Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in proceedings of the Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's meeting, and these are noted on your agenda.
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership and to be asked by Peredur Owen Griffiths.
1. How is the Government promoting fair pay for workers in the third sector? OQ58319
The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the third sector and its workforce was discussed at the most recent meeting of the third sector partnership council. In addition, we are committed to and continuing to work in social partnership and use our wider levers to promote fair pay in the third sector.
Thank you for that answer.
One of the problems the sector is currently having is funding fair pay settlements that reflect rises in the cost of living. This is particularly the case with organisations that have contracts with multiple public sector providers that are adopting different approaches to contract uplifts. One organisation I am aware of has contracts across many local authorities, with roughly a third giving contract uplifts, a third refusing and a third yet to decide. This puts the organisation in an impossible position of having to be fair to all staff whilst not being able to fund fair pay. Will the Welsh Government take a lead in ensuring consistent policy on contract uplifts and ensure the sector can continue to keep its valuable staff and help the most vulnerable in our society?
I thank the Member for his question and, obviously, for recognition of a sector that not only helps some of our most vulnerable in society, but also provides employment for people in communities right across the country. As I said, in the most recent third sector partnership council meeting on the cost-of-living crisis, the impact it's having on fair pay in the sector was raised, and, certainly, I and the Minister for Social Justice are happy to follow up and pick up how we can use our social partnership approach and also all the levers we do have to try and have consistency across the sector and support where support is available.
We have acknowledged some of the challenges that the sector faces in terms of not just funding for the stability of projects, but also for the stability of staff, so it's one of the reasons behind moving for the first time to a three-year grant commitment, which obviously enables better long-term planning whilst retaining staff and skills. I think it's really important, like you said, that these third sector organisations are not only providing crucial support and services, they provide really good opportunities for people to work as well and we need to be conscious of that when we move forward.
The issue that the Member for South Wales East raises is of course an important one. So too is how third sector employees and volunteers are remunerated for additional expenses that occur whilst they're undertaking their roles—for example, fuel costs. Recently, I've been contacted by the Community Transport Association, who are working with a number of charities to campaign for an increase in the approved mileage allowance payment scheme. They state that the recent increase in the cost of fuel is having a negative impact on third sector workers and volunteers, as well as making it more difficult to recruit additional staff. I understand that such an issue is not devolved, however, Minister, what discussions have you had with your counterparts in the UK Government about increasing the AMAP rates in the short term to help alleviate such issues? And what specifically is the Welsh Government doing to support third sector organisations, employees and volunteers with rising costs as well as supporting organisations to recruit and retain more staff and volunteers? Thank you.
Can I thank Peter Fox for his question? You are right to acknowledge the impact that rising fuel costs are having, not just on the third sector, but I actually heard today in a meeting with the Partnership Council for Wales about the impact it's having for people particularly in the social care sector too in travelling between people who they are looking after and caring for, as well. So, I absolutely agree with you in terms of—. I know there are calls to uplift from 45p to 55p, and that's certainly something that we, as a Government, would support and have raised previously with counterparts at a UK Government level. And, actually, it's very prescient, the timing of your question, Peter Fox, because this morning we did actually commit with partners right across local government and across the public sector in Wales, and the third sector as well, to collectively calling for an increase in that to help mitigate some of the cost-of-living impact that it's having on people who provide services that are essential, not just to people but to our communities as well.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with ministerial colleagues about tackling racial discrimination in public sector workplaces? OQ58304
Thank you very much for the question. Well, this item was on the agenda today for the local government partnership council, chaired by my colleague Rebecca Evans. It relates to the anti-racist Wales action plan goal of local government being an exemplar employer, with anti-racist employment and human resources policies, with improvement funding used to drive such best practice, contributing to good governance and performance.
Thank you, Minister. I appreciate all the work that you're doing. Around 35 per cent of medical staff in Wales are from the ethnic minority backgrounds, and, in some hospitals, over 60 per cent of their staff belong to the ethnic minority groups. A recent report on racism in medicine by the British Medical Association found that nearly one third of doctors surveyed have considered leaving the NHS or have already left within the last two years due to persistent and intolerable levels of racism on a personal and institutional level. The survey reveals institutional barriers to career progression, low levels of reporting of racist incidents, and a growing mental health burden on ethnic minority doctors as some of the reasons why they're leaving. The chair of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in Wales said that if things don't improve urgently, then the NHS in Wales could face collapse. So, Minister, what discussions have you had with the health Minister to end structural racism in the NHS here in Wales and to rectify the disproportionate outcomes in careers and job satisfaction faced by different ethnic groups, such as by making job applications anonymous to protect the candidates' ethnicity, going forward? Thanks.
Thank you very much, and I do welcome that question. Indeed, if you look at the anti-racist action plan for Wales, it covers every department of the Welsh Government, with actions and goals. So, clearly, that includes not just health but health and social care as well. So, the goals, as far as the Wales NHS are concerned, are that it should be and must be anti-racist, and staff should be able to work in safe, inclusive environments. I have also met with the BMA and also with the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin on a number of occasions, and I attend—as I'm sure you do as well, and colleagues—their annual events. They have contributed to the anti-racist action plan for Wales, and, indeed, the goals and the objectives for the Minister for Health and Social Services are very clear in terms of delivering on those objectives for our Welsh NHS. And can we again thank those who work in the Welsh NHS—we were recognising the anniversary yesterday—and the role that they played during the pandemic, in terms of our black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals and colleagues in the NHS, when they were also disproportionately being affected by the pandemic? So, I'm very grateful for that question, and we will ensure that we will report, because there is an accountability committee, which is co-chaired by the Permanent Secretary and Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna, and, indeed, with representation from the NHS on it.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Joel James.
Thank you, Llywydd. As the Minister will be well aware, the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has strongly backed Russia in the present Russian-Ukraine conflict, stating that, in the context of the ongoing war, Russia should be viewed as the centre of gravity in eastern Europe. For those who are unfamiliar with this military phrasing, what the President is saying is that Russia is the source of power that provides moral and physical strength in that region, and, as such, has the freedom of action to enforce that moral and physical strength. President Museveni's son, Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of the land forces of the Uganda People's Defence Force, and the person expected to succeed the President, has strongly asserted that most Africans support Russia and has remarked that, and I quote:
'The majority of mankind that are non-white support Russia's stand in Ukraine, and Putin is absolutely right in his attempted conquest.'
Given Uganda's public support of Russia, who has with this conflict caused immense human suffering, a high number of civilian deaths and a refugee crisis in Europe not seen since the end of the second world war, do you, Minister, believe that it is morally wrong and hypocritical for Wales to be both a supersponsor of refugees and to continue to support and send aid to Uganda, no matter how small, who believe that Russia is right in carrying out this conflict? And if the Minister does believe it is right to continue to provide aid in Uganda, what justification can she give for this to those refugees who are fleeing for their lives? Thank you.
Of course, the money that does go through the Wales and Africa programme goes to communities in Uganda. It goes to communities that we're working closely with and have done for many years. And, also, of course, in the whole of Wales there are partnerships in communities, and, as you know, in your region as well—partnerships between local people in our towns and cities and villages. Indeed, PONT is one that you will know very well, and indeed across Wales, with communities, with non-governmental organisations in Uganda, to work as part of our Wales and Africa programme.
Clearly, it is abhorrent when we hear these views—any views—and when those views are expressed, we condemn them in terms of the leaders of governments, and that is happening across the world. But let's look at what we do and what the outcomes are for our Wales and Africa programme in terms of our commitment to those communities that we've worked with, and which citizens across Wales are working with day-in, day-out in order to support them.
Thank you, Minister. Oh, I nearly swore then—two secs, Llywydd—[Inaudible.]—came apart then. [Laughter.]
Thank you, Minister, for your condemnation of those remarks, and I support that condemnation. I would urge, going forward, that we look carefully at where that aid's going and how it's being used. As you know, the Welsh Government's flagship Wales and Africa grant scheme was created to enable community groups and organisations in Wales to access funding for small-scale projects that contribute to Wales's delivery of the UN sustainable development goals, and to deliver benefits for people living in both Wales and Africa. You will be aware that the total funding of this scheme is in the region of £150,000 per year, and the NHS contribution to ensure that some projects are dedicated to health activities is £50,000 per year, and these figures have remained at that level for the past 15 years. When you consider the size of the NHS budget in Wales, this amount is relatively small, and, given the long-term effects of COVID in sub-Saharan Africa, I'm keen to know why you are funding your flagship initiative with such meagre sums. Firstly, Minister, can you comment on whether the lack of an uplift in the NHS contribution over the past 15 years is an oversight on this Government's part, or is this stagnation of funding part of the Welsh Government's vision for delivery of the Wales and Africa programme's long-term goals? And, secondly, with such small sums involved, how do you measure whether there has been any long-term benefit of this programme, both in Wales and in Africa?
Well, the Wales and Africa small grants scheme, which actually was contracted to the Wales Council for Voluntary Action to deliver, did end on 31 March. But, a procurement exercise put the contract back out to tender earlier this year, and the WCVA will continue to implement and to manage that small grants scheme. It's now open, round 1 of the 2022-25 Wales and Africa small grants scheme, and the application deadline is 24 July.
The importance of those small grants is that, although they may sound a small amount of money, in terms of our priorities in the Welsh Government and the pressures on our budget, we still believe it is important to invest in Wales and Africa. And these small sums of money can make a huge difference, working with partners on projects relating to health, climate change, environment, lifelong learning and sustainable livelihoods. And these are projects that are led, as I said, by African partners, by those NGOs, working with many groups across Wales. And I think what's important is that we have worked to support many communities during the pandemic. We've devoted millions of pounds-worth of PPE to Namibia via the Phoenix Project. I seem to remember there were some adverse comments from your party about the fact that we were doing that. We believe very strongly that we should do that. Also, we support projects in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Lesotho, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, and these are all projects where the outcomes are clearly having a huge impact on those communities.
Thank you, Minister, for that response, and I'd like to reiterate, unless we have that actual assessment of the impact of this money going to Africa, we wonder what sort of benefit it's bringing to the Welsh taxpayer.
If I move on to the next question, one of the touted benefits of the Wales and Africa programme is that diaspora communities can bring to Wales knowledge and experience that is otherwise difficult to obtain here. Setting up the health partnership under the Wales and Africa umbrella also allows Welsh NHS workers to experience for themselves some of the challenges faced by sub-Saharan communities and establish mutual knowledge transfer that enables African communities to improve health education and to upskill health professionals and other workers in partner nations. Sub-Saharan countries bear 24 per cent of the world's disease burden, but employ only 3 per cent of the world's health workers. I can see that there is an unprecedented need to develop health partnerships and provide training. I am aware that relatively few Welsh health professionals are involved in health partnership schemes, and it's likely that they know very little about what the health partnerships can achieve for sub-Saharan nations and to what extent they or the Welsh NHS can benefit. With this in mind, Minister, what impact assessment has this Government made of the benefits that health partnerships have made here in Wales and in Africa, particularly to the Welsh NHS, and how is this Government examining the role that health partnerships can play in supporting the careers of Welsh health professionals going forward? Thank you.
I presume and I hope that you've met with the Wales and Africa Health Links Network, which is a very dynamic organisation led principally by people in the Welsh NHS. It's one of the most important networks that has been developed within the NHS, so that you have partnerships between health boards, between hospitals, between communities in Wales and Africa. I hope, if you haven't met them, that you will be meeting them, because they come under the umbrella of Hub Cymru Africa.
It is important that we are relaunching our international learning opportunities programme. That was relaunched in April after two years of not being able to send people on placements due to COVID. It's a really important way in which people in Wales can actually contribute to UN sustainable development goals, by having a placement of up to eight weeks in either Lesotho, Namibia or Uganda. That's funded by the Wales and Africa programme. These exchanges are also taking place with NHS workers. Actually, we've enabled people in the NHS to have time off in order to undertake this kind of experience.
In terms of outcomes, the money that we made available, £3.1 million since March 2020, looking at response and adaptations to the pandemic, is helping children get back to school, providing clean water and soap stations and essential PPE, raising awareness about the impact of COVID-19, dispelling fake information, stressing the importance of receiving vaccinations, helping people get digital access and assistance in areas that could not previously provide it. That is the outcome of our investment in Africa.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Llywydd. Prynhawn da, Weinidog. We know that families with children are among the poorest households in our nation. Following the success of the baby box scheme in Scotland, a scheme was piloted in the Swansea Bay University Health Board area to provide baby bundles to 200 families to reduce the need for expenditure on newborn essentials. The pilot appeared to be successful, according to the evaluation published by the Welsh Government. So, could I ask what developments have followed the conclusion of this pilot? Given the success of the pilot, why has the Welsh Government not yet implemented a baby bundle scheme? Of course, if we had more powers over welfare, we could develop a cash support scheme, which is called for by anti-poverty campaigners as the best way to support families with children, similar to that of the Best Start scheme in Scotland. We could help parents during the cost-of-living crisis and assist in pulling families out of poverty. So, could the Minister update us on the commitment made in the co-operation agreement to progress the devolution of the administration of welfare?
