Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

05/10/2022

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the Minister for Social Justice

Good afternoon. Welcome to today's Plenary session. The first item on our agenda is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Huw Irranca-Davies. 

Social Justice Priorities

1. What discussions has the Minister had with newly appointed UK Ministers regarding the Welsh Government’s ability to deliver on its social justice priorities? OQ58494

Thank you for that question. I've written to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for levelling-up, with the Scottish Minister Neil Gray MSP, about Ukraine, and also to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about uprating welfare benefits, and I was pleased to receive a letter from Chloe Smith MP yesterday.

Well, I'm pleased to hear that—that you've had a response, particularly in writing, on increasing the £350 support payment for UK host families for Ukrainian refugees. I know from my involvement with local groups in Ogmore and covering the Bridgend area how important this has been and how they’re looking forward to continuing to host families, but that they are pushing quite hard to make sure that that support continues and also can be extended. But could you also make contact with the Secretary of State about removing the benefit cap and the two-child benefit payment, bearing in mind the cost-of-living crisis that we’re currently faced with, and also, I have to say, upgrading benefits with inflation in line with the promise that the previous Conservative Prime Minister gave?

Thank you very much, Huw Irranca-Davies, for those two really important points in my portfolio for different Ministers in the UK Government. I met with the Scottish Government Minister Neil Gray earlier on today, and we now understand that there’s a new Minister for refugees in the department for levelling-up, so we’re writing to him today to again call for an increase in the £350 payment, which actually was called for by the previous Conservative refugee Minister, Richard Harrington. He said it should be doubled; we said at least £500, because so many of the host families want to continue, and also we have new host families coming forward. But also we’re writing to them about many other issues to do with the fact that there’s no guarantee of money for the next two years. We still have no money from the Government for English-for-speakers-of-other-languages provision or for health services.

Now, very important is the point that you make, and not just in terms of uprating benefits in line with inflation. Let’s wait and see if this Government actually does stand by that commitment made by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak that they would uprate welfare benefits in line with inflation. I hope we have a strong message from this Chamber today, on which we expect and we hope that our Conservative colleagues will back us. Hearing Iain Duncan Smith saying, ‘Well, obviously, it makes sense, doesn’t it, because they actually spend money in their communities’, was quite interesting yesterday.

But I have to say, we have also written—I’ve written, with the Scottish Minister for social justice and the Northern Ireland Executive Minister for social justice—about this important issue of abolishing the benefit cap, which undermines so many in their living costs, and also the two-child limit, saying that we should uplift the UK universal credit to £25 per week, not the £20 that we lost before. So, there is a lot for us to do in taking this forward with the UK Government.

As social justice Minister, you're responsible for community safety. I'm sure you will agree with me that organisations working in our communities with the police as part of our community safety partnerships are absolutely vital if we are to tackle those concerns that matter the most to people. What discussions have you had with the police and crime commissioners about the effectiveness of those partnerships and the importance of focusing on those concerns where they can have the biggest impact? Thank you.

Thank you very much to Altaf Hussain. I’m obviously working very closely with the police and crime commissioners and chief constables in the Policing Partnership Board for Wales. Of course, policing is reserved; it’s not devolved yet—that’s what we want to see. And we’re working very closely on issues around community cohesion. I hope you will join me in looking at the issues that will arise tomorrow, as we hear about hate crime statistics, and we need to move forward with our Hate hurts Wales campaign. This is a question about engagement with the UK Government Ministers and, I have to say, I have been very concerned about the Home Secretary's open letter to leaders of the police for England and Wales, saying that,

'there is a perception that the police have had to spend too much time on symbolic gestures, than actually fighting criminals. This must change. Initiatives on diversity and inclusion should not take precedence over common sense policing.'

I absolutely abhor that sentiment, because, actually, our Wales anti-racist action plan and our work with disabled people and tackling hate crime is all about community cohesion.

13:35
Poverty

2. What is the Government doing to address poverty? OQ58491

We will be spending £1.6 billion on targeted cost-of-living support and universal programmes to tackle poverty and to put money back in people's pockets. A new cost-of-living Cabinet committee, chaired by the First Minister, has been set up to focus Welsh Government efforts on supporting people through the cost-of-living crisis.

Thank you for the answer, Minister.

It's been five years since a decision was taken to close Communities First, the Government's anti-poverty programme. Following this decision, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee produced a report, which recommended, and I quote,

'a clear tackling poverty strategy is published, which brings together the many strands of poverty reduction work to help provide clear direction and to help the Assembly scrutinise the Government's approach.'

It also recommended that performance indicators be embedded within the strategy. We are the only UK nation where child poverty has been found to be increasing. Thanks to the Tories in Westminster, poverty is set to get much worse. Why are we still waiting for an anti-poverty strategy in Wales, when it's needed more than ever?

Thank you very much, Peredur. Of course, that report by the former equality and local government committee was an important report, with recommendations that we agreed to take forward. And I hope that you were able to see the report that was produced, which we commissioned—it's a review from the Wales Centre for Public Policy—to understand the best levers and means that we have to address poverty in Wales, clearly, as so many of the tax and benefits policies, which have such an impact on poverty, are so key. The report was actually published last week, and I hope you will have seen that. And I think what was interesting about the report is that it had four key areas that we are focusing on and mobilising a Wales-wide response in terms of tackling poverty. And the first one is reducing costs and maximising income. Now, I won't go into all of the responses in that report, because it looked at evidence from across the world—it included the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, the London School of Economics, the New Policy Institute—to ensure that we can, with our powers and levers, make the right decisions in tackling poverty in Wales. But I do believe that the focus at the moment is on the cost-of-living payments and what we're going to do in terms of, as you say, the assault on the poorest people in Wales as a result of the UK Government's most recent so-called mini budget.

Would the Minister agree that outcomes are what matters, and Wales, sadly, has the worst child poverty rate of all the UK nations? To add to this picture, I'm sure you're aware of a recent report by Loughborough University that  showed child poverty in Wales had risen by 5 per cent between 2019-20 and 2020-21. On the other hand, the picture in the UK as a whole is a 4 per cent drop. So, why is this Welsh Labour Government continuing to fail so miserably when it comes to tackling child poverty?

Well, you know perfectly well that the key levers for tackling poverty are powers over the tax and welfare system, which sit with the UK Government. [Interruption.] Can I just remind the Member that child poverty fell year after year under the Labour Government—year after year under the Labour Government—thanks to Gordon Brown's intervention? Tax credits, interestingly, he said—. He introduced tax credits. Now, Joe Biden—[Interruption.] Can I speak, please?

Yes. The Minister needs to be heard, rather than discussions between backbenchers. Can we hear the Minister, please?

Can I just say that tax credits, in terms of the UK Government responses, are crucial in terms of tackling poverty? Joe Biden's doing that now and actually making an impact in the States. Child poverty came down under a Labour Government; child poverty has risen under both the coalition and Tory Governments, and through direct and deliberate policies, including the ones that I've just addressed with Huw Irranca-Davies. It's shameful about the benefit package, it's shameful about the two-child limit, it's shameful that they're not committing today to uprating benefits in line with inflation. 

13:40
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

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

Responsibilities as Minister for Social Justice include the living wage in Wales. Welsh Conservatives have been calling for the Welsh Government to align social care staff pay with NHS pay scales, an investment of just £9 million. How, therefore, do you respond to the care home director in north Wales who has asked me to raise a question in the Senedd regarding the Welsh Government's commitment to ensuring all the social care workers in Wales are paid the real living wage, when the Living Wage Foundation expects that the increase announced on 22 September should be paid to employees as soon as possible after the announcement? He added, 

'The Welsh Government has not made funds available to providers via the local authorities to enable them to pay this increase, and many of our dedicated workers simply don't have enough money to put on their freezers, to pay their increasing energy bills. We're already seeing a mass exodus of care workers out of the sector. I fear we'll see many more unless providers can increase their wages in line with the Living Wage Foundation's expectations. We simply cannot afford to lose any more.'

So, I'd be grateful for your response to his question, which is specific to social care staff. 

Of course it was a Welsh Labour Government that, in its manifesto, and then delivered through the programme for government and delivered it within its first year, delivered the real living wage for our social care workforce. A real living wage. Also, I have to say, in addition to the living wage, funding has been made available to our social care workforce, as you know, and, indeed, not just in the last year but during the period of the pandemic, because we recognise the devotion, the commitment of the social care workforce at the sharp end. So, we as a Government have done everything we can to support the social care workforce. But, also, clearly we are supporters of the real living wage, and it is actually my Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn who is particularly taking this forward in her responsibilities for the real living wage. 

But it is also clearly a matter for the Government. The Deputy Minister for Social Services is working closely with the social care foundation, and working with all the employers and, indeed, the local authorities in terms of the employment of social care workers. So, we are doing our bit. But what is the UK Government doing, I have to say, Mark Isherwood? Because, actually, we're £600 million down on our budget this year and we're going to be £1.4 billion down next year. Where is that money going to come from, because this is what we want to do in terms of social justice, but we need help from your Government?

You haven't answered my question, which was when the Welsh Government will make funding available—

I'm sorry I'm going to have to intervene, Mark Isherwood. It's not your problem; it's a problem that we seem to have some kind of continuous debate between the Labour backbenchers and the Tory benches at the moment. I could be more specific and name individuals, but I'll keep it general for the moment. But if you carry on, I'm going to start naming you; you know who you are. Mark Isherwood. 

Thank you. In my absence, I can't hear that, but thanks for the interruption. The question is: when is the Welsh Government going to make funds available to the local authorities to enable them to pay this increase? The question was for the Welsh Government. 

But, moving on, you earlier used the word 'shamefully'. So, shamefully, child poverty in Wales has been rising since 2004, when I first raised this with the Welsh Government. It had already reached the highest level in the UK before the credit crunch in 2008, the year it rose to 32 per cent in Wales. Latest figures now show that 34 per cent of children in Wales are living in poverty, whilst the UK figure fell to 27 per cent. The primary reason for this remains that Wales has had the lowest growth in prosperity per head out of the UK nations since 1999, that, with 5 per cent of the UK population, Wales only produces 3 per cent of the UK's wealth, that Wales has the lowest employment rates in Great Britain, and that pay packets in Wales are the lowest in the UK, and all this despite having received billions in supposedly temporary funding designed to support economic development and reduce inequality between nations and regions.

As I said here in 2009, it is a national tragedy that more children are falling into poverty in Wales and that the Welsh Government's policies to tackle it appear to have failed. After a further 13 years, what action, if any, will you take with your Cabinet colleagues to learn from this experience, change tack and deliver a growth plan with the business and third sectors and our communities to finally build a more prosperous Welsh economy?

13:45

I don't know whether you heard my responses to earlier questions, Mark Isherwood. I did say, and I'll just repeat, that child poverty fell year after year under the Labour Government and it has risen year after year during the last 12 years of coalition and Tory Governments, as a result of direct and deliberate policies. Did you hear Gordon Brown this morning when he said it's been proven economically that you cannot have a growth plan—which is what you're trying to say—based on tax cuts and actually making the poor pay for the benefit of the wealthy? Because this is what is happening as a result of this mini budget. Please, will you have an influence on your Government to make sure that their key levers for tackling child poverty, which sit with them, are actually acted upon?

I don't think you were listening earlier to my figures, which were accurate and which I actually put to you 18 years ago. Child poverty in Wales did fall for a few years after the Blair-Brown Government came in, but then it started rising again and had reached the highest level in the UK, not last year but in 2008. And it has risen again, whilst going backwards in the rest of the UK. That is the reality, and the outcome I referred to was consequent upon Welsh Government policies. So, what are you going to do about it? You've had 23 years, the scorebook is atrocious and the impact on people's lives is terrible.

But, moving on, the Local Trust 'Left behind?' report in England evidences that poorer areas with greater community capacity and social infrastructure have better health and well-being outcomes, higher rates of employment and lower levels of child poverty compared to poorer areas without. January's Wales Co-operative Centre discussion paper by Communities Creating Homes states Wales is trailing other nations in the UK when it comes to community ownership rights, adding that policies in Wales do not offer quite the same empowerment as enjoyed by communities in England or, particularly, Scotland. 

February's Institute of Welsh Affairs 'Our Land: Communities and Land Use' report found that Welsh communities are the least empowered in Britain. Community groups in Wales told them about an arbitrary, demoralising scenario with little real process for communities to take ownership of public or private assets. 

Further research by the Building Communities Trust with community groups across Wales shows they often feel overlooked and under-resourced by local and national government. How, therefore, do you respond to their statements that they believe there's a big opportunity for Welsh Government to develop better support for community-led, long-term, local approaches in Wales?

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood. Before I answer that question, I do want to say, in terms of the programmes that tackle child poverty, that the roll-out of our free school meals for primary school pupils—as part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, working with local government—means that the commitment for every primary school pupil to receive a free school meal by 2024 has already, since the start of this term, meant an additional 45,000 pupils becoming immediately eligible for a free meal, and also for free school breakfasts, which you didn't agree to. We're feeding our pupils as a result of our initiatives here in Wales. 

But I will answer that third point, because actually I had a really useful meeting last week with Mabon ap Gwynfor and the Building Communities Trust. He asked for a meeting following a very useful debate, which you all contributed to across the Chamber, to talk about community policy, to talk about our community assets' reach. You will be able to engage in that as you do support co-production, Mark Isherwood.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, yesterday, when asked by the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, about instituting measures such as those introduced this week by the SNP Scottish Government to protect their people from homelessness this winter, such as temporary rent freezes in the private sector and a ban on evictions, the First Minister said that he didn't think that instituting those measures here in Wales would stand up to examination. So, what will work, Minister? Shelter in Scotland have welcomed the measures, saying that it is great news for tenants and will stop people from losing their homes. But, they quite rightly want protections to go even further, so that those most at risk of becoming homeless are fully protected from rent rises and evictions, and so the housing emergency is brought to a permanent end beyond this cost-of-living crisis.

Emergency solutions to combat the cost-of-living crisis and to combat poverty, such as freezing private rents, have also been called for by Labour mayors. The Labour shadow levelling up and housing Secretary, Lisa Nandy, said she's interested in them, saying that doing nothing is not an option. These must be explored, and, indeed, instituted now. Can you therefore commit today to commissioning urgent research and an evaluation within the next weeks of what would be the best way to prevent the growing threat of homelessness, which is hanging over too many Welsh families this winter because of the cost-of-living crisis? Do you agree with me, Minister, that doing nothing isn't an option, and that it is possible and, in fact, imperative to act swiftly in a crisis? This is a lesson we've learnt from the pandemic. It's what the Scottish Government have done. Minister, what will the Welsh Government do? 

13:50

Thank you very much, Sioned Williams. Of course, the First Minister did answer this question yesterday from your leader, and he did comment on the Scottish Government's Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill that is before the Scottish Parliament. Also, he recognised in his response to that that, in respect particularly of protecting social tenants in Wales, for example, over the winter from rent increases, social rents are set annually, with the next change in social rents not due until April 2023. I think the key thing is that the Minister for Climate Change, of course, responsible for housing, will be considering evidence and options for future social rents over the coming weeks to inform us in terms of future decisions. 

