push an additional 100,000 households in Wales into fuel poverty, bringing the total to over 280,000. Questioning you here in January, I referred to the publication of the Welsh Government's cold weather resilience plan for people at risk of living in a cold home. I asked how you respond to concern and feedback from fuel poverty coalition members that they would like to see strengthened detail and how the Welsh Government will work with the health sector to achieve the plan's aims and agree what the health sector can do to support it. When you attended the cross-party group on fuel poverty and energy efficiency meeting on 14 March, and I thank you again for attending that meeting, I asked you how the Welsh Government intends to work with the health sector to achieve the plan's aims and establish referral networks between health actors and advice partners. In response, you asked your officials to follow up with me and the cross-party group on how Welsh Government could look to work with health agencies in this way. Thus far, I've heard nothing. So, when, therefore, will this be happening? And what action has so far been taken?
I was very grateful for the opportunity to come and speak, as I have more than once, I think, to your cross-party group on tackling fuel poverty. You know that our fuel poverty plan commits to continued investment in the Warm Homes programme, particularly in the development and publication of the cold weather resilience plan. Of course, the key factor, in terms of health and well-being, is crucial to that. So, I was grateful for that question, and for that call on us to look at partnership with the health service. Indeed, I've already raised this with the health and social services Minister. This is something that will also be reflected in terms of the fuel poverty advisory committee that I mentioned earlier on. This does provide us with an opportunity to address this as we move forward with not just our fuel poverty plan, but our Warm Homes programme. I will also say that this is something where the Warm Homes programme is very geared to addressing the vulnerabilities that people face in terms of fuel poverty. And you were right again, Mark Isherwood, to tell us again in this Chamber what we are facing in terms of fuel poverty as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. A lot more needs to be done. We need more funding from the UK Government in order for us to do this—to address the home energy efficiency issues, but also to extend the allowances and the rebates that they are paying, so that we can play our part effectively.
Thank you. I would be grateful if, as you stated, your officials would follow up with the group and myself as chair when they have the information to hand.
Changing tack, reference was made earlier by my colleague Tom Giffard to residential women's centres in Wales. The UK Government's female offender strategy was published in June 2018 to divert vulnerable female offenders away from short prison sentences wherever possible, invest in community services, and establish five pilot residential women's centres, including one in Wales. Last month, you wrote to Members stating you'd been working closely with the UK Ministry of Justice and announcing that one of these centres would be near Swansea in south Wales. The following week, you issued a written statement to Members with an update on the delivery of the youth justice and women's justice blueprints. With reference to the location of the residential women's centre in Wales, you stated that this would improve the lives of women in Wales, providing a more holistic, trauma-informed approach to delivering services for women who may find themselves involved in the criminal justice system in Wales. Importantly, it will also allow women to stay closer to home and to maintain crucial family ties, especially with their children. However, how will the location of this centre in Swansea help women offenders in north, mid and west Wales to access the services they need closer to home and to maintain their crucial family ties? What action are you taking to support the location of a future centre, hopefully in north Wales?
That is a very serious point and it really follows on from the questions from Tom Giffard and Rhys ab Owen, because we need more than one women's residential centre. The key points, and I don't want to repeat them, in terms of what this centre is going to do, are about serving the local community, serving local women and their families in their local community. That is appropriate for the way these residential women's centres are developing. I think I've got very useful backing from the Welsh Conservatives, led by you, Mark Isherwood, for a much clearer partnership and response from the UK Government and the Ministry of Justice in terms of the way forward. I think, indeed, it actually just spells out—. I mean, your frustration is like our frustration, and I think if we had more powers over justice then we'd be able to move forward faster, I believe, in terms of expanding the women's centre offer to north Wales. I'll certainly be backing your call for a north Wales centre, Mark Isherwood.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson now. Peredur Owen Griffiths.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Risca foodbank, along with my Plaid Cymru colleague Delyth Jewell. There, we heard about the increasing demand for their services, which is hardly surprising with the cost-of-living crisis that continues throughout Wales and affecting our communities. I fear that the demand is set to get much higher in our foodbanks throughout the country. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote volunteering within the community as well as looking at community-based solutions to this issue, such as community food hubs? These could bring sustainability to local communities, provide food parcels, and be a source of agricultural education.
Thank you very much. I'm sure Members across this Chamber have been visiting and been aware of not just their foodbanks but some of the community food initiatives, like the pantries that have been set up, and the relationships with FareShare particularly in terms of access to food from our supermarkets. I mentioned the fact that we had a round-table on food poverty as well as the cost-of-living crisis as a whole. Since 2019, we have invested more than £14 million to support and bolster foodbanks, expand community food partnerships, develop community hubs and extend food initiatives. I'm not sure if you've got in your region—I think you probably have—the Big Bocs Bwyd project, which actually started at Cadoxton school in Barry but is being rolled out across the Valleys and indeed across Wales. That is a pioneering example of ways in which we can develop community food partnerships in conjunction with schools and linking that to the curriculum and healthy food options.
Diolch yn fawr. Something else that struck me on a number of visits throughout the region was the age profile of some of the key volunteers that these venues and clubs need to keep them ticking over. Many are older and there's little evidence of succession planning, which is a concern for the viability of some of these key pillars of our community in the years to come. Can the Welsh Government do more to create structures around informal volunteering? This could promote a continuation of services that would, perhaps, allow those from different backgrounds and age profiles to get involved.
That's a really valid question, because we know that the age profile of our volunteers is increasing, and the pressures on their lives, as well, in terms of the cost-of-living crisis are considerable, so we are very much looking at the impact of food and fuel poverty on pensioners and older people, many of whom are volunteers.
I actually chaired a third sector partnership council recently where we had the cost-of-living crisis on the agenda, and many of our third sector voluntary organisations, locally and nationally, are concerned about the impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having on their capacity, on their infrastructures and their costs themselves. But they're factoring in that understanding and recognition of this in terms of recruiting and retaining volunteers and ensuring that we can support them through this difficult time. This is also the active elderly who want to play that part, who have that compassion and willingness and desire to help, and there are many examples, as you will have seen from the volunteers in our foodbanks, of people of this kind.
3. What discussions has the Minister had with Ministerial colleagues about promoting the rights of disabled people? OQ58115
I continue to discuss with my ministerial colleagues our shared commitment to strengthening the rights of disabled people. Our work is underpinned by the social model of disability and the disability taskforce established to respond to the 'Locked Out' report to address the barriers and inequalities that disabled people face.
Thank you, Minister. I wish to return to a subject that I recently raised during a business statement here in the Chamber. Too many disabled people still face difficulties and disparities in the workplace. According to the research published in April last year, 52.3 per cent of disabled people are in employment; this compares to 82 per cent of the able-bodied population. In Wales, the disability pay gap is a staggering 18 per cent, with disabled women most affected, earning on average 36 per cent less than their non-disabled counterparts. Do you agree with me, Minister, that employing disabled workers can bring great benefits to businesses in Wales? What discussions have you personally had with your colleagues in Government about how to encourage employers not to overlook skilled workers just because they have a disability?
Thank you so much for that question, Natasha Asghar, because this is the key aim of our disabled people's employment champions—we've got a new network who help raise awareness amongst employers of flexible working opportunities. They are disabled people who are leading the way; they've established a strong network of employers, but also, they are showing that attitudinal changes can be made with employers to recognise the benefits of employing disabled people. But I would also like to say that I really welcome the fact that you acknowledge that there is a disability pay gap, and so, that's one of our national milestones. We look at gender, race and disability pay gaps, and that's a national milestone that we've agreed and the Senedd has agreed. But also, we now have a disability equality evidence unit as part of our equality evidence unit to look at these issues. So, we will be looking at it across the board, and, indeed, this is crucial to our economic contract with employers.
Minister, you deserve immense credit for pursuing the establishment of disabled people's employment champions in the previous Senedd term; they're proving to be invaluable for many, many thousands of people here in Wales. What sort of assessment would you make of the rights of disabled people and the well-being of disabled people since 2010, as a result of UK Government measures? Here in Wales, what sort of use do you think that we can make of social partnership, and, as you've mentioned, the economic contract, in providing as many work opportunities as possible for people who face disabling barriers?
Thank you very much, Ken Skates, and can I thank you for the support that you gave in your former role, not just for the network of disabled employment ambassadors, supported by the economy Minister, but also for developing that crucial economic contract, which, actually, in terms of the four pillars, includes fair work? It does include the requirement for a business to demonstrate what they're doing to ensure an equal and diverse workplace. So, I do believe we're ahead in Wales in terms of taking these policy initiatives. But I just also would say we published earlier this year 'Smarter working: a remote working strategy for Wales'. This is very much about fair work and social partnership, setting out the ways in which we can encourage remote working with the public sector playing a leadership role. But this gives more opportunity and also greater flexibility for some disabled people—women also, those with caring responsibilities—but it does need a good dialogue and trusted dialogue between employer and worker. So, I would say social partnership is essential to that.
4. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the current rate of inflation on older people in Wales? OQ58138
Age Cymru reports the cost-of-living crisis will increase the percentage of net income that pensioners spend on essential goods and services from 58 per cent in 2021-22 to 73 per cent this financial year. Older people are a priority group for single advice fund services, making up 33 per cent of those accessing advice.
Can I thank you, Minister? Most older people are on fixed incomes from the state pension, private pensions and the supplementary pension. As inflation is rising, especially energy and food are items that disproportionately affect people who are older, does the Minister agree with me that there is a need for additional support and a supplementary pension increase, and will the Minister press the Westminster Government to make such a payment? Also, is there further support that the Welsh Government can give? We have a problem in that pensioners and other older people are less likely to use food banks than younger people, and that means that many of them will go hungry.
Well, Mike Hedges, you make crucial points and provide evidence of why we do need that increase, from the UK Government, in terms of state pensions. That needs to be not just supplemented but uprated. I mean, we have the situation in terms of all benefits where it was uprated by 3.1 per cent in April, and yet, here we are with inflation rates of 10 per cent and rising. So, there's going to be a huge shortfall and impact in terms of fuel and food poverty, and you make a crucial point in terms of ways in which older people might then go through the heating-or-eating scenarios that we know from evidence is such a reality—a terrible reality for people's lives. So, I am very keen that all Members across the Chamber support our national benefit take-up campaign. We've got a working group specifically looking at promoting pension credit, and, actually, that does include Department for Work and Pensions officials and stakeholders, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales and Age Concern, so it's going to be a call to action for pensioners. But, clearly, this is something where we—. In terms of addressing these issues—and meeting with your cross-party group yesterday was very helpful to see—cost of living is now key on their agenda in terms of supporting older people.
Minister, the Chancellor's recent announcement of an additional £25 million to Wales for the household fund is further evidence of a commitment to supporting older people through some difficult times ahead, alongside the additional winter fuel payment and further financial support to meet the cost of energy. Can the Minister outline how older people will benefit from the household fund in Wales, and what further steps will you take to help reduce bills for older people? Thank you.