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. I will start with the baby bundles, because, as you say, we've piloted them for families across Wales. It's going to really help in terms of the cost-of-living crisis for parents in Wales. It's those key items that are essential to their new baby's development and well-being. I want to recognise Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services, who actually took this idea forward and helped get this pilot launched, very much learning from the Scottish Government and further from our pilot as well. I know the Deputy Minister for Social Services is going to be making announcements later this year, but we're very much seeing this as a key part of our package of support for tackling the cost-of-living crisis.
Yes, it is important that we move forward in terms of our commitment in the co-operation agreement in relation to the devolution of the administration of welfare benefits. I was extremely disappointed to hear today that the UK Government has rejected fairly sensible and decent recommendations from the Welsh Affairs Committee, which did an inquiry into the interaction in Wales of welfare benefits, social security and relations with the Welsh Government. They actually recommended that there should be work done and a committee formed between the UK Government and the Welsh Government to look at the interaction, because there's a great deal that could be done now, before we move further, in terms of much stronger take-up campaigns, the UK Government Department for Work and Pensions failing to engage with us on our 'Claim what's yours' campaign, pension credit—after all, a UK Government responsibility—and so many of the benefits that people need during this cost-of-living crisis.
Again, we move forward in terms of looking at the way forward with the devolution of the administration of benefits, but I fear, from that UK Government response, that we're going to have a difficult time to move it forward. But let's get the evidence and let's get the backing, as we have with our co-operation agreement. Also, I'm meeting my colleague in the Scottish Government to learn from them how they have been able to progress this and what that has meant in terms of beneficial impacts.
Diolch, Weinidog. It's good to hear that there will be an announcement on the baby bundles. As we brace for a serious worsening of the cost-of-living crisis as the autumn and winter months begin to loom over an already grim horizon, I was wondering whether the Minister could update the Senedd on how effectively the current financial support being provided by the Welsh Government is being delivered and consider the steps needed to improve this to enhance current schemes, and to think about what we can improve before introducing any new schemes in order to ensure that what has been committed to is actually being accessed by those who most need support, and whether the measures are having the desired impact.
In theory, much of what we have in place should provide a good foundation to help some of the most vulnerable households in Wales this winter, or at least what we can put in place within our devolved competencies. Do we need to improve take-up, delivery and awareness of the current support? Would the Minister consider merging schemes as a kind of one-stop shop, for example, to improve access?
I thank you for that really useful question as well. In fact, the Minister for Finance and Local Government and I were at the partnership council this morning with all of the new leaders of local government in Wales, and we had an item on the cost-of-living crisis. Indeed, I thanked local government for the role that they've played, because they are delivering not only the cost-of-living payments that have been made available as part of the £385 million package, but they were able to manage and deliver on the winter fuel support scheme. We got clear feedback there in terms of take-up.
I will be, on Monday, chairing another follow-up cost-of-living crisis summit, again with the Minister for Finance and Local Government and the Minister for Climate Change. A hundred and twenty stakeholders have signed up for that. We will have a presentation as part of it from a leader from local government as well, because we need to work with them to ensure that not only is there 'Claim what's yours' to claim what we're putting out in terms of our benefits like the winter fuel support scheme, but that there is adequate engagement with our single advice fund-givers, because Citizens Advice are, obviously, mainly delivering on single advice, and they're the ones who are working on the Advicelink to 'Claim what's yours'.
But, on streamlining—I raised this this morning—there are opportunities to passport and streamline all of our benefits. I feel that the responsibilities we've got at the moment are to make what we have in terms of our responsibilities for social security, which is what I believe it should be seen as, as robust, as streamlined and as passported as possible to reach people in these dire times. But, I hope, also, that we can recognise that every time someone goes to a foodbank they get signposted, now, that they're going to actually be able to access—people on prepayment meters—the fuel vouchers. There are so many opportunities when people do come forward who are vulnerable and in need for all of our agencies to work together, and I'm sure we'll be discussing that on Monday.
3. What discussions has the Minister had with North Wales Police regarding the impact of health service responsibilities on their workload? OQ58300
Thank you for that question. The Welsh Government works closely with the police, police and crime commissioners, and with the health service, not only in north Wales but across Wales as a whole. I have regular meetings and discussions with our partners about a wide range of policing issues.
Thank you for that initial response, Minister. Last month, I had the pleasure of joining North Wales Police on one of their shifts, and had the privilege, also, of seeing the fantastic work that they carry out for us in our communities. This is time I spent with them following 10 years previously when I'd gone on shift with the North Wales Police just to observe the work that they do. One of the things that I observed about the difference between 10 years ago and now is the increased difficulties of health service pressures on our police officers and on the police force. This increase in pressures has seen police officers dealing with defibrillators, tied up in A&E for hours on end, at times, waiting for those they may have arrested to be seen, along with assisting with mental health issues—all of which is needed, of course, but I would argue is probably not a good use of police resource and police expertise. It's clear to me that the health service pressures are taking time away from police officers in their usual role, and of course this could lead to our police forces being overrun away from their traditional work. In light of this, Minister, what assessment have you made of the increasing pressures on police officers, and what discussions have you had with the Minister for Health and Social Services regarding this increased pressure?
Thank you very much, Sam Rowlands, for bringing this to our attention today and congratulations on joining the shift. I think, across the Chamber, there will be people who have already done that or who will take up that opportunity, because it shows you what life is like on the front line, doesn't it, for our police officers and all those who they engage with, not just the citizens that they're engaging with but of course all of the other people at the sharp end, whether it's the ambulance service, accident and emergency—all the emergency care system working together.
The place where these issues are raised is at our policing partnership board, which I or the First Minister chair. We work with policing colleagues, so the chief constables, the police and crime commissioners, and indeed the Secretary of State for Wales joins us, so it's devolved and non-devolved. We're looking at strategic issues. In the last meeting we had, we looked at homelessness and we looked at substance misuse. We regularly look at the pressures of the health service, which policing now have to engage with, and I would say that this policing partnership board is an ideal way of ensuring that we can work, as we do, at a devolved level, in terms of the services. And of course it includes local government, as well as health boards and the police themselves.
But let's also recognise the hard work that's undertaken by our police people across Wales. I am certainly looking forward to joining the anniversary of our PCSOs in a couple of weeks' time, to recognise the work that they do at the sharp end, as well.
4. How is the Welsh Government working with trade union partners to protect the interests of public sector workers? OQ58314
We work in social partnership and are embedding social partnership in public bodies through the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill to drive improvements in public services and well-being. This builds on existing arrangements with, for example, NHS, local government and the cross-public services forum, the workforce partnership council.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Weinidog. The Llywydd will certainly be aware that I'll have to declare an interest here as a proud member of two trade unions. [Interruption.] They did know, I believe.
But sadly, Llywydd, we have seen countless examples over the years of bad practice when it does come to supporting workers, and the steps and threats taken by the UK Government recently, not just to undermine devolution but to undermine public sector workers striking for a fair wage, is just the latest in a long line of Tory attacks on workers. But we do do different things in Wales, and it's more important that we continue to work collaboratively with workers and strengthen the relationships with our trade union partners. Can I ask the Minister if she could outline how this could be achieved and whether she agrees with me that the best way for private and public sector workers to protect their interests and their livelihoods and to have a voice to be heard is by joining a trade union?
Can I thank the Member for his question? It'll come as no surprise to others in the Chamber that I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Jack Sargeant made there. I think the approach of the UK Government when it comes to trade unions and workers' rights in particular, and particularly their hidden-away, almost, announcement of their intention to try and repeal the Trade Union (Wales) Act, and their copious attacks across the UK in terms of trying to roll back workers' rights, shows a disregard not just for workers, but a disrespect for devolution as well. And instead of attempting to attack workers who are the backbone of our public services, who are feeling the pinch themselves of the cost-of-living crisis, they should actually go back and re-enact their commitment to an employment Bill, to actually improve the support for people in work and improve their rights.
I agree with you that strong and effective trade unions are not just in the best interests of workers and communities, but our country as a whole, and despite some of the rhetoric we might hear from some of our colleagues—not always in this place, but maybe elsewhere and in the right-wing media—actually, a positive view of trade unions is one that is reflected by much of the public in Wales, as we can see that trade union membership levels increased in Wales by 33,000 between 2020 and 2021; the only nation in the UK to see an increase. And when we talk about social partnership, it's not just about talking the talk, it's about walking the walk. Social partnership working goes beyond legislation; it's about a value-based approach of working together for the common interest and shared purpose, and it has a huge potential to drive change not just for individuals but collectively for our communities.
I want to thank Jack Sargeant for bringing this very important question here today. Few people in this Chamber know I was actually a member of Unison once upon a time, so I actually do care about the interests of our public sector workers across Wales.
This Senedd passed the Trade Union (Wales) Act in 2017 under conferred powers, and since the 2017 Wales Act, the devolved competency was reserved back to the UK Government. I respect devolution and the laws that are passed in this Senedd, even if I don’t sometimes fundamentally agree with them.
Minister, there are dispute resolution process frameworks in place to try and work out disputes between Governments, so I’d like to know whether this is something that will be put into the dispute resolution process to try and work through to find a solution to this programme. Because I think we need to find a way through this impasse to make sure that devolution and constitutional settlements right across the United Kingdom are respected, because we are elected here in our own right to make laws for the people of Wales.
Can I genuinely thank the Member for his thoughtful and considered contribution there? I want to start off by saying, James, I'm sure you'd be very welcome to rejoin Unison, but I think there was a ripple—[Interruption.]—there was a ripple of shock waves from the benches next to you with your revelation of being a former trade union member. But trade unions are for everybody, and as we said, it's the best way to represent and protect yourself within the workplace and work together.
I know there's a series of questions on the same issue that you raised for my colleague the Counsel General coming up after this, and I'm sure the points that you take on board are ones that are very prescient, and I'm sure the Counsel General will be very happy to pick that up and take it forward, and I thank you for your contribution.
5. Will the Minister provide an update on fuel poverty levels in Ynys Môn? OQ58308
Diolch yn fawr. Up to 45 per cent of all Welsh households could be in fuel poverty following the price cap increase of April 2022, using the Welsh fuel poverty measure. The last estimates collected for Ynys Môn in 2018 estimated a rate of fuel poverty higher than the Welsh national average at the time.
Thank you for that answer, and it is astonishing, isn't it, and we see how costs in terms of energy and fuel, as part of the cost-of-living crisis more broadly, are deepening from day to day, nearly, and the financial hardship that some of my most vulnerable constituents are seeing. We see it in the increasing demand for foodbank services. We've see this week Ynys Môn council, in partnership with Elfennau Gwyllt-Wild Elements, leading on a new project to provide fruit and vegetables to Ynys Môn foodbank, Amlwch foodbank and Bwyd Da Môn-Môn Good Food, and I congratulate everyone who's part of that scheme—and I'm sure the Minister will join me in that—but it is shameful that we need that.
There is an expectation for fuel prices to rise again, as the cap rises further later in the year. And my question is: what steps is the Welsh Government taking now to consider the options for providing additional support to my most vulnerable constituents when that heavier blow arrives later in the year?
Diolch yn fawr, Rhun ap Iorwerth. A very important question and, indeed, we discussed the cost-of-living crisis with the council leaders in the partnership council this morning. Council leaders were also raising these concerns, but also raising positive examples of how communities are coming together, the foodbanks and food pantries; FareShare, the charity working across Wales; Lesley Griffiths liaising with the supermarkets; and also agricultural farmers. Everyone's playing their part to try and support the most vulnerable. I said that we are going to—. In terms of our 'Claim what's yours', we're getting people to claim what they can, and we've got our new fuel vouchers, which are really important for pre-payment households, but also people off-grid in terms of the heat fund. The next iteration of our fuel support scheme will start to be paid earlier. We'll be announcing that in the next couple of weeks.
But I do think this does also need a response from the UK Government. They have the powers. We have asked consistently, and I hope you will join us in backing this, that the UK Government should lower the price cap for lower income households to ensure they can meet the costs of their energy needs and remove all social environment policy costs from household energy bills. They do that in the rest of Europe; why isn't the UK Government doing that? Meet those costs for general taxation, restore the £20 uplift in universal credit, uprate benefits from 2022-23 to match inflation. A 3.1 per cent benefit uplift—look at inflation at 9 per cent. So, we will do what we can. The fuel support scheme, the fuel foundation vouchers and, indeed, following on with the cost-of-living payments that have been made, the £150, with which more than £1.4 million paid so far. But also, please, let's work together to get the UK Government to address these issues and, indeed, address them as we're holding a second cost-of-living summit on Monday.
I'm grateful to you for agreeing to attend next Monday's meeting of the cross-party on fuel poverty and energy efficiency, which will have a particular focus on vulnerable rural households, including those in rural Ynys Môn and across north Wales. Amongst these, tenants who have their gas and electric included in their rent are likely to have missed out in the last round of the Welsh Government's winter fuel support scheme, as they were not the named energy bill payer at their address. What action, therefore, is the Welsh Government considering to address that for the next round?