I went to a cost-of-living event this morning organised by Hafod in my constituency. They were offering financial support and advice to all of their tenants who are struggling in Wales now with the cost-of-living crisis. What they were doing was making sure that they knew about our winter fuel support scheme, the £200 that they can get into people's bank accounts and support them now, making sure that they knew about announcements that we've made as a Welsh Government about not just the income maximisation but the warm hubs, and also my announcement yesterday. I think you will have seen my written statement on more funding for food poverty and making sure that children and parents are aware of the Healthy Start vouchers. So, there's a lot of support, and it's to all generations, in terms of also making sure that older people are aware of pension credit and their entitlements. 

Can I just say that we are committed to supporting tenants at this difficult time, supporting them to remain in their homes? We've invested an additional £6 million via our homelessness prevention grant, but we are reviewing with interest the Scottish Government's approach. But clearly, also, as we discuss often with our Scottish Government colleagues, there are different ways to achieve the same objective.  

Thank you. I look forward to seeing the result of that evaluation. We also heard the First Minister rightly condemn the Prime Minister's wish not to increase benefits in line with inflation, the benefits of people who already have almost nothing to live on. They're facing a terrifying winter. And as you know, Minister, Scotland are better able to protect their most vulnerable citizens from the callous and shameful attitude of the Westminster Government, because they have more powers over the administration of welfare payments. The further funding you announced this week you just referred to to help organisations such as foodbanks is, of course, welcome, despicable as it is in twenty-first century Wales that people are struggling to afford food.

You have announced other schemes that you've just referenced, such as the fuel support scheme, to try and lessen the impact of these record levels of need amongst Welsh families. But, we've heard many times from anti-poverty campaigners and support organisations that there is a need for a single streamlined and automatic system to ensure this support gets to those who need it. So, could you please let us know, Minister, whether work on this is happening, and also update us on the commitment in the co-operation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government to support the devolution of the administration of welfare?    

Thank you very much, Sioned Williams. These are crucial issues in terms of getting the money into people's pockets and into their accounts. You know that we're developing and working with organisations like the Bevan Foundation on a benefits charter for Wales, and also working with local government to get that passporting of benefits—that streamlining of benefits.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting with all the leaders of local government. We've got an agenda item on the cost of living. They're sharing not only with me, but with each other, the ways they're getting the money out. Speaking to the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf last week, he told me about the thousands that had already gone out as a result of the fact that they've got a close grip on who needs the money and how they can get to that. So, all that work is crucially important for the here and now.

But, yes, we are progressing with looking at the devolution of the administration of benefits. I've met with the Scottish Government Minister to learn from Social Security Scotland about ways, hopefully, we can share. Also, they're very interested in what we're doing with our single advice fund. So, it was a two-way discussion. But, also, we're learning from them in terms of taking the next steps, because, obviously, we are now developing a whole range of benefits and social wage and support services—basic services—for people, which form part of our welfare and social security response. But let's just recognise that, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said this week, if this goes ahead—if we don’t have and uprating in line with inflation, if it's with earnings—this would be the biggest real-terms cut to benefits on record.

13:55
Child Poverty

3. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to reduce child poverty in Montgomeryshire? OQ58470

Thank you for that question. The key levers for tackling child poverty—they are powers over the tax and welfare system—sit with the UK Government, and we will continue to do all we can with the powers that we have to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for all children in Wales so they can fulfil their potential.

Thank you for your answer, Minister. My question is very much about the powers that are within your responsibility. Minister, you will recognise, of course, that my own constituency of Montgomeryshire is a predominantly rural area. Your Flying Start programme has been in operation for many years to support households in areas of deprivation. Unfortunately, it can't be accessed in many parts of rural areas and there continues to be that element of a postcode lottery. Do you recognise, Minister, that often there is an area that is not classed as an area of deprivation, but within that area there are pockets of depravation? They are very often in those rural parts of Wales. Can I ask you, in regard to the additional funding you announced last week, I think, how you intend this to focus particularly on the issues that I've outlined? How are you going to ensure that rural local authorities in Wales, particularly Powys, get their fair share of funding to support those particular communities?

Thank you for those very important questions. The way we try to tackle poverty with our powers is about universal approaches, such as the free schools meals to all pupils, which will help many of those who are on that brink of being disadvantaged or finding it hard at this present financial time. Just to say, in Powys County Council, this actually now includes an additional 1,067 learners universally getting that offer. It's going to widen, of course.

But on your point about Flying Start, the roll-out of the phase 1 expansion of Flying Start began in September. In Powys, this does equate to around 60 more children under four eligible for the programme, and 15 children aged two to three will be eligible for the childcare element. I think, also importantly, that there are other access grants, like the pupil development access grant. Actually, the total of that, alongside the early years pupil development grant for 2023, was £3,148,700.

Good afternoon, Minister. There is, as we know, a significant rise in foodbanks across mid and west Wales, and in Montgomeryshire, and I thank Russell George for raising this very important issue within Montgomeryshire. It is an absolute disgrace, and I would agree with Sioned Williams in this regard. Having spoken to a foodbank in Montgomeryshire recently, they were clear that there were two challenges they face this autumn and winter, given the cost-of-living crisis. One is that they are receiving fewer donations and the other, sadly, is an increased demand. Over the school holidays, a local fish and chip shop in Newtown started providing free meals to children, because families simply didn't have enough money to feed themselves when free school dinners stopped for the summer. I know that you will agree with me that it is a disgrace that, in the world's fifth largest economy, families are struggling to survive. And I'm sure that you'll agree that the Conservative Party has a lot to answer for in this regard, so I really do hope, Russell, that you will take this further within your party, because we do need your support. Focusing on what the Welsh Government can do, could you just outline how you would continue to support community groups, foodbanks, and small independent businesses, like the ones I've spoken to in Montgomeryshire, that are trying to do their best to shield young families from the excesses of the cost-of-living crisis? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

14:00

Diolch yn fawr, Jane Dodds. I think it is important that we see this now as all-Wales—rural, urban, and not just the most deprived, but all families experiencing poverty and disadvantage. It does go back to this huge question of where this £45 billion for tax cuts, which are going to benefit the most wealthy, is going to come from, because if it comes from public services or welfare benefits, this is just going to deepen and deepen.

But just to say, in terms of tackling food poverty, I did announce another £1 million yesterday, but it builds on £3.9 million already allocated this year, and it's actually by working with local authorities, as you know, to develop and strengthen food partnerships. It's very good to hear about businesses getting involved; they want to get involved, some of them, in our warm hubs initiative that the First Minister announced a couple of days ago. You might have heard on Radio 4, on the food programme at the weekend, about Big Bocs Bwyd and the fact that this is also spreading throughout Wales where schools are involved with community food organisations as well. But we're actually saying in my statement that we want to help social supermarkets, community cafes, lunch clubs, cookery classes; we're also talking about making sure that people can have access to things like slow burners. People are actually already not being able to feed their meters, so we have got our Fuel Bank Foundation partnership as well. But I do think—and the Deputy Minister for Social Services is here as well—that all the work that we're doing with the early years and the roll-out of the £100 million is going to make such a difference in terms of reaching out to those younger people and babies. But you know, baby milk, hot water bottles—I mean, this is the day and age we're living in with foodbanks in Wales.

The Voluntary Sector

4. What is the Welsh Government doing to support the voluntary sector? OQ58469

Thank you, Paul, for the question. I've provided Third Sector Support Wales with a three-year funding agreement of £6.98 million per year. And in response to the cost-of-living crisis, today I can announce an additional £2.2 million to continue supporting infrastructure over the next three years to help protect the most vulnerable people in Wales.

Thank you for that response, Minister. Now, as you know, funding from the equality and inclusion funding programme has made a real difference for individuals and communities in Pembrokeshire and across Wales, and I'm sure that you'll appreciate that the renewal of this funding is crucial to a lot of the work done by the third sector. Now, as you know, voluntary organisations and groups are under unprecedented pressures, with some organisations struggling to retain staff. So, can you provide an update on the funding of the equality and inclusion funding programme? And what assurances can you offer to voluntary sector organisations in Wales that this funding will be forthcoming as soon as possible?

Thank you very much. I welcome the fact that you focused on the equality and inclusion grant. We have consulted widely about this to make sure that we can reach those. Of course, there are many organisations that would like to benefit from the equality and inclusion programme, so I can assure you that this is now being taken forward and bidding arrangements and timelines will be made available.

Energy Bills

5. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact that the UK Government’s fiscal statement will have on people's ability to pay for energy bills? OQ58477

Thank you for the question. The measures announced in the Chancellor's statement are unfair. They fail to target support for the most vulnerable, whilst providing significant benefit to the richest. This will mean that more households in Wales will struggle to meet the cost of energy and other essential items, resulting in increased levels of poverty.

Thank you for that answer, Minister, and I agree with your conclusion. These plans will do little to support families through this difficult time and instead focus on putting more money in the hands of the rich. This makes the support from Welsh Government even more vital, and I appreciate that the Government has given out far more in cost-of-living grants than it has received from the UK Government for this purpose. There are concerns, however, that these grants may be inaccessible to those who need them most, due to digital exclusion or lack of access to public services. It was raised recently at a cost-of-living summit that I attended at Plas Madoc, with my colleague Ken Skates.

During the pandemic, the Welsh Government wrote to every household to ensure that everyone had access to the information that they needed. Minister, do you agree with me that a similar campaign is needed, as we face the height of this cost-of-living crisis, so that everyone is aware of the financial support available here in Wales and how they can access it?

14:05

Well, that's a really important question, Carolyn Thomas, and it follows on from what Russell George was saying earlier on: how do we actually make sure that the benefits that we've got reach the people who are entitled to them? We know that many already—I've said, I think, that some of the £200 fuel support grant is going straight into accounts, because people are digitally engaged and they've got accounts for their council tax reduction scheme. So, we are looking at ways in which, with our partners in local government, our registered social landlords, the third sector, Citizens Advice, how we can make sure that we can, if necessary, help face-to-face, and train more people in benefits advice. Certainly, Jenny Rathbone shared a similar meeting last week in Llanedeyrn, where health visitors said, 'Yes, they can say, "You might be entitled to this", but people then need help with filling in application forms, et cetera'. So, this is a crucial practical thing that we need to do and we will do, but I want to just say that our winter campaign 'Claim what's yours', the next stage—we need you all to help us with this—is going to target homes through radio, television adverts, calls to the Advicelink campaign phone number. Everybody here has constituents, you want them to claim what's theirs. And, just to say that 9,000 people have responded to the campaign call to action to contact Advicelink Cymru, and that has helped people to claim over £2.6 million of additional income.

I did ask Chloe Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, as did my colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland, whether they will join us, the UK Government, in a UK-wide take-up campaign, and I'm sure that you would agree that this is the way forward. 

Well, on a more positive note than my colleague, I'm actually quite pleased with the steps that the UK Government are taking. Everything that we're doing now, it's a mini budget for growth, it's a mini budget to get people back into work. And I have to ask, following a COVID pandemic and the fact that we've got a shocking war in Ukraine, exactly how would you do it and how would Labour do it. You have no solutions, just criticisms. And I tell you what, the people have seen through it. The Prime Minister's speech today has gone down fantastically, and there are positive comments everywhere. So, anyway, we've also taken—and when I say 'we', the UK Government has taken a number of steps that will benefit the people of Wales: energy bills capped at £2,500 when they could have been £6,000—this, in addition to the £400 discount for each household—[Interruption.]

I am. Thank you, Llywydd. And additional payments for the most vulnerable. In the mini budget, it was announced that 1.2 million people would benefit from the cut to the basic rate of income tax and 2 million are going to get a national insurance cut of £235—[Interruption.]

No, no point of order. I'm sure that the Minister will respond. 

These measures show that it is the UK Conservative Government that's trying to ease the burdens on our households here in Wales. Due to the cut to stamp duty in England, the Welsh Government is now set to receive an additional £70 million. So, will the Minister tell me exactly how you are going to spend that money?

I'm absolutely astonished that you can stand there and have the gall to talk in that way, Janet Finch-Saunders, about the situation where we have people in Wales now who have not got their electricity on, who do not know where they're going to get their next meal from, as a result of your Government [Interruption.] I'm not going to repeat everything—I'm sure that the Llywydd will stop me anyway—but where are they going to get the £45 billion from? They've already had two u-turns. Where are they—? So, I'll tell you where—the Resolution Foundation says that it's either cutting public services, or it's going to cut welfare benefits, which will cause more poverty and destitution.

We've just got to recognise that uprating benefits, including the state pension, by earnings instead of inflation—. A 4 per cent real-terms cut would actually cost a typical low-income working family with two children over £1,000 a year. What are you going to do with those constituents, Janet Finch-Saunders? Can I just say that Wales Fiscal Analysis has noted that in Wales, nearly 90 per cent of the gains will go to households in the top 50 per cent? Do you agree with that? Ninety per cent of your policies, fiscally, will go to the top 50 per cent here in Wales; 40 per cent will go to households in the top 10 per cent in your constituency. Why can't the UK Government get its priorities right? They should target the windfall tax to pay for this, in order to pay for their tax-cutting budget. It is not going to deliver growth; it's going to deliver poverty and destitution, and that's a tragedy for the people we represent in Wales.

14:10

Question 6, to be answered by the Deputy Minister. James Evans.

Veterans' Commissioner for Wales

6. Will the Minister provide an update on the work of the Veterans' Commissioner for Wales? OQ58474

The Veterans' Commissioner for Wales is a UK Government appointment and is therefore not directly accountable to Welsh Government. However, the commissioner is an important advocate for veterans in Wales. I have met him a number of times and look forward to working in partnership with him for the benefit of our veterans.

Thank you for that, Deputy Minister. I'm sure that you're pleased, as I am, that the work that he is doing is well under way, and I'm sure that you'd welcome Sarah Atherton to her position in the UK Government, as the Minister for veterans. You did say that it is the responsibility of the UK Government, but there are matters that are devolved here, and hopefully we can get some answers on those—I know that the Government here don't like answering on devolved issues. So, can the Deputy Minister outline what discussions you've had with the Deputy Minister for mental health around providing mental health support for veterans to make sure that, when they do ask for support, it is there, and supported, for them in their time of need? Thank you, Llywydd.

I thank the Member for his question. My point, in terms of the Wales veterans commissioner is that it is an appointment of the UK Government, and therefore not directly accountable to the Welsh Government. As I said, I have met him a number of times, it's still early days; he came into post in June and it's a part-time position. In fact, I was with the veterans commissioner just this morning at our armed forces expert group, where Darren Millar was in attendance too, on behalf of the cross-party group, and so we are committed to working very closely. And also, I've arranged for the commissioner to meet a number of my Government colleagues to understand better about those areas that are devolved in which we support veterans, such as health and education, and their families as well, and how we can work collaboratively and move forward, so that we make sure that we can build on the work that we've already done. And we look forward to introducing our armed forces annual report in the next month to this place, and we'll be able to debate that.