Thank you, Altaf Hussain. I've just mentioned ways in which we are specifically focusing on the needs of older people, particularly with the national benefit take-up campaign, but also by ensuring, as I meet with the older people's commissioner, Age Cymru and cross-party groups, that we take into account the lived experience of older people and share that particularly, not just with the third sector, but with those organisations who have got responsibility in terms of giving advice, support and accessing our funds.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the role of services like Citizens Advice during the cost-of-living crisis? OQ58132
Welsh Government has a long-standing commitment to supporting advice services so we can be confident some of the most vulnerable people in our society have access to advice on debt and welfare benefit issues. The services they provide are a lifeline for many people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
Diolch, Gweinidog. I used to work for Citizens Advice, so I really do agree with you that they will be a lifeline for thousands of people in Wales over the coming months. Now, many vulnerable people, of course, need advice in person. I'd like to seek your assurance that support is being given to organisations like Citizens Advice to ensure that in-person advice will continue to be available for everyone who needs it, that we don't see too much of a focus being put on advice only being available over the telephone or digitally, because without face-to-face advice, many people won't know where to go for help. I'm particularly concerned about debt clients, because they're the most likely to disengage part way through the advice process, and if advisers have had to deal only with cases remotely, they won't have established the same relationship, and with the Ask programme, as well, where clients who present with debt issues or housing issues are routinely asked about abuse—that won't be safe or possible if the advice isn't being given face to face. So, could you give me an assurance, please, Minister, that organisations like Citizens Advice will be supported to continue to offer that vital face-to-face interaction with clients?
Diolch, Delyth Jewell. Your role and your experience of working in Citizens Advice are very valuable, and it's useful to have that particular focus on how we can move through the pandemic to recovery and back to the face-to-face, which we know is very valuable for older people, but also for people who can often have complex needs and problems. This year I've made available over £13 million for single advice fund services so that people can get that help. I think evidence that it's making a difference—I'll just quote that, since January last year, single advice fund services have helped 116,000 people to deal with over 532,000 social welfare problems, and that's actually helped them claim additional income of over £67 million and have debts totalling £20 million written off. So, support for the sector, and Citizens Advice as a key partner, is crucial, and we will be looking particularly at key priority groups in their work and delivery, including older people, disabled people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support veterans in North Wales? OQ58143
The Welsh Government is committed to continuing to provide support for veterans across Wales. This includes funding armed forces liaison officers, investing in mental health services and supporting Armed Forces Day in Wrexham on 18 June.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your response. I must say it was a pleasure to see you also at the gun salute here in Cardiff Bay last week, and your support for veterans, I know, is appreciated. But recently I also had the pleasure of meeting the Royal British Legion, and they raised an area with me, which was they're looking to extend housing priority need to cover five years for those who've left military service, and, as is in place in England, to ensure that divorced or separated spouses and partners of service personnel in Wales can access housing support on the same terms as other armed forces families. So, in light of this, Deputy Minister, I wonder what consideration have you had to extend the housing priority need and what discussions are you having with representatives of veterans to ensure that their important concerns are looked at. Thank you.
I thank the Member for his very considered question. I know this is an area that the Member is very passionate and committed to supporting in his role as a Member for North Wales, and it was lovely to bump into you as I actually got off the HMS Severn. I had the privilege of a tour around there after the royal gun salute on Thursday, although I would not recommend to Members disembarking a ship wearing high heels. [Laughter.] It was a feat in itself.
In all seriousness, the point you made—our programme for government does set out our commitment to reform housing law and implement the homeless action group's recommendations to fundamentally reform homelessness services to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing. And so this legislative reform will actually include consideration of all priority need in order to achieve the transformational shift to rapid rehousing, which requires, obviously, as you know, long-term solutions for everyone in acute housing need, and not just those considered in a priority-need category. So, this will actually include consideration of the needs of and engagement with a range of groups, including the armed forces community in its widest sense, because you do raise the point in terms of it's not just about the people that have served themselves—it is the family networks around them as well who've been instrumental during that period when they've served and when they transition as well. So, as part of this reform, I can say that Welsh Government will consider the points that you raised and the Royal British Legion have raised as well. The Royal British Legion are part of our armed forces expert group, so I will commit to continuing to engage with them as part of that, and also the role that armed forces liaison officers continue to play with feeding in that information on the ground in support of veterans in communities across north Wales and across the country as well.
7. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme? OQ58136
Around 2,000 Ukrainians have now arrived in Wales under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Around 500 of these have been sponsored by the Welsh Government. Guidance for local authorities and sponsors as well as our Sanctuary website for Ukrainians are available. Our 24/7 contact centre and third sector partners are also providing support.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. I appreciate your update and your earlier written statement on this as well, however I do wish to draw your attention to the support and assistance offered to individuals who have provided their properties as part of the Welsh Government's Homes for Ukraine programme. Having spoken to several Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire families who've participated in this programme, it's very clear that there is a brief support framework available for those hosting Ukrainian families. Day-to-day task such as assisting with opening bank accounts, taxying families back and forth for hospital appointments and taking the time to support with the school run all involve sacrificing time off work. In fact, the reality is that those participating in the Homes for Ukraine programme are not just offering a spare bedroom, they are offering the chance to become an integrated member of their family. Given this and your written statement today outlining a pause to new applications, can the Minister outline what support beyond the existing £350 'thank you' payment the Welsh Government is giving to families who are hosting and supporting Ukrainian refugees? Diolch.
Thank you very much for that question and key points, which I'm sure would be shared across this Chamber in terms of the huge commitment—and I made this point in my statement—the huge commitment of those sponsor families, opening up their homes, as I said, and helping people find their feet as they start lives in Wales. Extraordinary acts of kindness, which we're fully grateful for. And also, I have to say, there's the key role of local authorities as well, in supporting the sponsors and engaging with them as well. So, Welsh citizens are really playing a fantastic role in terms of supporting refugees from Ukraine. We have got also a network of third sector organisations and voluntary groups who are also assisting and assisting families with these schemes, and I'm sure across the Chamber as well people are engaging and putting people into contact with each other to provide that kind of support.
I do think that our website, the Sanctuary Wales website, is very helpful. It provides advice and guidance for sponsors as well as local authorities, and it does actually also steer people to any funding opportunities. I think it's very unfortunate that the UK Government is not providing Welsh Government or local authorities with the funding that they really need to properly support people arriving under the family scheme. So, we are urging, I have to say—. When I meet with the Minister, Lord Harrington, my colleague Neil Gray, from Scotland, the Minister, and I urge the UK Government to provide to those families, many who've come, in addition to the figures I've given, under the family scheme—. We urge that they should also get support because they are being supported by their family members with no support at all. But I will say that any family that's coming can access public funds, universal credit, homelessness support, free school meals, and also English to speakers of other languages and all of the other services that they need.
And finally, question 8, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
8. What steps is the Government taking to tackle fuel poverty in Dwyfor Meirionnydd? OQ58128
Our Warm Homes programme for lower income households saves an average of £300 a year by improving energy efficiency. Eligible working-age households are also benefiting from a £200 winter fuel support payment, and a £150 cost-of-living payment is being made to properties in council tax bands A to D.
I thank the Minister for that response. Of course, it's good to hear of the support currently available for some people. The increase in the cap on fuel prices, of course, will be challenging for all. According to the National Energy Action charity, we could see up to 45 per cent of all households in Wales suffering fuel poverty because of the rise in the cap. This is frightening. We're talking about 614,000 households in Wales.
But I want to focus on pre-payment meters in my question. One in five standard tariff electricity customers in north Wales pay through pre-payment meters, and that will certainly be higher in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. Because the cap has been increased since April, customers paying through pre-payment meters will see their costs increasing from £1,309 to £2,017 a year. Very often, these are the poorest people in society. They need more support than what you've outlined already, those using pre-payment meters, compared to others. All additional support is of benefit, of course, but what other support can you provide to people using pre-payment meters, and what discussions have you had with landlords, be they housing association or private landlords, in order to ensure that people won't enter fuel poverty because of these pre-payment meters?
Diolch yn fawr. It's a really important question. I think you will recall a powerful exchange between the First Minister and Ken Skates a few weeks ago about the impact of fuel poverty, and the fact that people may be self-disconnecting in terms of pre-payment meters. So, I'm glad that you've brought this to our attention. The theme of my questions today has been very much the impact of the cost of living and fuel poverty—the cost-of-living crisis and the impact it will have on fuel poverty. So, thank you again for giving that information. We've been urging Ofgem to give us the information about the estimates in terms of self-rationing. They do actually suggest 34 per cent of smart meter households are self-disconnecting and 13 per cent are regularly reliant on emergency credit. But I think we all know of those who are the hardest hit and also pay more for pre-payment meters. Now, this is something that we are looking at, and I recently visited a Blaenau Gwent foodbank, where they actually also have a fuel voucher scheme as well for pre-payment meters. It's crucial that we do everything that we can and look at every avenue for supporting those 200,000 households on pre-payment meters for electricity and gas.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Rhys ab Owen.
1. Is the Welsh Government planning to undertake a scoping exercise to assess the amount of extra resources that would be required from the UK Treasury to run a sustainable, successful devolved system of justice in Wales? OQ58120
Thank you for the question. We set out principles for a devolved justice system in our publication recently, ‘Delivering Justice for Wales’. We will use this to co-produce a vision of how justice can be delivered better, through conversations with those with expertise in the justice system. Considering resources will be an important element of that.
Despite a recent tweet from Andrew R.T. Davies declaring that the Welsh Conservatives would never support the devolution of justice, I, and, I know, you too, Counsel General, would agree with the words of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd that it's a matter of when rather than if justice is devolved to this place. With things moving very quickly in Westminster, the devolution of justice could happen sooner than we might expect. To do that, we will need a fair transfer of funding, although personally I think that devolving justice to Wales would save money for taxpayers. But does the Government know—and if they don't know, when will they know—how much money they will need from the Treasury in the UK?
Well, thank you for your supplementary. I certainly agree with you that it was disappointing that, at the Conservative Party conference, a statement was made that there would be no devolution of justice. This was before they'd even had an opportunity to read the document, to read the arguments that are set out within that document. I think that is a very disappointing approach, because it always seems to me it's important to consider the evidence before having a knee-jerk reaction. That being as it is, one of the issues of course in terms of the devolution of justice is that there are certain areas where there is ongoing work with the UK Government. And, of course, as you know, there are the Law Commission's proposals in respect of tribunals, which is an important element of our justice system, which will be the subject in due course of legislation.
Knowing the cost of the justice system is actually very complex. It's one that would depend, really, I think, on negotiations with Government, negotiations over the transfer of responsibilities, what we mean by justice. We know that when the Thomas commission considered this, when they looked at all the aspects of justice, whether it be the tribunals, the areas of social justice that we're involved in, the areas of police and crime commissioners and our contributions to policing and so on, it was estimated at around £442 million. So, we already spend and contribute an enormous amount towards that.