I look forward, Mark Isherwood, to joining you, as I have every time I've had this invitation to the cross-party group, and, indeed, also, it'll be just alongside our summit as well. We'll certainly look at this issue in terms of making sure that our bespoke Welsh fuel support scheme reaches those tenants who need it most.
6. What assessment has the Minister made of the ability of children and young people in independently run residential care institutions to access an independent advocate? OQ58301
Thank you for your very important question, Jane.
The national approach to statutory advocacy, established in 2017, addresses the issue of access, availability and provision of advocacy for all children and young people, including those in residential care settings. The national approach is monitored by the national forum that oversees accessibility of advocacy provision across Wales.
Diolch, Gweinidog. Thank you firstly for the Welsh Government's different approach to that of the UK Conservative Government in relation to removing profit from the care of children looked after. It's an important step forward, and I'm grateful to the Welsh Government for their support on this issue. As you say, Minister, in 2017 the Welsh Government committed themselves to ensuring that every child has access to an independent advocate. And yet, an independent report commissioned by Tros Gynnal Plant, which you know about, of course—Wales's leading children's rights charity—estimates that the majority of private providers of children's care have no provision of residential visiting advocacy and that most, for example organisations like Stepping Stones and Priory, do not have residential visiting advocacy at all. Given what we know of how we can engage with children, residential visiting advocacy is the most effective as it builds trust with children. So, my question, Minister, is: what could you be doing to accelerate and work harder to ensure that every single child who is looked after has that right to access independent advocacy? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Diolch yn fawr, Jane. Can I just say, again—I want to put on the record, and the Deputy Minister for Social Services would say it with me, as we do as a Welsh Government—that removing profit from the care of looked-after children is a key component of our wider vision for the reform of children's social services. And progress is being made; a multi-agency programme board, chaired by the chief social care officer, is now moving forward in terms of governance impact assessments and working collaboratively with our stakeholders. And I think that that is the response to the question that you raise about how we can have consistency and co-ordination of services across the six regions of Wales with a national approach to statutory advocacy. In fact, the Deputy Minister will shortly be issuing a statement about this, and the national forum, of course, has looked at this national approach to statutory advocacy, and, indeed, looking at all of this for improving outcomes for looked-after children. And I know that, in the work of Tros Gynnal Plant, they've looked at this and, of course, the point for the Minister now is to come forward with her written statement, which is due imminently, on the approach resulting from the national approach to statutory advocacy task and finish group's legacy.
It's disappointing to see that the Welsh Government is continuing to abolish private children's provision here in Wales, given that it makes up, indeed, 80 per cent of the sector. What the Government should be focusing on is getting the number of children in care out of the system into stable homes. Can the Minister outline what process is in place to meet with the private children's residential care sector and what the timeline is for the Government's plans? In terms of advocacy, what confidence does the Minister have that the newly appointed children's commissioner will stand up for children in care, considering her historical social media content?
No, I think I shall disagree with every point. It's hard to answer, isn't it, a question like that? Well, it's not questions, it's comments—it's comments, which I won't be responding to in terms of your last point at all. We have an independent children's commissioner who was appointed by a cross-party panel, and we wish her well in her post.
But can I say that this, of course, is a commitment from this Welsh Government, in our programme for government, supported, I know, by Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, that we remove, we eliminate, private profit from the care of looked-after children and that we progress with it. And of course that involves working with stakeholders as we progress that. Of course, it's collaborative work with our stakeholders and it's about transitioning to not-for-profit provisioning. The transition is key and the support for our looked-after children—the First Minister answered this in full yesterday afternoon—I think is robust in terms of our commitment to ensuring that we're not just caring for our looked-after children, but also that we ensure that fewer children have to come into the looked-after care system.
7. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the UK Government's proposed Bill of Rights on the legislative and policy framework in Wales? OQ58292
Thank you, Huw Irranca-Davies. The Welsh Government did not see the bill before it was introduced. It requires and is now receiving careful consideration, and we certainly continue to hold fundamental concerns about its potential regressive impact on human rights in the UK and on our positive agenda in Wales.
So, Minister, thank you for the answer, and apologies for a slight diversion into history, but we know that it was in the shadow of world war two that Churchill and Mitterrand and others backed a convention, supported by 100 parliamentarians from the 12 member states of the Council of Europe, to draft this charter of human rights and establish a court to enforce it. The British MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell Fyfe was one of the leading members who guided the drafting of the convention, but, as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, he had first-hand knowledge of how international justice could be applied effectively.
The UK Government has now decided, in its wisdom, it can do the job better. We will see. But the European Court of Human Rights have made it clear that the competence of Welsh institutions could be changed, depending on the scope of this brave new bill of rights, and this might materially affect the breadth and nature of our devolved competences. Our recent experience with the UK Government in this respect has not been good, so do you have confidence, Minister, that the views of Wales and the rights of people in Wales will be protected in the drafting of this UK bill of rights?
Well, thank you for that supplementary question. We made clear our fundamental opposition to the proposals in the Bill of Rights Bill during consultation at the start of the year, and you know the Counsel General and I issued a written statement on 22 June, reinforcing our concerns. Last week, we had an excellent cross-party group, chaired by Sioned Williams, on human rights. The voice from civil society was so strong, as well as cross-party representation, making clear their concerns about the Bill, and, of course, that spreads well beyond Government—absolute rejection of all the consultation responses that came out against the so-called bill of rights. We also now are setting up a human rights advisory group. It's meeting later this month; we'll be discussing the Bill. We want to take forward a positive and progressive plan of action to strengthen and advance equality and human rights for all the people of Wales. The situation now in terms of the UK Government: let's call on them again today to change direction while it's still possible to do so. Perhaps some of those who resigned might join us in that call today.
8. Will the Minister provide an update on national milestones for achieving the Welsh Government's well-being goals? OQ58297
Diolch yn fawr, Rhys ab Owen. National milestones are an important part of Shaping Wales' Future. We're delivering the national milestones in two waves. The first wave was laid before the Senedd in December 2021 and the consultation on wave 2 was published in June. This autumn's 'Wellbeing of Wales' report will include a progress update on the national milestones.
Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. You'll be aware that I'm concerned about the lack of enforceability powers behind the well-being goals. What would be the consequences of not achieving the national milestones?
Well, it's vital in terms of enforceability. It's about delivering our goals, isn't it, our national milestones. So, we've got agreed national milestone values, which do represent that shared vision for Wales. And we did develop those in collaboration with public bodies and stakeholders. But we have to recognise, in terms of the national milestones, that all public bodies that are captured in the Act have to outline what steps they're taking to contribute to their success. And, indeed, you have to hold us to account, as you do, and, indeed, we hold those public bodies to account as well. And this is crucial in terms of the work that's being undertaken as well by the Equality and Social Justice Committee in terms of looking at the efficacy of the Act as well as a post-legislative review.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Sarah Murphy.
1. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the implications of industrial action by barristers for access to justice in Wales? OQ58290
Thank you for the question. Court closures in Wales, restrictions on sitting days, a dwindling supply of barristers willing to enter or remain working in a chronically underfunded profession, together with court backlogs, all contribute to making the criminal justice system perilously close to not being able to function effectively at all.
Thank you, Minister—sorry, thank you, Counsel General. I agree with what you've said: barristers in Wales are facing the brunt of the UK Conservative Government's underfunding of the justice system in Wales. This does not only impact barristers working in the industry—the lack of investment and support for them by the UK Government impacts the entire justice system and this inevitably affects those seeking justice in our communities. Welsh barristers and our nation deserve more than this. Counsel General, what does this mean for attracting people into the profession and the justice system in Wales under the Tory Government?
Thank you for those supplementary points and question. Our view is that the whole justice system, and legal aid in particular, has been chronically underfunded for some time, and Wales is suffering, in fact, disproportionately. We have had, of course, the Bellamy review. I met with Lord Bellamy, and we discussed the improvements that he is proposing in respect of criminal legal aid. Some improvements have been not only recommended, but it has been indicated by the UK Government that they will be implemented. Of course, Lord Bellamy is now a justice Minister, but it's profoundly disappointing that the UK Government has done so little and refused to move on so many of the recommendations, but also potential recommendations that could be made.
The reality is—and we begin to see this in Wales ourselves, particularly within the criminal area, but in many other areas where legal aid is no longer available—that we are seeing fewer and fewer young solicitors and young barristers coming into the profession to do legal aid work, to do criminal legal aid work. We already have a problem with advice deserts and there are very significant intrinsic and now institutionalised issues that undermine the future in respect of access to justice and the ability to get access to proper legal representation.
2. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the Scottish Government about the implications for Wales of the decision to seek a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of holding a new referendum on Scottish independence? OQ58323
Thank you for the question. None.
Good. [Laughter.] Our union of four nations is currently undergoing a monumental task in safeguarding our children's future from invading Russian forces in Ukraine. The gravity of the war has been felt in every single home here in Wales and will continue to do so until Putin is removed from office. The results of the war have perpetuated a cost-of-living crisis and a food security dilemma. Now is the time for us all to be discussing ways in which we can support our agricultural and food production industries here in Wales, not by hypothesising about ripping up our union in the name of a Welsh nationalist agenda that has no electoral mandate. It is for Scotland and the UK Government to determine the constitutional arrangements of their own between each other, but can the Counsel General confirm, if the Supreme Court grants Scotland a legal basis for a second independence referendum, that the Welsh Government will certainly not seek equal provisions for a Welsh independence referendum?
Well, I can help the Member by saying that a referendum for independence is a matter that is clearly important to the Scottish Government and was raised by them during the last Scottish Parliament elections. The reference by the Lord Advocate was served on me as a fellow law officer on 28 June 2022. The Supreme Court issued an order on 29 June, providing details of when the law officers should file an acknowledgement of service and case if they wished to participate. I will now consider carefully the matters included in the reference, including any implications for Wales. Once I've had the opportunity to do that, I will then determine if I should participate in the reference or take any further steps in relation to this issue, and the Member can be assured that I will, of course, keep Members of the Senedd updated as this matter progresses.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Although there is no absolute doctrine of separation of powers in the UK, the concept of separation of powers between the legislature, i.e. Senedd, Executive, i.e. Welsh Government, and the judiciary has long applied in and across the UK to prevent the concentration of power by providing checks and balances—[Interruption.] I'm sorry. I didn't hear you very clearly.
You don't need to hear him. Carry on with your question.
Last September, referring to the Law Commission consultation paper on devolved tribunals in Wales to help shape the tribunal Bill for Wales, designed to regulate a single system for tribunals, I asked you for your initial response to the consultation paper's proposals to reform the Welsh Tribunals unit, the part of the Welsh Government that currently administers most devolved tribunals, into a non-ministerial department.
Last December, the Law Commission published its final report on devolved tribunals in Wales, which included that
'we are persuaded that the non-ministerial department model is the one that should be adopted for the future administration of the system of devolved tribunals in Wales'.
Although this also stated:
'The tribunals service should be operationally independent from the Welsh Government',
your subsequent written statement on devolved tribunals in Wales only states that:
'The Welsh Government strongly endorses the fundamental principle of the Law Commission’s recommendations for a unified, single structurally independent system of tribunals in Wales.'
What conclusions have you therefore now reached after considering the Law Commission's findings regarding this specific point?
Well, thank you for the question. You do raise a very serious and a very important point, and again I'd say very constructively. We dealt with some of the issues arising from the reform of tribunals in, of course, our 'Delivering Justice for Wales' paper. Consideration is being given now to what the structure of a tribunals Bill might look like, what the legislation might look like, how we might implement the recommendations of the Law Commission.
Perhaps the best assurance I can give to the Member at this stage is this: my views are very firmly that what we would be effectively creating is the embryonic structure of a Welsh devolved justice system. We would be using that part of the justice system that is already devolved and extending it further to create an appellate structure. So, the points that the Member raises are absolutely fundamental, and that is that that part of the justice system has to be independent of Government, not only seen to be, but, equally so, I think, administratively separate from Government. Of course, there are relationships, as you have with the justice system and with the Government and in respect of that funding, but it has to be a model that ensures the independent operation of the Welsh Tribunals unit, of that part of the justice system, and that the appointments to it, and in addition, importantly, the president of Welsh Tribunals and the functions that that person would carry out, are again those that have the full underlying principles of the rule of law requiring the independence of judiciary and those who participate within it.
Diolch. Well, I hope that means, as they said, that that will deliver operational independence from politicians, especially.
But, as I said here in March 2019 on a different subject, the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru White Paper, 'Securing Wales' Future', which called for continued membership of the EU single market, would mean no control of our borders, our trade and our laws, and would therefore be Brexit in name only.
Speaking here last week, the First Minister extolled the virtues of Wales and the UK being inside the single market, although he appeared to back-pedal on this yesterday after Keir Starmer's statement that Labour has ruled out rejoining the single market as party policy, but claimed that he could remove trade and travel barriers nonetheless. What advice would you therefore give as Counsel General to both the First Minister and Mr Starmer about the legal barriers applying to this?
