Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

21/06/2023

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 12:45 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Joint item with the Welsh Youth Parliament

Good afternoon, all, and welcome to this joint Plenary meeting of the Senedd and the Welsh Youth Parliament.

I think we've just lowered the average age of the Chamber by about 30 years. Thank you to all the young people who are joining us today to enable us to do that. This, of course, is the first sitting of the Youth Parliament, the newly elected, second Youth Parliament of the Senedd, with the Senedd. [Applause.]

So, our Youth Parliament is in its second term, and it's wonderful to witness the relationship develop between the Youth Parliament and the Senedd, as the important work of representing the interests of the young people of Wales proceeds.

So, without further ado, I am going to call Ffion Williams to open the session. Ffion Williams is the constituency Member for Cardiff West. Ffion Williams.

Diolch, Llywydd. It is a pleasure to be at the Senedd today with our first joint session between Members of the Senedd and the second cohort of Welsh Youth Parliament Members.

I know that I and fellow Members are grateful for the opportunity to be here today, and hope the session will be valuable to both Senedd Members and the Welsh Youth Parliament in furthering our work. As a Welsh Youth Parliament Member, it has been incredibly rewarding to see the progress we have made in our sub-committees on mental health, the environment, and education. Our November session in the Senedd really proved our success in listening to young people across Wales and vocalising their views to ensure every voice is represented. Furthermore, I and other members have also benefited from previous sessions and experiences shared between the Welsh Youth Parliament and Members of the Senedd to inform and influence our politics here in Wales.

Of course, our work has built on the foundations laid by the inaugural Welsh Youth Parliament, with the continuation of these sub-committees and certain themes within these topics being a testimony to how these issues remain prevalent for young people. We hope that today's session will inspire Members to further engage with the work we are doing and support our efforts as a Welsh Youth Parliament. In turn, we also hope that, as Welsh Youth Parliament Members, we gain insight into how the Senedd is responding to the issues facing young people, and ensure we are recognising this in our work. Thank you. [Applause.]

Thank you very much to Ffion Williams.

Now we have representatives speaking on behalf of the three committees of the Senedd Ieuenctid that have been set up, and to speak, first of all, on behalf of the committee for education and school curriculum, it's Leaola Roberts-Biggs from the constituency of Alyn and Deeside.

Diolch, Llywydd, and thank you for the opportunity to share the update on the work of the education and curriculum committee with you all. As a committee, we found that common topics we wished to explore consisted of life skills, extra-curricular opportunities, equality and inclusion, in addition to the current support systems in place for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Committee members have had the opportunity to meet with Welsh Government representatives to learn more about the new Curriculum for Wales, in addition to many of us being part of insightful discussions with Qualifications Wales in regard to new subject qualifications and the changes to the way some of the subjects will now be assessed. As a collective, we hold many different experiences within the Welsh education system, and thus we hope we've been able to provide substantial value to these discussions.

We have recently launched our consultation on the school day, with our main focus being for the Welsh Youth Parliament Members to understand if making changes to the length of our school day would have any positive correlation or impacts to improved student well-being, their confidence, greater support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve in their place of study, as well as potential increased social and personal skills, especially following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of our consultation, we would like to hear not only from students, but also teachers, parents and guardians in order for us to gain a better perspective on how this could affect a greater proportion of our population. The consultation will build on previous Welsh Government trials where activities such as digital arts, storytelling and outdoor adventure activities have been delivered in addition to the current school hours in place. The consultation at present is being promoted on social media platforms, through school workshops and youth groups, as well as public events such as the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod, in addition to others.

We look forward to presenting a subsequent report in the Chamber in November, and we would like to emphasise the importance and encourage as many young people to get involved as possible, to ensure that they have their say. [Applause.]

And on behalf of the mental health and well-being committee—.

I'm being very generous in allowing applause in the Chamber this afternoon. I hope the Senedd doesn't continue it after the Senedd Ieuenctid has finished our session.

On behalf of the mental health and well-being committee—

—the committee on mental health and well-being, Harriet Wright-Nicholas from the Caerphilly constituency.

12:50

Thank you, Llywydd. Since launching our campaign, the mental health and well-being committee has been working hard to raise awareness of a number of key issues within the current mental health services available to children and young people across Wales.

We began our research by sending out a survey, asking children, young people and adults, about their opinion of the current mental health and well-being services and provisions available to them. We received over 3,500 responses, and discovered that, despite the first Welsh Youth Parliament’s impressive work to try and improve provisions, mental health services are still not hitting the mark. In fact, we found little to no difference in how often young people are struggling with their mental health when compared with the first Welsh Youth’s Parliament survey, carried out in 2020. Despite the increase in spending in an attempt to improve services, there hasn’t been enough change. Obviously, mental health provisions need an urgent overhaul. Based on our survey’s results and discussion with children and young people in a number of settings, we formed our report, which included our findings and our recommendations for improvement to the Welsh Government.

Last November, we had the opportunity to meet with decision makers at the Senedd at our residential meeting. We discussed the report and the recommendations we made. Our key suggestions included: one recognised, central one-stop shop for information, resources, and support; greater emphasis on ensuring that families and friends are equipped to support young people, including the provision of training, information and materials to better enable those who young people trust and confide in to help; training programmes for professionals who work with and support young people. The aim would be to improve awareness and understanding of the mental health challenges faced by young people from different backgrounds, including neurodiverse people, those with a disability, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those in poverty, those living in rural areas, and young people of different ethnicities. Finally, we called for better support for young people at an earlier stage to lower the demand on child and adolescent mental health services.

Since the report launch, members of the committee have been involved in opportunities to speak up on the issue, including at events such as Wonderfest with Platfform at Glamorgan cricket ground.

I would like to finish by thanking the Deputy Minister for her written response to the report and her offer to work with the Welsh Youth Parliament over the coming months. We are currently in the process of arranging a meeting with the Deputy Minister. Following this meeting, we look forward to seeing some if not all of our recommendations put into effect by Welsh Government. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

Thank you to Harriet. Now, on behalf of the climate and environment committee, Harrison Williams.

Harrison Williams, representing the Boys and Girls Clubs of Wales. Harrison.

Good afternoon. My name is Harrison Williams and I represent the Boys and Girls Clubs of Wales. Today I’ll be providing an update on the work of the climate and environment committee. During our meeting here in November, as a committee, we met to help decide whether we wanted to focus on biodiversity, public transport or school and education campaigns. After some very informative presentations and discussions with experts on these issues, we ultimately decided to direct our focus on the area of public transport and sustainable travel. As a committee, we came to this decision due to the issues presented to us, such as the use, reliability and cost of public transport in Wales, as well as our desire to encourage more people to travel sustainably.

Our consultation looks at the barriers to public transport and active travel presented to young people, and looks at what more can be done to travel sustainably. The consultation is being undertaken through our Sustainable Ways survey, which has gathered over 1,000 responses through promotion in schools, youth groups and events such as the Urdd Eisteddfod. The survey will be live until the end of July. Early findings suggest that the cost of public transport is a major factor for young people when deciding to use public transport, with those in rural areas highlighting issues in the reliability and frequency of it. The committee’s been particularly keen in understanding these experiences in more rural and poorer areas, which is why we have held focus group events and spoken to young people in our local areas to understand the challenges they face. Furthermore, the survey has shown that there has been an increase in car and walking trips since the pandemic.