Considering the development of justice and considering how those negotiations will develop in due course—. And I agree with you that, even if it is not this Government that is agreeable to the devolution of justice, I'm fairly certain that it will certainly be on the agenda of the next Government to consider the devolution of justice, and certainly all the implications of that will be under consideration.
2. Will the Counsel General provide an update on prosecutions in respect of illegal fishing? OQ58126
Thank you for that question. The enforcement of fisheries legislation is vital for the sustainability of our fisheries and the protection of the marine environment. Although I'm unable to comment on specific, ongoing cases, I confirm we have successfully prosecuted illegal fishers over the past year.
Okay. Thank you for the answer, Counsel General. Illegal fishing is not only damaging to the Welsh economy, but is also costly for our coastal environments. Unregulated fishing techniques impact on biodiversity and marine habitats, leading to overfishing, which undermines attempts to secure sustainable fish stocks. What steps are the Welsh Government taking to crack down on illegal fishing in north Wales to protect our fish stocks and sustainable practices in the industry? Thank you.
Thank you. It is an important area of work and of Welsh law, and it is of course an area where I oversee the prosecutions in that area. The over-exploitation of our fisheries will lead to unsustainable fisheries, as you've said, and will result in damage to our fisheries and marine environment. So, it's for this reason that the Welsh Government ensures stringent enforcement on any illegal activities within its waters. So, we have marine enforcement officers, who continue to ensure that the fishers comply with the relevant legislation in place and appropriate action is taken against a vessel owner, master or fisher who contravenes that legislation. And, as Counsel General, I particularly take the enforcement of fisheries regulations very seriously. I'd recommend that all the vessel owners and fishers operating in Welsh waters comply with the relevant rules and regulations.
Since 2021, I can tell you that there have been 11 infringements investigated. Cases are assessed and dealt with by official warnings or prosecution. There are seven ongoing cases that are being prosecuted by my office. The prosecutions taken to date I think should serve as a very clear warning to fishers that the Welsh Government takes its enforcement of fishing offences in Wales seriously, and I as Counsel General will take the necessary steps to uphold those laws.
Questions now from party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.
Minister, now that the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform has published its report, what consideration have you given as to whether the Senedd has the powers to deliver on the committee's recommendations?
Well, the first point I would make is that, of course, there will be a debate—I think two hours have been allocated for this afternoon—where I'm sure all the issues in respect of the special purpose committee's report will be considered. My role and that of Welsh Government is, if the proposals that are in that report are accepted by the Senedd, then to consider those in detail carefully and to look at the best way of implementing those proposals into viable and robust legislation.
Given that your First Minister wrote the executive summary, effectively, along with the leader of Plaid Cymru, I'd have thought that you'd have done a bit of work already, frankly, to consider whether the Senedd had the competence to implement these recommendations. Because, as a former member of that committee, I can tell you that, in our deliberations, the legal advice was absolutely clear: the field of equal opportunities is a non-devolved matter; the Senedd does not have the powers to impose statutory gender quotas to tackle discrimination against women. That legal advice was clear to us, and it said that, effectively, if we took any action to address discrimination or the less favourable treatment of women, then it would be firmly outside of the Senedd's competence. So, regardless of the merits of any action being taken to address a lack of diversity in the Senedd, do you accept that, if your Government presses ahead with statutory gender quotas, it would actually jeopardise the whole Senedd reform agenda, and fail to deliver it by 2026?
I thank you for that question, and I'm sure it's a matter that will be raised again later on this afternoon. Can I just say firstly, though, in terms of the report of the special purpose committee, I don't presume the outcome of the decision this afternoon; it is a matter for the Senedd? And it is a very important matter that whatever decision is taken in respect of proposals for reform is taken by the Senedd and not taken by the Government, and that distinction is an extremely important one. All the legal issues that may arise out of the consideration of whatever is passed by the Senedd this afternoon, if at all, are ones that will be taken into account when it comes to constructing legislation to implement the decisions or the recommendations of the Senedd.
I'm sorry, I didn't actually hear any clarity in your answer as to whether you believe that the Senedd has the competence to be able to introduce gender quotas at present. It's a very simple question. I know that you keep referring to the debate that is going to be taking place in two hours later on. I suspect you don't have an answer in your response to that debate either on this issue. If you have, perhaps I could press you on the matter again. Do you accept that the Senedd doesn't have competence at the moment, because of the equal opportunities reservation, to actually implement gender quotas, and that if you do press forward with a piece of legislation—if the Senedd presses forward with a piece of legislation—that could jeopardise the whole of the Senedd reform agenda? Because if you do accept that—and from the evidence that we received from not just our own lawyers, but from pretty much everybody else bar one individual witness, it seemed to me, we don't have that competence—and if you press ahead on this basis you're effectively setting up the Senedd reform agenda to fail. Perhaps that is your intention; I don't know. I would hope not; I would hope that you don't want to waste everybody's time—[Interruption.] [Inaudible.]
What I can tell the Member—and I say in this in two capacities; one as a Government Minister, but also in terms of my law officer responsibilities as Counsel General—is that I will give very detailed consideration, and the Government will, to the recommendations that are put forward, that are passed by the Senedd, and that I will work then to see how robust and viable legislation can be constructed to implement those recommendations from the Senedd.
I'm afraid we're going to need to take a technical break. At the moment, only the Minister's microphone, mine and Carolyn Thomas's is working. Darren Millar's was not working, but I'm reassured that your voice is loud enough to be carried on the broadcast, but that may not be the case for all Members, so we're going to need, unfortunately, to take a short technical break.
Does that mean we have to listen to him again? [Laughter.]
Plenary was suspended at 14:30.
The Senedd reconvened at 14:59, with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) in the Chair.
Can I welcome everyone back? I thank the technical team for resolving the problems we were facing. Hopefully, we will be able to continue for the rest of the afternoon without any more difficulties. We move on now to spokesperson's questions from Plaid Cymru—Rhys ab Owen.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Cwnsler Cyffredinol, you'll be more aware than any Member here of the grim milestone passed over the half-term recess of 100 days since Putin's senseless attack on Ukraine and its people. As the Welsh Government's law officer, what work have you undertaken with other law officers across the United Kingdom to investigate the war crimes and human rights atrocities perpetrated against the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin?
Thank you for that question. It is an issue that is very much coming to the fore across the world now—the commission of war crimes and investigations by the International Criminal Court and, indeed, by the United Nations themselves. The evidence there is extremely overwhelming. I have had a meeting with the law officers—the Attorney General, the Lord Advocate for Scotland and the Advocate General for Northern Ireland—and we have discussed the approach that's being taken in respect of the support for the investigations. The investigations are, of course, brought by the prosecutor general in Ukraine. I have suggested that there would be benefits to a four-law-officers approach in terms of the support for the work. I know that a special adviser has been appointed by the UK Government to assist the prosecutor general in Ukraine.
There, of course, have been two war crimes trials already of individuals, and there are a large number of others that are under investigation. The numbers are in the thousands. There are lawyers, of course, whose services are also being directed towards supporting those investigations. I will be approaching the prosecutor general myself in respect of any specific work and support that we can provide from Wales, whether it be moral or whether it be practical in terms of engagement with members of the legal community in Wales who have expertise in this area. That is something where I would like to see a very specific area of Welsh support if it is considered to be beneficial to the important work that is going on—now, during the war, but equally so for the many years after that that these sorts of cases inevitably involve.
Diolch yn fawr, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. You'll be aware that, recently, the Ministry of Justice announced that they've bought an office block next to the Old Bailey for £111 million. As a baby barrister in 2009, people were complaining then about the inadequate state of the civil justice centre in Cardiff. People have continued to complain about it ever since. In fact, when the Supreme Court visited Cardiff for the first time, they were hosted in Tŷ Hywel, which causes a lot of other questions, rather than in the civil justice centre. The Ministry of Justice response is, 'We'll provide an extra water fountain and we'll finally fix the broken lift.' It's a bit like Del Boy's flat, rather than a civil justice centre. So, when, Counsel General, will the Ministry of Justice take Welsh justice seriously and ensure a civil justice centre that befits a capital city like Cardiff?
Thank you for that. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the civil justice centre is not fit for purpose. There is absolutely no doubt as well that the Ministry of Justice are aware. Myself and the Minister for Social Justice met with Dominic Raab, the Lord Chancellor, and we raised this particular issue with him. We raised it also in terms of meetings on several occasions with Lord Wolfson, who subsequently resigned—not because of the question but for other matters. So, they're well aware of the concerns. Also, I've made it very clear, I think, in answers to questions in this Chamber that it is wholly unacceptable for the capital city of Cardiff to be treated in this particular way. If justice were devolved, we would not tolerate such facilities being there, which are not only inadequate for those users of the court—the citizens, the lawyers, and the judiciary—but are also not appropriate in respect of the image we want of the Welsh legal system and the way in which we want to see the legal economy in Wales actually grow.
I can tell you, though, that I'm in the process of writing to the UK Government specifically on this particular point—how bizarre it is, after being told there isn't sufficient money, that millions of pounds are being made available for another centre in London, whilst the civil justice centre in Cardiff is being totally ignored. I am pleased to see, of course, that Lord Wolfson has now been replaced. The new justice Minister is Sir Christopher Bellamy, who of course was involved in the recent legal aid review. I will be seeking to have discussions with him alongside the Minister for Social Justice as well, where this will also be one of the items on the agenda. I have to say, one of the things I'm thinking is that perhaps we ought to have our next face-to-face meeting actually in the civil justice centre.
3. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers in respect of the UK Government’s Public Order Bill? OQ58123
Thank you for the question. The Public Order Bill includes provisions that impact on people’s right to protest. The Welsh Government will continue to make clear to the UK Government its opposition to this attack on domestic rights.
I thank the Counsel General for his answer there. I don't think anyone in this Chamber could reasonably deny that protest or protest movements have changed Wales and the United Kingdom for the better. I know you yourself, Counsel General, have a history of challenging the powerful when it needs to be done, including your inspiring work with others to challenge the horrors of apartheid in South Africa. We should all be worried about the motives of any Government that seeks to challenge the right to protest. Counsel General, to what extent does this Bill, brought forward by the UK Conservative Government, restrict people's right to protest, and what is your assessment of its impact on our democracy?
Thank you for that. It's very disappointing that, within this Bill, it resurrects a series of clauses that were rejected in the House of Lords for, I think, the very reasons that the Member has just raised today. The proposals, in my view, are a dagger to the heart of the right to protest and a direct attack on democracy and freedom of expression. The Welsh Government fundamentally stands against them. I make the point—and I don't make it tongue in cheek at all—that the right to protest, the right to challenge authority is so fundamental to our democracy, and this may only be the thin end of the wedge. When you look at the way in which similar legislation has been introduced in Putin's Russia, where even standing with a placard, even pretending to hold one, can lead to penalties almost equivalent to what is being proposed in this particular legislation, then that is a threat to all of us, and it is a threat to democracy. In its current form, the Bill is reserved to the UK Government, and we will not be looking to lay a legislative consent motion for that reason. However, if there are amendments that are tabled, then we will analyse those closely to ensure that the voice of the Senedd is heard wherever relevant. We will continue also as a Government to make our objections to the Bill clear in our liaisons with the UK Government and officials. The Minister for Social Justice has laid a written statement yesterday that highlights our objections to proposals in that Bill.