Well, the first bit of advice I'd give is to maintain the importance of international law and the rule of law. The second bit of advice I'd give is to oppose and not to support any bits of legislation that undermine those principles, one of them would be to, obviously, oppose the direction of the bill of rights, which, in fact, is transferring legal rights to citizens from UK courts to the European Court of Human Rights, so it's actually moving away the rights of people, and would be essentially to underpin those principles in all legislation that we have to ensure that they are entrenched constitutionally and to actually support those steps that are necessary to enable the devolved nations—the devolved Parliaments of the United Kingdom—to be able to ensure that they’re also entrenched within their own legal systems.
Thank you—an interesting response. Of course, the court of human rights is outside the EU structure completely and, as you know, the UK played an integral part in establishing it, but there we are.
Well, of course, the UK Government has been seeking to negotiate an agreement to tackle the barriers that do exist in order to maximise opportunities for low-friction trade and safeguard the integrity of the UK single market—something that any UK Government would encounter barriers with. In the meantime, is it not the case in law that, although the job is not finished and the UK needs to go further and faster to deliver the opportunities of Brexit for the entire UK, because of Brexit the UK Government has been able to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out anywhere in Europe, cut VAT and red tape, strike 73 trade deals and announce the delivery of new free ports, including an initial one in Wales? And further is it not also the case that the UK has topped the chart in attracting the most fintech investment across Europe, that the UK has reclaimed the top spot in Europe and the second place internationally after the US in the global soft power index, and, brilliantly, that Welsh food and drink exports hit a record high in 2021, including a £51 million increase to the EU?
Of course, I met recently with the Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg in order to talk about the issue of retained EU law, which I think your question was beginning to identify. And of course, the Minister for Brexit opportunities, and if a book were written about that, it would be certainly a very short book indeed—. A number of the points that you raised, I think, really relate to other portfolios, but are very, very questionable. The overwhelming number of the trade deals that have been struck are effectively just the rebadging of deals that had already come into place in connection with the European Union in any event.
What I will say is this: firstly, in respect of retained EU laws, clearly, there is going to be a very significant amount of work that has to be undertaken there. I have been given assurances that devolution will be respected. I am monitoring that very closely to ensure that, when it comes to devolved areas, all of the 2,000-or-so laws that have been identified so far, those ones that relate to devolved issues are ones that are dealt with in this place and are the responsibility of this place and do not result in the undermining of the devolution settlement. Now, I believe I have been given an assurance to some degree. We’ll wait and see how that is implemented. This is also an issue that I raised recently at the Interministerial Standing Committee, chaired by Michael Gove, and I, of course, will not only be monitoring this, but obviously I’m sure it will be scrutinised by the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. But, of course, any significant developments will be reported back to this Senedd.
Questions now from the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhys ab Owen.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Cwnsler Cyffredinol, in a recent article for The National newspaper, a leading Welsh academic, Richard Wyn Jones, said that the debate about the future of Wales's constitution lacked realism. He said that, despite there being a strong consensus in Wales for further powers, there's obviously no appetite for it in the Westminster Government and he said that there's no evidence from Keir Starmer that he supports further powers for the Senedd. In fact, if I remember correctly, he said in an ITV interview that he wasn't pressured at all to give further powers to this Senedd. Therefore, how certain can you be, if or when they come into power, that Keir Starmer and the Labour Party in Westminster will grant the Senedd further powers?
Well, the first thing, many of those changes are dependent on a change in Government. I suppose I can say that that is looking increasingly likely day by day, and I look forward to working with the next Labour Government sooner rather than later—perhaps imminently, I might even say—to actually talk about constitutional reform.
As far as the leader of the Labour Party is concerned, well, of course, he has empowered Gordon Brown to prepare a constitutional commission. There is a report that is awaited there that will obviously be of considerable interest, I think, to all of us within Wales, in terms of the issue of constitutional reform. But it is also the case that constitutional reform doesn't come from what is decided in Westminster or within the UK, and that is why we have our own independent commission, and that is to actually be able to assess ourselves what the future of Wales should look like, and also to put that then to the people of Wales. Because any significant constitutional change of that type ultimately is something that belongs to the ownership of or belongs to the people of Wales, and is ultimately decided by the people of Wales through our own elections.
I agree with you there, Cwnsler Cyffredinol: the answer is here in Wales. And I was rather concerned when the First Minister, last week, seemed to suggest that the answer was a Labour Government in Westminster. Now, Brexit is totally incompatible with the Good Friday agreement and it's leading toward the reunification of Ireland. The leader of the Labour Party won't admit that Brexit is a disaster. The Westminster Government and the Westminster Labour Party won't allow self-determination for the Scottish people. The Westminster Government is trying to repeal Welsh primary legislation, whilst the Labour leader in Westminster bans his shadow Cabinet members from supporting workers. Cwnsler Cyffredinol, are you a member of Labour for Indy yet? [Laughter.]
Well, thank you for that very pejorative question, and I will give a perhaps less pejorative answer to it. The points you make about Brexit, I don't think there's any real dispute for fair-minded, fair-thinking people that Brexit has not been good for Wales, it has not been good for the United Kingdom, and it has not been good for Europe. The constitutional question is how do we actually develop frictionless trade with Europe, which is something we all want to see, and, of course, the First Minister dealt with that very thoroughly yesterday.
In terms of those who are entitled to attend picket lines, well, I was very pleased to join the Member not so long ago, at Cardiff station, supporting those people in the railway network who were taking industrial action against Network Rail, the rail companies, and, effectively, against the UK Government, but not against the Welsh Government.
3. What assessment has the Government made of the constitutional implications of the UK Government's plans to repeal the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017? OQ58310
Thank you for the question. The UK Government’s announcement of its intention to repeal the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 is yet another example of its contempt for the devolution settlement, its disrespect for this democratically elected Senedd, and its flagrant disregard for the rights of workers in Wales.
I thank the Counsel General for that response. This legislature is supposed to be sovereign in specific areas. Rightly or wrongly, it should be our choice in our national Senedd to legislate and to make some rules and regulations. I'm pleased that our Senedd did pass legislation to protect our trade union members, but of course, like with any other Welsh legislation, the continuation of this legislation is reliant on the goodwill of Westminster, and, as we've seen, there isn't much goodwill to be seen there.
Whilst I don't doubt the sincerity of your First Minister and party in bringing forward the legislation, don't you think that it's unsustainable to say that the only way of ensuring the continuation of this Act, and others, is to wait until Labour are in power once again in Westminster? The Conservatives have been in power in Westminster for 70 years out of the last 100, and so, statistically, there isn't much assurance there. Wouldn't it be better to push for independence for Wales, in order to guarantee these rights and to secure further rights for the workforce of Wales?
Thank you for the question, and part of it I certainly agree with. The legislation that we passed—the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017—of course went through all the correct processes in this Chamber. And of course, once legislation is passed here, it has to be endorsed, or there is a time period within which the UK Government can challenge its competence. Now, the UK Government, we had a letter from the Solicitor General at that time, which basically said the UK Government did not intend to challenge the competence of it. So, the UK Government was clearly accepting that when that legislation was passed, it was within our competence. I do not think it is appropriate at all then, when there have been further constitutional changes when the Government of Wales Act 2017 came into force, to somehow see that that is a mandate to actually trawl through and to overturn democratically passed legislation that has had the endorsement and consent of Her Majesty the Queen.
Now, at the moment, the regulations that are proposed to be tabled imminently by the UK Government with regard to agency workers do not overturn our legislation and cannot overturn it. The supremacy of our primary legislation is beyond that. What has happened is that there has been an indication that they would want to do that to ensure that the legislation in England is the same as in Wales. Well, if that happens, then the Welsh Government would firmly resist any attempt to do so. To bring forward primary legislation in this way, without giving us any notification that that was the intention—and we've dealt with the disrespect part of it—you would need to actually show there was some purpose to that primary legislation and all the costs that were involved. In fact, there is no evidential base whatsoever that would justify overturning that legislation. In fact, all the evidential information that we do have is that it would actually damage social partnership; it would undermine good relations and the social partnership policy that we have, and, therefore, would serve no purpose whatsoever.
I do welcome the comments that were made earlier. This is a matter that, I think, perhaps when taken out of the political arena, when wiser heads think about it, they would come to the view that this really serves no purpose whatsoever. It would achieve absolutely nothing; in fact, it would probably be damaging, and I really do wonder whether it is a matter that the UK Government really would want to proceed with.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
As you said, it's a choice, isn't it? It's a choice of the Tory Government, which is now in disarray—it can't even agree with itself—to disallow those things within the Wales TUC Act that we currently allow. And one of those things, of course, that is permitted, is the paid-for facility time, which is advantageous to both those people being represented and those companies who employ people. It very often results in very early resolutions rather than escalation of issues that people feel that they need representation on. And, very often, very simple things that can be resolved at an early stage—things like health and safety, pay negotiations. In other words, talking to each other and representing both sides.
We've seen, by what the UK Government haven't done with regards the latest round of industrial action that has happened with train drivers, they've actually driven it the other way. Now, we don't want to see that sort of outcome here in Wales, which is why we've put it—
Joyce, can you ask your question, please?
My question is, to you, Counsel General: therefore, do you think that it would be unwise for the UK Government to try and take that action here in Wales and cause all that mayhem?
Well, listen, I agree with all the points that you've made. And I'd make this point as well: much of the legislation that has come into place, which is to do with facility time, is legislation that is agreed to be sound and purposeful across political parties. There have been many Conservative spokespersons who've recongised the importance of that. And if you think about it with an employer, in terms of when you have a large number of employees that you have to engage with, having representatives who can speak on behalf of the workforce, who can deal with the issues, the disciplinary issues and so on, who can deal with all the complexities of health and safety, and who can deal with all the various negotiations that take place, if you don't have that, you actually have quite a dysfunctional company. My concern is that the move to the legislation would not only undermine social partnership, but would actually contribute to that dysfunction within workplaces. It is not a good thing for employers. This is not just about things that are good for trade unions, and so on; this is actually good for industrial, modern, twenty-first century practice.
4. What assessment has the Government made of the implications for the constitutional future of Wales of the Scottish Government's statement that it wants to hold an independence referendum? OQ58311
Thank you for your question. Decisions on the constitutional future of Wales are a matter for the people of Wales to determine through this democratically elected Senedd. We established the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales to engage with the Welsh public and consider options for future Wales governance.
Thank you very much, Counsel General, for that response. There is no doubt that there is an increase in the numbers supporting independence for Wales, and the current mess in Westminster highlights on a daily basis why we can't continue to be part of this corrupt union that shows so much contempt towards our people.
If you'd been in Wrexham on Saturday, you would have experienced the incredible feeling that there is a huge growth in demand for independence for Wales. What was striking about the march in Wrexham was the number of young people who were there and the large numbers who came from the border area and were calling for independence, not because of narrow and introspective nationalism, but because they want to extend Wales's horizons and believe that we can build a fairer Wales in having the powers to do so. Don't you fear that you're busily putting yourself on the wrong side of history, and that we should prepare for an independence referendum here in Wales, as there will be in Scotland?
Thank you for the question. Of course, while you were in Wrexham marching, I was at a conference in Cardiff talking about Senedd reform, which will obviously be something that will take up a considerable amount of my time in the not too distant future.
I think the point that the Member makes in terms of the future of Wales—. One of the reasons for setting up an independent commission is actually to engage with the people of Wales and to come up with options and analysis that we can consider and take on board with regard to the direction that we actually take. I think it would be a mistake to pre-judge the outcome of the independent commission. I think it is prudent to wait until we have, certainly, the interim report and then ultimately the further report. They're doing very, very important work, and I think it will be very, very valuable when we come to consider some of these constitutional issues in the future.
I think the most important point that you actually made is this: people want reform, people want change, communities want empowerment, people want a greater say over their lives. Subsidiarity, which is something we talked a lot about in the 1980s and 1990s, has almost been pushed to one side. The common ground is there is a need for real reform that empowers people and communities so that people actually feel they have a real say in the decisions that impact on their lives. I think that is the common ground. How that takes place in a constitutional structure is obviously a debate that will carry on for some time, but will be influenced, hopefully, by the work of the independent commission that we've set up.
5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the proposed changes to the Human Rights Act 1998 on Welsh legislation and the devolution settlement? OQ58291
Thank you, again, very much for that question. The Welsh Government did not see the Bill before it was introduced. It requires, and is now receiving, careful consideration. We certainly continue to hold fundamental concerns about its potential regressive impact on human rights in the UK and on our positive agenda in Wales.
Thank you for that. I'm aware that you've given a response to the consultation noting your opposition, and I agree with everything that you've said in that consultation. It's unbelievable that the most corrupt Government of all time believes that it has the moral right to discriminate between the people who deserve to have human rights and those who don't. But, of course, people who truly believe in human rights know that their whole purpose is that they apply to everyone in the same way. The Government that has proposed these terrible changes is in the process of destroying itself, so it is, of course, possible that this will change. But it's also possible that its successor will continue with the plans, so it's essential to introduce a Welsh human rights Act quickly. I welcome what you've set out on this. Can I ask you whether you believe that the work of preparing the legislation, as well as the more general work of promoting human rights and supporting organisations to implement them, would be facilitated by establishing a Welsh commission on human rights, as has existed in Scotland since 2008?