As well as the survey, public engagement events have played an excellent role in raising awareness of the benefits of sustainable travel and letting young people express their opinion on the topic through interactive activity stalls and engaging guest speakers. We recently held events in Blaenau Ffestiniog and, more locally for me, in Pontypridd, which were well attended. We will be at the Royal Welsh Show next month, and we invite anyone interested to come and have their say.

The environment committee report will be published in the autumn term, where we will be able to relay our full findings. This will enable us to work together to tackle the current issues of public transport and to continue to raise awareness of sustainable travel.

To finish, having green travel systems is an essential part of a sustainable future. By reducing our carbon footprint, promoting healthier living, saving money and reducing traffic congestion, we can build a better future not just for ourselves, but for future generations, and, together, we must work to make green travel options more accessible and convenient for everyone. Diolch. [Applause.]

12:55

Thank you, all, for those updates on behalf of the various Youth Parliament committees. We will now hear brief responses from the First Minister, the party leaders, and also the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee. So, first of all, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

Llywydd, good afternoon and thank you very much. I'd like to start by congratulating all Members of the Youth Parliament on being elected. Last week, I met with somebody who had been a Member of the first Youth Parliament here in Wales. He told me that the experience had changed his life, and I hope that the time that you give and the commitment that you've shown will be rewarded in a similar fashion. The work that you've already done reflects the main concerns of young people in Wales today. Thank you for the reports on education and the curriculum. The recommendations in your work on mental health and well-being will be very influential across the Welsh Government. The current survey, which investigates the climate and the environment, will ensure that the challenging voice of young people on the most serious subjects of the day will be heard clearly and effectively in the work of the Senedd.

Thank you, all, for joining us today. You can be sure that you have the whole support of the Senedd in the important work that you will carry out not simply on behalf of young people in Wales, but on behalf of Wales as a whole. Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr. No, you don't need to clap the First Minister or the leaders of your respective parties, if you don't mind. Nice try, Hefin David, but no thank you. [Laughter.]

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. There must be a reshuffle in the air or something, with the backbenchers clapping. [Laughter.]

It's a real pleasure to be here for the second occasion that this current Youth Parliament has come together in the Oriel, in the Senedd Chamber, to obviously meet with MSs. I've had the pleasure of meeting various youth parliamentarians—I look at Ruben across the desk there who, whilst not of my political party, by the logos he puts on social media, has really genuinely engaged with politicians across this Chamber, whether they be Labour politicians, Plaid Cymru, or ourselves, bringing us into the schools to meet students at Llanishen High School, and I'm sure that's gone on right across the Youth Parliament, and obviously opened the doors to many people to see what actually the Welsh Parliament does and the responsibilities that we have, and that hopefully you will obviously be able to inform with the reports that you've done.

It's so heartening to hear the work that you've done in particular around the school day, and around mental health in particular. Today, in The Daily Telegraph, for example, there's a report, as we come out of the COVID pandemic, around eating disorders and how that's affecting young people and the help and support that's required to be put in place there. What better people to inform the measures that need to be put in place than young people themselves? And then, also, reflecting on the school day and the changes that I know the Government are talking about bringing forward, it's heartening to see that dialogue between the Government bench and the youth parliamentarians in the work that you've done.

So, I wish you well and continued success in your work. I understand that you have another six months of work until this term comes to an end—I think I'm right in saying that, Presiding Officer, 2023—and, from your initial presentations, you've indicated, obviously, that there'll be reports coming forward in the autumn. I, certainly, and, I know, my colleagues on the Conservative benches have enjoyed working with fellow youth parliamentarians, and we look forward to continuing that work and the support. Hopefully, it'll open the door to many of you coming forward and putting yourself forward at election time, to be considered by the electorate more generally, irrespective of whatever party that is, because democracy flourishes when people do stand for election and offer that choice, that broad choice to the electorate, so that their voices can be heard. So, I wish you all well in your continued work, and thank you for taking the time to be with us here today.

13:00

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and it is a real privilege for me to be here listening to you and learning from you today.

I should say that we adults tend to think that we're younger than we actually are, so to be literally surrounded by actual young people, and such terrifically bright young people, is a bit frightening, so go easy on us, is my request.

Now, although I am a little older than you, we do have one thing in common, and that is curiosity. I've just become leader of my party and am excited by the possibilities that that will bring in creating a better Wales. And likewise, I know that your eyes will be wide-open, yes, to the challenges, but also the exciting opportunities facing us as a nation.

I want to thank you for the important work that you do and assure you that your priorities are, in so many ways, my priorities and our priorities too. And today, having you here, really is a timely reminder that I and my fellow Senedd Members aren't here for ourselves; we're here for you. In everything we say and do, we should ask ourselves the simple question, 'Will we be leaving our nation in a better place as a consequence of our actions?' I know that young people face so many challenges—the pandemic turned schooling upside down. Who would have thought that the dining room, the kitchen, would become the classroom? But you showed resilience, an ability to adapt and an eagerness to learn, and your ability as a generation to weather the storm is something that we can learn from.

I know that COVID created so many challenges for you, as we tried to keep each other safe—the loneliness that came from that. Not having our close friends around us can be difficult and challenging in terms of mental health. And it's a cause of great praise for you that you made mental health something that could be talked about—something that was too difficult for our generation to talk about in the past.

One of the greatest concerns we have as a world, of course, is climate change. As Greta Thunberg said:

'Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.'

And with swift action as a result of pressure from your generation, we can make this world a better place. The challenge for us here, of course, is to show that we are hearing, that we are listening and willing to take action on what we hear from you. Thank you for being with us today.

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and it's great to see you all here today.

I really just want to say one thing: I am the only woman party leader in Wales, and I am the only woman party leader who doesn't share a role across the whole of the UK, so it's brilliant seeing all these young women here today. May you continue into politics, because we need you more than ever.

Thank you very much for coming here. Your work on mental health has been excellent, particularly in focusing on rural areas, which I represent, and others as well. I hope that this is the start of your role in terms of shaping Wales and the future. We need new ideas, new faces, and all kinds of new faces, to create an active and relevant democracy and civic life, and I hope that you will be part of realising that here in Wales. Thank you very much for coming.

Thank you very much to the party leaders. Now, the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, Jayne Bryant

Diolch, Llywydd, and it really is wonderful that both Parliaments are here today, sitting. It's a real privilege to be here, and I'd like to thank the Welsh Youth Parliament Members who've spoken this afternoon and the Welsh Youth Parliament Members for their continuing hard work. You are making sure that the voices of children and young people are really listened to at the highest level of policy and decision making in Wales.

As Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, I am very happy to say that the work that has already been done by this Youth Parliament has helped inform our thinking and our recommendations. We reflected on the findings of 'Young Minds Matter' in our recent report on mental health in higher education, and we will continue to think about these findings in any future work we do on children and young people’s emotional and mental well-being. I look forward to reading the reports of both the education and the school curriculum committee, and the climate and environment committee, and I’m sure that we will find both of these reports as helpful as the mental health and well-being committee’s report.