4. Will the Counsel General provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to ensure adequate facilities for the Welsh Tribunals? OQ58119
Thank you for the question. We are committed to ensuring that the Welsh tribunals have adequate facilities, both now and in the future, and as we take forward structural reform of the devolved tribunals to create a modernised tribunal system for Wales.
Thank you very much, Counsel General. It's fair to say that the facilities of the Welsh tribunals are not adequate. I remember speaking to one judge and she said that her first task every day was moving the tables and chairs in order to ensure that the room was ready for a case. With the lease in Oak House in Newport coming to an end next year—the only designated building for Welsh tribunals—what are the Welsh Government's plans to ensure that there are adequate buildings for our tribunals?
Thank you very much. It is a very important point that you do raise, because as we work and look to legislate with regard to the recommendations of the Law Commission on the reform of tribunals, we have to look at a number of issues, one of which of course is ensuring the independence of the judiciary, but also ensuring that there are proper tribunal facilities available for use, and with the proper status and recognition of the importance that those tribunals actually play.
With regard to the point you raise with regard to Oak House, I do recognise the importance of the tribunal room at Oak House, because it is the only dedicated tribunal facility that we have available to the tribunals. There is an issue that has arisen; the landlord has gone into administration, but our rights as tenants there do remain the same. Our lease is due to come to an end, but there is a view to renew that. So, I think that is an issue that will be resolved. But you are right in terms of the broader issue in terms of the way we want to look at the future independence and the future facilities. If we had a new civil justice centre, that potentially might even be a resource for that, and that may be one of the points that we wish to make in due course.
Counsel General, good afternoon. I'd like to ask a question with regard to the UK Government's policy on sending asylum seekers potentially to Rwanda. I really wanted to concentrate on children who are incorrectly age assessed as adults. We've heard worrying concerns on top of that, which is that police, doctors and police stations are actually undertaking something called sexual maturity tests. These are both worrying concerns, and I'm sure you would share with me and join with me in condemning both, because they potentially mean that children are assessed as adults and could be part of that cohort being sent to Rwanda. Counsel General, I wonder if you can take up this issue with the UK Government and raise your concerns in relation to this particular issue. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you.
Thank you for that question. I certainly will do, and I certainly know the Minister for Social Justice has very much been raising these particular issues. They are of concern. The UN Refugee Agency has, I think, been clear that its own view is that the measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which include sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to process their claim there, are at odds with the refugee convention. I think it's also accepted that this callous approach is really undermining the standing of the UK in the world. It's a great regret that that Bill has now received Royal Assent. As a nation of sanctuary, these issues have been raised. I know the Minister for Social Justice wrote to Kevin Foster, jointly with the Scottish Government, on 19 May, to express the Welsh Government's concerns for the Rwanda proposals, and to ask for a four-nations meeting to discuss this issue. There has been no response to this request to date, but I know that the Minister for Social Justice will continue to pursue the point. She's obviously heard the points that you have raised. On the approach to visas and to immigration and so on, you only have to look at the difficulties that there have been with the visa situation with regard to Ukraine as well, all of which I think erodes the standing of the UK in respect of its international reputation as a world leader in respect of human rights protection.
Question 5 [OQ58127] is withdrawn. Question 6, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
6. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact that cutting the number of Welsh Members of the UK Parliament will have on the process of scrutinising legislation that relates to Wales? OQ58131
Thank you for the question. The composition of a legislature is a matter for that legislature to determine. Wales must be fully and fairly represented in the House of Commons to ensure that its interests in reserved—and, where appropriate, devolved—legislation are properly reflected.
Thank you for that response. I have a feeling that elements of this discussion will be aired again soon in this Chamber, but as we see a large decline in the number of our Members in Westminster, and hopefully more responsibilities coming over to this legislature, does the Minister agree with me that we need more elected Members here in order to scrutinise and to ensure that we get the best possible legislation to serve the people of Wales, and, in reality, that it's not a referendum on increasing the number of Members in this Parliament that we need, but rather, when the time comes, a referendum on independence for Wales?
Well, can I thank you for the supplementary question and the points you raise? Perhaps if I take the last point first, I mean, it's interesting, isn't it, that the line of criticism that's being pursued is one in terms of a referendum. I'm very clear in my own view, and I've checked there and the Welsh Labour manifesto 2021, the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto 2021, the Plaid Cymru manifesto 2021, and manifestos earlier to that, I think, give a very strong mandate in terms of reform. If there were to be a referendum on constitutional change, as such, and the number of Members, it's very interesting, isn't it, that there's been no referendum in the appointment of 84 new Lords by the current Prime Minister since he came to office not long ago. Changes to the voting system of mayors in England to make it easier for the Conservatives to win seats—there was no referendum on that. The introduction of voter ID and other restrictions to voting—there was no referendum on that. And, of course, there was no referendum on the reduction in the number of Welsh parliamentary seats—no referendum on that. At least we have a mandate and an entitlement to pursue those mandates on which we were elected.
But can I take on the important points in terms of scrutiny? The scrutiny role of a legislature is absolutely vital to a healthy democracy, so increasing the number of Members of the Senedd reflects, I think, the role and responsibilities of the Senedd, which have grown considerably since it first opened its doors in 1999. This institution now is a Parliament. Its responsibilities and its functions go way beyond those that existed when it was originally established. What I would say is that the value of democracy is something that we all have to take account of ourselves, and the importance of it. Unfortunately, with the Conservatives, they know the price of everything, as Aneurin Bevan said, but the value of nothing. And I value our democracy very strongly, but I'm sure that these points are all going to be made in the not-too-distant future.
7. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the UK Government’s adherence to the principles of the Sewel convention? OQ58124
Thank you for the question. The UK Government has, on a number of occasions, demonstrated an unacceptable disregard in observing the Sewel convention. We have forcefully expressed our concerns about these breaches and we will continue to push for the convention to be placed on a proper footing.
Thank you, Counsel General. I agree with what you've just said there. I was also pleased to hear that the Welsh Tories have abandoned their determined attempts to defend the UK Government's decision to withhold funding linked to HS2 from Wales. Now, we know, don't we, Counsel General, that the current settlement, however, still allows the UK Tories to pretend that a line from London to Manchester benefits Wales, so that no funding, therefore, is required. A simply bizarre position to take. Counsel General, what difference would codifying this convention make to this obviously ludicrous position?
Thank you for that supplementary. Can I just say, in respect of the latter point you made about HS2, how pleased I am that the Welsh Conservatives now actually agree with the point we've made that there should be funding? I'm sure that their considerable influence will be listened to in Westminster and we look forward to the cheque arriving in the near future [Laughter.]
With regard to the Sewel convention, this is something that myself and the First Minister raised at the inaugural meeting of the Interministerial Standing Committee. We drew the committee's attention to the report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the 'Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century' report, in which they call for the Governments of the United Kingdom to respect the Sewel convention. We also called for the codification of the Sewel convention and the strengthening of reporting mechanisms to respective Parliaments. Consequently, officials from each of the Governments have been looking at the Sewel convention and principles for future working, and those discussions are ongoing. As a Government, we remain of the view that placing the Sewel convention on a statutory and a justiciable footing remains the most appropriate way to protect the devolution settlement and to safeguard the United Kingdom, and we will continue to press this point.
And finally, question 8, Mabon ap Gwynfor.
8. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact of the Queen's Speech on issues that are within the Senedd's legislative competence? OQ58129
Thank you for the question. I issued a written statement on 13 May that contained my analysis of the UK Government's legislative programme, and particularly on where the consent of the Senedd would likely be required.
Thank you for that response. The Queen's Speech mentions legislation on issues that are within the competence of our Senedd, such as the genetic modification Bill, for example. This will certainly mean that we will see more LCMs here, but as we know from experience, the LCM system is entirely inadequate. We don't have time to scrutinise, never mind consult, and bit by bit, as the LCMs go by, Wales loses a few more of our devolved powers, as Westminster takes this power back a little bit at a time. So, what steps are you taking to ensure, first of all, that we have sufficient time to scrutinise, and, secondly, do you agree that the system would be far better if these issues had been devolved fully to Wales?
Thank you for the question. I think much of the comments I agree with. Just in respect of the Queen's Speech, I mean, you're right, there are a whole number of pieces of legislation that we have to consider, some of which impact on devolved areas. In accordance with our own Standing Orders and constitutional obligations, we have to consider those and decide whether or not we will agree to consent to that legislation, and this inevitably results in often very torturous processes of discussion and negotiation. Certain areas are clear as to whether they're devolved or reserved, some may have cross-border issues and so on. So, there are many issues there. One of them will be, for example, the issue of the so-called Brexit freedom Bill and the issue of EU-retained law, and, of course, in that instance, we have at least been promised that we'll be involved in the early construction of the legislation or the identification of those issues relevant to Wales.
One of the problems, of course, in terms of resources, is if you are only given a day's notice for a piece of legislation, the ability for this Parliament to be able to properly consider those issues becomes very, very limited. It's a wholly inadequate process, one that has been subject, I think, to considerable abuse. There have been examples where there's been very co-operative and productive working, such as, for example, on the common frameworks. But the Queen's Speech involved a large number of pieces of legislation. I think the ultimate point that really arises from it is that in order to deal with those responsibilities, we need a sufficient number of Members in this Chamber who actually are able to develop the levels of expertise and specialism in those areas. Because it is not only the work we create ourselves in terms of our own legislative programme, but the way in which we have to engage with the other Parliaments of the UK, including the Westminster Parliament, in respect of their legislation and the impacts that has on Wales.
I thank the Counsel General.
Item 3 is next, questions to the Senedd Commission, and all the questions this afternoon will be answered by the Llywydd. I have agreed to group questions 1 and 3. Question 1, Jack Sargeant.
1. What steps has the Commission taken to disinvest staff pensions from fossil fuels? OQ58125
3. What steps is the Commission taking to ensure that the pensions of staff and Member support staff are decarbonised? OQ58133
The support staff pension scheme is run by Aviva. The Commission is not involved in deciding how the assets are invested. Decisions on the investments of support staff pensions rests with Aviva’s specialist investment advisers, who engage with companies on environmental, social and governance issues. Support staff can also select the funds in which to invest.
The civil service pension scheme, which is available to Commission staff, is an unfunded scheme and therefore has no assets to invest. Benefits are paid from tax revenues rather than from assets set aside to pay them.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Members will be aware of my campaign to disinvest public sector pension funds from fossil fuels, and I'm grateful to Members who supported the motion, which means Wales will lead the way in this arena. I too would like to thank Heledd Fychan for raising the matter of our own support staff's pensions during the debate I tabled a few weeks ago.