Firstly, I thank you for the comments and the very constructive points that have been made, and there is, of course, a lot of consideration being given to the issue of a bill of rights and, of course, my colleague the Minister for Social Justice has commented on that already. I made the point also in earlier questions, of course, that the Bill, as it's drafted, actually is about transferring rights of citizens on human rights issues back to Strasbourg rather than being able to raise them in the UK courts. So, it is about restricting that, and that is a very strange thing to be thinking about that.
Can I also say that what it also does is it raises very significant issues about the universality of international law? One of the reasons you have international courts is because it's clearly not appropriate, with fundamental principles, for the individual court to be able to pick and choose whether or not it likes those human rights or how it wants to interpret them. That has always been a fundamental principle, and, of course, it's a principle that UK Government recognises in terms of the International Criminal Court and the investigation of war crimes taking place in Ukraine. And it is a great irony, isn't it, that the Russian Duma has passed legislation to remove the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights from Russia at the same time as the UK Government is actually diminishing the role of the European Court of Human Rights for the United Kingdom, and there is a real concern about that overlap in terms of the approach to the importance of international law.
Some very good analysis and articles have been coming out about the whole issue of human rights and where the UK stands within that, and I'd say this—this was from Professor Mark Elliott, a very senior academic at Cambridge University—
'the Government dislikes scrutiny and views accountability mechanisms as threats that should be neutralised or at least marginalised.'
And I think that exactly sums up what the position is of the UK Government. He said it's an authoritarianism and an authoritarian restriction of scrutiny. And if you read through the Bill, that is exactly what it does and what it achieves. Of course, it has many other implications as well, but there will undoubtedly be further debate on this. We are very opposed to it, and we're also very supportive of work to look at how we might incorporate and maintain standards of human rights within our own constitutional structure and within our own legislation.
Good afternoon, Counsel General.
Thank you to Delyth for raising this very important issue.
I do think this opens up a wider debate that is needed here in Wales regarding our collective human rights. As you've said, many UN conventions were enshrined in EU legislation, and given the current Government's record on attempting to dismantle much of what is left of EU law, it would be, as you said, and as Delyth has alluded to as well, sensible for us here in Wales to take a more proactive approach in enshrining our rights in law. So, I wonder if I could just ask a more focused question around the formation, as you've touched on, of a Welsh bill of rights. Could you outline what the steps would be towards a Welsh bill of rights, and particularly what engagement and what powers we would need from the Conservative Government in order to advance this? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you for that, and thank you for your support. Just to make two comments that follow on from some of the things you say, of course, within the Bill of Rights Bill proposed, it excludes section 3 of the Human Rights Act, which requires courts to interpret domestic legislation compatibly with convention rights, and it also has no replacement for section 2 of the Human Rights Act, which requires courts to take account of European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence. So, there's nothing like that within the Bill, and that is an indication, I think, of the extent to which it is actually breaking away from the whole process of human rights, and indeed from the Council of Europe. Of course, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, which the UK was involved in setting up in 1959, has really said that it is a backward step. Of course, a number of comments have been made recently about the backsliding on human rights within the United Kingdom Government, and I think anyone who's following the debates that are taking place will have a lot of agreement with that.
In terms of the practical steps as to how it might happen, the starting point is this, isn't it: that we had the very important paper that the Minister for Social Justice had commissioned on behalf of Welsh Government by Simon Hoffman of Swansea University, which has given a very, very detailed analysis of those human rights issues. Since, then, the establishment of a human rights body, grouping, with sectoral representatives and all those aspects of civic society and so on that are engaged in the human rights field, I think I will be in an appropriate place to be considering and discussing how it might be achieved. On my role in terms of the Welsh Government and the legal side, what we want to do is to explore, really, the complexities of how we might actually do it in a way that is within competence, that actually does more than just repeat the various human rights aspects and the conventions, and actually gives us some clear substance and focus on what it is we actually want to achieve within Welsh legislation, because we already have legal obligations under the Government of Wales Act to actually do that. But I can assure you that we're committed to looking at that. I don't say, by any stretch of the imagination, that it is something that is easy, that does not have considerable complexities. But, bearing in mind the debate that's taking place, it's very important work that has begun and will continue.
6. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the cumulative impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and the Bill of Rights on access to justice in Wales? OQ58293
The UK Government regularly fails to consult adequately with us before introducing new legislation, the Bill of Rights Bill being the most recent example. We have not yet undertaken a specific assessment of the cumulative impacts of these latest examples of how the UK Government is restricting access to justice and undermining the rule of law.
I think the cumulative impact, Counsel General, is very important. There's been much attention to the Bill of Rights Bill and the impact here today in the Senedd, quite rightly, yet this raft of UK legislation, worryingly rushed and lacking effective scrutiny at the moment, could further impact on individual citizens of Wales's access to justice by diminishing or denying that justice to the vulnerable or the poor, to those who dissent from establishment views and who seek the right to protest and to speak out, those who are fleeing persecution and war and arrive here in Wales, and others whose voices are already weak. So, I would ask you, Counsel General, together with the Minister for Social Justice, to make a clear assessment of the cumulative impact of this raft of UK legislation, strident UK legislation, and then make the strongest representations to the UK Government, both in your meetings and in your public pronouncements, too.
I thank you for those supplementary points, and, of course, at every opportunity we do actually raise these issues, and we have made them at the inter-ministerial meetings as well. The point you raise, in fact, about the various legislation that's been passed, of course, has been something we've discussed on a number of occasions. You'll recall, of course, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. There were a number of elements to that that we opposed, that we refused legislative consent to. Some of those were overturned. But, of course, the House of Lords also removed elements to it, and it's very disappointing that, within the legislative programme of the UK Government, there is to be a protest Bill that brings back all of those areas that were of real concern to us, which are restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of speech.
There was a very important article, I think, that has just appeared in the Constitution Unit blog, and it raised four points that I think are really significant in understanding what is happening. They're talking about the eroding of democracy constitutionally, and they call it 'democratic backsliding'. It said that it starts off with four things, and I will just perhaps mention these because perhaps Members would want to judge whether they think they apply to the situation at the moment. They said the first one is a breakdown in the norms of political behaviour and standards. I don't think we need to look very far to see that item. Secondly, there's the disempowerment of the legislature, the courts and independent regulators. Well, we see that in the bill of rights, the attempt to achieve that, and indeed in other legislation. Third is a reduction of civil liberties and press freedoms, and we've already seen the actual restrictions in civil liberties that have already been introduced in items of legislation. And fourthly, harm to the integrity of the electoral system, and we've seen that already within the elections Bill. I think that those four points all have credit to them and are something that should cause us considerable concern in the direction of the UK Government at this moment in time.
7. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the legal implications of the UK Government’s recent attempts to repeal legislation passed by the Senedd? OQ58315
Thank you for your question. The UK Government’s purported intention to introduce legislation in one legislature to override the legislation passed by another is not only unconstitutional but shows disrespect for the democratically elected Senedd. It is one more example of contempt for the devolution settlement and the rights of the people of Wales.
Counsel General, we've seen the threats towards public sector workers from this disrespectful, disgraced, corrupt and now collapsing Conservative Government—a Government that doesn't care about working people, especially those working people in Wales. And who knows where we'll end up in the near future. But I'm sure you will agree with me, Counsel General, that it is time for change in Westminster, that it is time for a UK Labour Government. However, with all the chaos that is going on, which continues to go on, in the halls of Westminster, we should not lose sight of what the Tories are actually trying to achieve here by undermining devolution. Can I seek assurances from you, Counsel General, that if they do proceed with the threatened action that has been reported, we are ready to challenge, that the Welsh Government has already taken the initial steps that are needed to challenge in the courts the position put forward by Tory Ministers, this assault on the Senedd and this assault on the working people of Wales? Diolch.
Thank you for those strongly made points. Can I start by saying I think there are those within the Conservative Party, and I believe possibly even within the Welsh Conservative Party, who are supporters of trade unions and the role they play, who do support pragmatic and practical engagement? There are those who still retain some belief in the concept of one-nation conservatism, and that has provided a basis for an enormous amount of cross-party legislation in these areas over the years. We know this from past experience, because the various referenda that we've had have been dependent on cross-party co-operation and agreement, from Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and from Welsh Labour, and that has always been, I believe, to the benefit of Wales and good constitutional progress. So, as we have a Government that is in actual freefall—and I suppose it must mean the question of a general election is likely sooner rather than later—what I would hope is that, within some of these areas, there is actually a far more progressive and practical and co-operative approach to the common understanding I think many of us actually share, and that is that there is a need for reform, there is a need for change. I'm sure that, co-operatively, we can achieve an enormous amount of that. The current conflict, which has really emerged since 2018, and which appears in all sorts of unnecessary ways in legislation, not only costs a lot of money, and takes up a lot of expert time, but, quite frankly, results in very poor legislation.
8. What engagement has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government on the development of the Bill of Rights? OQ58294
We have sought meaningful engagement since the UK Government launched their consultation in December. The Minister for Social Justice and I met with the Deputy Prime Minister in February. Despite our full response to the consultation, there is very little sign that those concerns have been addressed.
I thank the Counsel General for that answer. The challenges with this bill of rights being brought forward have been well rehearsed this afternoon, not least the significant risks that external observers have noted to the devolution settlements right across the UK, and also significant implications for human rights and equality, not least in terms of article 10, freedom of expression, and article 11, the freedom of assembly, and so on—what has been described as the essential foundations of a democratic society. However, one of the problems of a rushed piece of legislation proposal such as this is the lack of consultation, not just with Welsh Government, but with organisations in Wales, including those speaking up for interested groups such as disabled people, those sharing protected characteristics, and more. Will you ensure in your discussions with UK Government that they consult, using the frameworks that Welsh Government have with partners across Wales, with those organisations, with those individuals?
The answer is that we certainly will. In fact, myself and the Minister for Social Justice attended a number of meetings with civic organisations that were very, very concerned about the implications of the bill of rights and the direction it was taking. We attended a meeting more recently on that, and there are further meetings that are due to take place.
In terms of the consultation itself, well, of course, we put in a very detailed consultation response and we shared that with civic organisations and the third sector. I think that was very welcomed and appreciated. There have been approximately 13,000 responses to the consultation. What is very clear from that is that those are overwhelmingly opposed to what is being proposed, and it's not unexpected because the Bill that's being introduced goes contrary to the UK Government's own independent assessment of the need for reform, the Gross report.
Whereas there is nothing wrong at all with the idea that, periodically, legislation is looked at, this is being ideologically and politically driven, and it is being driven in a direction that undermines democracy and undermines the rule of law. I don't believe it has any significant and credible support for it. It certainly has no evidential base, and the consultation shows that. So, we will continue to develop our contacts and our work, and I'll continue to liaise with the Minister for Social Justice over all these issues, because these things will have a significant impact across Welsh society and across the UK.
I'm sure in the imminently changed Government that we're likely to have, there will be a far more progressive approach to the issue of human rights, and I hope that, in actual fact, this Bill will be completely dropped.
Finally, question 9, Rhys ab Owen.
9. What support has the Counsel General provided the Welsh legal sector following proposed changes to working practices by the UK Government? OQ58299
Thank you for the question. It's a very practical question, and it's an important one. We have highlighted in our 'Delivering Justice for Wales' publication in May some of the measures that we're taking to support the legal sector. For example, through Business Wales we are delivering targeted support to legal practices to help them become, I think, more resilient, to innovate and grow. In partnership with the Law Society's Wales office and the national committee for Wales—I'm really pleased to see that the Law Society has now given national recognition to its body within Wales—we've developed a webinar series on business and digital support, cybersecurity, and legal technology.
We've recently invested £100,000 to help legal practices in Wales gain cybersecurity accreditation through a scheme the Law Society is managing. We're also looking at extending pathways into the legal profession to help more young people enter the law from a range of backgrounds to diversify the legal sector workforce and retain more of our Welsh homegrown talent, and, also, because of the importance of the development of the Welsh-medium legal profession.
In April, we issued an apprenticeship framework for two new Chartered Institute of Legal Executives qualifications at paralegal levels 3 and 5, and we're looking at further work on that. We're also investing in legal technology and cybersecurity—some £3.9 million of European funding towards Legal Innovation Lab Wales at Swansea law school, which will make up a total of just under, I think, £6 million that's being invested in that really exciting and important project.
So, these are the steps we're taking. We're obviously looking to do more and more to recognise the importance of the legal economy in Wales, and, again, to make the point that one of the most important things the Ministry of Justice could do would be to give us a decent civil justice centre in Cardiff.
Diolch yn fawr, Gwnsler Cyffredinol. The UK Government have been becoming increasingly hostile towards the legal profession, especially those holding them to account by stopping illegal removals from the United Kingdom and holding them to account against human rights abuses; all of this, also, whilst criminal barristers are striking. The current median annual income for a criminal barrister is £12,200, and that's due to years of legal aid cuts by the Tory Government. Legal aid, I'm sure you'll agree with me, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, is welfare; for years, it's been levelling people up so that they can have decent legal representation. As the Welsh Government's legal officer, when justice is devolved to Wales, will you give us a guarantee that lawyers will be properly respected and properly remunerated when that happens?