But, in Wales, we are very pleased to have Veterans NHS Wales, which supports veterans and is unique to Wales. Actually, just this morning at the armed forces expert group, we discussed how we can make sure that there is initial support, and there are some research projects going on at the moment that we are contributing to around making sure that, out of hours, how veterans can access those services. There is a helpline already that they can access, but it's how we can make sure that the first point of contact is a positive one, when they go, perhaps, to their GP surgery or a service, but also considering out of hours. So, we're proud of the work that we've done in Wales, and we're committed to working together to do the best by our veterans and their families in the service community in Wales.

Crime and Anti-social Behaviour

7. How is the Welsh Government working with the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour across North Wales? OQ58499

Thank you for the question. We are committed to working in partnership to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in north Wales. While policing is currently a reserved matter, we work closely with policing colleagues on strategic issues and fund 600 police community support officers to protect communities across Wales.

Thank you for your response, Minister. I'm sure that you would agree with me that one of the best ways of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour is to ensure that our hard-working police officers and PCSOs that you mentioned are able to fully focus their time and efforts on their very clear areas of responsibility. Minister, you'll recall, back in July, I raised the issue that police forces are facing across Wales at the moment of often being distracted from their clear priorities and focus as police officers to have to deal with work that usually sits in other public service areas, such as in health or in social services. Back in July, you stated that many of these issues are being raised through the policing partnership board whilst working with policing colleagues. So, in light of this, Minister, I was wondering whether you have an update on what efforts are being made to reduce police time having to focus on non-policing issues to enable them and allow them to focus on reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.

14:15

Thank you, Sam Rowlands. As you say, PCSOs play such a crucial role in promoting community safety and tackling anti-social behaviour and acting as ears and eyes on the ground for police forces. But it's also about local relationships and so many of those local relationships are with local authorities, with their social services, housing, youth workers et cetera, as well as with health colleagues. It is very interrelated in terms of tackling crime, preventing crime and engaging in a holistic way, which we do with our policing partnership board and with the work that we do with our police and crime commissioners.

So, at the last meeting, for example, we had Lynne Neagle speaking about substance misuse, which is a crucial issue that health, of course, is involved in; public health was there. We also did have the Secretary of State for Wales; Sir Robert Buckland joined us at that meeting and he engaged as well. We take a public health approach in terms of trying to ensure that we have community safety and community cohesion, so it's about interaction, diversionary schemes. You'll be very interested to hear that the police and crime commissioner funded a boxing club in Buckley, a safe location, diversion, interaction scheme. So, it's not about saying less on liaising with health and social services; it's actually engaging for a purpose. But, obviously, that's something that we regularly discuss at that board.

Race Equality Action Plan

8. Will the Minister make a statement on progress in relation to the race equality action plan? OQ58481

Diolch, Rhys ab Owen. Our 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' was launched in June. I've asked the Welsh public and third sectors to work with us in delivering the plan and we've established a race disparity unit as one of our first actions.

Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. We cannot separate today from history. We must recognise some of the terrible miscarriages of justice faced by communities so close to the Senedd here. The other week, when mentioning the sad passing of Tony Paris, I raised the issue about his daughter wanting a street in his beloved Butetown named after him. Minister, will you support me in supporting a campaign to commemorate the miscarriage of justice faced by those communities by the justice system here in Wales—Tony Paris, the Cardiff Five, the Cardiff newsagent three, Mahmood Mattan, amongst others? We need to learn from the past if we're going to avoid it again in the future. Diolch.

Diolch yn fawr, Rhys ab Owen. I have to say that there is much that's being done that is not just in my portfolio, but certainly in Dawn Bowden's portfolio as well in terms of heritage, culture, art and sport. I don't know whether you were able to visit the Reframing Picton exhibition that was at the national museum, and, on Saturday, I opened a launch event of Black History 365. It was important it was in a museum, but also the Windrush exhibition that was held. We do need to not only honour those with black, Asian, minority ethnic heritage and their contribution, but also recognise these issues in terms of mishandling of justice.

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

The next item is questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and the first question is from Carolyn Thomas.

The Devolution Of Justice

1. What recent conversations has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the devolution of justice? OQ58479

Thank you for your question. I have an introductory meeting with the new Attorney-General soon, and I also hope to meet the Lord Chancellor and Ministry of Justice ministerial team in due course. I will, of course, be making the case for devolution of justice during these discussions.

14:20

Thank you for your answer. I have recently been contacted by a constituent who, sadly, lost her son and is now part of a group seeking coroners to be held accountable to a public body. Should justice be devolved to the Senedd? I believe it should. What considerations have you given to this issue? Thank you.

Thank you for that supplementary question. The issue of coroners' courts is an important one, and it's one that I think I've raised in this Chamber several times, but it was also considered in the Thomas commission and is also referred to in 'Delivering Justice for Wales'. Can I say, first of all, in terms of your constituent—and I know as someone who represented many people in coroners' courts over the years—that my heart goes out? I know the impact of such tragedies on people, on families, which stay with them for all of their lives. I suppose the starting point, in terms of accountability, is, of course, as with all processes—and, of course, the coroner's court is a court of record, so it has a rather unusual but historic origin—the importance of independence and separation from Government, so, obviously not about accountability to us as a Senedd or to public bodies, but rather its role within the judicial system. 

Bearing in mind also that coroners' courts, the coroners, are, effectively, fully funded within Wales—they're funded by the local authorities; they are publicly funded in that particular way—and I think there is a natural role for those to be within a devolved justice system in their own right, and that is a case I've made and it's a case that I will continue to put. I think it has an unanswerable case for that in its own right, and bearing in mind the particular purpose of the coroners' courts as well. 

Resignation of the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales

2. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the Ministry of Justice following the resignation of the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales? OQ58476

Thank you for the question. Victims policy remains the responsibility of the UK Government. As a Government, we are committed to improving outcomes for victims in Wales. We believe that every victim should be treated with dignity and respect, and with access to the services that they need.  

As you well know, many of the services that victims require are actually devolved to Wales and, at the end of June, when I asked the Prif Weinidog whether he was satisfied with the current system, he said that the

'system has so far served us well.'

Well, in the resignation letter of last week by Dame Vera Baird, she complained about a lack of engagement from the very top in the Ministry of Justice. She complained about the priorities of the Westminster Government. She went on to say:

'It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system is in chaos.'

Does the Welsh Government still believe that victims here in Wales are well served by having a victims' commissioner that is answerable and accountable to a Whitehall that doesn't listen? 

Thank you for the question. I'm aware of the letter that the victims' commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, recently sent. Can I just mention just a couple of points? I think the first one is, in terms of my colleague, the Minister for Social Justice, I know that she had met with Dame Vera Baird on a number of occasions to talk about the issues relating to victims, and also with other bodies. I think what is the case is, in the devolved areas, I think there is an enormous amount of very positive and constructive work that goes on within our devolved responsibilities for victims and for the support of victims, and the work that we do we try to do in actual partnership.

But can I just say that the letter from Dame Vera Baird does raise a number of very serious issues? And I think they really relate to those reserved areas of justice that relate to victims where I think it is clear that there has been failure, and increasing failure. There had been promises, in terms of a victims Bill, which may have positive elements to it, but it's very, very early days on that; I think it is in draft form at the moment, but due to be tabled in the not too distant future. We'll obviously look at that very, very closely. So, we will continue with those areas where we have devolved input, and there are many areas. Many of the functions are reserved, but, of course, the consequences come within devolved capacities, and those are the ones that I know the Minister for Social Justice and others have been working very, very closely on. But it is worth listening to what she said. She did say that the victims Bill remains inadequate; she also referred to the British bill of rights, which has been stayed—it has been delayed, not taken away; and she raised serious concerns about the logjams in the justice system.

But, in particular, what she actually does say is that she considers that at the UK Government level there has been a downgrading of focus on the issue of victims. She says that

'the criminal justice system is in chaos.'

The downgrading of victims’ interests in governmental priorities, along with the sidelining of the victims’ commissioner, are particular areas of critique, and those are areas that we would want to see addressed—areas that we'd want to see addressed differently in a devolved justice system.

In terms of where we go from here, we will, of course, work and liaise with the UK Government in respect of the victims Bill. We will particularly focus on those areas that are not reserved and what the impact might be on those. We remain, as a Government, really committed to improving outcomes for victims and to the full exercise of our devolved responsibilities, but also to greater responsibility in terms of support for victims. 

14:25
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Will the Minister make a statement on the evaluation undertaken by the Electoral Commission into advance voter pilots in Wales?

Thank you for the question. I have already, actually, made a statement on that—a written statement has been issued. It was a statement that, I think, had quite a number of positives, because it showed that many of the technical issues and problems that would emerge from a digitised electoral system can be overcome and that they can be administered, and those lessons we will learn, I think, when we consider, as we develop the policy in respect of our own electoral reform, legislation. Just to say, on several occasions I've met with the Electoral Commission. We have discussed the report. I have met the new chair of the Electoral Commission as well to discuss that, and the outcome of those discussions, I think, has been very positive. 

Thank you for that response. I notice that you didn't refer to the actual impact on voter turnout, of course, which was the whole primary reason for having these advance voter pilots take place in the local authorities where they did. The Electoral Commission report makes it absolutely clear that the voter turnout in each of the four local authorities—Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Torfaen—actually went down; there was no increase whatsoever. It didn't only just go down in line with the national average; it actually went down further than the national average in those local authority elections, which took place across Wales. Do you accept, therefore, that the best way to promote advance voting is, actually, through the existing system that we already have, which is postal votes—that we don't actually need these other so-called innovations, which you believe were necessary?

No I don't, and I think your premise is, actually, wrong, because the primary reason was not to suddenly show some significant turnaround in voter turnout, because there have been other, similar pilots around the country from time to time that have also been exploring technological options and so on. You do not change the culture of elections and people's perceptions—not without a massive publicity campaign and not without a whole series of educational processes in something that would be an across-the-board change to the electoral system.

These were pilots, and they were very technical pilots and they were pilots that had a very significant focus on (1) putting the legislation in place to enable them to take place; secondly, in terms of the technology and the challenges with regard to the electoral register and so on. The fact of the matter is, and it's shown in the report of the Electoral Commission, that those were very productive and very positive. For me, that was the main experience; there was no indication, in my view, that this was somehow going to result in some massive turnabout. There are important lessons to be learned, and those will feed into the policy discussions and work that is going on at the moment with regard to the reform of our electoral system.

The advance voter pilots, Minister, no matter how much gloss you try to put on this, were an unmitigated disaster. They cost over £1.5 million, and the cost of each voter, effectively, if you divide the number of voters who took the opportunity to vote in advance, through the new system that you piloted, was £845 per vote. I think that most people in Wales will think that that is frankly a huge waste of money and that you should therefore abandon any of the sorts of approaches to advance voting that you piloted earlier in the year. Given the excessive costs, the waste to the taxpayers' purse and the fact that it did not deliver the increased turnout that you set out when you made a statement about these advance voter pilots that you were looking for, don’t you accept again that the best way to promote advance voter turnout is through the postal vote system?

14:30

I think the postal vote system is certainly one system in a whole variety of ways. One of the advantages to digitisation of the electoral register and having different voting systems is of course that it makes voting more accessible. It makes it more accessible to those who have a particular disability—there are far more options there—and it is far more inclusive. And don't forget, at the same time as the pilots were being carried out, of course, there were normal voting systems—traditional voting systems—taking place as well.

I don’t accept your premise. It is the typical sort of Tory response to pilots that are aimed at modernising the electoral system, creating a twenty-first century robust, accessible and modern electoral system. It seems to me that the Conservative approach is to know the price of everything, but the value of absolutely nothing.

Our reform will continue. There will be further debates in this Chamber. You will have the opportunity at that stage to question and to query. But I tell you one thing we will not do: we will not seek to go down the road that the UK Government is going with its elections Bill, which has been to introduce mechanisms that are aimed at actually restricting people from voting, changing voting systems to make them more advantageous to the Conservative Party, as you did with the mayoralties. This is purely about us, taking, I believe, a leading role—an exemplar role—in modernising our electoral system and using technology to make sure that every opportunity is there for those who want to vote and to encourage participation in the voting system.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. On 5 July, the First Minister said that the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill would be used as a practical example with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. It was for that reason that the Stage 1 process was bypassed. On Monday, in front of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, the Minister for Climate Change said that it has now been expedited for us to catch up with England and Scotland, and that it wasn't going to be used as a practical example with the UK internal market Act. When I asked her when this reasoning changed, she suggested that I ask you, and now I have an opportunity to ask you, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. So, who is correct: the First Minister, back in July, or the environment Minister on Monday?

Well, thank you for the question. I’m glad you’ve had the opportunity to ask it, and the simple answer is: they’re both correct, because there are two aspects to this. One, of course, is that we want to expedite for all the reasons that have been outlined in terms of the importance of the single-use plastics Bill, getting that through, and of course in terms of the timescale within the World Trade Organization time limit that’s been set. So, all those things exist and are perfectly valid.

But there is also a very valid role that I’m still keeping under very close consideration in respect of our challenge to the internal market Act. One of the difficulties I have in terms of making a very clear position and a very clear decision as to precisely what steps we will take is that my option to refer doesn’t arise until the legislation has actually been passed. There may be the issue to consider as to whether, in fact, UK Government would choose to refer this. There may also be the alternative in fact that, within perhaps the not-too-distant future, there’ll be a change of Government and we’ll have the abolition of the internal market Act, which would save us an awful lot of trouble and inconvenience.

So, I suppose really what I’m saying is that all those options are there and the reasons for the expedition are there, but they are twofold. It’s just that, in terms of the precise step forward that we take once the legislation is passed, it is a matter for me to consider at that time and I will of course make a statement at that stage.

14:35

I'm very pleased to hear that answer, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, because that wasn't the impression given at the committee on Monday. I'm sure you'd agree with me there'll always be some policy importance for any legislation—we wouldn't pass any legislation in this place unless it was important. So, reasons could be used to bypass Stage 1, or whatever stage, at any point. But scrutiny is very important, and the removal of the Stage 1 process in this Bill will lead to less stakeholder engagement. The increased use of legislative consent motions in this place leads to less scrutiny. The behaviour of the Westminster Government, and the lack of inter-governmental relations, has also led to a lack of scrutiny. Now, it's correct that Welsh Bills, Bills affecting Welsh people, should be properly scrutinised here. We have seen time and time again knee-jerk legislation, legislation rushed through in Westminster, which is poor law. Less scrutiny leads to poor law. Do you agree with me, do you share with me the concern about a lack of scrutiny of Welsh law, law that affects Welsh people? And if you do share my concern, what are you going to do to address it?

Well, listen, I have said many times, and you've heard me say it as well, about the importance of scrutiny, the importance of the role of your committee, which I think does an incredibly important job in terms of the scrutiny of legislation. You heard me also comment on the constitutional anomalies and dysfunctions that exist in our constitutional relationship with the UK Government, in terms of their legislative programme and the impact that has, and the way in which legislation through the legislative consent process can often bypass, and does in fact bypass, what would be proper scrutiny of legislation. So, we're aware of those particular dysfunctions that exist.