Now, Llywydd, I've spoken to a few support staff who are very keen to have their voices heard to disinvest their fund from fossil fuels, both those in the Senedd building themselves and including those in our regional and constituency offices. I've heard what you've said in your response to my initial question, that it's not the Commission's job to do so, but how can the Commission support our own support staff to make sure their voices are heard by their pension fund investors? Diolch.
Thank you for that supplementary, and it's my understanding that the support staff scheme does have a governance group that has lead staff of the Commission available to advise, and, therefore, it's the most appropriate way for either constituency staff or staff based supporting Members here in the Senedd building to approach that governance group to raise any issues that they have on how their assets are invested.
Thank you, Llywydd. My question is very similar. Clearly, Jack Sargeant and myself are pursuing the same point. I think the concern that we have is that there is no formal support, and I was wondering whether there was a role for the Commission to assist these staff members. Certainly from the experience of a member of staff in my team, he has had to campaign alone and has found that he's had to work on this alone and that information isn't transparently available to staff. It's also difficult for us as Members when it comes to recruitment to provide that information to staff. So, just to echo Jack Sargeant's point, is there anything that the Commission could be doing to emphasise that this does need to be looked at and to support staff, rather than it being up to every individual to pursue this?
Thank you for that question, which is asking about the transparency of the information for support staff members. I will ensure that we look again at the availability of that information in terms of where to look for support and advice on pensions for Members' staff. As I mentioned, there is a governance group on the pension scheme for Members' support staff, and there are specific members of Commission staff available to provide advice on any issues relating to this for support staff. The finance director of the Commission and the head of pensions are two of those. I have that information at present and I will ensure that, after we complete these questions today, that information is clear and available to all the support staff of the Members.
In the Members' pension scheme, decisions are made by the pension trustees following professional advice. The current representatives on the pension trustee board are Nick Ramsay and myself, representing Members, and, obviously, I'd be happy to answer questions on the Members' scheme from any Members who wish to raise them. The Commission have two representatives on the Members' pension scheme, but currently not one of those posts is held by a Commissioner. Would the Commissioners consider putting one of their members onto the pension scheme or would the Presiding Officer—and when I wrote this, I didn't know you were going to be answering it, so I can ask you directly—would the Presiding Officer like, on an annual basis, for me to answer questions on the Members' pension scheme at what are, effectively, Commission questions?
If I've understood you correctly, you're volunteering yourself to answer questions on the pensions aspect for Members—
—I'd love for you to be answering questions on pensions rather than myself, and I think you would be far more informed, obviously, and expert on these matters than I am. I'm more than happy to look at that as a way forward that would lead, I suspect, to more meaningful answers on pensions than the ones you may have heard already this afternoon.
2. What steps is the Commission taking to ensure foods containing unsustainable palm oil are not served on the Senedd estate? OQ58149
The Commission catering contract specification contains sustainability and environmental objectives. The catering contractor holds ISO 14001 accreditation, relating to enhanced environmental performance. They also have bronze accreditation from the Soil Association's Food for Life catering mark. This is an independent endorsement of food that is healthy, freshly prepared and sustainably sourced. The catering service aims to only use products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil. A recent review of catering supplies, including ingredients for food cooked on site, identified one ingredient for cakes that contained palm oil unsustainably sourced. This ingredient will be discontinued. And, for the record, it was chocolate chips. [Laughter.]
Thank you. That's really good to hear, actually—it was a great answer. I've been fortunate enough to hear from pupils at Ysgol Cystennin in Mochdre on several occasions, and their passion for tackling the climate crisis is inspirational. The pupils gave an insightful presentation during Climate Change Week about the devastating impact unsustainable palm oil is having on our planet and the wildlife we share it with. They are working alongside Chester Zoo on an initiative that has so far seen Chester become the only sustainable palm oil city in the world. And Ysgol Cystennin are the first Welsh school and community to get involved with the project. And it's wonderful that the Senedd are already doing this, which is great, and I wasn't expecting it, so that's wonderful. Because I was going to ask—it would be lovely if the Senedd would be the first parliament involved in this project. But would the Commission agree to still meet with the pupils, just to hear their passion about this, and so they could actually hear as well from you about what the Commission are actually already doing, which is fantastic?
Well, I can confirm that the sustainably sourced palm oil Senedd would be more than happy to meet with the sustainably sourced palm oil school in order to discuss this matter. I'm sure that we can, as a Commission, ensure that we are able to meet with representatives from the school, and thank you for all the work that they're doing as young people to lead the way on these matters.
4. Will the Commission provide an update on the pastoral care that it provides to its workforce? OQ58130
The Commission is committed to the health, safety and well-being of its workforce. Pastoral care is provided in line with the Commission’s health and well-being strategy. Examples range from occupational health support, awareness raising, to dedicated health and well-being pages on the staff intranet. The impact is reviewed regularly. I'm advised that over 90 per cent of Commission staff report that their line manager cares about their well-being.
I thank the Llywydd for that response. As you know, the nation is facing a very difficult time, as the cost-of-living crisis has an impact on people, pushing people into poverty, and terrible poverty in some cases. There will be increasing pressure on staff to respond to some of these cases, bringing emotional pressures in their wake. Is the Commission prepared for this scenario, and could it be made clear to all staff as to what support is available for the emotional challenges, which are likely to increase?
Thank you for that very timely question. And this is a new aspect of the Commission's work, in preparing financial guidance, which will be a characteristic of the support that will be available from the Commission. And advance payments and additional occupational health support are already in place, to ensure that the support that's appropriate for this period that we are living through is available for all of our staff—in your constituencies, and also the staff working in the Senedd.
5. What discussions has the Commission had to ensure more of a voice for Wales on the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly: the new EU-UK forum set up under the trade and cooperation agreement? OQ58121
You're getting closer, aren't you? [Laughter.]
During the last and current Senedd, the Commission has supported Members to press for a role for devolved legislatures in the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. These discussions have primarily been taken forward by committee Chairs, supported by Commission staff. Following this, the Senedd was invited to send two observers to the inaugural meeting of the PPA in May, and we were well represented, apparently, by Alun Davies and Sam Kurtz. On 26 May, the Chairs' forum agreed that engagement with the PPA should link closely with the work of relevant committees, and future delegations will include the Chairs or nominated members of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee and the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee.
Thank you very much, Llywydd. And I was very pleased to hear, first of all, that Alun Davies and Sam Kurtz had represented this Senedd with honour. But I was also very pleased to read their letter, having represented us. It's good that we were represented, particularly by two such honourable Members, but, certainly, we need to be more than seen and not heard, and it must be very difficult for Alun Davies to be seen and not heard. It makes no sense whatsoever that representatives of this place can't contribute to debates related to devolved areas. So, has the Commission put forward that view to the PPA, and when will this rule change?
As I mentioned in the original answer, the representatives of the Senedd have observer status at present, and that does have its restrictions, as the Member has mentioned. As a Commission, and Commission officials, we'll be very willing and ready to work with the Members who represent us, and the committees that I mentioned, promoting once again additional rights for our representatives as a Senedd, so that we can play a full role in the work of this specific assembly.
And, finally, Alun Davies.
I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and yes, being seen and not heard is something of a difficulty. But it was more difficult, of course, for Northern Ireland, because in the long debates, which were reported in the media, about the future of Northern Ireland—and people spoke from all parts of Europe, from all parts of the United Kingdom—there was nobody there to represent Northern Ireland. And that really crystallizes the crisis, I think, we have in UK representation in these matters. We should pay tribute to Sir Oliver Heald and to Hilary Benn, the chair and vice-chair of the UK delegation, who did their best to ensure that we were made very welcome and a part of the UK delegation, and I'm grateful to Sir Oliver particularly, as chair and as leader of the UK delegation, for the work he did in doing so.
But there's a real issue when Parliaments that have the capacity, the competence and the right to speak on particular issues are not represented when those issues are debated and discussed. And I think it's a wider issue of the parliamentary assembly that we're debating this afternoon. It was a particular issue, but it is a wider issue about the structure of how the United Kingdom works, and I'd be grateful if the Presiding Officer and the Welsh Government could work together on looking at those issues to ensure that this place is properly represented as full members of UK delegations where that's appropriate in the future.
Well, you can have the assurance from this Presiding Officer that I would be more than happy to see us as full members and having full speaking rights on many of these partnership organisations that we as a Senedd are involved in. Both Alun Davies and myself were agriculture Ministers within the European Union. Hilary Benn, in fact, was the Secretary of State for Agriculture when I was agriculture Minister. Even at that time, there were issues around speaking rights for Ministers within the European Union. Those issues continue to this day, and I'm sure that, across this Chamber, whatever our political differences may be, we believe that it is right that, where there are areas that are the responsibility of Senedd Members and Ministers here, those people representing us have the right to speak and make the representations that need to be made on behalf of the people of Wales.
Thank you, Lywydd.
We'll move on now to the topical questions, and the first question this afternoon will be answered by the Minister for Climate Change, and will be asked by Rhys ab Owen.
1. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to protect renters following the deferral of implementation of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016? TQ632
The renting homes Act will considerably strengthen tenants' rights. The short delay is in response to the unprecedented pressures facing social landlords. We have in place a raft of measures to support renters, and this will remain a priority for the Government.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. Following the written statement made over recess, which announced the short delay, I've received correspondence from constituents who are concerned about the issue. I'm also concerned about those who think they are already protected, and they were concerned that the delay appeared to be addressing the concerns of landlords, rather than the protection of renters. This Act—we need to remind ourselves—was passed months before the Brexit referendum, at the beginning of January 2016. In October 2019, the Commission on Justice in Wales highlighted the long delay in the implementation of the Act, and highlighted it as an example of the lack of leadership and accountability by Welsh Government in justice areas. So, how would you answer the concerns of renters, Minister? And do you agree with the tweet of a backbench Labour Member that there needs to be an inquiry into the six years' delay in implementing this Act?
Thank you. This is, of course, part of the co-operation agreement. Wholesale reform of the type that the Renting Homes (Wales) Act is bringing about happens very rarely, and, against a backdrop of absolutely unprecedented pressures, we want to do all we can to ensure that social landlords in particular have adequate time to make the necessary preparations to comply with the requirements of the Act and get it right for their tenants. We understand, of course, that the delay is a source of frustration, and I share those frustrations, as I pointed out in my written statement. However, I absolutely recognise that preparing new occupation contracts and ensuring that properties meet the fitness standards set out in the legislation are major undertakings, particularly for our social landlords, who are responsible for a large number of properties and tenants.
I'm particularly concerned about the deferral of the Act on private tenants. Last year's report by the Equality and Social Justice Committee into debt and the pandemic was unanimous on the need to avoid any gap between the end of the current temporary regulations, which protected tenants during the COVID lockdown, and the coming into force of the renting homes Act. So, deferring implementation leaves a gaping hole in those protections and, as my constituency has the largest proportion of private rented households in Wales, I am seriously dreading the flood of evictions that could result from this deferral. So, landlords have had six years to get ready for the renting homes Act, as has already been said by our colleague Rhys ab Owen, but what representations have you had from tenants? And what plans do you have to reintroduce the ban on no-fault evictions shorter than six months until such time as we are able to implement the renting homes Act?