I've made the point many times how important access to the law is, because it fundamentally is about the rights of individuals and communities; it's about the empowerment of those two as well. Of course, I have always, I think, praised those elements of the legal profession—within the bar, within solicitors, and those who are paralegals working in Citizens Advice—who actually work in that area that is doing the best to give support to people in communities.
These are not the fat-cat lawyers that you read about in the papers; they're not the starting salaries for some solicitors in London City corporate firms of £120,000 a year. These are people who are making an absolutely valid contribution to our communities; it is the sector we want to expand and to increase throughout Wales. If people don't have access to justice, then you don't have real justice and you don't have real democracy, so I agree with all of the points you've made.
I thank the Counsel General.
Item 3 is next, questions to the Senedd Commission. All questions this afternoon will be answered by the Llywydd. Question 1, Huw Irranca-Davies.
1. What plans does the Commission have to increase the proportion of committee and meeting rooms that can accommodate hybrid meetings across the Senedd estate? OQ58295
All committee rooms on the Senedd estate are equipped to support hybrid meetings. In addition, other meeting rooms have similar equipment for hybrid meetings that are less formal or on a smaller scale. Hybrid working has become the norm, and the Commission intends to build on technical provision in this area and further enhance it. We will be carrying out further work over the summer and will be adding to the 12 rooms that are currently kitted out for hybrid meetings.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you very much for that answer. It's good to see the work that has been going on already, and that continues to go on, to increase the proportion of rooms that can be used in hybrid format, because, as we all know, it seems to be that we will have to use this as a modern way of working now, and certainly as we go into the autumn and winter. Is it realistic to expect that most, if not all, of the committee and meeting rooms within the short to medium-term future could indeed be hybrid? Also, would we have the staff available in order to service those hybrid meetings as well?
Well, as I said, it's now a normal way to work that we can provide remote contributions as well as contributing on the estate, and so there is an investment programme in more rooms in order to ensure that we can meet in hybrid format in those rooms, including, for some rooms, that we have the mobile technology, which means that it can be moved from one room to another, and so that provides even more flexibility to us. And of course, as the Member has said and as we've learned over the last two years, the technology is one thing but having the excellent staff that we need to ensure that the technology does work conveniently for Members is vital. And I think that we have proven over the last couple of years that we have staff that we directly employ on the IT side who have responded to the challenge of working in hybrid format or virtually and have done that very well and are ready to take the next steps to ensure that we are a Senedd that can adapt and innovate continuously in this area.
2. What discussions has the Commission had with the Remuneration Board regarding changes to the Members' support staff pension scheme? OQ58326
Decisions about the level of benefits payable to support staff, including their pension benefits, are a matter for the independent remuneration board of the Senedd. The Commission has not had any discussions with the remuneration board regarding changes to the pension benefits of support staff. Members and staff can raise issues directly with the remuneration board through various channels, and I understand that a session of that kind is being offered for Members by the remuneration board today.
Thank you for that response, Llywydd.
A disparity for employer pension contributions between Members' support staff and Senedd Commission staff was recently brought to my attention. At the moment, Members' support staff can expect a 10 per cent employer pension contribution, whereas the equivalent amount for Commission staff is 26.6 per cent. I was wondering if the Commission could take another look at this, or indeed encourage the remuneration board to take another look at this, and reconsider. I don't think it's fair when workers in the same building as each other are receiving almost half of the employer pension contributions as their Commission colleagues.
Commission staff are members of the civil service pension scheme, and that scheme is a statutory one, and so the Member support staff are not eligible for that specific scheme, namely the civil service scheme. In terms of what you as Members—. I heard other Members applauding what you said, Luke Fletcher. If you want to influence the pensions for support staff and the support staff want to look at that as well, then, as I've said, it's important for you to make representations and discuss those with the remuneration board, which is independent and which takes decisions on these issues, and it's not, as it happens, a matter for the Commission. So, I do encourage you, if you want to advocate on behalf of your staff, to let the remuneration board know about that.
Item 4 is topical questions, and the first question will be answered by the Deputy Minister for Social Services. I call on Jane Dodds.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the number of looked after children and young people who are placed in unregulated and temporary accommodation? TQ651
Our legislation requires the use of accommodation that meets the needs of care-experienced young people in accordance with their pathway plan. It does not provide for unregulated settings, however there can be occasions where these are used as an emergency resort, and providers must be approved to required standards.
Diolch, Gweinidog. Last night we heard about shocking, disturbing and sad interviews with children and young people in care, who endured exploitation, abuse, violence and threats in bed and breakfasts and hostels where they were placed. This is six years after the Welsh Government had promised to eliminate the use of all unregulated accommodation for children and young people in our care. Only through freedom of information requests to all councils do we now know that over 300 children, some of whom are as young as 11 years old, were placed in bed and breakfasts, hostels or other unsafe accommodation during the last financial year.
In response to my calls for an independent review, the First Minister invited Members to outline gaps between reviews undertaken, and I just want to outline those gaps, because we know that reviews have been undertaken in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but none in Wales. My office took up that challenge and identified more than 20 subject areas within children's services that have been reviewed in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not in Wales. And in fact, looking at just two of those reports, with in fact the widest remits, those by the Public Accounts Committee and Care Inspectorate Wales, we heard that only 30 care-experienced young people and just six local authorities had been interviewed and contacted. Compare that to England, where 1,100 responses were evaluated, and Scotland, where over 5,500 experiences were heard.
And last week I'm sure all our hearts sank when we heard about the sentencing following the brutal murder of Logan Mwangi, and the detail that came out of that as well. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming anybody in respect of that event, and I know nobody here would. This is not about the local authority who were responsible for the care and protection of Logan, but surely you would agree that we in the Senedd need to know that those children are being protected. We need to hear the voices of those people who are working in child protection and childcare, and to hear what they need. We are responsible for those children and young people, and in my view it is essential that we have a review to tell us what the issues are, what support is needed and how we can make sure that not just our social workers, but those working in every single role in child protection and childcare have the resources we need.
So, Minister, I do finish by saying: what else needs to happen for Wales to be the same as every other nation and have this independent review that will help us all to make sure we have in place the steps, the resources and the support that is needed to protect our children and young people? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much, Jane Dodds, for that question. I know how great a concern you have about these issues, and of course it is so distressing to hear about Logan and to hear about the care-experienced young people who were featured last night on the documentary.
In terms of an independent inquiry with regard to Logan, I'm sure the Member is aware that there will be a child practice review taking place now the sentencing has been done, and it will be reporting in the autumn. I think it's absolutely crucial that we look at what that child practice review says. We want to learn lessons from how this happened and we want to see if there are any wider lessons that we need to look at. So, that child practice review will be taking place, and since these tragic circumstances, Care Inspectorate Wales has undertaken an inspection of Bridgend social services, and we're also waiting for that result. So, I'm sure she is aware that these are happening, and we will look at those very carefully when they're actually published, which should be before the end of this year.
With regard to the other comments, I think it is absolutely right that we listen to children, and in Wales I think we've got a really good record of listening to children. We fund Voices from Care, who come to us and tell us very freely what all their views are. We've got care-experienced children on the oversight board of our transformation programme for children's services. We include care-experienced children in the discussions about the minimum income guarantee that we are going to bring forward. We've got care-experienced children on that board—the universal income. And I'm sure that she will acknowledge that, basically, by providing that, Wales is going far ahead of any other country in the world in terms of providing financial assistance to care-experienced children. So, I hope she will acknowledge that. So, we do listen to children. And in September we're holding a summit, which is a summit for care-experienced children, where we will listen to what care-experienced children say.
In terms of accommodation, of the care-experienced children who left care between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, 628 children, that's 95 per cent, were deemed to be in suitable accommodation at the date they ceased to be looked after, but there were 5 per cent who were not. And I think, obviously, the stories, the tales we heard last night were some of those 5 per cent, and obviously that's 5 per cent too many, and we are working hard to see that their situation is improved.
The Welsh Conservatives called for a general review of children's services across Wales, and my colleague only yesterday—Andrew R.T. Davies—mentioned it in First Minister's questions. I raised it in the business statement. Jane Dodds has mentioned it in a topical question today, Deputy Minister. And as Jane Dodds alluded to, there is a review happening in England, Scotland and in Northern Ireland, but the First Minister said that one is not needed in Wales. But we have the worst rate of looked-after children in the UK. You've just said the contrary, saying we have a good rate, but the statistics actually say we have the worst rate of the UK nations. So, why is Wales the exception to this much-needed review when it's the exception for the rate of looked-after children? And the sad case of Logan Mwangi in Bridgend should trigger a national perspective to have a review across all children's services across the 22 local authorities. So, will you commit your Government to looking at this again, and hopefully seeing a review of children's services across Wales, so we can cover ourselves and not have cases such as Logan Mwangi happen again in Wales? Thank you.
Thank you, Gareth Davies, for that question. I'd just like to correct him, I didn't say we had a good rate of children in care. I think he must have misheard that. I said we had a good rate of listening to children. We've got a good record of listening to children. And in fact, the Welsh Government has been working very hard over the last three years to try to bring down the number of children who are in care, because we absolutely recognise that we've got too many children in care in Wales. And as the First Minister answered to Andrew R.T. Davies in First Minister's questions yesterday, one of the ways we want to tackle these issues is by reducing the number of children who are in care, because we feel that, by giving more help for children who are on the edge of care, helping the children and their families, we can keep a lot of children out of care, and that, I think, is one of our main aims—to keep children out of care. And we've had this reduction strategy over the last three years, and during the last year, the rate has now started to drop, so we are on the right trajectory, but we have got a long way to go. So, I certainly don't think that we've got a good record on the number of children in care.
In terms of the review, as I said in response to Jane Dodds, there is a child practice review that will be happening now, and that will be reporting in the autumn. We will have to see what is the result of that child practice review, whether there are any wider issues that need to be taken up across Wales, and also we're waiting for the CIW report of services in Bridgend. So, we're waiting to see what those two results are. We do have a plan for transformation of children's services. We have committed money to it. We are working at it and we think it's really important that we go ahead and take action on those, and we're certainly going to look very carefully at the result of these reviews.
Thank you to Jane Dodds for tabling this very important question. Like you, I was very moved and disturbed by the documentary. I think Niall's comments really stuck with me saying, 'Prison would have been better for me.' Prison better than somewhere that they were supposed to be safe. I would also like to echo the calls for an independent review of children's social work. I think this is essential. We are an outlier, and these are experts telling us—it's not politicians pushing for this; these are experts working in the field. And may I take from your response to Gareth Davies, therefore, that you are not ruling out the need now, that you are awaiting both and are therefore still open to an independent review should you not be content with both reports that you've referenced? I think that that would be a welcome step today.
And if I may as well, we know that looked-after children are especially vulnerable and outcomes are too often much poorer than we would wish, and research for End Youth Homelessness Cymru's report, 'Don't Let Me Fall Through the Cracks', shows us the links between care experience and youth homelessness—so, really, echoing those calls that we saw from those young people yesterday. Evidence shows that we need to be able to target specialist services at the young people most at risk of experiencing youth homelessness, and this is part of the prevention agenda that you've also referenced—how important it is that we support people so that they don't end up in the care system. But we can't deny that there are young people who are facing risks today—as you said, those 5 per cent; that is a significant amount of young people who are falling through the cracks. Therefore, to what extent is Welsh Government monitoring the outcomes for young people in care, as, clearly, there are far too many in the system without that safety net at present?
I thank Heledd Fychan for that question. In terms of a review, I think our position has been laid out by the First Minister, as he did in First Minister's questions. But, as I've said, we're looking at the result of the practice review later on this year and at what Care Inspectorate Wales says about the social services, and we will see if there are any wider lessons that we need to learn from that. We have had a lot of reviews in Wales. We really feel that we should be continuing with the action that we've started to improve the lives of young people who are care-experienced and to make sure that we give them the best chance that we possibly can. I think it is important to mention the 95 per cent who are deemed to have good accommodation that is safe, secure and affordable, because lots of young people who leave care do achieve and do have happy, fulfilled lives, so I wouldn't want anyone to think that the tragic stories that we've heard are typical, but they're so important, and they are that 5 per cent that she mentions that we've got to do all we possibly can to help. And to re-echo, that's why we want to reduce the number of children in care, so that children who really absolutely have to come into care, we're able to put all our resources in to try to stop there being—you know, to try to give them the best lives that we possibly can.
In terms of youth homelessness, that's obviously something that we're very concerned about and we do put considerable resources into youth homelessness. We put £3.7 million through the youth support grant, and we have homelessness officers working in youth teams in order to identify young people who may be at risk. And we've also put £3.1 million in the youth homelessness innovation fund, and, with that fund, we're trying out different ways of providing accommodation for young people. We've also, this year, put in £60 million for housing and care, which is to provide accommodation where young people who are in need of support are able to live independently but with support. So, that £60 million is going to be spent this year in providing that sort of accommodation. And generally, I think it's just this year that we've got £197 million in homelessness and housing support. So, I think we've certainly put the money in there and we're certainly seeing some innovative responses coming from that, but I absolutely accept the points that Heledd makes and I think that we've just got to do all that we possibly can to help that 5 per cent.