We’ve been incredibly lucky to hear directly from some of our Youth Parliament Members in our committee. Most recently, Georgia Miggins gave evidence to us and talked about her experiences in school, for our inquiry asking whether disabled children and young people have equal access to education. Rosie Squires played a huge part in our inquiry into care-experienced children; she came to the committee, played a big role in our stakeholder event, and has been a wonderful advocate for care-experienced children across Wales. We were really impressed with the passion and confidence of both Georgia and Rosie and their ideas for positive change, ideas that we will not lose sight of.

So, diolch yn fawr. Thank you, once again, to all those Welsh Youth Parliament Members for their hard work making sure that children and young people’s voices are heard loudly and clearly across Wales.

13:05

Thank you very much to the committee Chair. So, the next part of the session will be a series of questions from Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament to various Ministers within Welsh Government. So, the first set of questions is to be answered by the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. We have three questions from Jake Dillon, Ruben Kelman and Keira Bailey-Hughes. The first question, Jake Dillon.

Thank you. How will this Government make sure that the new curriculum is adapted for children across the country struggling with learning difficulties?

And I should have introduced you, Jake, as the Member for Maldwyn, Montgomeryshire, and I was prompted to do so by the cheers from another Member representing the constituency of Montgomeryshire. So, thank you for that question.

Ruben Kelman, again with a question for the Minister for education. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Communication regarding the new curriculum, there is very little. In the words of a teacher I know, it is the biggest failure in education since devolution. 

So, Minister, how are you going to ensure that the exciting changes aren't a complete failure? 

And Reuben is a Member of the Youth Parliament representing Cardiff North. Keira Bailey-Hughes with the next question to the Minister for education. Keira Bailey-Hughes representing partner organisation Gisda. Keira.

I finished school a year ago, and it wasn't a good experience for me or many of my friends who are LGBT+, and particularly my transgender friends. School was a dangerous place for them. There was misinformation and disinformation about trans people that ensured that. My question is: can we expect to see more education to support healthy attitudes towards minorities in the new curriculum, and what will that look like?

Thank you for all three questions. The Minister now to respond. 

Thank you, Llywydd, and thank you to all three for the questions on very important issues. To respond to Jake's question—

—it's a really important question, Jake, that you ask. The Curriculum for Wales framework is designed to be inclusive for all learners and designed to reflect the needs of each individual learner in the classroom. So, it's imperative, obviously, that it meets the needs of learners with additional learning needs as with all their peers in school. The framework guidance has been designed by teachers and specialists who have particular knowledge of ALN, so that it captures the range of needs that young people may have. The progression code, which is a fundamental part of the framework for the new curriculum, sets out expectations about progression for each learner, and then there are specific interventions and support available if particular learners aren't perhaps making the progress that they themselves would wish to see. So, there's a lot of resources being made available to schools as well at the moment to make sure that teachers are able to support the needs of each individual learner, including obviously those with additional learning needs. But it’s really important that we continue to focus on that as a Government, so that we can meet the needs of each individual learner.

Ruben, your question—I mean, you’re absolutely right that we need to make sure that teachers have the tools that they need to make the curriculum a success. Just to give you a little bit of reassurance, I hope, on Hwb there is an extensive range of resources available to support teachers in rolling out the curriculum. I know that Llanishen has been doing that since September of last year for Year 7. Obviously, that will then continue over the coming years. We’ll be working with schools to find out where they may need additional support and they’ve told us some areas, for example, around assessment and progression, so we’re providing particular support in relation to that, and we have a very, very significant professional learning programme that we fund as a Government, providing money for schools so that teachers can spend that money to develop their skills in particular areas in the curriculum. There’s a national framework. It’s a Curriculum for Wales, so there are statements of what matters, which tell teachers what they need to cover in the curriculum. But the whole point of the curriculum, alongside a strong national framework and expectations, is that we’re trusting teachers to design and deliver curricula that work for their learners, in their communities, in their schools, and so we use the national network across the school system to listen to teachers, to hear what more support they need to get the assistance they need to develop and design the curriculum for their school.

Keira, your point is really, really important. I’m absolutely committed to making sure that our school system and our curriculum are fully inclusive. The point you make about the experience of trans students is very, very important. We are working on guidance at the moment, which we’ll be putting out for consultation in the coming months, addressing a number of the points that you’ve made there. I hear from young people all the time that they need the extra guidance that we will be providing to schools. I’m really proud that we have a curriculum and a relationships and sexuality education curriculum that is fully LGBTQ+ inclusive. That’s very important to me personally. But we also want to make sure that every young person’s experience is reflected back at them, so, as you will also know, we’re the first part of the UK to make the teaching of the experiences and histories of black, Asian and minority ethnic people part of the curriculum, so I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing in that area. We’re all committed to making sure that schools are fully inclusive.

13:10

Thank you very much to the Minister for those responses. The next question is to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, and is to be asked by Ella Kenny from Swansea East. 

—Swansea East, to ask this question.

With the passing of the draconian Public Order Bill prohibiting groups like Extinction Rebellion from effective protest and greenhouse gases at a 4.5 million year high, what are the Welsh Government's plans to ensure radical transition to net zero, and how do they intend to hold Westminster accountable in stopping new oil and gas?

Well, I thank Ella for the question, and for the advocacy she has shown on this vital issue. I think it's important to say that 60 per cent of the emissions that we need to cut by 2050 are in the hands of the UK Government and 40 per cent are in the hands of the Welsh Government. We need to make sure that we achieve our 40 per cent cut. We know that, over the next 10 years, we have to make deeper cuts than we've managed over the course of the whole of the last three decades put together. That gives you a sense of the stretch that we're going to have to face to meet these vital targets. And there's a great deal that we're doing. In fact, Julie James is today—my colleague—in Brussels at a meeting of the Under2 Coalition, a network of cities and regions from across the world who are working at a sub-state level to look at what we can do. So, I think that's absolutely what we should be focusing on, the optimism of the will, if you like, of what we must do.

The UK Government, of course, has a major part to play, too, and it's fair to say that they're better on talk than they are on action. The fact that they're on the brink of authorising a brand new oilfield in Rosebank, with 500 million barrels of oil set to be approved, shows how out of step they are with both the science and with public opinion. I think that is a retrograde step. It's not too late for Grant Shapps to stop, and I hope that he will. Keir Starmer has said that if there's a Labour Government he would block all North sea oil drilling, and that is the right thing to do. We both have responsibilities, not just to talk, but to act. 

I thank the Deputy Minister. 

Tegan Skyrme is next to ask her question to the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being, and Tegan represents Learning Disability Wales. Tegan.

13:15

Everyone needs access to good mental health support. I know first-hand that people with disabilities often struggle with their mental health more than others because of the challenges they have to face, but mental health services aren't always accessible to them. How do you plan on ensuring that mental health services are accessible?

Thank you very much for that question, Tegan. It's really important to me that everyone can access the support they need from our mental health services and that there are no barriers to getting support. All health boards are responsible for planning care to meet everyone's needs, and that includes making sure services are accessible. In fact, the NHS has a legal responsibility to do this under the Equality Act 2010, so that means that services have to make adjustments to ensure all access and communication needs are met. We as a Welsh Government are working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the British Deaf Association and NHS organisations to help us understand what we need to do better so that people with sensory loss can access our services easily. I've also asked for a review of our community mental health teams to help tell us what needs to change to make these services more accessible for disabled people. Together, these will help us understand what improvements we need to make. But my aim is to make sure there are more ways of accessing support so that people can choose the way that works best for them. Some people might find it easier to talk face to face or on the phone, some people might like to use their computer or text.