Can I just say, if I firstly just go back to the single-use plastics Bill, that I read the transcript of the evidence given? I don't disagree with anything that is set there. I think the difficulty others have, of course, is that, ultimately, the decision on whether to refer the tactical and strategic issues that are around that, of course, will be within my domain, but don't really materialise in full until I've seen the final version of the Bill, and also until it has come to me for that consideration with regard to whether I exercise, or not, my powers to actually refer it.

And of course, irrespective of all of that at the moment, our position remains completely clear that we do not believe the internal market Act overrides our own devolved powers and responsibilities. We had hoped much, much earlier that that would have been clarified and that the Supreme Court would have taken the option, or the opportunity, to clarify that. It hasn't rejected our arguments; it just basically has said that it needs to consider them when it has a practical example for them. When that practical example comes, we need to be ready to actually do that and to deliver that. But that will be a consideration I'll make in due course, once the legislation has been passed. And I will, of course, make sure that there is a proper statement and debate in this Chamber.

Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill

3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact on Wales of the recently introduced Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill? OQ58486

4. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the implications for Wales of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill? OQ58493

Thank you for your question. A full copy of the Bill, including new policy content on the sunsetting of retained EU law, was only shared with Welsh Government officials less than 24 hours before its introduction on 22 September. We are giving the Bill due consideration to understand the impact on Wales.

I take it that that was said in the positive vein, and that you are actually going to be very positive about bringing more law here that we can all look at. Because as the Counsel General will know, Wales, along with the majority of the British people, voted unreservedly to leave the European Union—I nearly said 'onion' then—and to remove ourselves from the unelected and dysfunctional bureaucracy in Brussels. [Interruption.] The purpose of the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill is to begin to decide, of course, which parts of former EU law should be retained, and which should expire, in conjunction with the devolved administrations, as outlined by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This legislation was never intended to remain on the statute book permanently. Yet, I do feel that there seems to be some thought by you, Counsel General, that retaining laws introduced by an unelected bureaucracy in a foreign country is indeed preferable to having those laws reviewed by a democratically elected UK Government, of which—[Interruption.]

14:40

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

You need to ask—. The Member needs to ask the question, and Members need to allow her to ask the question.

Thank you. Of which, whether you like it or not, Wales—

—Wales remains a very integral part. Can you confirm why there is this negativity? Diolch.

Well, can I start by saying that I suppose it's very clear that the Member hasn't read the legislation, otherwise she might have more concerns about the way in which it is proceeding?

The first part of it is to say that I had meetings with Mr Rees-Mogg before the change in Prime Minister, and I've had a recent meeting as well, specifically to discuss the Bill. The issues that I think concern us, first of all, are that what has now appeared—and it appears to be the result of a very unfortunate and ill-thought-out comment that was made during the Prime Ministerial leadership election—is that, suddenly, we would get rid of all this stuff by the end of December 2023, without any real consideration of what the implications of that were. So, that is something that is a major concern because there are 2,400 of these. We could be sitting non-stop, every hour, every second, every minute of the day for the next five years and we would not properly be able to consider 2,400 items of legislation.

Secondly, it does not deal also with the issue of devolved legislation. And, also, what it does not do is actually delineate what the aspects are of those 2,400. All we actually have is a schedule listing all those items. So, firstly, there is an enormous amount of work, which Scotland has also raised, I think, and we have raised, that actually has the potential to derail the whole legislative processes of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and indeed the UK Government. So, it's most unfortunate that it is being presented in that particular way. Nevertheless, we will be looking at that to address how we might be able to deal with it. We have to do that. 

The second thing is that there is some provision for an extension of the sunset in certain areas. At the moment, that is only with the UK Government. So, we have made a number of very important points. Firstly, in respect of the power to extend, it should be one that Welsh Ministers should also have. We've also said that the power to assimilate, restate and revoke, clearly, will be something for Welsh Ministers as well. The ability to actually intervene in any legal proceedings where there's the issue of the status of EU law should also be with Welsh Ministers, both in respect of devolved legislation, but also UK legislation that has an impact on devolved responsibilities.

So, I suppose the other point as well is that, of course, we have an approach that is one where we actually want to know what the implications would be of point-blank revocation in terms of standards in so many areas. And the difficulty is, at this stage, that it is impossible to evaluate what all of those are.

So, having had the meeting with the Minister on 28 September, I've sought assurances. I can say that the meeting was very positive. I think there were very positive commitments that were expressed in respect of this not overturning any devolved powers or responsibilities; that we would be in a position to retain the legislation that we wished to retain; that any changes to legislation in devolved areas will remain with us. Now, as we know with the UK Government, I take that in the spirit in which it has been offered, and we'll wait to see what that means in detail.

But, whatever happens, what it does not do is get us away from the fact that this has an enormous cost in terms of legal resources. It'll have a financial cost, an enormous financial cost, and an enormous legal resource cost as well. We will certainly need to look at whether there are areas whereby—[Interruption.] 

14:45

I thought it was a timely fire alarm. 

So, there are very significant implications. With respect to the Member, I just want to say this: what you mustn't do is underestimate the actual impact, the actual challenge, the actual demand that this has. I think there are serious concerns across all the Governments and nations of the UK, in the various departments, even in the UK Government, as to how on earth this can actually be delivered within the timescale that is being suggested. Beware of promises that are made at haste and then repented at leisure.

My approach will be to ensure that, firstly, the promises that have been made in respect of devolved responsibilities are upheld. We will do everything we can to protect the standards that we consider are important within Wales, and this will be a matter that I will, obviously, be making further statements on in due course. Of course, it will engage very much the legislative consent process and also create an enormous amount of work for the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.

That reminds us all that we need to check our phones are off or on silent before we enter the Chamber. [Laughter.] Huw Irranca-Davies.

Indeed, Dirprwy Lywydd. I don't know whose phone that was that went off, but clearly the Llywydd is going to have a word with them, I'm sure. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, can I just check, is this grouped?

It is, thank you very much. Counsel General, the assurance you've given following the meeting you've recently had gives some quiet assurance to us that the UK Government is minded to tread very carefully on devolved competences in this area, but I know you've previously said that this Bill, if we get it wrong, could give UK Ministers unfettered authority to legislate in devolved areas, so it shows the criticality of getting that right and having real respect both up and down the M4 corridor. 

So, my query is this, Counsel General: you've just mentioned the workload—we like heavy workloads on our committee—with 2,400 pieces of legislation. We don't know which of those yet actually do trespass on devolved areas and which are within reserved competence. We're going to have to deal with them by the end of next year. Have you got any suggestions how we work that into our programme of work on top of everything else we're doing?

Can I perhaps start with the opening of your question, which is your statement that your committee enjoys heavy workloads, because that is something that will be emerging? It is a serious issue and I think we need to give it some very careful thought. We are giving careful thought to whether there are ways in which we can restate, for example, en bloc, legislation and then give us more time that way to do it.

The initial point that I raised, firstly, is that, obviously, we need to have the proper powers. There should be no intrusion into devolved powers. I've been given those assurances. Now, obviously, the devil is always in the detail in legislation, but it is a body of work that could be similar in scale to, and probably even larger than, that we had for the retained EU law in preparation for leaving the European Union. For that, you'll recall Welsh Government made over 75 correcting statutory instruments and consented to over 230 UK Government statutory instruments. Part of the difficulty is that we don't really know, and it is an enormous task just to evaluate those 2,400. The other thing is, of course, the point I've made, and that is the detrimental impact it may have on really important legislation that we are taking through this particular Chamber—Government Bills and also individual Member's Bills as well. 

Secondly, the other aspect is that, of course, one of the dangers of a wholesale revocation of legislation is you don't know what the unintended consequences are. Many pieces of legislation have all sorts of interdependencies, and we have to make sure we do our best to try and understand that, but the resource of doing that is basically resource that would be taken away from other areas. There were issues on deregulation. I was given an assurance that although this creates restrictions in terms of issues relating to regulatory burdens, which, I have to say, are defined in a very loose and equivocal way, it does does not actually prevent us from protecting through enforcement and through regulation those areas that we think are important when it comes to maintaining standards.

So, it's an ongoing piece of work. There will be a lot of considerations for your committee. The assurance that I give you is that, of course, I will do everything I can to work as closely as possible with the committee on this process as we go along, and we'll know more in due course.  

14:50
Trade Union Rights

5. What legal advice has the Counsel General given to Welsh Ministers regarding their ability to protect trade union rights? OQ58497

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government is committed to working in social partnership with our trade union colleagues. We will continue to do all that we can to support the important work that trade unions undertake on behalf of their members.

I thank the Counsel General for that response. In her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party, the current Prime Minister said that she would bring strict rules in for trade unions, extending the notice period for industrial action to 28 days and increasing the threshold that needs to be reached to have industrial action so that it has a mandate—a far higher one than the mandate that she has within her own party. It's clear that she has no understanding of the circumstances and conditions of many of those within the workforce today—look at Amazon, the Royal Mail, the train workforce, barristers and now nurses here in Wales suggesting that they will take industrial action. Does the Minister agree that it's time to devolve employment law to Wales or, even better, to have independence for Wales? 

Thank you very much for the question, and you covered a number of areas that we have discussed and debated in this Chamber on many occasions. Would I like to see employment law devolved? I think employment law is moving to a situation where more and more of it needs to be devolved. The struggle we have had in terms of how we actually legislate in terms of those economic areas, trade union areas, and so on, has always been one where we've had to tread very, very carefully. The Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, of course, creates what I think is very innovative legislation. I think it is very important in that we would become the first part of the UK to create a statutory framework, a legal framework for partnership between trade unions, Government and business. And I think the partnership arrangements that we have had and developed over the years are an example of why our relationship with organised labour has been so much more effective, and why, in fact, we've avoided strikes within Wales that have occurred in the UK. 

Can I also say that this is a response, obviously, to a number of industrial actions that are taking place at the moment, all of which have been obtained with scales of voting that go way above any of those barriers? So, the question is: what is it really about? It's about the UK Government, which, again, is seeking ways to denude and disempower trade unions, and what has become clear during the COVID period and earlier is, of course, the important role that trade unions have played in maintaining standards and conditions of working people. I think it also has a very significant role in terms of the democracy we talk about, and the role of law that we talk about within our society and that we want to have as a standard within Wales. You want to look around the world at any dictatorship. You can judge the quality of democracy, I believe, in any country by the extent of freedom that its trade unions have—the ability of people to organise and stand up to government. Sometimes, that means organisations taking actions that cause inconvenience to others, but it's a fundamental precept of democracy. And I think any move in terms of this particular direction would be anti-democratic. It would be an increasing move, as we have seen with the Tory Government, towards authoritarianism, and I think it's something that we would want to resist at every opportunity possible. 

Racial Discrimination within the Justice System

6. Will the Counsel General provide an update on the Welsh Government’s efforts to reduce racial discrimination within the justice system? OQ58495

Thank you very much for your question. We have worked with the criminal justice board for Wales partners to develop the criminal justice anti-racist plan for Wales, which was published in September. This document sets out seven commitments to realise an anti-racist criminal justice system, complementing our 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan'.

14:55

Thank you for that, Minister. Recent data from the Wales Governance Centre paints an extremely worrying picture of racism within the justice system. As this information was not publicly available, they gathered it through freedom of information requests. They found that black and mixed race people are more than four times more likely to be arrested than white people, which is twice as likely as the corresponding figure in England. I’m aware, as you’ve said, that the Government is in the process of developing its 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', and the Government, I know, is committed to tackling systemic racism. I’d like to ask you: do you believe there is a need to collect and publish data on this subject in a systematic way in order to ensure that we understand the scale of the problem? Also, what steps can the Government take to reduce the problem? Finally, do you believe that it would be easier to deal with the problem if the justice system and policing were devolved?

Thank you for the question. You raise a number of issues that I know are under very serious consideration and, I know, the Minister for Social Justice has been looking at and addressing and working on for a long period of time. The first thing you raised was in terms of data. Well, of course data has been something that has been a massive concern to us—the disaggregation of data, being able to obtain data within Wales with regard to the criminal justice system, to enable us to assess the sort of policy that's needed. You need that database, and so on. Now, that is recognised by many within the justice system, and, of course, I accept that it is not necessarily that easy to suddenly start converting systems to do it. It has started, and there is, of course, a dashboard of information that the Minister for Social Justice has been very engaged in and responsible for delivering, which is giving us much better information.

But the very examples that the Member raised are precisely the reasons why the criminal justice anti-racist plan for Wales was developed, and which the Minister for Social Justice published on 8 September, because this strengthens our commitment—the commitment from devolved and from non-devolved partners to tackle racism in all its forms. I know the Minister for Social Justice will be continuing that particular work. I’m also reassured that an independent oversight and advisory panel has been established and will feed in individual lived experience and provide advice. I think the crux of it now that we actually have the plan is the evaluation of that plan, how it works, what it actually delivers, and the question that’s been asked today is one that I hope will be a question that continues to reappear as we begin to assess the challenges that are faced within not just the criminal justice system, but the justice system overall in terms of the representation and the balance and presentation of the justice system, all of which are things about the diversity of our justice system overall.

In terms of the devolution of justice, well, it’s precisely because of reasons like that, all those devolved responsibilities, that our case has been put together in ‘Delivering Justice for Wales’. The devolution of justice is actually such an important and natural step, because it integrates the delivery of justice with all those devolved social policies and areas that actually can make the delivery of justice better and more effective. Ultimately, that is what it is about.

The Supreme Court

7. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the role of the Supreme Court in the administration of justice in Wales? OQ58498

Thank you for the question. I am pleased to note the resumption of Welsh representation on the Supreme Court following the reappointment of Lord Lloyd-Jones last month. I continue to raise the necessity for formal, rather than fortuitous, representation of the Welsh judiciary in our highest court with the Lord Chancellor and justice Ministers. 

I thank the Counsel General for that response. The Counsel General will be aware of the case in the Supreme Court on historical development plans in Aberdyfi in Dwyfor Meirionnydd. Now, I understand that only a few cases from Wales reach the Supreme Court, and some of these cases relate to devolved issues, such as planning. But of course, as the Supreme Court sits in London, there is sometimes a question as to the understanding of devolved issues. As the Counsel General said, I welcome the recent appointment. When Lady Hale was president of the Supreme Court, she would ensure that cases relating to devolved nations were heard in those nations, but this practice hasn't continued, and the case of Aberdyfi is to be heard in London. Does the Counsel General agree with me that we should ensure that the Supreme Court comes to the devolved nations? What discussions has the Counsel General had to secure that?