I thank the Deputy Minister. The second question will be answered by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and I call on Samuel Kurtz.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the new sustainable farming scheme proposals? TQ654
I was pleased to publish our proposals for the sustainable farming scheme today. The scheme has been designed to support farmers to produce food in harmony with the environment. I look forward to hearing the views of farmers and stakeholders on the proposals in our second phase of co-design.
Minister, thank you for your response. I'm pleased to see how far this statement has progressed since the initial 'Brexit and our land' consultation of 2018, where replacement funding was first discussed. Firstly, I am left disappointed that, given the press release calling this a landmark announcement—and indeed it is, as this is the replacement to the basic payment scheme and the first subsidy policy ever developed in Wales for Welsh farmers—only a written statement this morning was issued. I believe that an oral statement to this Chamber would have been more appropriate, given the gravity of the changes afoot. I appreciate that we have a long summer ahead of agricultural shows, where you, I and other Members will discuss the SFS at length with the unions and stakeholders, but I know Members would have appreciated the opportunity to quiz you on this scheme before recess. So, I am grateful to the Llywydd for accepting my topical question.
Moving on to the contents, there is a lot to be commended in the SFS. However, there are a few areas that I would like to seek further clarification on. You say that a decision on how the final scheme will look will not be made until, I quote, further consultation on the
'detailed proposals and the economic analysis has been presented in 2023.'
This will include modelling the actions in the scheme and assessing how the actions support farmers to produce food sustainably. This modelling appears to ignore the need for food security, at a time when global conditions are so uncertain and fragile. I would urge you to ensure that any modelling that goes ahead before next year incorporates food security and growing our food self-sufficiency sustainability. Regarding this modelling, I would stress that there must be key markers to determine the impact of the scheme on not only our sustainable food production but also on our culture, the Welsh language and the vitality of our rural communities. Sustainability is not just environmental, but is also cultural and socioeconomic, and I would hope to see more within the SFS to show that these key objectives are included.
There are concerns relating to the plans for all farms to ensure 10 per cent of their farm is covered in trees. While the industry agrees improvements are needed and it is willing to play its part in supporting nature, it is essential that these trees are the right trees in the right place. A well-meaning policy could potentially have negative impacts. From experience, I know that many farms will already be very close to or even exceeding this 10 per cent requirement, but others have very low levels of tree coverage, due to the locations of their farms. For example, there are many farms on the west coast of Wales—
Can I remind the Member that this is a topical question, and not necessarily a debate? So, please, we need to get the questions, okay.
Yes, of course. I've got many questions on this, Dirprwy Lywydd, so—
Well, you have a limited time, as you know.
Well, thank you very much. But, in terms of this, there are many different types of farms in Wales—how can a 10 per cent blanket coverage be relevant to those farms on the coast of Wales, where trees can't grow as well as on those inland? I appreciate what the Deputy Presiding Officer has said, so I will wrap it up there, but I am keen to hear more on the sustainable farming scheme, going forward. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.
Thank you. And I think you broadly welcomed the sustainable farming scheme outline that we've published today, and I've certainly been very heartened by the response of many of our stakeholders, our farming unions and individuals. And as you say, I think we certainly have moved a considerable way in four years, if you look back to the first consultation, back in 2018, of 'Brexit and our land'. And that's because of the two consultations we've had, the White Paper we've had, and the first phase of co-design. And I was very keen to publish this outline scheme ahead of the summer shows—I thought it was really important to get it out there, so that we can have those further discussions, and also to encourage farmers and stakeholders to sign up to the second phase of the co-design. We had 2,000 farmers who helped us in the first phase last year; I would like to beat that. I've set that target, so I'd be very keen for everyone to join in that conversation. And of course, I'd be very interested in your views on the scheme.
You focused on a couple of points. I think the biggest challenge to food security are the climate and nature emergencies. And that's why we've got this single agenda, if you like—you can't pick out one thing; they're very integrated and complementary objectives, I think, tackling those nature and climate emergencies and the sustainable production of food. And obviously, we will go further when we publish the agricultural Bill here in the Senedd in the autumn. The main thing is that this scheme is designed to keep farmers on our land, and I absolutely take on board what you say about socio and cultural objectives and outcomes for our farmers.
In relation to trees, we do have a very challenging target to reach of 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 to help us mitigate climate change. And you'll be aware of the UK Climate Change Committee recommendations in relation to that. And obviously, farmers have a significant part to play in helping us achieve that target. You're quite right, many farmers will already have 10 per cent of their land to trees. A farm I went to on Monday to launch the scheme, he hasn't got 10 per cent, and he had some very challenging questions about how he could reach 10 per cent. Others will have 10 per cent, the 10 per cent habitat cover as well. And that's part of the conversation, to hear the concerns of farmers, but also how we can work together to ensure those targets are reached.
I know people will be disappointed that the financial levels aren't there. However, I'm waiting to see the economic analysis. We can't do anything until we have that analysis and modelling, and I think that's accepted, that that will be the next part ahead of the final consultation next year. So, this is just another step along the way. We're now at probably the fourth major step in that journey.
Minister, it's very pleasing to hear you say you want to keep farmers on the land, and I think that's what we all want to see, and that's what our farming industry wanted to see. In paragraph 2.3.5, it's stated that:
'All farmers should be able to access the Scheme.
'It is important the Scheme works for all types of farms. The Scheme is designed so all farm types can access it, including tenants and those with rights to common land.'
Minister, many tenant farmers are concerned that the good work they're going to do around enhancing the environment could only be to benefit the landowner, or potentially that landowners could evict tenants off their farms to access the scheme's funding themselves. I was asked by a Breconshire young farmer the other day about carbon offsetting, and they were very keen to know will the carbon offsetting go against the active farmer who's doing the work on the farm, or will it actually go against the landowner, say the National Trust, for example. So, Minister, what protections are you going to put in place to protect those tenant farmers and actually make sure that scheme funding goes to the active farmer, and not big conglomerates who do not do any farming at all?
So, tenant farmers have played a huge part, I think, in getting us to where we are now, and you may be aware that I will be convening some specialist working groups to help us look at the co-design of the scheme ahead of the final consultation. And tenancies was absolutely the first working group that we wanted to set up, because I think they do have some very pertinent and specific concerns. And if it doesn't work for tenant farmers, this scheme won't work for farmers. So, I've made that very clear to the Tenant Farmers Association particularly, who I've had many discussions with.
The whole point of the scheme is that it's farmers who are actively managing the land that will be rewarded. So, that will be part of the discussion going forward. As I say, it's got to work for every type of farmer. It's also got to work for every type of farm. So, I was at a sheep farm on Monday, as I say, to hear Russell Edwards's concerns about the scheme, but it was also really encouraging that he was already ticking many boxes in order to get that baseline payment. But, as I say, this is the start of the next step; I'm sure there will be changes. This is why it's not a formal consultation, because, as we go through those conversations, I'm sure there will be changes and new things introduced ahead of that final consultation.
Thank you to Sam Kurtz for introducing this question today. And given where we were four years ago with 'Brexit and our land', there's been a significant shift here in language and tone, and that's to be welcomed. I'm also pleased to see that the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government has led to ensuring that there will be stability payments continuing during the transition period up until 2029. Again, that's to be warmly welcomed.
But, and there is a 'but', the new system needs to recognise the importance of the role of farmers in producing food, particularly in the current climate. Food production should be one of the core outputs, and farmers should be rewarded for this. Will food production therefore be a central part of any new Bill and one of the outputs? In addition to this, as we've heard, the importance of agriculture in relation to community and culture is central to the development of our nation. So, will culture be one of the core outputs, and will farmers be rewarded for maintaining our communities and our culture?
There is some coverage of the need for land for forestry, water and wildlife. Will you ensure that farmers won't be asked to allocate good agricultural land for this, and that rather you will co-operate with farmers to identify the most appropriate land? Also, is there flexibility in terms of the percentage of land to be designated? Are you talking about forestry, or are you also talking about hedgerows? Would fernland count towards the 10 per cent of waterways?
Finally, with around 30,000 farm units in Wales, it will be important to ensure that Farming Connect has sufficient resources to tackle the additional responsibilities. What additional resources will you provide in order to ensure that Farming Connect can deliver work in this area? And, can you give an assurance that farmers won't be penalised for failings that may be related to a lack of capacity within Farming Connect? I ask this not only on behalf of myself, but a young boy from Dyffryn Ardudwy, Nedw, raised some of these issues with me yesterday and asked what the future of farming will be for him. So, these questions are important to the new entrants too. Thank you.
Thank you. I'll just pick up on that final point. I mentioned in my answer to James Evans that we were setting up some specialist working groups, and young and new entrants will be another specialist working group, because I think you're absolutely right, it is vital that this scheme works for our future generation farmers as well. This is the first time we've had bespoke agricultural policies and protocols and schemes for Wales, so we need to get it right probably for two or three decades, I would say. So, it's absolutely vital that young and new entrants are part of that conversation. I will say there are going to be four specialist working groups—tenancies; young and new entrants; cross-border farm businesses; and, common land—because it is really important that we take all those views on board.
I think the over-arching principle of this scheme is that you produce food. If you don't produce food, you won't be in the scheme, so I hope that answers your question. We obviously recognise that food production is vital for our nation, but this scheme also recognises that we must, must respond to the climate and nature emergencies if we are to have that sustainable and resilient agricultural sector that we all want to see. As I said in an earlier answer, I think those emergencies are the biggest threat to global food security.
You mentioned about Farming Connect, and it is important that it's fit for purpose and is able to cope. Obviously, that is something that we've been looking at very closely, not just in preparing this scheme, but over the last probably three years while we've been bringing the policy forward. We've been looking at Rural Payments Wales Online as a sort of measure of how we've done that to take forward this scheme too.
Regarding the 10 per cent, certainly hedgerows will be able to be included. There will be some farms that probably can't reach 10 per cent, so those are the farmers that I do hope will come forward to have discussions with us. We're asking all farmers to reach 10 per cent, so that we can spread the load across Wales to avoid having large-scale land-use change. As I say, we want to keep farmers on the land, so it is really important that we have those conversations. To help meet those tree-planting targets, we are having a hedges-and-edges approach to the universal action, so we will support farmers to integrate more trees onto their land and into the farming system. Certainly, farmers have told me they want to plant more hedges, they want to plant shelter belts, and trees in field corners. So, that's what we will be working with. We're proposing at the moment to allow farmers up to five years to get to that 10 per cent minimum requirement. I think it was Sam Kurtz who said about the right tree in the right place; that's really important, and that will be part of that work as well.
Thank you, Minister.
We move on now to the 90-second statements. First, we have Vikki Howells.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. This month sees the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Caradog leading the Côr Mawr to victory in the challenge cup. Caradog—Griffith Rhys Jones—was born in Trecynon and worked as a blacksmith in Aberdare ironworks. He was a talented musician, but learnt everlasting fame as a conductor. The 500-strong South Wales Choral Union was formed to compete in the week-long singing competition organised by the Crystal Palace Company in 1872. Voices joined from across south Wales, although Aberdare was the hub of the enterprise. Caradog was the natural choice as the choir leader and conductor. He led them to victory, repeating the success as they defended their title the following year, the last time that the competition was held. Caradog's statue stands proudly in Victoria Square in Aberdare town centre. But, this year, Caradogfest will ensure that the town echoes with the memory of Caradog and the Côr Mawr's triumphant success. An exciting range of events are planned, commencing with the launch of an exhibition and a Llafur lecture in Cynon Valley Museum last weekend. Perhaps the highlight will be the 400-strong choir who will perform in Library Square, drawn together from the local area and recreating the Côr Mawr. Local schools will also be integral to the event, ensuring that the memory of Caradog lives on and Aberdare lives up to its reputation as tref y gân, the town of song.
Last week, we were all made aware of the sad passing of the incredible, inspiring Dame Deborah James, Bowelbabe. Dame Deborah was first diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016, at just the age of 35 years. Even with a terminal diagnosis, she never stopped raising awareness of bowel cancer. The late journalist, former headteacher and newspaper columnist set up the award-winning You, Me and the Big C, and bravely wrote in a national newspaper, spoke about her struggles with her illness on tv and radio. She went on a mission to make everyone aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, with many people saying that due to her openness and bravely talking about her journey with bowel cancer, and making people aware of the signs and symptoms of the illness, she saved many lives. She incredibly managed to raise £7.3 million through Bowelbabe, which she set up, raising much-needed money for research into bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is something that people often find difficult to talk about, and don't, and often find it a little embarrassing. It is so important that, in Wales, we all ensure that we play our part in raising awareness of bowel cancer and the signs people need to look for to catch this deadly cancer as early as possible. I will just end with the sadly final and powerful message from Dame Deborah herself:
'find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope. And finally, check your poo—it could just save your life.'