Yesterday, I launched the new '111 press 2' for urgent mental health support in Wales, which means that people, including children and young people, can use this service at any time of the day or night, including the weekend. We'll make sure that people can use text-to-speech and speech-to-text to access the service, and we'll also have video support for British Sign Language and training for staff in neurodivergence. Our 111 helpline has been linked with our CALL helpline, which has just expanded their offer to include a neurodivergent listening line so that families, parents, young people can discuss concerns and find the right services to support them. What we want is for services to work together to make sure people get the help they need, and we call that the 'no wrong door' approach. We're trying really hard to design services so that everyone can access mental health support when and where they need it, and we've developed our NEST/NYTH framework to help services plan that.

Our ambition is to make mental health support available in schools, in care, in foster homes, in workplaces and even in your own homes, and we want to do that by giving teachers, social workers, parents and carers the training and support they need to support young people. We've made a really good start, we're already rolling this out in schools through our whole-school approach, and well-being is now part of everyday learning in Wales. We're linking every school in Wales with their local mental health service, who can come to the school and help support young people and teachers. We also have our workforce plan for mental health, so that we can train specialist staff and anyone who needs it, and that includes developing training to help everyone in Wales spot the signs of trauma so that they can help when someone has had really bad experiences in their lives that can lead to mental health problems. We also have training for our mental health staff and other workers on helping people with neurological differences so that they can treat that person in a way that works for them.

I do understand, though, that things are not perfect and that we need to do more to improve access for everyone. We're currently working on our new strategy for mental health in Wales, and that gives us a chance to say what we'll do next to make things better. Making sure services are accessible for everyone is a really important part of this, and last week we launched a survey so that people get their chance to help us think about how we improve support going forward. I would really encourage everyone to take part in this survey, so that you can help us think about how we can improve mental health services for everyone. I'm especially keen to hear from children and young people. Diolch.

Diolch to the Deputy Minister. The last word in this session does go and should go to a Member of the Youth Parliament, Ollie Mallin, who represents the Carers Trust in Wales.

13:20

First of all, I'd like to say what an honour it is to be standing here today at the second joint session between our Parliaments. I've been so lucky to stand twice in this Chamber with you and your predecessors.

Between the last session and today, Wales has changed dramatically. We've faced a global pandemic, multiple Prime Ministers, and now a cost-of-living crisis. But Wales and its people have never been stronger or as united as a nation. I speak for the whole Welsh Youth Parliament and myself when I say that I hope the Welsh Government and the rest of the Senedd take on our recommendations with the full intent of acting on them. I believe that the Youth Parliament is one of the best—if not the best—sources that the Welsh Government have when it comes to finding out what the young people of Wales want, what the next generation of Wales want.

I wanted to talk about my experience as a Welsh Youth Parliament Member, to show you how important the role of the Youth Parliament really is, and how much of an impact it has, not just in Wales, but on my personal life. When I first applied for my first-ever seat on the first Welsh Youth Parliament, I was only 11. I had no voice, no platform, but I had ideas, and I wanted to make a change. I knew the struggles I faced getting support for being a young carer, and I knew that that was wrong. I knew that the system needed challenging, so at 12 years old, the Welsh Youth Parliament gave me a pathway to do that. And now, here, I'm 17, and Wales has its very own national ID card for young carers to help them through their roles.

My little sister, who is a carer, is nine. She has access to services that I never had or could have dreamt of at her age, and for me, that's my job done. I've helped one person, made a difference to one person's life. What else really matters? So, when I reflect on my time in the Senedd, I think if just me as a single Member can do what I've done and help the people I've helped, imagine what 60 of us can do. Imagine what the next 60, the next 60, and so on, will achieve. Bit by bit, we're making Wales the best version of itself possible.

However, there is only so much we can do before we need your help. So, we ask you, please, to take our recommendations and consider them all, act on them all. These recommendations come straight from the young people of Wales, so I urge you here today, where the heart of Wales lies, to bring these recommendations to life.

I'm lucky enough to have seen the development of the Youth Parliament and to experience first-hand the impact our voices can have. The fact that as a nation we have a joint Parliament in the first place shows that Wales are ahead of the game. We have votes at 16, which is incredible, and I think it's so important that we keep moving forward and striving to be better.

Lastly, thank you to the Llywydd and the Members for welcoming us into the Chamber to speak to you today. The work that we can achieve if we work together is immense.

 Thank you for listening. [Applause.]

I don't think we could have had finer words to end our session than the words we've just heard from you, Ollie. So, thank you for that, and thank you for being an inspiration to your fellow Members as youth parliamentarians, as well as an inspiration and a challenge to us as Members of the Senedd. And by the way, we haven't had a bow tie in this Chamber since we had a Member called David Melding, who you remind us of today, I think, in the words that you've uttered.

Thank you to all of you as young people who've joined with us today—those of you who have spoken, and those of you who have been here present with us. It's great that so many of you have made the effort to be with us today, and some of you as well on Zoom. Thank you for all the work that you do within the Senedd and the committees, and the work that you will continue to do with your time remaining. You've all been really succinct and clear in everything that you've said to us, and I'm hoping that that will translate to your partner Senedd in what's left for the remainder of this day.

I'm going to suspend proceedings now, so that we can make some changes to our environment here in the Chamber, and we will reconvene in around 10 minutes.

Thank you, all, for setting out your priorities as young people and Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament. Your priorities are now our priorities too, and we look forward to working with you in the future too. Thank you all very much. [Applause.]

13:25

Plenary was suspended at 13:25.

13:35

The Senedd reconvened at 13:35, with the Llywydd in the Chair.

2. Questions to the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip

We will reconvene. The next item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Social Justice, and the first question is from Rhys ab Owen. 

Strip Searches on Children

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the police and other criminal and youth justice agencies about ending strip searches on children, following the recommendation in the report of the Children’s Commissioners of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child? OQ59680

Thank you very much for your question. 

I was extremely concerned to hear about the report into strip searches of children, published by the Children's Commissioner for England on 27 March. I have discussed this issue with the lead police and crime commissioner this week to clarify the position in Wales.

Diolch, Gweinidog. The issue of stop and search was raised this week with the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, by Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, and again highlighted the lack of Wales-specific data—which we hear very often in this Chamber—on stop and search rates by population. Minister, do you support the recommendation of the children's commissioner to abolish child strip searches in Wales?

What is important now is that we look at the extent and use of strip searches. I've raised this with the police and crime commissioner, as I've said, and we recognise that strip searches are potentially extremely traumatic for young people, and it's crucial that we understand from the police what the data is. And, as you say, this is something that we are concerned about.