15:00

Firstly, thank you for the question. Again, it is an important point. Of course, I met with Baroness Hale very recently—in fact, earlier this week. I do welcome the steps that are being taken in the Supreme Court to bring justice closer to the communities it serves outside London. There was a sitting here, as you say, in July 2019, and I look forward to there being further sittings of the Supreme Court in Wales. The point you raise, though, is a particularly valid one, and that is that where issues that relate to Wales or Welsh law take place, and if they go to the Supreme Court, they should be heard in Wales. That's something I very much support and will encourage. I'm prepared to look at that further with a view to perhaps further representations being made. I have read the reports on that. I certainly do agree that we want the Supreme Court to deal with Welsh matters in Wales. I don't think there is a closed door on that with regard to the Supreme Court. I suspect it may be, as much as anything, something to do with the lawyers that were engaged. But, it should be, as a matter of principle, that the Supreme Court hears where is appropriate, and it would be appropriate in cases, I believe, that involve Welsh law to be heard in Wales. I think that is a requirement for the future.

The Right to Protest

8. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers in respect of the right to protest? OQ58478

Thank you for the question. It is vital that people have the right to have their voices heard and express their concerns freely in a safe and peaceful way. I will continue to impress upon the UK Government that Wales's views must be heard in respect of the importance of the right to protest.

Thank you for the answer, Counsel General. Following the proclamation of the ascension of King Charles III, a number of arrests of peaceful protesters were made. A barrister was even threatened with arrest for carrying a blank piece of paper. These incidents are significant because they demonstrate the draconian limits the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 now places on our freedoms in the UK. Counsel General, do you agree with me that the right to protest peacefully is a vital part of our democracy? What representations have you made to the UK Government since these arrests? Thank you.

Thank you for the question. I saw some of those events; I saw some of the arrests that took place within London that caused me very serious concerns—concerns because at the same time media were standing up and quite rightly condemning the arrest of people standing up in Red Square, standing up in Moscow, in Russian towns, with blank sheets of paper and being arrested. To see that happening on our streets, I think, was most unfortunate.

I think there was an indication of the lack of understanding of a piece of authoritarian legislation that was brought in, which we actually opposed and refused legislative consent for—the police, crime and sentencing legislation. I think it also reflected what I think was confusion and a lack of understanding on behalf of the police officers themselves as to what, actually, their powers were. So, there's an important issue there that needs to be raised, and I will use every opportunity I can to raise it, in terms of the exercise of power, power of the state, which is exercised through the police, but on the basis of the protection of the rights and civil liberties that we all have.

I appreciate the sensitive and considered approach taken by police forces in Wales, because during the recent period of mourning, I'm very aware that they acted with great tact and consideration in order to ensure that the right to protest and free expression was maintained across that period. That was particularly the case during the visit to Wales by the King on Friday 9 September, where the police were able to support a protest site and maintain public safety as part of their approach to the day. So, even at a time of great national sadness, it's still important for people to be able to maintain the right to protest and the right to free expression of their thoughts and beliefs.

15:05
Legal Challenge to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020

9. What were the costs to the Welsh Government of the legal challenge to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020? OQ58472

Thank you for your question. The Welsh Government took the important step to challenge the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 because it purports to undermine the devolution settlement. The costs incurred by the Welsh Government for doing so are £132,283.67.

Thank you, Counsel General—£132,000. A freedom of information request stated that the Welsh Government have spent over £200,000 in court cases against UK Government, which could far better be used supporting the Welsh people. Will the Counsel General put minds at ease and ensure that Labour Ministers won't waste any more money on politically motivated, self-indulgent legal challenges against the UK Government, and focus more of your time and energies on the real problems that Wales faces, with one fifth of the Welsh population on an NHS waiting list?

It really does emphasise that old saying of Nye Bevan that the Tory party know the price of everything and the value of nothing, because one of the functions of any parliamentary democracy and any Government is to ensure that it exercises its responsibilities in terms of its obligations and powers. When it becomes necessary for clarification through the court system, which is the only mechanism for doing so, it is important that that is done. The decision to seek that clarity was absolutely right.

One could turn round and say that the millions of pounds it cost to introduce the internal market Act would have been better spent elsewhere, in which case we wouldn't have needed to challenge it. We have still not got the clarity that we want in terms of the actual functioning of the internal market Act or even the proper rationale and reasoning as to why it was introduced, other than as a sort of backdoor attempt to undermine devolution.

The fact of the matter is that the arguments that were raised were perfectly valid ones. They were ones where legal opinion was taken, legal position was properly considered, the constitutional issues were considered, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard our responsibilities as a Government. I believe that it is a matter that has, probably, majority support in the Senedd.

3. Questions to the Senedd Commission

Item 3 this afternoon is questions to the Senedd Commission. There is only one today. Rhys ab Owen.

Football World Cup

1. What events will be held on the Senedd estate to coincide with the football world cup? OQ58482

As part of our strategy to showcase the Senedd at the heart of Welsh public life, we are discussing plans to celebrate the men's football team at the FIFA World Cup. We have been in discussion with the Football Association of Wales and other partners since the team qualified for the tournament, and we are exploring a number of opportunities. We will be sharing the plans with this Senedd as soon as they're confirmed.

Thank you, Llywydd. I very much look forward to hearing about that. I'm not surprised that you've already been having discussions. It delights me to see children from the Urdd centre, many of them refugees, playing cricket and other games against the wall of the Senedd. It's so wonderful to see all the schools that visit the Senedd. It is so wonderful that we have a Parliament in Wales that is so open to the public. I do very much hope that the world cup can give Wales such a platform and it can give the Senedd such a platform too, to demonstrate to the people of Wales, once again, that we are open to them. Thank you.

Like you, I was delighted last summer watching the refugees from Afghanistan playing football against the walls of the Senedd in the evening. Of course, we all take great pride in the success of the men's team, in terms of qualifying for the world cup. We hope, after tomorrow night, that the women's team for Wales will take an important step towards realising their dream as well. And we as a Senedd are very supportive of that. We want to see success for the national team. We want them to feel that their Senedd, as players, supports them fully, and we'll take every action that we can to do so. I don't want to distract them overly by insisting that they come here to the Senedd before the championship. I want them to focus on the football field specifically. Ultimately, following their success, hopefully we will be able to welcome as many of them as possible, players and management team, here, and that all of Wales will take great pride in the success of our team and the supporters in Qatar, on the field and off the field.

15:10
4. Topical Questions
5. 90-second Statements

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. The annual Denbigh Plum Feast, which takes place on the first Saturday of October, was held last weekend to coincide with the plum's ripeness at this time of year. The Denbigh plum is the only native plum in Wales, dating back to the 1700s, and the event, which takes place at Denbigh town hall every year, is an opportunity for local producers and businesses to show off their products to the public. This year didn't disappoint, with hundreds of people walking through the town hall across the day. It's always a pleasure to go to Denbigh and support local, and the Denbigh Plum Feast provides no better platform to do this.

We are lucky to have so many local food and drink producers and small businesses in Denbighshire. I was so pleased to meet and to sample a few of them, and to see the fantastic turnout of people enjoying themselves and seeing what the area has to offer. Across the day, people have the opportunity to browse the stalls, meet and speak to local producers, sample and purchase the brilliant food and drink on offer, grab a photo or selfie with Peter Plum himself, listen to music from local bands, or even enjoy a tipple at the bar. All in all, the day was a great success, and I wish Nia, Peter Plum, and all the Denbigh plum team and participating local producers all the very best in their future endeavours. And if you, Deputy Llywydd, or any Member of the Senedd, would like to join me next year, I'd be delighted to welcome you to the wonderful medieval town of Denbigh. Diolch yn fawr iawn, and long live the Denbigh plum.

6. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Impact of migraine on children and young people

The next item is the Member debate under Standing Order 11.21—the impact of migraine on children and young people. I call on Mark Isherwood to move the motion.

Motion NDM8074 Mark Isherwood, Rhun ap Iorwerth, Sam Rowlands, Tom Giffard, Mabon ap Gwynfor

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes:  

a) the impact that migraine has on the 1 in 10 children and young people who live with it, including at school and their day-to-day lives;

b) that young people who are affected often report that migraine makes it harder to do their schoolwork, meaning that without proper support, the condition can impact their educational attainment, as well as disrupt their family and social life;

c) that research by the Migraine Trust suggests that education and health professionals often do not understand migraine, or have access to training and resources to effectively support children and young people who are impacted;

2. Calls on the Welsh Government to work with The Migraine Trust and representative bodies for schools, health services, and parents/carers to:

a) strengthen guidance;

b) provide training on how to support and accommodate young people impacted by migraine; and

c) provide resources for the parents/carers of children living with migraine and for the young people themselves on how to take control of their own care.

Motion moved.

Diolch. Migraine is a common, painful and debilitating condition that affects an estimated one in 10 children and young people. According to Brain Research UK, the working name of the Brain Research Trust, migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions. Whilst migraine has a significant impact on the lives of adults who live with it, its early impact on children and young people can be even more severe. 

It is a complex condition, with a wide variety of symptoms. For many people, the main feature is a painful headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision; sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells; feeling sick; and vomiting. The symptoms will vary from person to person, and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks. Attacks may differ in length and frequency also. Migraine attacks usually last between four and 72 hours. Migraines can have an enormous impact on work, family and social lives.

The cause of migraine isn't known, but it's believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. According to US research, if a child has one parent with migraine, they have a 50 per cent chance of developing migraine headaches. This jumps to 75 per cent if both parents are affected. A family history of migraine is also linked to earlier onset of migraine episodes.

Migraine is the third most common disease in the world, behind dental decay and tension-type headache, with an estimated global prevalence of 14.7 per cent—around one in seven people. According to NHS England, approximately 10 million people in the UK live with migraine. Migraine affects three times as many women as men, with the higher rate being most likely hormonally driven. Research suggests that 3,000 migraine attacks occur every day for each million of the general population. This equates to over 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK. 

There are different treatments available for children with migraine, and the most suitable one will depend on their medical history, age and symptoms. Further, migraine is protected under the law. As such, if a child's migraine recurs over a period of a year and negatively impacts on their ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities, they may be classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, putting an obligation on schools to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled child to ensure that they're not put at a major disadvantage. And if an affected child or young person does not have an individual healthcare plan, it may be necessary to discuss developing a plan that identifies their needs and to make suitable tailored adjustments for them. 

The National Migraine Centre state that, because migraine in children can involve subtly different symptoms to adult migraine, half of those affected never receive a diagnosis. With migraines in children and young people, stomach pains are more frequent. Studies suggest that around 60 per cent of children aged between seven and 15 experience headaches, but a diagnosis of migraine may be delayed because tummy pain, vomiting, travel sickness, limb pain and episodic dizziness can all confuse the picture. Children may experience migraine without a headache, which is less common in adults. 

During last month's Migraine Awareness Week, the Migraine Trust launched new research, which found that children often feel left out of their own healthcare and think that their care is poor. The findings also suggest that migraine can limit their ability to take part in education, social activities and other important parts of growing up. Ninety per cent of affected young people report that migraine made it harder to do their school work, whilst 76 per cent of education professionals surveyed felt that their school did not provide information, resources and processes to help these children. It can also be hard for children to understand and explain their pain, and there are fewer treatment options for them than there are for adults. The Migraine Trust report, 'Dismissed for too long: the impact of migraine on children and young people', therefore calls for clearer guidance and training for both health and education professionals on understanding and supporting young people impacted by migraine, and for more resources for the parents and carers of children living with migraine. They suggest that young people themselves need more information about their condition and how to take control of their own care, and that pathways and reviews of local migraine care in the NHS should account for the impact on children and young people. 

Key findings of the report include that schools don't have the knowledge or policies in place to help children with migraine. A survey of parents and carers with a child living with migraine found that 70 per cent were concerned about the impact of migraine on their child's education. Asked how often their child had to stay home from school because of their migraine, over half—51 per cent—said at least once a month. And 85 per cent of parents and carers had spoken to their child's school about their migraine, but only 17 per cent were completely satisfied with the support from the school in managing their migraine. 

A survey of children with migraine found that 90 per cent said that their migraine made it harder to do their school work. However, when asked if they think that their school has the information about migraine to help them manage it at school, 64 per cent said no. When asked if they had ever been taught about migraine at school, 90 per cent said that they hadn't. A survey of 64 education professionals found that three quarters, 76 per cent, felt that their school did not have the information, resources and processes to help children in school with migraine. For example, school policies were often not geared towards helping children manage their migraine triggers and avoid being unnecessarily sent home. This compares to other common long-term conditions, such as asthma, which schools often have plans in place for. 

Children don't feel that they're getting the healthcare they need. Common symptoms of migraine in children, such as abdominal pain, often look different from adult symptoms and can be missed, which can slow down a diagnosis and may result in a child's symptoms being missed. Of the children and young people responding to their survey, 33 per cent felt that the treatment for their migraine was poor, 30 per cent said it was fair, 23 per cent said it was good, and only 8 per cent said it was very good. None described it as 'excellent'. Seventy two per cent of the children with migraine have said that it made them feel worried. Children, particularly younger children, often need help in explaining their migraine and need to be included in discussions about their treatment. There needs to be better communication, where possible, between health services and schools and colleges. As a case study in the report states,

'I missed a lot of school last year because of my migraines and I couldn't do the things I enjoy such as football and dancing and that made me sad.'

The report's recommendations on how problems could be addressed include that local health boards,

'must include children and young people in reviews of local migraine needs and ensure they have services to meet those needs.'

and that local health boards,

'must ensure there are strong links between migraine care and mental health services. Mental health must also be a component of the healthcare pathway for children with migraine'.

The Welsh Government should explore ways that it could support pharmacists' training on the management of migraine in both adults and children, and work with education partners to ensure that teaching staff have training and information on this issue, so that they can support children and young people effectively. As a 2021 academic review into children and migraine states,

'Migraines negatively influence the quality of life of affected children. Early diagnosis and management decisions are needed to reduce the burden and maximize the treatment outcome.'

The Migraine Trust would welcome working with the Welsh Government and health boards on making progress in these areas, and as our motion states, we call on the Welsh Government,

'to work with The Migraine Trust and representative bodies for schools, health services, and parents/carers to (a) strengthen guidance; (b) provide training on how to support and accommodate young people impacted by migraine; and (c) provide resources for the parents/carers of children living with migraine and for the young people themselves on how to take control of their own care.'

Migraine in children and young people is common, with a considerable impact upon quality of life, yet it remains undiagnosed and poorly treated. Less than 10 per cent of children with problematic headache will seek medical help for their problem. Migraine can have severe impacts on the life of a child, affecting family relationships, school life and social activities.

The pattern of migraines in teenagers starts to change. Migraine affects boys and girls equally until puberty, after which migraine is more common in girls. A late or missed diagnosis can result in poor management of their symptoms, anxiety about future attacks, poor school attendance, inappropriate or ineffective medication use, a loss of confidence and low self-esteem. Severe pain and vomiting that aren't treated effectively can mean that children often have to remain at home during their attacks and are unable to participate in normal daily activities. I move and commend this motion accordingly.

15:20

I thank Mark Isherwood for that presentation to the motion. Of course, fair play to him—he's a very intelligent man; we've heard a great number of statistics relating to people who suffer from migraines. But there is a face for each of those statistics. There are lives being affected that lie behind all of those statistics, and I have loved ones who live with migraines, and who are therefore part of those statistics.