Thank you, Jenny. So, obviously it's a matter of some regret that we've had to take this step, but we are in unprecedented times. In particular, social landlords across Wales are helping us with the Ukrainian refugee crisis and we have a large number of presentations of homelessness across Wales, which we're having to deal with at the same time. Landlords have not had six years to implement the Act. The Act was passed into law six years ago, but the regulations that went with the Act, not all of those are in place at the moment; we will have them all in place by the end of this Senedd term. Those regulations are the ones that set out the form and content of the occupation contracts, for example, and we rightly gave landlords six months from the point of passing those to implement the Act.
Nobody could be more disappointed than I that we were not able to continue the COVID regulation protections seamlessly into this Act, and we've actually tried very hard to do that and it has not been possible. But I want to reassure the Member that there's no benefit in landlords evicting tenants now and then starting up a new occupation contract, because, of course, they then would be caught by the Act when it comes into force. So, it's very hard to understand why they would be doing that, unless they wanted to come out of the PRS altogether, because they wanted to occupy the house themselves or they wanted to sell it on, in which case they would be doing that anyway, regardless of the implementation of the Act.
We are working very hard with Shelter Cymru to make sure that we get the right advice to all of our renters. We grant fund Shelter Cymru £1,491,847 on an annual basis to cover housing advice and information services, and an early prevention service, an LGBTQ+ aware service and Take Notice. We've also provided extra funding for Citizen's Advice to establish the private rented sector debt helpline, where tenants can speak to independent, trained advisers who can help them maximise their income, support them to claim benefits they are entitled to, and undertake an assessment of affordability to help with rent arrears or other household debt.
I've also, of course, written to the UK Government to complain about the fact that they have by stealth, it seems, frozen the local housing allowance, which reduces the amount of money that people on universal credit in the private rented sector get for their housing costs. We are working very hard with a number of councils and social landlords to make sure that we take on board any property from a private sector landlord who is prepared to hand it over to us for the long term in accordance with our leasing strategy.
So, whilst nobody could be more frustrated than I am at the need to do this, I absolutely accept that the social landlords in particular are really struggling to implement this alongside assisting us, in particular, with the current Ukrainian refugee crisis. In those circumstances, we reluctantly agreed to the delay in implementation.
It's all too apparent that a scenario has been created where there's a gap in protection from no-fault evictions between the emergency COVID regulations and the protection offered by the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, which has now been delayed, as we've learned, until the end of 2022, offering even more time for unscrupulous private landlords to evict tenants before they're tied into new contracts under the Act. Tenants need protection now more than ever, especially with rent increases and the cost-of-living crisis. No-fault evictions are currently occurring in Shelter Cymru's casework at treble the numbers that they saw before the pandemic. Almost all are now with a two-month notice period, which leaves very little time for homelessness prevention. Many are concerned that this insecurity will be continuing until December. Many landlords are selling up due to high house prices and the economic uncertainty ahead, making the renting homes Act's delay very poor timing indeed for homelessness services. The supply of social housing is nowhere near meeting the demand, waiting lists are enormous and tenants are facing serious threats. So, can I ask the Minister how the Welsh Government aims to safeguard tenants from eviction until the delayed implementation of the renting homes Act, and how they aim to ensure the supply of social housing meets demand with urgency?
Thank you, Mabon. I think I answered a substantial part of that in my answer to Jenny Rathbone. We fund a large range of advice agencies, more specifically Shelter Cymru, to give advice and support to tenants who find themselves in a position where they may be being evicted. We also supply, of course, a large amount of grant aid, including grant aid for tenants who were affected by rent arrears as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that mandate remains in place. We also are in a position where we are assisting a number of councils, in particular, and social landlords to take over PRS properties where that's appropriate.
Mabon ap Gwynfor says that a number of landlords are selling up. There's no evidence of that from the registrations of private sector landlords. We have a number of private sector landlords coming off the register of Rent Smart Wales, but we have an equal number joining. We keep a careful eye on that because we're constantly being told that the PRS is shrinking as a result of various interventions we've made, including the renting homes Act, I might like to say, but actually there's no real evidence of that at the moment.
I am acutely aware that tenants are facing rising rents, however, particularly in areas of high demand like the centre of Cardiff, as Jenny Rathbone made plain, and indeed in the centre of my own constituency, in Swansea. We are very aware of that and we have, as I said, made a number of representations on the local housing allowance, and we continue to make efforts to ensure that landlords are aware of our leasing schemes to give them a guaranteed income if they are prepared to give their house over for a period of time for us to bring it up to standard. So, we make a number of arrangements already to protect renters, it remains a very high priority for the Government, and of course we want to implement the renting homes Act as soon as possible.
However, we want to implement it in a way that allows renters to have security once it's implemented, and for them to understand exactly what their rights and entitlements are. This is a seismic shift in the balance of power between landlords and tenants and we absolutely want to get it right for those tenants to give them the protection that the Act will afford, and we want to do that in good order and so that the Act is sustainable longer term.
I would like to thank Rhys ab Owen for tabling this topical question because I think it really is an important issue. I'm very disappointed, but I will say not surprised, that the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 implementation has been deferred. Will the Minister produce a voluntary code including implementing a rent cap until the Act is eventually implemented? Private landlords have got a pecuniary interest in evicting, then increasing the rent for the next tenant, and that happens far more often than many of us would like to see.
Thank you, Mike. So, one of the obvious things that the renting homes Act does when implemented is it has a number of measures aimed against retaliatory evictions of the sort that you've just described. At the moment, renters do not have protection from that, nor do they have protection from some of the other aspects of the Act. I remain as frustrated as everybody else that we haven't been able to implement this Act as fast as we'd like. Members—longer serving Members in particular—will remember that we had a major issue relating to the updating of court IT systems, which prevented us from setting a date for implementation. That has been successfully resolved, but it is one of the most significant and detailed passed by the Senedd ever.
The radical nature of the Act has also entailed carrying out a thorough trawl of all primary and secondary legislation to ensure implementation takes place as smoothly as possible. For one example, changes are being required to the Family Law Act 1996 regarding the treatment of a tenancy in a separation, which clearly requires careful analysis to ensure a fair outcome is achieved for both parties. There are a number of very complex provisions of that sort that we require certainty of to implement, and we have one lot of regulations still to go.
I thank the Minister. The next topical question is to be answered by the Minister for health and to be asked by Jayne Bryant.
2. Will the Minister provide an update on the news that the group that owns the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Newport is to go into liquidation? TQ633
I can confirm that the parent company of the Rutherford cancer centre in Newport has filed for insolvency and, as a result, the centre's likely to close later this week. The NHS in Wales is ensuring that patients who have started their treatment can complete their treatment.FootnoteLink
Thank you for that answer, Minister. The Rutherford cancer centre in Newport was the first in the UK to offer high-energy, proton-beam therapy, a state-of-the-art private facility that also treats NHS patients. The company has cited a number of reasons for appointing a liquidator, however it will be an enormous shame to lose this facility here in Wales. The facility provides cancer diagnostic and cancer treatment services at a moment in time when we need the staff and equipment to clear the cancer backlog as quickly as possible. Can the Minister assure me that none of the locally commissioned NHS patients will be compromised by the company's decision to appoint the liquidator? And while I realise there will be a process involved in finding a new buyer, will the Welsh Government leave no stone unturned in looking at the business case for using this centre for tackling the cancer backlog, in the first instance as a diagnostic centre, but possibly in terms of cancer treatment too?
Thanks very much and, obviously, this news is desperately sad for the staff at Newport and the patients who are undergoing treatment there and, of course, for the local economy. Now, our priority, first and foremost, has been to ensure that people who are midway through their treatment can continue their therapy, whether they're NHS or whether they're private, as, obviously, patient safety is our primary concern. Thankfully, the number of patients who will not have finished their treatment by the time the centre closes is very, very small. I can't say exactly how many patients are affected because, frankly, the number is so small it might be easy to identify them. But, the important point is that the NHS is repatriating any patients if they've been referred there, and we are also looking after private patients that have started radiotherapy but haven't completed it. And just in terms of the future of the centre in Newport, the NHS in Wales is considering options to make use of the facility, but I'm afraid I can't comment any further at this time.
Peredur Owen—. Natatsha Asghar, first. Natatsha Asghar.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, as my colleague just mentioned, news that the Rutherford cancer centre in Newport is to close is deeply disappointing and will be met with great concern by cancer sufferers in Wales. We all know the benefits of proton-beam therapy, which kills cancer cells using pencil-beam scanning that allows treatment to be delivered to the exact shape of the target area and, unlike conventional radiotherapy, this precise targeting spares healthy tissue beyond the tumour itself. The Rutherford Health group has said that their business was adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with delays in people being diagnosed with cancer and, ultimately, being referred for treatment. In an attempt to alleviate this, the company says it made several offers to the NHS, and whilst they secured some contracts, they were insufficient to save the company from going into liquidation.
So, Minister, can I ask: when were you first made aware of the financial problems threatening the viability of the Rutherford cancer centre? Secondly, what action did you take to increase the number of cancer patients referred to the centre for treatment to protect the Welsh Government's £10 million investment in the business itself? And lastly, will you commit—and I apologise for reiterating what my colleague from Newport West has just said—to leaving no stone unturned in seeking a company to take over the running of the centre to ensure proton-beam therapy continues to be available in Wales for the benefit of Welsh cancer sufferers? Thank you.
Thanks very much. Well, this is an issue that I was made aware of several weeks ago, so we've been, obviously, following the issue very closely and with the utmost concern for the people who are receiving their treatment there. Proton-beam therapy, as both speakers have been clear, is a very specialised approach to cancer treatment. The Welsh Government has no intention of intervening to purchase the facility. Obviously it's extremely specialised, and the reason we're doing this is because we don't think it's in the public interest. We simply don't have the population base to maintain that.
So, we will keep an eye on the situation, of course. The company has five main centres. Four of these centres are not in Wales, so obviously it would have been difficult for us to go riding in on a white horse when actually there were much greater issues at play than simply saving the Welsh branch of Rutherford.
I echo some of the questions from Jayne Bryant and Natasha Asghar, and I was also very concerned to hear about the news of this development this morning. I'd like the Minister to inform the Senedd about the extent of the due diligence that was conducted before a considerable sum of £10 million was invested. Was the Government not awake to what had been described, in a statement by Schroder UK Public Private Trust, as a 'flawed expansion strategy' that was pursued by the company from the same year of the investment? And do you think there's any prospect that some of the public money can be clawed back and be reused in cancer treatment here in Wales?
Thanks very much. Well, the investment made into Rutherford was undertaken by a fund manager who was operating under contract to the Development Bank of Wales, and obviously that's at arm's length from the Welsh Government. So, in terms of due diligence, that would have been their responsibility. The fund is a portfolio fund and, of course, there are investments where there are high risks, and of course we can't expect every one of them to deliver. The fund achieved its first exit in 2019 and it did return nearly £20 million to the Development Bank of Wales.