I have met with the children's commissioner on this issue, and I have been assured that policing in Wales leads are bringing together data from each force in Wales, to ensure that we have a full picture of how such searches are used, where the issues are, and where we need to take action. So, that will give us a more complete picture than the one that we currently have, and also, a picture of any disproportionality. I have stressed the urgency of this task, and asked for a projected timescale, and I have written to the Children's Commissioner for Wales to confirm how seriously we take this issue, and I'm happy to report back when we get that data picture on what appropriate action should be taken in terms of this practice. 

The Voluntary Sector in Montgomeryshire

2. How is the Welsh Government supporting the voluntary sector in Montgomeryshire? OQ59693

Diolch yn fawr, Russell George. I am funding Third Sector Support Wales just over £7 million per year until March 2025; £346,463 of this funding goes to Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations every year, to help local voluntary organisations with fundraising, good governance, safeguarding and volunteering.

Thank you for your answer, Minister. The National Cyber Security centre issued a report last year that outlined the cyber threat that charities of all sizes face, and I'm particularly concerned about the charities in Montgomeryshire—smaller charities that do not have the resources to strengthen their cyber security without support. And, of course, a lot of smaller charities are more likely to rely on staff using personal IT, where it's less easy to secure and manage than centrally used IT. 

So, can you outline, Minister, what the Welsh Government is doing to help charities become more secure? And the money that you outlined in your first response to me—how can that be used in relation to combating cyber security threats to the third sector?

Well, I'd like to thank the Member for raising a very important issue for the third sector, not just in your constituency in Powys and Montgomeryshire, but also, for the whole of Wales. And it is often the smaller charities that are caught by this, not understanding safeguarding responsibilities and threats in terms of cyber security. 

I think it's important that we have put additional support into Third Sector Support Wales, and that is to address these very issues. It's going to enable the Newid partnership, which is led by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the Wales Co-operative Centre, and ProMo-Cymru, to continue supporting digital skills in the voluntary sector, which will help to start to address this. It's £1.2 million over this and the next three financial years. But it will benefit those voluntary organisations and the vulnerable people they work with as well, which they will encounter on these issues, and certainly, this is something I will raise at the next third sector partnership council meeting.  

13:40
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

We will now move to the party spokespeople. The Conservatives spokesperson, Altaf Hussain.  

Diolch, Presiding Officer. Minister, at the weekend, the capital once again hosted a very successful Pride Cymru—yet another sign of how far we have come in terms of LGBT rights. At the event, the First Minister reiterated the Welsh Government's intentions for Wales to become the most LGBT-friendly nation in Europe by the end of this decade—an aim my party fully supports. However, it appears that reality is not keeping pace with the rhetoric. Lesbian couples in Wales are being told they must prove infertility with 12 unsuccessful cycles of intrauterine insemination—double the original six—before accessing NHS-funded IVF. Not all health boards fund IUI, therefore, access to NHS fertility healthcare is inconsistent and dependent on where individuals seeking healthcare live in Wales. Minister, why are we treating same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples? Surely, if Wales is to become the most LGBT-friendly nation in Europe, we could start with ensuring equal access to healthcare. Thank you. 

Thank you very much for your question. 

And it is an important question. I just wanted to say thank you for acknowledging the fantastic support that was received, and led not just by the First Minister, but my colleagues, the Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan and Jeremy Miles. There was great support from Welsh Government, as well as from across this Senedd, at the event on Saturday, and all of the support in terms of the LGBTQ+ action plan, which, of course, is led by my colleague. But our support for Plaid Cymru, particularly extending—. I'm going to a procession in my constituency in Cowbridge on Saturday. 

You raise a very important point, which is the responsibility, particularly in terms of healthcare, of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Social Services, and you are referring to a consultation proposal in terms of changes. So, I think, it is very important that you do look at the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee consultation on this issue. 

Thank you for that answer, Minister. We certainly still have a long way to go if we are to create a more equal Wales. It is certainly not helped by extremists on the left and the right seeking to sow division between various groups. We have seen this play out in the past week, when Westminster held a debate about the definition of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act 2010. Attacks on the trans community and on women who are concerned about single-sex spaces help no-one and do nothing to address either side's concerns. Minister, your LGBTQ+ action plan aims to address the issue of gender recognition here in Wales. What steps are you taking to ensure that we can have a measured approach here in Wales, an approach without the name calling or death threats, without the vitriol and spite? How can we guarantee that everyone’s rights are respected?

Diolch yn fawr for your question. But, I have to say that LGBTQ+ rights, including trans rights, are human rights, and the LGBTQ+ action plan—. I think the thousands of people who attended on Saturday, particularly in our capital city, acknowledge what we're doing. It is important, and you acknowledged it earlier on, that we're committed to making Wales the most LGBTQ+-friendly nation in Europe, and that's why we've developed such a robust and cross-cutting action plan, and why it strengthens protections for LGBTQ+ people and promotes equality for all. But can I just say also that I think it is very important that we look at the impact of our education and the important ways in which—? Today, even in our Youth Parliament, the Minister was able to respond to this point. Actually, the inclusive education curriculum for Wales, relationships and sexuality education, I think today we saw how important it is, how important that that commenced last September and that it has such a positive and protective role in learners' education. It's our children and young people who will, as we've seen today, show the way forward in our learning curriculum.

13:45

Thank you, Minister. All of us have a role to play in removing the heat from and bringing light to such discussions. All of us have a role to play in combating hate, which is why I was delighted to learn yesterday that the organisers of the Glastonbury Festival have decided to cancel a screening of the documentary, Oh, Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie. The film claims to tell the story of what caused the Corbyn project to fail. Seventeen minutes in, after presenting evidence of an orchestrated campaign against Corbyn, the narrator, Alexei Sayle, asks: 'But if it was an orchestrated campaign, who was in the orchestra?' There follows a silent montage showing the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, and the Israel Advocacy Movement, using captions and pictures to state that which, if spoken aloud, would be blatant antisemitism, which is why the Board of Deputies of British Jews called upon Glastonbury organisers to cancel the showing—

I think the Minister has many responsibilities, but the responsibility for what's shown in Glastonbury probably is not hers. So, we'll need to come to your question.

Minister, do you agree that this attempt to rewrite history and its shameful antisemitic tropes have no place in Wales, and will you join me in calling upon all venues in Wales not to screen this hateful film?

Llywydd, can I just say, and also it's an opportunity to remind the Member and Members in the Chamber, that, in 2017, the Welsh Government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism in full and without qualification? 

Thank you, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister.

Plaid Cymru welcomes the fact that the Welsh Government has launched a refreshed child poverty strategy this week, something that we've been calling for for some time, and it's eight years, of course, since the last strategy was published. Data published this month by Loughborough University shows there's been very little progress made over that time. We welcome the fact that it reaffirms the commitment on measures such as the delivery of the free school meals programme, which reflects the positive and constructive legacy of our co-operation agreement.

I’m also glad, Minister, to see commitment to accelerate work on establishing a Welsh benefits system. You know that I have consistently advocated for this and received the Senedd’s support for my call for a Bill to ensure that every £1 of Welsh support goes to the right pocket at the right time as easily and quickly as possible and in a consistent way throughout Wales. So, will there be a statutory element to local authority delivery of these support payments through this Welsh benefits system to ensure this?