Now, I’m sure that we all hear people making light of migraines from time to time; maybe babbling to someone can bring on a migraine, as some people say, or when someone is suffering from a migraine, the advice is to sit in a corner and take a paracetamol. But it's not only a headache; a migraine is more than that. That does an injustice to the condition and to those who suffer from it, because it is so much more than just a headache, and as the motion states, it has a detrimental impact on people's daily lives, and the lives of children.

I had the privilege of hosting a drop-in event with the Migraine Trust recently—and I thank everyone who attended that event—and having an opportunity to talk to people who understand the subject and who specialise in the area, was eye-opening. From understanding the different things that can lead to a migraine, such as stress or even inconsistent eating patterns, to the fact, as Mark Isherwood said, that a migraine can be in the stomach, and that link between the brain and the stomach coming to the fore once again. But, unfortunately, not many people know why they are suffering from migraines, or what leads to an attack of the migraine. Understanding of the disease is very shallow in the scientific community, let alone among lay people, and if that understanding is so shallow in the specialised world, then how can we expect teachers or colleagues to recognize the symptoms and be able to ensure that steps are in place to help people who are having a migraine attack?

This motion is modest in nature, it's not asking for much. But it's an important first step in the right direction, which will help to increase understanding and awareness. Finally, could I therefore take the opportunity to thank the Migraine Trust for its work in the field and its willingness to collaborate with the Government, health boards and other authorities in order to achieve what it's asking for? Thank you very much.

15:25

I want to thank my colleagues for tabling this debate this afternoon. Migraine is a curse for those who suffer from it. In adults, it can be debilitating, but for young people, adolescents in particular, it can have a major impact on their schooling, their families and their social lives.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I am not entirely sure what the current Welsh Government guidance is for schools on managing migraine. I could not find anything on the Welsh Government website; Public Health Wales is also light on this subject too. There's a brief reference to migraine at work, but nothing I could see on schools and how to respond. My feeling is that the motion is right to call for strengthening of the guidance, and I believe that we should consider how to support schools and their teachers in addressing a range of issues that would positively impact on those who suffer with migraine.

In particular, I would like the Minister to consider: what can be advised around the nature of the school environment, especially the lack of ventilation; individual pupils being supported to eat and drink to address the risks associated with a lack of nutrition and dehydration, which could be a cause of migraine; and the development of school policies for those with enduring conditions, such as migraine and how the school can manage this, especially in supporting any treatment that a young person might be on. We should also attempt to learn more about the numbers of young people with migraine—what data do we have, what does it tell us, and what else do we need to know?

I'd like to think that some relatively straightforward steps might remind our schools about the challenges that young people with migraine encounter, and support ways in which the risk of a migraine attack could be mitigated. This is an important issue. It is not one that has had much attention, and I am pleased that we are considering this today. Thank you.

I was very pleased to co-submit this debate today. It's clear to me and to other Members, as we've already heard, that there is far more that needs to be done in order to assist the high number of children and young people who do suffer migraine regularly in Wales. It's a huge problem that's been ignored for too long, if we're honest, and, too often, it is treated like any other short-term illness, but it's more than that.

The truth is that migraine is a neurological condition that can have serious consequences in the long term on a child's educational performance, never mind their self-confidence and their social lives. Children who suffer migraine can miss up to three months of school per year—we see that in statistics. We need to do more to tackle that issue, clearly, and that's what we're calling for today.

The Migraine Trust and other organisations offer a way forward, including providing the right support, not just to those who are suffering, but also to teachers, parents and the carers responsible for those children.

Research also shows that teachers are uncertain when it comes to helping individuals with migraine, but simple steps can be taken in order to alleviate the pain—drinking enough water, having access to a dark room, possibly. But, at the moment, schools and teachers aren't adequately trained to help pupils through these experiences. Almost 17,000 unnecessary trips are made to hospitals every year because of migraine. By providing better training, I'm confident that that number could be reduced, reducing the stress on the health service, and of course ensuring that children don't miss school too, which is key.

There are examples of good practice in Wales. In north Wales, for example, patients have seen benefit from the opening of the Walton Centre in Holywell. It's reduced waiting times for patients with serious neurological conditions. But, unfortunately, the same services aren't available in all parts of the country, and that's a well-rehearsed story, of course. And, generally speaking, there are huge problems in terms of waiting times, the resources available to patients, including children. People can be waiting up to two years for treatment in certain cases. At the moment, only three of the seven health boards, I believe, have the resources to treat the most serious neurological cases. Simply, we need a national plan to enhance services for migraine, to correspond to the fact that so many people are suffering as a result of migraine.

But there are other practical steps that can be taken too to improve the quality of life of children and people who do suffer: improving training for teachers, as I've mentioned; sharing guidance with children and young people as to how to manage their own care; and, yes, improving the provision of care through the health service for those who suffer most. The Government needs to tackle what is the country's most common headache, but, as we've already heard, which is far more than that too, and that is to ensure that it doesn't have too great an influence on the educational and social lives of our children and young people. And that's why we're asking the Senedd not only to note the motion as it appears before us, but also to support the principles underpinning what we've brought forward today.

15:30

Diolch yn fawr. And I'd like to thank Mark Isherwood for raising this really important issue. Mark, I can always rely on you to teach me something new in these debates—you always have so many facts and figures at your fingertips, and they're always very useful for us to take note of, and certainly I'll be making sure that we take note of those and follow up some of those issues. Forgive me for not being in the Chamber today.

Migraine is, as we've heard, one of the most common neurological conditions, and yet we very rarely speak about it and its impact in this Chamber. Many of us will have had first-hand experience of migraine, or some insight into the enormously debilitating impact it can have on sufferers and their quality of life. And as we've heard this afternoon, migraine is a severe and painful long-term health condition—so much more than just a really bad headache. And unfortunately, for the majority of children and young people with migraine, this will follow them into adulthood.

And perhaps the cruellest aspect of the condition is its ability to strike with little or no warning, and with no rhyme or reason, disrupting and upsetting really special occasions and everyday events. And the potential for disruption to children, as many of you have noted, and young people's education, their ability to learn and their ability to take part in all other aspects of school life, can be clearly understood. And I understand this, as my eldest brother was someone who suffered migraines and took literally months off school, affecting his education considerably.

Now, in the time I have this afternoon, I want to highlight some important measures that are already in place to support children and young people in a learning environment. Now, under section 175 of the Education Act 2002, local authorities and governing bodies must make arrangements to ensure their functions

'are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children'

in school or other places of learning. This includes supporting children with healthcare needs.

Now, to support this, our 'Supporting learners with healthcare needs' guidance contains both statutory guidance and non-statutory advice to support learners to ensure minimal disruption to their education. This emphasises the need for a collaborative approach from education and health professionals, placing the learner at the centre of decision making, and of course it's important also to involve parents. 

It's further supported by quick guides for staff, parents and young people. Health professionals would be involved in the preparation of an individual healthcare plan to address any health needs that impinge on the child's or young person's time at school. We've got some good examples of where requirements and the spirit of the Act and its guidance are being put into practice. Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has developed a recovering from illness paediatric service, designed specifically to meet the needs of children and young people who are coping with illnesses. The team works with children, young people and their families to support them in coping with the very real challenges of having a health condition and aims to help them manage symptoms that can get in the way of doing things that really matter to them. 

Almost all of the children and young people referred to the team have difficulty in reaching the required attendance rates in schools. A crucial element is collaboration with schools and primary care practitioners to help these young people to access education in a way that is appropriate to their needs. That includes having discussions with parents, of course. 

The team have planned a support pack which includes guidance to be used in school to help to identify, understand and support children and young people who may be having difficulty in accessing education and who need support or additional intervention. And although this was originally planned for children with symptoms related to long COVID and other illnesses that cause chronic exhaustion and pain, the package can be used with many of those children suffering with symptoms that can interrupt their education.

Legislation, advice and guidance are important, of course, but the work developed by colleagues at Aneurin Bevan health board gives us an example of how to translate this into something practical that makes a very real difference to people and their outcomes. The work developed within Aneurin Bevan has been peer reviewed across all health boards, and plans are in place to develop this in a 'once for Wales' support plan. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, any interruption to a young person's education can have a life-long impact, but with the right support this can be mitigated. Together, we all have an important role to play, and we must play our part together to create the necessary environment to allow this to happen. Measures are already in place to allow professional and agency collaborations with organisations such as the Wales Neurological Alliance. We as a Government are supportive of the work of the Migraine Trust, but it's important that our partners that deliver services on the ground can be flexible in the way they create their own partnerships. 

Migraine is one of over 250 neurological conditions, many of which are supported by third sector organisations, which do excellent work, of course. But it would be impossible for us as a Government to work with each and every one of those individually. Representatives of the Migraine Trust could ask to become members of the Wales Neurological Alliance, and this would create a mechanism whereby they could work closely with the Welsh Government. 

Children and young people who have any healthcare needs, including migraines, must be supported to deliver their full potential, and that is what we will be doing within Welsh Government. Thank you.

15:40

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and in closing today's important debate I ought to thank my colleague Mark Isherwood for submitting today's Member debate and also my fellow co-submitters Tom Giffard, Rhun ap Iorwerth and Mabon ap Gwynfor. I also thank the Minister for her response in appreciating today's points. As outlined by Mark Isherwood in opening today's debate, amongst a number of statistics that Members have commented on, one that really struck me was the simple fact that it's one in 10 children and young people who live with migraine. And, of course, this has a significant impact on their day-to-day lives, along with their time in school. I'm sure many Members—and it's already been mentioned—in this Chamber know of family members or friends on whom migraine has such a significant impact and suffer from it greatly.  

As outlined by Rhun ap Iorwerth, if a child suffers from migraines, this can often lead to children struggling to complete to their schoolwork, showing that, without proper support, migraines can severely impact educational attainment. And one thing that struck me during this debate this afternoon, as mentioned by Mabon ap Gwynfor, is the fact that research by the Migraine Trust has suggested that education and health professionals, regretfully, don't often understand migraines, and, as Altaf Hussain outlined, it's those professionals perhaps who sometimes don't have access to the training and resources to effectively support children and young people who are impacted by migraines. 

Of course, there are actions that can be taken to help those children and young people who are suffering, and these have been eloquently outlined by Members during today's debate. Minister, whilst you outlined some of the current work and shared a clear understanding of the concern around migraine, I'm not sure we'd be having this debate today if we felt that all those actions were working, and working well right across Wales. As today's motion outlines, now is the time to see Welsh Government working with organisations like the Migraine Trust and representative bodies for schools, health services and parents and carers in whatever forum works best. Minister, you outlined that there's perhaps an opportunity for the Migraine Trust and others to come alongside other forums to understand this issue more clearly; I'm sure that would be welcomed. 

But it's clear to me—and in the motion today it's outlined—that we need to see the migraine guidance strengthened, we need to see training provided to support and accommodate young people impacted by migraines, but also provide resources for parents and carers of children living with migraines, and also enable children and young people to learn how to take control of their own care at the same time as well. 

So, Deputy Presiding Officer, in concluding today's debate, I thank all Members, along with the Minister, for their contributions. It's been, I would say, an extremely useful and insightful debate, and, in addition to this, Members of the Senedd today have a great opportunity in supporting this motion that will do so much in providing support and guidance to young people and children who suffer from migraines. So, I call on all Members to support today's motion. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36. 

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

7. Debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee Report: Second Homes

Item 7 is next, a debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee report on second homes. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion. John Griffiths. 

Motion NDM8084 John Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Local Government and Housing Committee, 'Second homes', which was laid in the Table Office on 9 June 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. I’m pleased to open today’s debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee’s report on second homes, and I would like to start by thanking all those who contributed to our inquiry.

As we all know, these issues are contentious in many communities across Wales. Although not all areas of the country are affected, many of our coastal and rural areas have high numbers of second homes. Combined with formerly residential properties switching to short-term holiday accommodation and a more widespread shortage of affordable homes, many communities feel their sustainability is under threat.

Second homes, of course, are not a new phenomenon in Wales, but, as house prices and the cost of living increase, coupled with more people taking holidays in Wales during the pandemic, people who have grown up or lived in affected communities are often unable to buy or rent homes in those areas. Some areas have seen such a reduction in permanent residents that public services are no longer viable, including the closure of schools. The seasonal nature of the visitor economy has also turned some communities into winter ghost towns, with many amenities closing during those quieter months. Of course, other parts of the UK have experienced similar problems due to high numbers of second homes, particularly Cornwall and the Lake district. In Wales, we also have to consider the impact on the Welsh language, especially as many of the affected communities are located in the traditional Welsh-speaking heartlands.

As second homes are impacting many communities in Wales, we decided that this would be the focus of our first inquiry as a committee. One of the main aims of our work was to examine the recommendations made by Dr Simon Brooks in his report, 'Second homes: Developing new policies in Wales', and the Welsh Government's response to those proposals. We made 15 recommendations in our report, and we are pleased that 14 have been accepted in full and one accepted in principle by the Welsh Government.

We know that addressing the issue of second homes is a priority for the Welsh Government and that a lot of work is already happening. During our inquiry, the Minister confirmed that a phased pilot scheme would be run in Dwyfor, Gwynedd, in order to test a number of interventions. We welcome that pilot and think that a proper evaluation of the measures being trialled there will be key to understanding whether these measures should be rolled out to other parts of our country. We are pleased that the Minister has committed to updating the Senedd every six months on the pilot and its effectiveness. We also welcome the Minister's confirmation that the pilot will be subject to a robust independent evaluation.

We believe it's important to be able to distinguish between holiday lets and second homes for personal use. We therefore welcome the Welsh Government's new use-class definitions, as we believe these provide an opportunity for greater consistency. Combined with a registration or licensing scheme for holiday accommodation, this can ensure a clear distinction is drawn between property types.

We heard a lot of evidence on the economic benefits of tourism to Wales, particularly in rural and coastal areas where many people rely on the tourism and hospitality industries for their livelihoods. However, it is important that the economic benefits are not outweighed by the negative impacts of second homes and short-term lets. The visitor economy is vital to Wales. It is therefore important that interventions aimed at protecting communities are targeted correctly to prevent unintended consequences.

We recommended that the evaluation of the Dwyfor interventions should include assessing the impact on tourism. In response, the Minister has said that, where feasible, the independent evaluation will include that impact, and that further exploratory work will take place to determine how this will be done. I would like to re-emphasise the importance of assessing the impact on the visitor economy to ensure that the many jobs reliant upon it are protected.

Much of the evidence we received placed second homes within a wider discussion about the availability of affordable housing. That is a problem across Wales, but coastal and rural areas have the additional issue of second homes to contend with. It is clear that a lack of affordable homes is an issue making some people, particularly young people, move away from the communities where they have grown up, and live further from their families and support networks. With fewer people of working age living in these areas, we are concerned that a dwindling workforce is impacting the ability of employers across public and private sectors to fill essential roles. Communities need people in order to survive. If high numbers of homes within towns and villages lie empty for large parts of the year, it is inevitable that a lack of customers will force businesses to close during the quieter periods, leaving remaining residents without those amenities.