I thank the Minister.
We move now to the 90-second statements, and the first statement is from Jenny Rathbone.
Today is the fortieth anniversary of the biggest loss of life of the Falklands war. Most of the 48 killed and over 150 injured from the bombing of Sir Galahad were Welsh Guards. And unlike the hand-to-hand fighting that occurred in battles like Goose Green, the casualties on board the ship anchored at Fitzroy bay occurred in plain sight, which I'm sure those who are old enough will still be able to remember on our television screens.
The Welsh Guards had been taken round under cover of darkness to the other side of the island to bring them closer to the next impending assault on Port Stanley, but by the time they arrived at Fitzroy bay, it was daylight. And it was a beautiful, clear day. They could see and be seen for miles, including by the Argentinian troops occupying the hills above them. They were a sitting duck for the Argentinian air force. Their arrival was unexpected and the officers in charge of the Welsh Guards were insisting on being taken further round the coast to Bluff cove, to join up with the rest of the Welsh Guards battalion that was already there. But that was considered far too risky by the experts at the scene, and so, whilst they were awaiting further orders, the single landing craft available in the bay completed offloading another ship stuffed with ammunition before starting to bring the people onboard the Sir Galahad ashore. Six hours after Sir Galahad's arrival, disaster struck, and it is only the heroism of those on helicopters who flew into the black smoke, the efforts of doctors and crew to rescue the wounded, that prevented an even greater loss of life.
Good leadership, good logistics, good luck as well as bravery are all needed to win military conflicts, and this tragedy unfortunately illustrates how easily the outcome of the Falklands could have gone the other way.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
As most of the Members in this Siambr will know, this week marks NFU Cymru's Celebration of Welsh Food and Farming Week, a fantastic celebration of Welsh agriculture, our world-renowned produce and climate-friendly credentials. Welsh farming is the cornerstone of Wales's £7.5 billion food and drink industry, employing over 229,000 workers and contributing millions of pounds to Wales's economy year on year.
Our fantastic food and produce has reached every corner of the world. From Gower salt marsh lamb to Pembrokeshire's very own multi-award-winning handpicked early potatoes, our farmers work 24/7, 365 days a year to put world-class Welsh food on our tables. This week marks the perfect opportunity for us all to take a moment to thank our hard-working farmers for all that they do. It's our farmers who are the natural custodians of our land, taking the lead with celebrated animal welfare standards, developing climate-friendly initiatives to protect our planet, and it's our agricultural community that does so much to safeguard and enshrine our beautiful Welsh language and culture.
And with that, Dirprwy Lywydd, all I ask is for Members to join me in taking the opportunity and saying, 'Diolch yn fawr iawn' to our farmers in recognition of their unwavering commitment and vital contributions to Wales. Diolch.
The next item is a motion to elect a Member to a committee, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally. Darren Millar.
Motion NDM8021 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.14:
1. Elects James Evans (Welsh Conservatives) as a member of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee in place of Peter Fox (Welsh Conservatives).
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1 and 2 in the name of Darren Millar.
Item 6 this afternoon is a debate on the report of the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform, 'Reforming our Senedd: A stronger voice for the people of Wales'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion. Huw Irranca-Davies.
Motion NDM8014 Huw Irranca-Davies
To propose that the Senedd:
1. Notes the report of the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform, ‘Reforming our Senedd: A stronger voice for the people of Wales’.
2. Endorses the recommendations for policy instructions for legislation on Senedd Reform in time for the next Senedd elections in 2026.
3. Notes that the report also calls on the Senedd to consider a number of matters relating to Senedd reform.
First of all, I would like to say how much of a privilege it was to be invited to chair the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform. It has also been a great pleasure to chair a committee where the individual members—Jane Dodds representing the Liberal Democrats; Jayne Bryant on behalf of Labour; Siân Gwenllian on behalf of Plaid Cymru; and, until we lost him in the last few weeks, Darren Millar representing the Conservatives, too, and we thank him for his many thoughtful contributions to the committee's discussions over the past seven months; along with Elin Jones in an observational role—have studied the evidence and listened to each other's views, have often found common ground and established areas of nuance or full disagreement at other times, whilst maintaining respect for one another's views and respect for the importance of the work that we were asked to do by the Senedd. On behalf of the whole committee, I would also like to thank the integrated team of officials who have provided us with an excellent service. Our task could not have been accomplished without the invisible support of these distinguished public servants. I would also like to thank those who engaged with the committee, who have challenged us and who have shared their ideas, evidence and experience with us.
If I do not take interventions on this occasion, Dirprwy Lywydd, it's out of courtesy to what I suspect will be many speakers who want to contribute today, not out of disrespect to those who want to intervene on me.
We began our work last autumn, and we've now fulfilled our task, which you, the Senedd, gave us, to bring forward recommendations for policy instructions for a Welsh Government Bill on Senedd reform by the end of May 2022. Our committee will be dissolved following this Plenary debate on our final report. Our hours are therefore truly numbered.
Our committee's report sets out an integrated package of proposals for a strengthened Parliament to better represent the people of Wales, and a route-map for getting us there. We believe that our proposals can command the support of at least the 40 Members necessary for a supermajority here in this Senedd. As we state in the report, we firmly believe that these reforms are essential and they are achievable before 2026, but to do so, we cannot dither or delay.
Today, we in this Siambr can choose to send a clear message to the Government that there is now a consensus that we should move forward. In presenting this report, I and the members of the committee are conscious that we do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants, and not just one or two giants either: the late Lord Richard, Sir Paul Silk, Professor Laura McAllister and the members of the independent expert panel, the former Chair of the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform, our own Dawn Bowden MS, to name but a few. And as we heard in exchanges yesterday during First Minister's questions, the architects and exponents of a strengthened Parliament and a stronger voice for the people of Wales go back even further into our history.
And yet, the history of devolution is peppered with reports that sought to move the devolution story forward, to move this Parliament forward. Most recently, our committee's report drew on the foundations established by the expert panel on electoral reform, and the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform, but we did not seek to replicate the evidence previously gathered through their public consultation and expert deliberation. None of those more recent reports and inquiries had the immediate impact that their authors would have wished, though they have stood us in good stead.
Today, in debating our committee's report, entitled 'Reforming our Senedd: A stronger voice for the people of Wales', we also have a moment in time, possibly a moment in a generation, where we can choose to move forward and instruct Government to bring forward legislative proposals. So, we look forward to hearing Members express their views on the proposals today, and Members will quite rightly want to express their own views on their own preferred or even ideal system, on their best way forward.
In doing so, two points, I would suggest, are worthy of your consideration. Firstly, there is no one single unadulterated perfect package of electoral reform that will satisfy everyone. Yet, there are some systems, or combinations of systems, that potentially seek more perfectly to achieve multiple aims, such as different expressions of proportionality, simplicity, diversity, and so on. Secondly and unavoidably, the odyssey that our committee set out on was to find proposals that must also win support across the whole Senedd—that supermajority of myths and legends—not to seek some vision of perfection, and thereby sacrifice practicality and delivery by 2026.
Let me turn to the key building blocks of our package of reforms, namely the size, electoral system, boundaries, gender equality measures, recognising that these issues are inextricably intertwined; they influence and they inform each other. Firstly, on size, we have concluded, as has every single august body that preceded us, that the Senedd is categorically underpowered for the job it is asked to do. In short, there are too few of us backbenchers to do our job effectively in holding the Government to account. Our power of scrutiny is constrained. Our ability to specialise, to delve deeper, to challenge harder, is underpowered by all national and international comparators; we are too few.
This is about recognising that the Welsh Government makes critical decisions that affect the lives of millions of people in Wales, manages a budget of nearly £20 billion, and those decisions need to be scrutinised and challenged most effectively. We recommend, therefore, that the Senedd's size should be increased to 96, a number that should be set out in primary legislation. It would bring Wales broadly in line with levels already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, though still, to note, below some of the international comparators. It's not a magic number, but it is tied integrally to the wider package of reforms, and, crucially, it will also enable us to make a coherent proposal for reform that is doable by 2026.
Let me make the point that if we fail to take this opportunity to equip our Parliament in Wales, this Senedd, with the capacity to meet the additional responsibilities we now have—of primary law-making, tax-varying and borrowing powers; of the additional and enduring legislative, policy and inter-parliamentary burdens we have assumed in a post-Brexit scenario; of the heightened public awareness of our responsibilities, not least because of the pandemic; and of the not-unrealistic potential of additional future responsibilities—then we will not simply tread water, we will go backwards as a Parliament, and we will set this Senedd up to fail.
Our package of reforms also includes changes to the electoral system itself. The current hybrid mixed-Member system may have served its purpose initially, but it's not fit for purpose now or for the future; it's complicated for the public, it results in two types of Member and so on. Our proposals for a proportional representation system using closed lists will be at least, or more, proportional than the current system; it's a type of voting familiar to and easily understood by voters, as it's currently used in part of the existing Senedd electoral system, indeed.
The changes to the electoral system, and an increase in membership of the Senedd, in turn, provide us with the opportunity to consider measures to ensure that the Senedd better reflects the diversity of Wales, whilst managing the legislative competence risks. So, we do propose the introduction of legislative gender quotas and other measures to promote and embed for the long term greater equality and diversity in the membership of this, our Senedd. We can be proud of our record on gender, but we cannot be satisfied. We must now take the next step to make us the first country in the UK to embed, legislatively, gender balance in this, our Parliament—our Senedd. Beyond the immediate legislative proposals, our report also recommends actions on wider diversity too.
On the boundaries and the boundary-review mechanism that will now be needed, equal electoral districts—ardaloedd etholiadol cyfartal—were one of the great demands of the 1839 Newport rising of the Chartists. They were right, yet our current boundaries guarantee unequal votes. Our Senedd electoral boundaries are also ossified, with no mechanism to review them. This is no way to run a democracy. So, we must take this step to shape an independent boundary commission that can set Wales's boundaries for Wales's own needs, conferring the powers upon the existing Local Boundary and Democracy Commission for Wales, but renamed and reconstituted to reflect its new functions. These proposals enable the establishment of more equal, multi-Member constituencies before 2026, based on pairing the new Westminster constituencies.
Therefore, in looking forward to Members' contributions today, let me conclude by saying that this report is far from the end of the journey to delivering Senedd reform. The Welsh Government Bill to make change happen will need to be addressed without delay. We will then have further opportunities to scrutinise that legislation, but today we must take the first step.
Today, we can provide a clear mandate for the Welsh Government to deliver the legislation needed and to set out a clear pathway for reforming our Senedd. We can choose to give the people of Wales a stronger voice and include diversity, representation and inclusion at the heart of this Senedd, where the votes are more equal. We can make a Senedd that is fit for today and, also, fit for the future. The case for change is urgent; it is essential and it is achievable before 2026. Dirprwy Lywydd, I look forward to hearing from other Members.