And turning to the fifth priority of the plan, on enabling co-operation, Minister, how do you envisage the commitment to establish and support a communities of practice approach working on a practical basis? Will there be additional frameworks for relevant stakeholders to ensure that the different elements of the plan are co-ordinated effectively?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned Williams. I am very pleased that we were able to launch the revised child poverty strategy for Wales. It is now open for consultation, so I look forward to having the in-depth response, of course, from yourselves and from Wales, and particularly from children and young people, on all of the aspects that you raised. 

It is a 12-week consultation, launched on Monday, and it has been based, in terms of the way in which we've developed it, in terms of the involvement of 3,000 children and young people and families and organisations already, to develop this draft revised child poverty strategy. So, I think you're right in focusing on the issues where we can make the most difference. It's the policies where we can make the most difference, identify priority areas, and I'm particularly interested in those points that you raise. On the policy in practice, I'm meeting with the Bevan Foundation very shortly and, in fact, I'm being joined by Siân Gwenllian, because it's part of looking at our commitments in the co-operation agreement, and looking at what this could mean in terms of our development of our Welsh benefits system, which, of course, is crucial in terms of tackling child poverty.

13:50

Diolch, Weinidog. A more general point about the plan that has actually been made by Dr Steffan Evans of the Bevan Foundation—he points to the lack of detail in the plan generally, and cites the example of the commitment, for example, on childcare and transport costs, which merely says,

'focus work across government to find affordable solutions to childcare and transport costs to remove barriers to work and make work pay'.

He asks what does this mean in practice and if there is a target as to how many children should have access to free or affordable childcare in the next five years. What barriers will the Welsh Government be seeking to remove to enable more access to affordable transport for children? Why aren't there specific targets in this plan, Minister?  

Well, thank you very much for that question, and I'm, obviously, very keen to hear and learn from what the Bevan Foundation—. I've already responded to that point, but also the Wales Centre for Public Policy have helped us in terms of moving us forward and the key issues that came forward that we need to address. So, yes, in terms of childcare, where we have got the best offer in Wales, particularly enhanced by our expanding Flying Start offer for free childcare, which, of course, reaches out to the most disadvantaged—. But also, looking at transport, it's important that, actually, we acknowledge that the 20 mph speed limit is an important factor in terms of just protecting children in terms of tackling child poverty, but also looking at transport in terms of access to work and opportunities.

I think it is important to acknowledge the issues around the fact that we need to recognise that we have to have outcomes from this child poverty strategy. We don't hold all the levers necessary to bring about a real change in levels of child poverty in Wales, and I hope you will join us, as you know, in calling on UK Ministers to do what they need to do to tackle child poverty—abolish the benefit cap and two-child limit and to increase local housing allowance. But what we are doing is looking at ways in which can develop a monitoring framework—it says that in the draft strategy—so we can have real, transparent accountability for those things that we don't have the powers over.

Gender-based Violence

3. Will the Welsh Government provide an update on progress in relation to developing guidance to address concerns about the relationship between data sharing and the willingness of survivors of gender-based violence to seek support? OQ59702

Diolch yn fawr, Sarah Murphy. While the issue of police data sharing is not devolved, the Welsh Government is working closely with criminal justice partners through our blueprint approach to delivering the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence national strategy. This includes a focus on empowering survivors to seek safety and support with confidence that patient information is safeguarded.

Diolch, Minister. Imagine coming to this country and being unable to receive the support you desperately need. Imagine coming to this country and being scared to reach out to not only the police, but also agencies that are meant to protect you from gender-based violence. Imagine coming to this country and being beaten, battered and bruised. And imagine, if you report this violence to the authorities, that you are deported, without your children, just like the perpetrator told you would be if you spoke out. Sadly, Minister, this is far too common, as the Equality and Social Justice Committee report, 'Gender based violence: The needs of migrant women', highlighted last year. I was proud to take part in the investigation conducted by the committee, and I thank the chair, Jenny Rathbone, for leading the charge on this issue.

Minister, I was pleased that the Welsh Government accepted in principle recommendation 13 of the report, which stated that a firewall should be established that restricts the data sharing between agencies of those who seek support for sexual and gender-based violence. Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez of the Step Up Migrant Women coalition suggested that a firewall would not only have the positive result of allowing victims to report safely, it would also take the burden from statutory services, including the police, to have to do immigration-related actions. So, Minister, can you provide a specific update in relation to recommendation 13 and how the Welsh Government should establish a firewall that restricts the sharing of data between agencies on those who seek support for sexual and gender-based violence? Diolch.

Diolch yn fawr, Sarah Murphy, and can I thank you for not just this powerful question today, but also for the leading role that you're playing, I have to say, in this Senedd, in developing understanding and expertise in data justice? I think we recognise that, and we turn to you, and we are learning from you on these issues in terms of your contributions, particularly on the Equality and Social Justice Committee, and this particular inquiry that you undertook in the committee and the recommendation.

Now, it is important that we recognise, as I said, that safety ought to come before status, absolutely, in terms of immigration and support. We've got to protect and support victims and survivors of abuse; it's got to be the first priority for all services, including the police. This is something I'm now raising in the national implementation board of our strategy, the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy. We did accept the recommendation in principle. We can't direct the police or other reserved authorities, but we're considering with them how barriers can be removed to accessing services and how we can actually make this a delivery mechanism for our national strategy.

13:55
People Seeking Asylum

4. How is the Welsh Government working to ensure compassion is built into support systems for people seeking asylum in Wales? OQ59708

Diolch yn fawr, Carolyn Thomas. Our vision for Wales is to be a nation of sanctuary, embedding compassion as a key principle. Our nation of sanctuary plan aims to ensure people seeking sanctuary are welcomed from day one of arrival in Wales, and our support includes advice services, information about rights, entitlements, and integration services.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. I recently visited Holywell world dance festival, which was, in part, to help refugees now resettled in north-east Wales feel more included and to give them the chance to share their culture with others. I enjoyed chatting to refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine along with fair-minded, kind, Welsh, English and Chinese people from around the area who believe in hope rather than hate. The mayor of Mold, Councillor Teresa Carberry, is having an event on Friday, and she's called for a widening of compassion and empathy to celebrate diversity, and this is the message that I believe political leaders should be sharing. It saddens my heart when I hear UK Government Ministers who consistently encourage hatred and fear towards asylum seekers, in an attempt to appeal to the far right. They're all people, after all. There are good and bad people everywhere, so I just don't understand it. Minister, do you agree with me that this makes it all the more important that here in Wales we continue to highlight that we are proud to be a nation of sanctuary, and are dedicated to supporting those that are seeking asylum? Thank you.

Well, diolch yn fawr, Carolyn Thomas. How important it is to recognise that compassion that was shown in the Holywell world dance festival, with such integration and such compassion, and, of course, such benefit that the whole community was feeling from that integration. We are in Refugee Week, and the theme is compassion, and earlier this week I attended a school—and I'm meeting other schools, and, in fact, there are events going on in schools across Wales—who are working on embedding this in the curriculum, but it's also something where towns, communities, councils and universities are embracing the nation of sanctuary and actually also engaging with City of Sanctuary, who were with us yesterday when we met with the Welsh Refugee Council. This is about Wales being a compassionate and welcoming place for those seeking sanctuary, and it is important that you highlight today, from that community in your constituency, in your region of North Wales, the support that's coming, with the mayor of Mold actually also playing her part. It's leadership, and it does mean that we should all play our part in terms of that warm welcome, and recognise that we're enriched by the skills and experiences of those sanctuary seekers who come here, who we can care for in Wales.