We believe that increasing the availability of affordable housing is key to preventing the disappearance of sustainable, living communities. The Welsh Government is committed to delivering 20,000 new low-carbon social homes for rent across Wales, but building new homes isn’t the only solution. There are over 22,000 empty properties across our country. Bringing those back into use will make a significant contribution, so we would like to see greater progress being made. Our predecessor committee reported on this particular issue in October 2019, and the Minister has committed to providing an update on those recommendations by December this year.

The impact of second homes on the Welsh language was another key consideration of our work. We are concerned by the evidence that high numbers of second homes, particularly in Welsh-speaking heartlands, are having a detrimental impact on the number of Welsh speakers and the viability of Welsh as a community language in those areas. We therefore welcome the establishment of the Commission for Welsh-speaking Communities by the Welsh Government and its aim of making recommendations to strengthen policy in relation to the linguistic sustainability of communities. We’re pleased that the commission will be analysing the results of the 2021 census and other data, and that the work will involve analysing correlations between the density of second homes in communities and the number of Welsh speakers.

Llywydd, this is a very important issue to us, and particularly to people living in rural and coastal communities. We will be returning to this important issue during the term of this sixth Senedd to see how interventions have progressed. Diolch yn fawr.

15:45

The Llywydd took the Chair.

15:50

I refer Members to my own declaration of interest in terms of property ownership.

Now, all the way through, I know that the Welsh Labour Government started off by wanting to tackle the shortage of affordable homes in our communities, and it's fair to say that this group actually supports that endeavour. However, I have been very concerned, and I'm not alone; people within my own community and other communities across Wales have been corresponding with me, and they've now said that the slant has been directed in the wrong direction, because it's now seen to be, 'Let's go after people with second homes; let's go after people with holiday lets.'

Reading this report, alarm bells should be ringing for all of us who rely on tourism, when recommendation 4 says,

'The Welsh Government should commission further research on the impact tourism has on the sustainability of communities.'

Interestingly, the Home Owners of Wales Group suggested that second home owners contribute £235 million per year to the Welsh economy. Barmouth Town Council is critical of Dr Brooks's report, commenting that,

'There is no data in the report into the economic impact of holiday lets.' 

The UK Short Term Accommodation Association has highlighted the economic contribution of short-term lets, referring to a study by Oxford Economics on behalf of Airbnb, which estimated that guests using the platform had contributed a total of £107 million to the Welsh economy in 2019.

But, let me say here and now that there's a big difference between second homes, Airbnb properties and bona fide holiday lets. As the committee report states,

'We realise that there is insufficient data on the benefits brought by tourism compared to the detrimental impact of affected communities'.

Tourism is one—. I shouldn't have to tell you this, but tourism is one of the most fundamental economic backbones of Wales. In some constituencies, it’s the only industry. Plaid Cymru and you seem to have launched a major policy and legislative attack on the sector in an effort to try and justify why we haven’t had the houses built over the last 23 years.

You’ve accepted recommendation 1, requiring the Welsh Government to consider a definition of second homes, and pointed towards the introduction of three new planning classes: C3, primary homes; C5, secondary homes; and C6, short-term lets. However, there is a loophole that could undermine this. Anybody now living in Manchester could legitimately state that his house in Aberconwy is his primary home, and that his house in Manchester is his second home. So, bingo—it won’t affect him at all. So that means there are ways around this.

I do welcome the acceptance of recommendations 2 and 14 that we will now, Minister, be receiving six-monthly updates. I believe that what residents in Dwyfor and other crisis communities want to see is a good number of affordable homes available to buy and rent. Does this pilot achieve it? No.

The committee is right in recommendation 9, and I’ve said it several times, that the Welsh Government should lead by example, ensuring that land that you own, public land—. And you’ve got lots of land within the health boards, the local authorities—[Interruption.] Sorry—anyway, you can respond. Why they are not being put forward as suitable for development, I’ve no idea.

Gwynedd—let’s take Gwynedd. Why are we not ensuring that land on the edge of crisis communities like Nefyn is allocated in the LDP for social and affordable housing? Why are we not allowing our registered social landlords and good, functioning housing associations, like my colleague Sam Rowlands will know—? Cartrefi Conwy in Aberconwy: actually brilliant housing providers and they actually want to be able to build new houses for people. Consequently, the Welsh Conservatives would not only see new homes built for locals, but we would have a strong mechanism in place that means that we can hang on to our younger generations, because the lack of housing is one reason why people actually move out of the area.

I read with some despair your response to recommendation 10. Of course, the Welsh Government should work with, not against, private sector landlords and letting agents, but rather than referring to leasing scheme Wales as a sign of co-operation, we now need, Minister—. We have got an issue of this Government’s making in terms of what’s happening with second homes, and the threat of a 300 per cent council tax levy.

Just in the last month, I’ve been made aware in my own constituency of 51 section 1 eviction notices served. Now, this is a constituency that’s already seeing a temporary accommodation spend, so 51 families now are going to be displaced. So, we really do need to get down to the basics of what is a second home, acknowledge the value they bring, and bear in mind this isn’t just people coming in from England—I know people who have properties in Pembroke and have one over here. When they come into my constituency, they use our hairdressers, they use our gardeners—

15:55

You are going to need to bring your comments to a close now. I’ve been very generous.

I am, thank you. It is a really big issue. We’ve all said, Minister, that this is a multifaceted approach. However, targeting second home owners is a retrograde step. Both properties will just end up back on the market with Airbnb, people who can afford them more, and we’ll end up as Airbnb. Thank you.

I also declare an interest that’s on the public record as well.

Colleagues, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It was a pleasure to be part of the inquiry, and I thank the Chair for his leadership during this inquiry.

It was a timely inquiry, and it demonstrates a cross-party consensus. There is a recognition here that our rural and coastal communities are in the midst of a housing crisis, and that second homes contribute significantly to that. There is also acknowledgement here of the need to take action to tackle this, and of the action that should be taken.

And I see that crisis daily in my constituency in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, from Aberdyfi to Abersoch, from Beddgelert to Llandderfel. Good people have been campaigning and drawing attention to this issue for half a century, and now, at last, the issue is receiving the recognition it deserves and the Government, by working together with us in Plaid Cymru, is presenting solutions. 

The sad truth, of course, is that many of our communities have lost a large part of their character; they have become soulless and empty communities, with public services becoming more remote and people moving away. There is hope, however: look at the small village of Rhyd near Llanfrothen, which was once a village full of holiday homes, but has now been regenerated. We should not, therefore, give up on hope.

I think that the committee's experience in this regard is quite unique for the Senedd, because we started our work before the Government announced its various consultations and then the changes that are in the offing. But, this action by the Government, as part of the co-operation agreement with us in Plaid Cymru, is very welcome, and it was interesting to follow the trajectory of the proposals by the Government as we undertook our consultation.

Consider the steps now in place: increasing the land transaction tax; modifying the planning system in order to introduce a change of use for these homes, which will mean that authorities can control the number of second homes in our communities; a licensing system for short-term holiday lets. All of these and more are things that we in Plaid Cymru have been advocating for years, and now they are being implemented. Thank goodness for that.

This report from the committee talks about the work that is going on in Dwyfor and in the Gwynedd area. But, I would like to know from the Minister what plans there are to ensure that these plans continue into the long term, in view of the economic challenges facing local authorities, and also what steps are being taken to ensure that other areas, such as Pembrokeshire, Anglesey and Swansea, can implement these actions.

This discussion today is timely in the context of the Bevan Foundation report that was released last week, looking at the impact of Airbnb on our communities. You know that I have been raising this issue for some time, and I have been arguing that this is what is undermining the self-catering sector. The evidence from the Bevan Foundation is testimony of that, and is frightening. At the end of spring this year, 22,000 homes in Wales were registered on that platform, with almost 60 per cent of them on the Airbnb platform suitable for people to live in.

As a percentage of the private housing stock, that is much greater, with Airbnb homes equating to a third of Gwynedd's private housing stock, and a fifth of Anglesey and Ceredigion's private housing stock. This puts enormous pressure on the rental sector in these areas, with rental values being driven up, and fewer homes for rent on the market. Indeed, the report states that it would take just six weeks for an owner to make the same amount of money on a four-bedroom house through Airbnb as the owner could make by renting the house out locally on the local housing allowance scale. The system has been set up, therefore, to ensure that the greatest financial value is extracted at the expense of putting a permanent roof over people's heads.

This also reminds us of what my colleague Rhun ap Iorwerth has raised several times, namely the case of the Bodorgan estate, which is going through a process of evicting people with the intention of turning those homes into holiday homes, adding to the homelessness crisis. Rhun, as we know, has done everything within his ability to help those people, but it shows that there is a great need for action.

Recommendations 11 and 12 of the report are therefore very important, namely the impact of this on Welsh-speaking communities. Therefore, although it's the environment Minister who will be responding, as Welsh-speaking communities are under the remit of the education Minister, I wonder whether the Minister for the environment could confirm whether the commission on Welsh-speaking communities will be looking at the challenges facing home renters as well as home buyers in those communities. Thank you very much.

16:00

There is a dire shortage of properties to buy and rent. Everyone should be entitled to one. Everyone should be entitled to a home, and yet 25,000 properties in Wales stand empty. The reality of the impact of second homes was clear to me whilst visiting a village in north-west Wales, seeing the amount of unlived-in two and three-bedroom properties that would have made really good starter homes. Some, I was told, were holiday homes, but some—well, quite a few—were in a state of disrepair and just left. One was an extremely useful bungalow, which are in scarce supply in the community, and the community had tried to buy it from a resident who didn't live in the village, but he said he was keeping it as a retirement investment, even though he was of retirement age.

Previously, I was aware of the term 'land banking', but what I saw was 'property banking' on a mass scale. To have so many empty properties wasted when there are so many people needing a roof over their head, a place to call home, is truly shocking. A right to a decent home, a proper education and healthcare is fundamental to well-being and what every person needs and deserves. Solutions, however, are complex and vary depending on areas, but there is no one size that fits all. And the definition of a second home is important. There is a difference between someone letting out a property as a holiday let, or someone having a property as a second home and just visiting occasionally. This must be balanced with the benefits that tourism brings, as we found.

But, our focus must also be on the cost-of-living and housing crisis that will impact the vulnerable the most. The Bevan Foundation reported that the local housing allowance only covered 4 per cent of properties in Wales. It was frozen in 2016 and again in 2020. This is shameful of UK Government, who want to cut public service funding and benefits further. Some landlords are flipping to Airbnbs, as according to a Bevan Foundation report, in some areas, they can earn more in 10 weeks than they would on a full-time rental through the local housing allowance. And that is a central issue we face—the idea that homes are an asset for the wealthy to make a profit from rather than a right that everyone should be entitled to. There are many actions that need to be taken to reverse the damage that has been done since Thatcher.

Tackling the number of second homes is just part of this. Rent controls, more social housing, and council house building—returning back to that again—will also be needed to protect tenants, while increasing the supply of housing. UK Government public sector funding over the last 12 years makes this much harder. Officers are overworked and overstretched, meaning planning takes longer. This goes back again to public service funding, to ensure that those that work in councils that have to deal with planning applications can actually get on with the job. I know the Minister is well aware of the challenges we face, and I trust that the Welsh Government will do what it can to address them. Thank you.

16:05

Firstly, can I put on record my thanks to John Griffiths for his chairmanship in producing today's committee report on second homes, and also to my fellow colleagues on the committee, and the Minister, clerks and the committee support team who have come along and given evidence and supported us as a committee through this process? Of course, the issue around second homes has been a contentious issue for a long time in Wales, for a number of years, and that's why it's really important, as a committee, I believe, that we got stuck into this very early on in our formation as a committee. As we know, a lot of the Senedd's best work comes from committees and, in light of this, it was really encouraging to see, Minister, you accept 14 of the 15 recommendations, and accept one in principle as well. So, thank you for your engagement in this process as well.

In my contribution today, I'd like to put on record also my acknowledgement that it's certainly a challenge with the proportion of second homes in some communities in Wales. This came through clearly in the work we carried out as a committee. But also what came through clearly was that this challenge is by no means evenly split across Wales. The example that struck me during our work as a committee was that, in Abersoch, you're looking at around 50 per cent of the properties there that are either second homes or holiday homes, whereas a few miles up the road in Caernarfon about 0.5 per cent of the properties there fall into that category. So, the differences across communities are vast in places that aren't that far apart.

During our committee’s work, we found that some of our coastal and rural areas have some of the highest numbers of second homes, and combined with formerly residential properties switching to short-term holiday accommodation and some of the issues around affordability of homes in communities, those communities were certainly feeling that their sustainability is under threat. It was data from August last year that showed that Gwynedd had the highest number of second homes—about 9.5 per cent of the properties there. Anglesey was at 8.1 per cent and Ceredigion at 5.2 per cent, certainly highlighting those rural and coastal communities having to deal with this challenge the most across the country.

I was really grateful again to receive the amount of correspondence that I did from residents and from interested parties around this issue in their communities. I'm sure this is what also partly led us to recommendation 7 of our report, which states that

'The Welsh Government should clarify how local and national strategies will ensure a sufficient supply of housing that is of the appropriate type to meet local requirements and affordable in the context of local earnings.'

I think it's a really important recommendation that that understanding of nuance across Wales is coming through in strategy and in policy. In addition to this, we've found out that the second homes issue has been exacerbated following the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. We certainly want to welcome people into Wales and give them a warm welcome. However, recommendation 13 that states that

'The Welsh Government should commission research on the impact of...the Covid-19 pandemic on housing trends to assess the scale of movement from urban to rural and coastal areas.'

I was really pleased to see that recommendation in our report. One thing I'd like to perhaps focus on is the understanding of the issue around the number of houses being built in our rural communities as well, and the context of second homes within that. We know that of the nearly 1.4 million properties in Wales, the data we were using when the report was published showed that just under 20,000 of those properties are classified as second homes. That's 1.4 per cent of all the properties in Wales. It's 1.4 per cent that are second homes. Whilst I clarified this at the start of my contribution, that it's such an issue in some communities, the context of that number is not as significant, perhaps, as some would want us to believe.

The impact of such a negative message to our tourism industry has already been highlighted here today, and we were reminded in taking evidence that it's the tourism sector in Wales that accounts for 17.6 per cent of gross domestic product, and employs over 12 per cent of our residents in the country. That's why I welcomed recommendation 4, actually, which calls on the Welsh Government to commission further research on the impact of tourism on the sustainability of communities, because this sector is so important to our communities in terms of jobs and future opportunities.

Llywydd, I know time is running, so I'm going to just quickly canter through this last point here, which is actually around the importance around recommendation 8 in all of this, which states that the Welsh Government needs to provide an update to the Senedd on how it intends to achieve its target to build another 20,000 new social homes within this Senedd term, along with recommendation 10 from our report, which is seeking further efforts from the Welsh Government about how it's going to work with the private sector to develop more properties, especially in these communities where they are finding it difficult with the number of second and holiday homes.