I have selected the two amendments to the motion. I call on Darren Millar to move amendments 1 and 2 tabled in his name.
Amendment 1—Darren Millar
Delete point 2 and replace with:
Regrets the position statement on Senedd reform by the Welsh Government on 10 May 2022 which undermined the independence and work of the committee.
Amendment 2—Darren Millar
Add as new point after point 2 and renumber accordingly:
Regrets that the voting system proposed by the committee would not permit voters to vote for an individual candidate of their choice.
Amendments 1 and 2 moved.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to the Chair of the committee for his kind words about my participation in it. I do move the amendments, which have been tabled in my name, and it will come as no surprise whatsoever to anybody in this Chamber that we will be voting against the motion before us today, because we cannot countenance, on the Welsh Conservative benches, supporting an increase in the number of Senedd Members, and a significant reform to the change in the way that Members of this Senedd are elected, without the people of Wales clearly having a say. I've said it many times before and I'll say it again—I said it earlier on today—Wales needs more doctors, dentists, nurses and teachers, not more politicians, and we need a Welsh Government that is focused like a laser beam on addressing the pressing issues that we have in our health service, our education system and our economy, helping people with the cost-of-living challenges that they are facing, supporting businesses as they recover from the pandemic, and helping people get access to the medical appointments that they need. [Interruption.] I'll happily take an intervention.
I believe the Chair was very generous about your numerous, I think he said, interventions in the committee. Those of us who've sat on committees with you are used to your interventions in these matters, of course. How many times did you argue for a referendum?
The issue of a referendum comes at the end of the discussions and deliberations, does it not? And we are at that point where recommendations have been made by the committee, and it's at that point, when you look at the significant changes that have been recommended, that you have to accept that the public of Wales have not had their say.
Now, we acknowledge that there is a majority in this Chamber in favour of Senedd reform. We've been honest enough to accept that that is the position, and it's on that basis that we took part in this committee's proceedings, that I was appointed to that committee in order to represent the Conservatives. We took part in that process because we were told that there was a genuine opportunity to shape its work, to shape the recommendations that would emerge from it. But it became abundantly clear to me, on 10 May, following the publication of a statement by the First Minister and the leader of Plaid Cymru, which was issued to the press first before it was circulated to Members of this Senedd, entirely disrespectfully, that the faith that we had placed in that process was utterly misplaced, because the conclusions in the report before us were effectively the same set of instructions that were issued by the First Minister and the leader of Plaid Cymru. They simply regurgitate, effectively, in the executive summary, the list of requests and demands that were made in the, frankly, grubby backroom deal that the leader of Plaid did with the First Minister.
I ask everybody in this Chamber: what on earth is the purpose of this Senedd setting up committees, appointing Members, appointing clerks, appointing legal advisers and researchers, taking oral and written evidence from people, carefully considering that evidence, fleshing out some ideas, and then not being able to complete its work because the rug is pulled from under your feet right at the end of the process? Because that is what happened, and it was despicable, frankly, in terms of that behaviour. It was disrespectful to the committee, an insult to this institution, and in fact, the behaviour of the First Minister and the leader of Plaid undermines the very Parliament that they are saying they want to strengthen. What on earth is the point of that?
Now, we all know, in this Chamber, that the overwhelming majority of members of the public do not support an increase in the size of the Senedd. That is why you guys are so terrified of having a referendum on this matter. If you really believed that the public would support this package of reforms, you would put it to the people and allow them to have their say. The Labour Party wasn't even brave enough to set out its ideas in its manifesto. I'll read the quote on Senedd reform from your manifesto to you, to remind you, because I know that, probably, most of you didn't read your manifesto yourselves. It said this—. It said this and I will quote. It's on page 64. This is what it said:
'We will build on the work of the Senedd Committee on electoral reform...and develop proposals to improve the representation of the people of Wales in their Parliament.'
It said nothing, nothing whatsoever, about more Members. It said nothing whatsoever about scrapping the voting system. Nothing whatsoever about gender quotas. And there was no reference whatsoever to taking away the opportunity for members of the public to vote for an individual candidate of their choice.
Now, at least Plaid Cymru's manifesto was more honest. To be fair to Plaid Cymru—. And it took me a long time to find the reference, by the way, in your 100-odd-page manifesto. I can tell you, it's very, very good reading for insomniacs. I finally got to the page, it was on page 117, and it said this:
'We will...implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, in particular',
'in particular on Single Transferable Voting, gender quotas and expanding the Senedd.'
So, there was at least some mention of expanding the Senedd and gender quotas, but, of course, they've abandoned their pledge to introduce, in particular, STV—this particular reference that they felt most strongly about in that particular report. So, if people who voted Labour didn't vote for the proposals in the committee's report today because they weren't referenced, and if Plaid's manifesto commitment was significantly different in terms of the voting system than the deal—the backroom deal, in those dark corridors of power that Adam Price likes to hang around in—if the deal that was done was significantly different, then there is absolutely no public mandate whatsoever to introduce these changes. I appreciate that you might have a different view, and that's why I said, 'Put it to the public.' We're prepared to test the public and if the public vote for it, we will back it 100 per cent, just as we did when it came to Brexit, because we respect democracy, unlike you.
So, let's have a look at what happened in the past when it came to the ability to change the voting system. Of course, the UK Government, Jenny Rathbone—I can see you're paying great attention—the UK Government, Jenny Rathbone, gave the opportunity to the people of Wales and the whole of the UK to vote on proposals to change the voting system, to scrap first-past-the-post and introduce the AV system, the alternative vote system of elections. [Interruption.] I'm happy to take an intervention. Would you like to make an intervention? [Interruption.] I'll happily take an intervention. Come on.
Is he aware of the turnout? What was the turnout for that AV referendum?
I haven't got a note of the turnout.
Forty-two per cent.
What I do have a note of—[Interruption.]—what I do have a note of is the result, and two thirds of people in Wales rejected wholeheartedly abandoning the first-past-the-post system. Two thirds of the people who voted rejected that idea, and that is why they must have the opportunity to vote and say whether they want to reject first-past-the-post here in the Senedd. Because the ability for people to vote for a person, not just a party, is very, very important, and that's why these closed list systems, frankly, are inappropriate. There are other ways—there are other ways—assuming that you want to introduce a list-based system, and we explored these in the committee. We explored these in the committee. If you want to introduce a list-based system, then why not introduce a flexible list-based system? There's a slight reference to it in the report. There's no explanation as to why that system was abandoned. I'll tell you why it was abandoned, because that was not the deal that was struck between the two individuals that seemed to be instructing their party members on the way that these things are going to work out. It's not a good system for democracy; flexible lists allow people to vote for either a party or a person. They are much, much better.
We also have concerns about the recommendation in this report for gender quotas, and I have concerns for two reasons: (1) it could scupper your Bill completely, because it could well be—. In fact, we were told—the legal advice to us was that it would be outside the competence of the Senedd to be able to legislate for gender quotas. That's one reason why that shouldn't go forward in any package of reforms, because equal opportunities are an entirely reserved matter to the UK Parliament. The second reason that we do not support or advocate gender quotas is because they promote one aspect of diversity over another. It doesn't address issues of diversity—[Interruption.] It doesn't address issues—. I'm happy to take an intervention. Would you like to make an intervention? [Interruption.] Would you like to make an intervention? Yes.
So, if there were no compulsory gender quotas in our Bill, would the Conservative Party consider following the example of the Labour Party in Wales, which is to have had gender balance ever since the Senedd was first founded?
The Conservative Party is a meritocracy. We believe—[Interruption.] We believe—[Interruption.]
I would like to hear the conclusion of the Member's contribution, and he is aware of the timescale as well.
We believe—[Interruption.] I've taken a number of interventions.
I am aware of the interventions, Darren.
We believe that people should be selected as candidates not because of their gender, or their race, or their religion, or their disability, but because of their qualities and merits as candidates. That is our firm belief. And I ask the question as well: why do we actually need to take any action on that front when you look at the fact that the Senedd actually had 50:50—[Interruption.]—actually had 50:50 representation?
I would like Members to be a little bit more quiet, please. I like to listen to the contributions. We have a very long debate and lots of Members wishing to speak. The longer you take in making such noise, then fewer Members will be able to speak.
We must remember that the existing system of elections has delivered 50:50 representation on a gender basis in this Senedd in the past. And on that basis, there's no actual need to take this particular action. So, why on earth would this Welsh Government want to embark upon a journey that is going to end in the Supreme Court on the current basis of the devolution settlement? Because that's where it's going to end up, and it could scupper completely any delivery of Senedd reform in the future.
So, in summary, I just want to say this: there is no public mandate for these changes. The financial costs are likely to be very significant. The proposals will curtail public choice at elections and sever the direct accountability between named individuals and their constituents. It will amount to a power grab by political parties, because, at the end of the day, the candidates will be more accountable to them because of their position on the list than the public that we are here, supposedly, to serve. And these proposals will pit, I regret, one aspect of diversity against another. And for these reasons, I urge Members to vote against the proposal and to support the amendments tabled in my name.
This Senedd is younger than all of its elected Members. And yet, in that short space of time, this institution has developed significantly. We forget that the first Assembly had fewer fiscal responsibilities than community councils. Thank goodness, we have moved away from the early Senedd models that saw Ministers sitting on committees. And yet, despite this, the Senedd is still smaller than eight of our local authorities. Cardiff Council, for example, has 79 members—19 more members than our national Parliament.
Or let me put it in a different way. There are over twice as many Tory MPs without confidence in the Prime Minister than there are of Senedd Members sitting here.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd never refers to the devolution settlement in Wales because its been anything but settled. We've had at least four different versions. There are only two constants in the history of Welsh devolution. One is sitting next to me: the continued presence of four of my esteemed colleagues. Llywydd, if you'd served in each iteration of the Icelandic Parliament, you'd be over 1,000 years old by now. The other constant, of course, is the Senedd size. Despite the development from a glorified local government into today's modern Parliament, we have seen the Senedd remain exactly the same size. I could bring all the reports that Huw Irranca-Davies mentioned to this Siambr that have demonstrated the need for more Members, for proper scrutiny, but I wouldn't be able to carry them all in, they'd be too heavy for me. But they all agree that a larger Senedd is necessary to make life more difficult for people on those benches—to scrutinise the Welsh Government more effectively and more efficiently.
Now, some people have criticised my party that these proposals do not go far enough, and they are right—they don't go far enough. We would prefer a single transferrable vote system. However, as Huw Irranca-Davies said—[Interruption.] No, I won't take an intervention; you'll have plenty of time to talk. As Huw Irranca-Davies said, this is work in progress, as the story of Welsh devolution has been from the beginning.
The ability of the closed list system to ensure gender equality is an excellent step forward. Our Senedd was the first legislature in the world to have gender parity and I look forward to that happening again in the next Senedd. And I hear the Conservatives talking against gender quotas—looking at those benches, I wonder why they are against gender quotas. And whilst the reforms may not go as far as we would like, sometimes, one needs to comprom