Question 5. Joel James. I do apologise—

—I mixed up my Sams there. I was looking for Sam Kurtz when, in fact, it's Sam Rowlands I have down. So, I mixed up my Sams. Apologies for that. A supplementary—Sam Rowlands.

14:00

Not at all, Llywydd, and thank you for the opportunity. It's wonderful to hear of the Holywell world dance festival. Sadly, I wasn't able to make it there; I'm not sure whether Holywell would have been ready for my dance moves on that occasion—[Laughter.]—but I thank Carolyn Thomas for raising the important point today.

Of course, Minister, you'll know that the United Kingdom has a history of accepting and welcoming those seeking asylum and refuge from around the world for centuries. In Britain, of course, we always maintain that welcome and heart of compassion. If you look back, in the sixteenth century, from the French Huguenots, right through to the present day with Ukrainians, Syrians and people from Hong Kong seeking that refuge, in Wales, and in the UK as a whole, we maintain those open arms and that haven for those who need it.

Focusing on my region, Minister, you'll be aware, I'm sure, of proposals for a hotel to be used, in Northop Hall, as a site for 400 single male refugees. I'd like to know what the Welsh Government's view is on this, please. 

Diolch yn fawr, Sam Rowlands, and thank you for your recognition of the nation of sanctuary and the recognition of the support and welcome in north Wales, in your region, and the ways in which local authorities are also playing such a crucial role in terms of support. Now, obviously, this is an area where it is not—migration policy—devolved to Wales, but we work very closely on the point of integration with all of the local services that we provide. I think it is important that this is where the team Wales approach has been so successful, not just in terms of our response to the Ukrainian humanitarian response, which continues, as we discuss here in the Senedd, but, before that, the response to the Afghan evacuation, where we have, as has already been said, Afghan refugees living all over Wales whom we support, and the Syrians who are also with us and who are so much part of our communities.

It is important that we recognise that this is a Home Office responsibility. We are concerned about the ways in which the Home Office is not engaging sufficiently with our local authorities, particularly in terms of support and the response—the multi-agency response. I think you know that the particular site that you mentioned is subject to planning now. But, indeed, we now have a nation of sanctuary ministerial board, which met this morning with Ministers, and including representatives from the Welsh Local Government Association and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. So, we are working on a team Wales approach to ensure that we can offer the support we can, but also raise with the Home Office our particular concerns about the way in which they are using, inappropriately, these locations.

Now, I would say, and I think we said this yesterday in terms of the Illegal Migration Bill, I do ask again whether you and your colleagues can raise these issues with the UK Government. I'm not talking about the Illegal Migration Bill at this point; I'm actually saying, 'Can you join us in saying that what the UK Government needs to do is improve the processing facility for asylum applications for those in need?' The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has got a range—and that's cross-party—of recommendations in this area. If they could improve the asylum applications, then there would be less need for people to have to come to stay in unsuitable venues and locations. We need to ensure that they can swiftly, as they used to be, be accommodated and settled, or, indeed, there can be effective return agreements for those with invalid claims and an exceptional process to ensure asylum for those in particular need.

I am making this point, Llywydd, today, because it is something that we could unite on—call for those safe and legal routes, and ensure that we can get some of those safe and legal routes like, as I said yesterday, the Dubs scheme, named after Lord Alf Dubs. I think, if you can join with us on that—. I'll be meeting with the immigration Minister, as local government has very recently, for clarity, better engagement and raising concerns about the impact of large sites on integration and cohesion.

14:05
Credit Unions

5. Will the Minister provide an update on how credit unions are supporting families in Wales? OQ59701

Diolch yn fawr, Joel James. We're working closely with credit unions to provide ethical loans and savings, delivered through 13 projects. In addition, we are providing £1.2 million for a loan expansion scheme. I also engage regularly with responsible lenders, to ensure they're doing all they can to support people through the cost-of-living crisis.

Thank you, Minister, for your response. According to their website, Cardiff and Vale Credit Union, while selling themselves as an organisation that, and I quote,

'offer flexible loans on fair terms, with low rates, no fees'

seem to be offering quite staggering interest rates for loans that are massively above market rates. In fact, Minister, a standard family loan for £1,000 would incur an interest rate of 41.2 per cent, and a loyalty loan for £1,000 would see someone paying 40.2 per cent in interest. Indeed, most of the rates they offered on loans of different amounts were considerably higher than someone would get from a bank or building society. And, though they do offer competitive loan rates, these are restricted-access only and won't be available to many people who will be applying for them. I'm most concerned that, for family loans, listed for school uniforms, trips, holidays, Christmas and family holidays, Cardiff and Vale Credit Union will now accept child benefit as a method of payment. So, the benefit paid to families to make sure children are properly fed and clothed can now be used to pay the 41.2 per cent interest on loans to the credit union. However you look at this, Minister, it's wrong for a family that is struggling and needs money for school uniforms to pay 41.2 per cent interest, which is an interest rate within the region of the infamous pay-day loan companies. With this in mind, do you believe that this rate is punishing people for being poor and that it's not within the ethos of the credit union's stated aims of fair terms and low rates? Thank you.

Well, thank you for that question. I'm a very proud member—I should declare that interest—of Cardiff and Vale Credit Union, as are so many others, and I would urge you to visit Cardiff and Vale Credit Union. We visited credit unions after Christmas to congratulate them on the work that they're doing and, indeed, to support them as ethical lenders, providing access to affordable credit, setting up community hubs, working with families through the school-saving scheme.

But I think it is important to say we have supported them with this loan expansion scheme. So, £1.2 million's been provided to 10 credit unions for this loan expansion scheme, and it does allow people with poor credit history to access affordable credit. Up until March of this year, almost 1,700 loans were issued through this scheme, and that's continuing to increase. There are financial challenges being faced by households across Wales, but the credit unions across Wales—and I've visited many, and I do encourage Members to do so, across the Chamber—have welcomed this particular loan expansion scheme. And, let's face it, in terms of supporting the cost of living, £1.2 million was given to credit unions in the last financial year to expand their lending. That's been recycled into this financial year, and it's the ethically driven credit union sector that's attracting and serving those very financially vulnerable new members.

But can I also take the opportunity to say that more than 35 per cent of credit union borrowers are lone parents with dependent children? They provide family loans, where repayments are deducted automatically from benefit payments. It's very popular—it opens up access to affordable credit and, with the savings element, it helps parents to save more regularly. They're very engaged with their members, credit unions. They're affordable, not for profit and ethical.

And finally, can I say we're also joining with Fair4All Finance? And we're joining with Scotland—all devolved nations, as well as England—we're joining with them, and responsible lenders, to test a no-interest loan scheme, which I'm sure the Member will be interested in. So, credit unions in Wales will be referral partners for it. It's being delivered by Social Investment Cymru, Fair4All and Salad Money, and I shall be glad to report on how that pilot is going.