Thank you, Llywydd, for just giving me a few more moments there. I'd like to thank again the committee and all those who contributed to what I think is a really helpful report in looking to how we deal with some of the challenges around second homes. Diolch.

16:10

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important debate today.

As the report indeed notes, second homes are not a new phenomenon. Plaid Cymru has been pushing for action to combat this issue for decades. The issue of second homes has become worse and worse for many of our communities across Wales, whether that's in our rural Welsh-speaking heartlands or indeed in our urban centres. The present housing crisis facing communities across Wales, driven in part by second homes and short-term holiday accommodation, is characterised by the inability of those who live in or have grown up in a community to buy or rent homes in said areas. The crisis means that many public services become unviable. Schools close, shops close, community facilities close. Communities erode and ultimately disappear.

Let's be clear: this is not just a rural issue. The effects of second homes on our rural heartlands are disastrous, for the rural economy, for our culture, for our language, for people. It goes without saying. But the housing crisis is just as prevalent in urban regions, such as the one I represent. Gentrification is tearing the fabric of these communities apart. Today, in my capacity as Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on communities, I'd like to take some time to also concentrate on the eighth recommendation, as we heard from Sam earlier, in the committee's report, and the Welsh Government's response to it. Recommendation 8 states that

'The Welsh Government should provide an update to the Senedd on how it intends to achieve its target of building 20,000 new social homes within the term of this Senedd. We would like the update to include a breakdown of where it intends these new homes to be built, according to the demand and need of communities.'

Now, the Government has accepted this recommendation, at least in principle, but questions still remain regarding the housing target. Given the scale of the housing need in Wales, many have questioned whether this target is sufficient. I welcome the Government's ambition to deliver 20,000 homes, of course I do, but is the target ambitious enough? Minister, how do you know whether you're actually fully meeting the nation's housing need? We're in the midst of one of the worst cost-of-living crises in living memory. Combined with the effects of Brexit, we have a perfect storm for our supply chains and our construction workforce. In the light of the increased costs of construction materials, the costs associated with construction and the effects of Brexit on the workforce, how is the Welsh Government going to reach their construction targets?

Moving on, over the summer, I was fortunate to visit Vienna to study their policy on social and affordable housing. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Vienna has been world-leading in the provision of social and affordable housing for over a century. Today, 60 per cent of Vienna's—

16:15

Can I just cut across? I can see that Mark Isherwood is requesting an intervention. I don't know whether you're prepared to take one. 

Okay. This is all being done very politely. Mark Isherwood. 

Diolch. Thank you very much indeed. I think it's about 18 or 19 years since I first highlighted to the then Welsh Government the fact that there would be an affordable housing crisis in Welsh communities if the then cuts to social housing weren't reversed. But do you share my concern that the latest published figures for quarter 2 of 2022 show that, once again, new home completions in Wales went in reverse, and it's the only nation or region once again in the UK where they actually reduced?

That's certainly a very good point there by Mark, and maybe the Minister can pick up that point when she comes to respond. 

As I said, I was in Vienna and over 60 per cent of those citizens live in social and affordable housing. But in Vienna, it was clear that the construction efforts were about more than just housing; they were about building communities—real communities, where people's needs were met, where communal facilities, green space, medical centres, transport links, childcare and more were integrated seamlessly into residential areas. If Vienna could achieve this over 100 years ago, why can't we do it today? I guess my question here in relation to housing targets is: how are you ensuring that we're not just building houses but that we're actually building functioning communities, with all the facilities that communities need? Diolch yn fawr.

The Minister for Climate Change to contribute to the debate—Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. I would like to start by recording, also, my thanks to the Local Government and Housing Committee, particularly the Chair, for their in-depth and considered inquiry into the complex issue of second homes. On behalf of my Cabinet colleagues, I responded to the committee's report and recommendations, all of which we have accepted. We are, and were in many cases, putting those to practical effect through our cross-Government activity and our close working with Plaid Cymru on this matter. 

As you know, responding to the challenges set by large numbers of second homes and short-term holiday lets requires a holistic and integrated response. We set this out in my statement on our cross-Government three-pronged approach, and it is also a key feature of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. We are committed to immediate, radical, effective and balanced measures to ensure that we tackle the challenges head on and provide further support for people to be able to live affordably in their home communities. This challenge has undoubtedly been made significantly more complex due to the cost-of-living crisis and the market turmoil, and particularly turmoil in the housing market caused by the Government's—I don't know what they call it any more—mini budget I think they've now accepted it was, and the withdrawal of so many mortgage products from first-time buyers in particular. How the Conservatives can stand there and criticise us for what we're doing, given the complete and utter misery and turmoil they've created in the housing market, I fail to understand. 

Anyway, we have worked with pace and vigour to take a number of significant steps over the course of the year. Llywydd, I will rapidly set out the range of activities that is being undertaken today, as it is extensive and I have very little time, and I will outline then how we continue to move forward. Last week, as promised in the First Minister and Adam Price's 4 July statement, we laid regulations affording local planning authorities far greater control over future numbers of second homes and short-term holiday lets in their communities where local evidence demonstrates that there is a problem. This will allow local authorities to take much more account of local circumstances.

We have been and we will continue working with local planning authorities in Gwynedd and Snowdonia National Park as part of the Dwyfor pilot. We're supporting them to build a common evidence base that can be used to inform all local policy interventions. I've also committed to supporting operating costs, as we draw lessons and make an assessment of cost and impact. This learning will be of national benefit. Although I will say there, in direct response to Mabon, that, of course, the rules apply to everyone now, but we're particularly working with the pilot areas to understand their resource significance. So, that's not to say that other places can't continue to do it, but we're particularly looking to gather data on what the resource implications to the local authorities are—just to make that point really clear.

Of course, we'd already introduced a range of measures, including changes to the upper limit for discretionary council tax premiums and second and long-term empty homes. The changes will have effect from 1 April next year and local authorities are able to consult now and then act on their decisions—I know that Gwynedd is already doing this—to make balanced choices about an appropriate premium to reflect local circumstances. We've also made changes to the letting criteria for self-catering accommodation to be classified as non-domestic, and liable for non-domestic rates, rather than domestic and liable for council tax. These measures, aligned with the changes being made to the planning framework, provide us and local authorities with a toolbox to manage more effectively future numbers of second homes and short-term lets.

Of course, we recognise the contribution that fair tourism has to make, but we cannot continue to see communities being hollowed out. This balanced and robust package of interventions is unparalleled in the UK context and demonstrates how seriously we have been and are taking the situation. More broadly, we're working on a number of complementary actions, working with local authorities in terms of options and possible local flexibility on land transaction tax for second homes and short-term holiday lets. This would help us respond further to uneven distribution of second homes across Wales and indeed, within authority areas as well.

We are continuing to explore options to bring more empty homes back into full-time use. We've also delivered training to local authorities in the use of their compulsory purchase powers and we have a number of schemes to bring empty home properties back into beneficial use, including a system of grants and the lease scheme, and so on, for which, Llywydd, I refer many Members who've raised that today to my many previous statements on the subject, where we've outlined a large number of interventions that we're taking.

The First Minister and Adam Price also confirmed their commitment as part of the co-operation agreement to introduce a statutory licensing scheme for all visitor accommodation, and we will be bringing forward a consultation on our proposals in the coming months. The scheme will make it a requirement to obtain a licence to operate visitor accommodation, including short-term holiday lets, and will help raise standards across the tourism industry and improve data supporting future planning decisions. And just to address directly the contribution made by Janet and more extensively by Sam, obviously, we want people to come on holiday to Wales. Obviously, we want them to have second homes and to take advantage of holiday lets here, but what we want is a sustainable community. If you speak to people who come here who do have second homes or holiday lets, they don't want to come to a place where there's nobody living and there are no shops and pubs; they want to come to a thriving community and to experience that. So, this isn't about driving them out; it's about spreading them out and to make sure that we have sustainable communities in every area. So, I just want to make that abundantly clear. This isn't about not being welcoming; it's about making sure that the experience that people have when they come to Wales is a good one and it's a good one because we have a sustainable, thriving community using the Welsh language and bringing all of the cultural benefits that that brings. So, this isn't an anti agenda at all; it's a pro agenda—pro our effective communities and pro our cultures.

So, just to directly address the consultation on the draft Welsh language communities housing plan, as Mabon said, this is entirely my colleague Jeremy Miles's portfolio, but obviously, we work very closely together on this as they overlap considerably. At the National Eisteddfod, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language trailed some of the focus of his Welsh language communities housing plan. We're about to release details of that. Generally, though, the aim of the plan is to support Welsh-speaking communities that have high densities of second homes, bringing together issues relating to housing, community development, economy and language planning. At the Eisteddfod, the Minister also launched a commission for Welsh-speaking communities. They will undertake an in-depth study of the sustainability of Welsh-speaking communities, including the effects of high densities of second homes, and provide a report within two years. And yes, Mabon, of course that will include private rented sector and any other form of tenure; the idea being to have a fully mixed and fully sustainable community, able to continue using the Welsh language as they want.

We'll provide further updates, as per the committee's recommendation on the developments in the pilot area. Already, we've worked closely and effectively with Gwynedd Council and Grŵp Cynefin to amend the criteria and guidance for our homebuy scheme, for example. I've backed this up by making £8.5 million available over three years to help people get a foot on the housing ladder. This is already bearing fruit, and I look forward to a number of additional completions coming forward shortly. We've also established operational and strategic groups for the pilot and we are working with our partners to see how, for example, local authority mortgages can be beneficial in these difficult times. This is, again, a commitment as part of the co-operation agreement. The pilot is and will be a fertile testing ground for this and other interventions and the use of existing and new powers.

So, Llywydd, we are taking bold, pacy and immediate steps across a range of areas to address these complex issues in a concerted way, as we said we would. Again, I would like to thank the committee and those who gave evidence as part of its inquiry. The work really builds on our knowledge and understanding and it's very welcome indeed, so, diolch yn fawr. I and colleagues were very pleased to accept the committee's recommendations, which are appropriately stretching and will help add further to our understanding and commitment to address some of the issues in areas where we have unbalanced distributions of second homes and short-term lets. We will, of course, look forward to updating the Senedd, as we continue to make progress on this agenda and in fulfilling our commitment to responding practically to the recommendations.

Just very briefly, Llywydd, on housing supply, which I do not have time to cover here, I will be making a statement to the Senedd later on in this autumn term on house completions, which we will have the data for later on. There is, of course, and will remain work to do, but we are working flat out to ensure that we and local authorities in Wales have the right tools to better manage the mixed use of properties in our communities and that we have sustainable, thriving Welsh-speaking communities across Wales. Diolch yn fawr.

16:25

Diolch, Llywydd. May I thank everyone for their contributions to the debate today? I think everybody understands that this is a very important, but complex area, and that much is happening, but much needs to be done.

I would just say to Janet Finch-Saunders, who was the first to contribute, following my opening of the debate, Llywydd, that we do recognise, obviously, the tensions around tourism, the importance of tourism to these areas, and that was mentioned by others in the debate as well. Obviously, it is a balance, but our recommendation that there is proper evaluation of the impact on tourism, I think, is very important. But we do have to recognise—I think you said, Janet, that second home owners are using local services, using local businesses. But we do know that some second home owners may be in those properties for, perhaps, a weekend, a week or two weeks in a whole year, and we heard from the Minister that that can lead to a hollowing-out of communities. They may be ghost towns in the winter, because those businesses and services are not able to operate during those months because there aren't enough people around to use them, and they're not living, sustainable communities, which we've heard is so important, if that hollowing-out takes place.

I think Mabon ap Gwynfor has clearly shown his commitment to these issues, and, obviously, they're very important for Mabon in his own local area, and I commend Mabon on that commitment and his work on the committee on this matter. Obviously, that co-operation agreement between Labour, the Welsh Government and Plaid has been very important in terms of additional focus. And I think we now are in a position, aren't we, where we've got, as the Minister described, a whole range of actions taking place, really important actions to get to the absolute heart of these matters in terms of what will move the dial, as we say, and what will make a real difference on the ground.

It's absolutely right that there should be that pilot in Dwyfor so that we properly evaluate, monitor and make sure that, when we move forward for the whole of Wales, we've got a really solid evidence base that tells us what works, what might not work and what unintended consequences there might be. So, that evidence-based approach, through that pilot and the other work that we've recommended and Welsh Government has accepted, I do think is absolutely crucial.

That stark contrast that Members drew between Airbnb properties and those that might think about the local housing allowance and the revenue that would bring is just incredibly stark, isn't it? It really does show, through the work of the Bevan Foundation and others, what needs to be addressed in terms of the relative attractiveness of particular uses of properties and what will deliver those liveable, sustainable communities. And those points were made by Carolyn Thomas as well. And Carolyn also mentioned the right to housing, and it is a basic right, isn't it? And we had a very important event in the Pierhead just the other week where housing organisations, housing associations and others, talked about the importance of that right to housing and what might happen in Wales if we had the legislation in place that would really make that right a reality right across our country. And that's a campaign that will go on and build.

Could I commend Sam Rowlands as well for his work on the committee and the balanced approach that he's taken throughout, and I think again demonstrated today, trying to get that balance between the importance of tourism, for example, and addressing these contentious issues in particular parts of Wales, especially, again, as Sam highlighted, areas like Gwynedd, Ynys Môn and Ceredigion, and then the importance of looking at other areas of Wales and lessons that we need to learn?

Peredur, thank you for talking about Vienna. It's a really good example of how you take a whole-community approach to these matters and build communities, looking at green spaces, services and community needs. And on that, I think we can take heart from what the Minister has said on many different occasions, which very much recognises the need for that approach and the various measures that are being taken to establish that approach.

I'd just like to close then, Llywydd, by recognising the work that's taken place and the work that is in train. It really is significant. It's not just tokenistic—it is getting to the absolute heart of the challenges that we face in those particular areas of Wales, but across our country. And I very much welcomed that setting out of actions that the Minister has put before us here today—the acceptance of all those recommendations and that very strong commitment from the Minister to sustainable communities, the importance of the Welsh language, the importance of the work of the commission that's being set up and the fertile testing ground of the pilot, as the Minister described it. I think we are wrestling with some very difficult issues, but we have set in train actions, evaluation and monitoring that will allow us to proceed on that evidence-based basis. Thank you very much.

16:30

The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

8. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Major events

The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Siân Gwenllian.

We'll now move to the Welsh Conservative debate on major events. I call on Paul Davies to move the motion.

Motion NDM8086 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes the Welsh Government’s National Events Strategy for Wales 2022 to 2030.

2. Believes that major events help to boost jobs and the economy by showcasing Wales to the world.

3. Regrets the lack of ambition show by the Welsh Government in bringing these opportunities to Wales.

4. Calls on the Welsh Government to rethink the strategy with a focus on aspiration, creativity and innovation in attracting major events to Wales.

Motion moved.