Item 6 this afternoon is a motion to annul the Non-Domestic Rating (Amendment of Definition of Domestic Property) (Wales) Order 2022, and I call on Tom Giffard to move the motion.
Motion NDM8031 Tom Giffard
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 27.2:
Agrees that The Non-Domestic Rating (Amendment of Definition of Domestic Property) (Wales) Order 2022, laid before the Senedd on 24 May 2022, be annulled.
Diolch yn fawr iawn ichi, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'd like to formally move this motion by emphasising my party's continued opposition to this arbitrary increase to the non-domestic rating of self-catering businesses across Wales. And we do side with the industry on this issue. We believe that an increase from 70 to 105 days to bring them in line with HM Revenue and Customs requirements would be far more appropriate than what is being proposed. This change in legislation has the potential to have a hugely profound impact on the self-catering industry across our country. The Wales Tourism Alliance, the Professional Association of Self-Caterers UK and UK Hospitality Cymru have warned that the tax changes could force as many as 30 per cent of self-catering businesses to close or sell up.
To give some context to these changes: currently, self-catering properties in Wales must be available to be let for a minimum of 140 days in any 12-month period and actually be let for 70 to qualify for business rates rather than council tax; under the new proposals, properties must be available to be let for at least 252 days and actually let for 182 days to qualify for business rates—an increase of a massive 160 per cent. This will have a hugely damaging impact on the businesses being able to operate within Wales and damage our economy, with many businesses that will simply just be forced to close. This, alongside a potential tourism tax and giving councils the ability to increase council tax rates up to 300 per cent on these businesses that do not qualify, leaves them facing a triple whammy of measures, which, to me, will stifle the industry and our economy in Wales as a result.
Instead, the Welsh Government has opted to press on with tax plans, despite receiving a sea of overwhelming evidence of damaging impacts from the Wales Tourism Alliance, the Professional Association of Self-Caterers UK and UK Hospitality Cymru, who surveyed more than 1,500 self-catering businesses across Wales. They said that,
'This all-Wales, one size fits all approach takes no account of the different kinds of businesses that operate in a seasonal Welsh tourism year. Nor does it respond to the fact that the problem this proposes to solve does not affect the whole of Wales, something the Welsh Government has, itself, recognised.'
During the consultation on this issue, which I'm sorry to say, Minister, seemed like a box-ticking exercise, the tourism industry supported the principle of raising the number of days that a property must (a) be available and (b) be occupied in order to qualify as a business. The majority response to the Welsh Government's consultation, which ran from the end of last year, was to raise the occupancy threshold from 70 days to 105 days, in line with those HMRC requirements—that was a 50 per cent rise, suggested by members of a professional sector that understands booking trends, marketing and customer behaviour. So, I'd like to hear in the Minister's response about why they didn't listen to their own consultation, which clearly backed a move to 105 days.
Instead, this rise of 160 per cent was suggested by just nine respondents, less than 1 per cent of the total. This has come as a complete shock to the whole industry, not just the self-catering sector. Whilst the Government isn't bound to follow exactly what a consultation tells it to do, it certainly has a duty to explain why it has totally ignored one. That still hasn't been adequately answered or explained and shows a lack of respect for the people across the country who deserve explanations, not just diktats.
Ashford Price, the secretary of the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions believes around 1,400 businesses would go under due to the changes and many thousands of workers in Wales would have to be made redundant. He added,
'Rural areas will also be the poorer as when genuine self-catering operators cease to operate there will be fewer tourists spending money in their area during the tourist season. This "summer tourist money" helps the local shops, garages, and pubs survive the long quiet winters in many rural locations.'
That's why it's surprising to see the Minister quoted as saying that
'The purpose of the change is to help ensure property owners are making a fair contribution to local communities, for example by increasing their contribution to the local economy'.
That will be such a bitter blow to those within the industry who support local jobs, produce and local supply chains. They invest in our communities, and increasing the threshold through this punitive change will hammer economies up and down the country. We need to back the industry, after being one of the most adversely impacted industries throughout the pandemic, and not marginalise them and punish them for the Welsh Government's historic shortcomings when it comes to house building.
Finally, Llywydd, a high number of these self-catering properties will, due to this Government action, be put up for sale. However, these properties would not be available for most locals to buy as the asking price would be, in all likelihood, beyond their reach. So, I urge Members across the Chamber to vote to annul today, to show that we stand with the industry and value the contribution that they make to our economy the length and breadth of Wales. Thank you.
Can I thank my colleague Tom Giffard for submitting today's motion to annul, because, as outlined in opening today's motion, and the evidence I've heard as chairman of the tourism cross-party group, this Order would be detrimental to the tourism industry and will simply see many legitimate, hard-working Welsh businesses go bust?
To start with today, I'd like to outline how important the tourism industry is to Wales, as it's really clear to me that Welsh Government simply do not understand this. To be fair to the Minister here today, there should be the Minister for Economy here as well, who should be supporting these businesses here in Wales, rather than hiding away. But as we know, tens of millions of visitors spend their money, which contributes around £6 billion to our economy every single year and supports around 12 per cent of jobs here in Wales, boosting livelihoods and local communities, more importantly.
I'd like to focus on three key areas about why today's motion needs to be supported. Firstly, as outlined by Tom Giffard, these self-catering properties will now be required to be let for 182 days—that 160 per cent increase that Tom Giffard outlined—which is a stark difference to where they were in most recent times. As we know from the mass of evidence that's already been alluded to today, many will not be able to meet this demand. And what will happen if they don't? They're going to face around a £6,000 tax bill every year, possibly, that currently they do not have to face, and that's going to hit their bottom line and will certainly affect their ability to function. It's clear that this simply won't be possible for many, and Welsh Government actions will be putting people out of business and out of work.
The second point is that, as we know, we continue to see many people now tightening their belts. Now is not the time to make these businesses struggle. We need to support them, to see them thrive and survive. It's clear that this Order has sent absolute shockwaves through the industry, with many legitimate businesses not knowing what to do. We've heard today that their mental health and well-being has taken a huge hit.
The third point, and the most disappointing part, which Tom Giffard outlined already, is that the industry would have accepted an increase in occupancy. They're willing to work with Government to make this happen. It's ridiculous that these self-catering businesses will now have to meet these changes with no transition available whatsoever—a 160 per cent increase with no transition. So, what's going to happen to those who can't meet this? How are we going to encourage these businesses to come into Wales and thrive in our country?
In closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, it's clear that this Order is ill thought out, leaving more questions than there are answers. The Welsh Government is here and should be here to support businesses to allow them to thrive and not damage them. Today, we have an opportunity to rectify these detrimental changes and work with the tourism industry to see, yes, an increase in occupancy rates, but one that is fair, one that works for them, and won't see people lose their jobs and their livelihoods. So, Members from across the Chamber, there are thriving tourism businesses in many of your regions and constituencies. They are there, they support your communities and they offer and contribute so much to the places where we work and live. Today is an opportunity to think about those communities and those businesses, support them, and vote to annul this damaging Order. Thank you very much.
It's disappointing, but not unexpected, to see the Conservatives jumping at the first opportunity they have to try and dismantle one of the first steps of the package of measures published to tackle the housing crisis, specifically the second homes crisis.
We're already in the vanguard here in Wales, taking steps to allow increasing council tax premium on second homes and vacant properties since 2014, with Gwynedd Council investing the additional income in its plans to provide more social housing for local people. Now, after 10 years of complaining, the Conservatives want to adopt a council tax premium scheme in England too. It's a matter of time before they emulate the other policies there too.
But, the early experience of implementing the premium demonstrated that some second home owners had found a way of playing the system, avoiding paying either the premium or a penny in tax on their property. The impact of this was the loss of millions of pounds of revenue from public coffers in many areas—[Interruption.]
Will you take an intervention?
Will you recognise that this isn't about second home owners who won't register their home with the Valuation Office Agency and dodge council tax, that this is about Welsh local businesses? Will you recognise that every business that's contacted me—and there's been hundreds of them now—is a local Welsh person, except one, who was born in Gwynedd, is a Welsh language speaker, but is away with the army and has kept his home to come back to when he leaves the army and during his holidays?
Thank you for that contribution. No, I don't accept that. This policy aims to close the loophole; that's the point. The intention of this Order that you as Conservatives are seeking to annul today is to close that loophole, as I mentioned, in the law.
I think most rational people would agree that there is something fundamentally wrong about a situation where thousands of my constituents—key workers, nurses, firefighters, shop workers, council workers—live in unacceptable conditions or can't access a home at all locally, whilst those who can afford a second home in those communities can play the system for their own benefit whilst more and more homes in residential areas are lost, to be used as Airbnbs and so on. It's Airbnbs and those platforms that are threatening the sustainability of the holiday rental sector. Mature businesses that have been contributing to the economy are now seeing their existence at stake because of the huge increase, with a large number of homes being bought as assets to be let on platforms such as Airbnb. This undermines well-established businesses.
In addition to this, there is no kind of regulation on these new platforms. To all intents and purposes, anyone can let property on these platforms whilst well-established companies using responsible providers who have a social conscience, like Dioni, have to reach particular standards before being let. So, we shouldn't look at the 182-day policy in isolation; this policy of 182 days is part of a broader package—in this case specifically, the announcement on Monday on the establishment of a new statutory licensing system for holiday lets. The sector has been calling for this for years, and now, as part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, we are seeing this being delivered at last.
I welcome the commitment that the Minister has already given in her written statement on 24 May in introducing the Order to retain the package in its entirety under review, including how these latest measures can be used as they're implemented to deliver the objective most effectively. As Adam Price said, co-operation between parties and the need to take action swiftly in order to make a practical difference and to introduce immediate solutions to failings that have been in place for decades in the housing market does require compromise and pragmatism—compromise on using subordinate legislation in order to act quickly, whilst recognising the broader restrictions in terms of council tax, and pragmatism in term of continuing to refine as we move forward, including before this Order comes into force next April.
I also welcome the commitment from the Government to (1) look at specific exemptions for real holiday accommodation before the Order comes into force next April, and (2) to reform the guidance in order to confirm that councils can remove the council tax liability in some circumstances. This all can be done without throwing everything through the window and before the changes come into force. I therefore call on Members to reject the motion today.
Can I thank my colleague the Member for South Wales West for bringing this forward, this motion? It's safe to say that the tourist sector is fundamental to so many of our communities, so hard hit by the pandemic and deeply concerned about the potential impact of these regulations, as Tom Giffard and Sam Rowlands have eloquently shared. Indeed, as pointed out in evidence provided by a number of tourism bodies in Wales, only nine responses to the Welsh Government's original consultation on these proposals were in support of an increase in the occupancy threshold, and I despair at the lack of understanding of our important economy in Wales that these issues of house ownership and businesses are being conflated without enough due thought on that.
It's not that the industry is against the increase in occupancy threshold, but the concern is that such a large increase in the threshold, as proposed by the Government, will subject far more self-catering businesses to council tax, possibly 300 per cent of the usual rates within those communities, something that many of those businesses, which are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, cannot afford. There are also concerns about the impact that the cost-of-living crisis may have on the tourism sector, which may further impede the ability of business to meet the new threshold. In fact, the Wales Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality Cymru and others have warned that as many as, as we've already heard, 30 per cent of self-catering businesses may close or sell as a result of these changes. Clearly, this would not only harm our tourism sector, but it would obviously put livelihoods and jobs at risk. As such, Deputy Llywydd, I do believe that these regulations must not be implemented and that Government should reassess its position.
However, if the Government and Plaid are wedded to their current position, then I fully support calls for exemptions to be introduced in line with the current petition submitted to the Senedd by a number of tourism organisations. In particular, there must be an appropriate appeals process as well as an exemption for lets limited by planning permission. This final aspect is something that has been of concern to a number of my constituents. Is it really fair that rural businesses, who have been encouraged to diversify into the tourism sector, will be hamstrung by planning rules so that they wouldn't be able to change the use of their accommodation should they wish to no longer continue in the tourism sector as a result of these rules?
To conclude, Deputy Llywydd, I urge Members to vote in favour of the motion and against these regulations, which are clearly ill thought out.
Before I get going, let me be very clear; we all know across this Chamber that there is an issue with second homes in Wales and stopping our local young people and our key workers, as Mabon ap Gwynfor has said, getting on the property ladder. But I do not believe that attacking genuine holiday businesses is the right way to address the problem. I've been inundated with correspondence from tourism businesses in my constituency since the Welsh Government announced their non-domestic rating Order 2022. The increase in number of days occupied to 182 is a massive jump from the current threshold, and a significant increase on the HMRC level of 105 days a year. Many holiday let businesses fear the threshold of 182 days a year is not achievable and will force many to cease trading. I think it's worth reiterating again what Tom Giffard said. The Welsh Tourism Alliance, the Professional Association of Self Caterers UK and UKHospitality Cymru have warned that tax changes could force as many as 30 per cent of self-catering businesses to close or sell up. Thirty per cent. That will have a huge detrimental impact to a local economy, costing jobs and people's livelihoods, and that is something—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention, Mr Kurtz.