Digital Exclusion

6. What action is the Minister taking to address digital exclusion? OQ59689

Our national digital inclusion and health programme, Digital Communities Wales, supports organisations across all communities and sectors to help people engage with digital. The digital strategy for Wales makes clear that for people who cannot, or decide not to, participate digitally, alternative ways to access public services in Wales must remain available.

14:10

Thank you for that response, and I'm very pleased to hear you say that access to services in a non-digital way should be available. We know that only 41 per cent of the over-75s have digital skills, and 32 per cent of people aged 75 plus feel that they are digitally excluded. And, unfortunately, this is leading to problems in those individuals being able to access vital services, such as access to blue badges. Research by Age Cymru has shown that, very often, older people are being told by their local authorities that the only way to apply is online. When they ask for help because they're not able to apply online, they're told, 'We can't offer any help', and clearly that isn't good enough. What action are you going to take, as the Deputy Minister with the responsibility for this issue, to ensure that local authorities do live up to the aspirations that you've set them as a Welsh Government to make sure that applications for blue badges—and, indeed, any other public service—are available for people who are not able to do things like online applications? 

Can I thank Darren Millar for the question? I know this is something that you've raised in this Senedd Chamber before, and it's definitely something I think all of us collectively share concerns about, that people cannot always still access services, because you pointed to the 32 per cent figure of people 75 and over in Wales who do not personally use the internet, or people that don't know how to or don't feel confident using it as well. So, I'll certainly pick up the points you made specifically on blue badges, but if there are any other concerns, any specific cases you want to write to me or Jane Hutt to raise, we can make sure that's followed up in our conversations and implementing this with colleagues in local government and beyond as well.

We're also doing some work—we've commissioned the University of Liverpool to do some research for us on a minimum digital living standard for Wales. So, basically, building a consensus for citizen organisations to consider what they might need to do more of and the way that they need to do things to have minimum digital inclusion, but that they would always have that alternative in place as well.  

Community Policing in Denbighshire

7. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's ambition for increasing community police provision in Denbighshire? OQ59715

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government is committed to community safety in Wales. One of our programme for government commitments is to maintain funding for 500 police community support officers and increase their number by 100 over the period of this Senedd term. And there are currently 34 PCSOs based in Denbighshire.

Thank you very much for your response, Minister, and the reason I want to raise this question this afternoon is that recently I spent three shifts on the beat with north Wales local policing teams. I did two shifts in Rhyl and one in Denbigh, and one of the common themes that has been recognised is the need for the enhancement of a local policing presence on the streets to increase the visibility and be a natural deterrent to crimes in our towns and villages in Denbighshire. As you mentioned in your initial response, Minister, it was in the Welsh Labour Party's 2021 Senedd election manifesto that you were committed to increasing PCSOs in their hundreds, and, two years on, we're still waiting to see evidence of this pledge on the streets. Can you give us an update on this matter and a bit of a timeline as to when these PCSOs are going to be delivered, or is it just more warm words from the Labour Party in Wales? 

I'm very glad you have actually welcomed the fact that it is a Welsh Labour Government that is not only funding 500 PCSOs, but also increasing their number by 100 over the period of this Senedd term, and that is important in terms of the timeline—I will come on to the timeline. But also, can I take from that an indication that you might also perhaps be warming to the fact that we feel that devolution of policing to Wales would be the most appropriate way forward, so that we can actually meet the neighbourhood policing needs of our communities? And I congratulate you on joining three shifts on the beat. I myself joined a shift on the beat—a ride-around, as they call it—recently, and learnt a lot from that experience, as many Senedd Members have also mentioned over a period of time. 

So, we're providing over £22 million of funding for PCSOs in this financial year, despite the fact that, as I say, at present policing is reserved. We want to devolve it. We've got a very challenging fiscal position, and that's because of your Government and cuts and austerity for 13 years. But you have got 34 police community support officers in Denbighshire—23 PCSOs are based in Denbigh and Abergele coastal, a further 11 are based in Denbigh and Conwy rural—and this is a mixture of Welsh Government and force-funded PCSOs. We're funding more than half of the total funding for PCSOs in north Wales in 2023-24, and that's an agreement with the force.

Just finally, Llywydd, I want to give one example of a very important neighbourhood policing team project in north Wales, and you will be aware of it, I’m sure, north Wales Members. The neighbourhood policing team have been supporting the Blossom and Bloom project. It’s a charity supporting young mums in the area, and actually it was the local neighbourhood policing team that helped with the funding application for this charity to continue their work. This just shows how the PCSOs play such a crucial role in the community, working with young people, offering fitness sessions to mums at a local boxing gym. One of you can claim this project, I’m sure, at some point. But also, the local boxing gym won an award at the police and crime commissioners community awards ceremony, so Wales is on the map in terms of the support we’re giving to those important PCSOs.

14:15
People Trafficking

8. What recent discussions has the Minister had with police and crime commissioners about tackling people trafficking in south Wales? OQ59688

Whilst crime and justice are reserved matters, we continue to work collaboratively with the police and other relevant partners across Wales. Our policing partnership board for Wales provides opportunities to discuss a range of issues, including people trafficking. 

Yes, this is firmly one of those issues that falls within that either jagged or fuzzy edge of devolved and retained competences, but my time out on the beat regularly with our local police has highlighted this issue of the trafficking of people, vulnerable people, into drugs farming in residential or empty properties in the south Wales valleys. It affects those communities, it takes police resource, and it impacts directly on vulnerable individuals who are often trafficked into these situations, exploited, and then they are the ones who are prosecuted, and the big criminals running the operations escape to run their operations from another property, on another day, with another exploited individual, but still impacting these often most disadvantaged communities, where the properties are cheapest and most viable for criminal operations like this. 

So, what discussions can the Minister have with the PCCs and the chief constables on this? And, until policing is devolved, as it is to the Mayor of London, in effect, what discussions with the Home Secretary too, to end this exploitation of trafficked individuals and the exploitation of disadvantaged communities?

I thank the Member for his question. You're right to raise the impact that this sort of abhorrent behaviour, this human trafficking, has not just on the vulnerable individuals that become victims of it, but the impact on communities as a whole, and also the knock-on effect, as I said, in terms of resourcing for our colleagues in the police services as well.

Like I said before, we do work very closely in partnership, even though it falls within that area that isn't devolved, but we do have a modern slavery division within Welsh Government to address these issues too. We'll certainly do that through our lead PCC—it's currently Jeff Cuthbert—around modern slavery, about how we can make sure we are working as closely together as we can and also raising those concerns with our colleagues in the UK Government. Clearly, we heard in this place yesterday, and I'm sure we will hear again, concerns around the Illegal Migration Bill, and actually that makes things more difficult for people who are victims of being trafficked, rather than actually seeking to support them and crack down on those people who seek to exploit those vulnerable people in instances of human trafficking.

So, we're committed to continuing to work in collaboration and to approach this from a position of empathy and compassion, and actually working with our colleagues and the police community support officers in supporting local communities and on the need for community cohesion too, at the same time.

Child Poverty Strategy

9. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy regarding cross-cutting measures for inclusion in the refreshed child poverty strategy? OQ59710

Diolch yn fawr, Luke Fletcher. I met with the Minister for Economy recently as part of a series of bilateral meetings on cross-cutting measures for inclusion in the draft child poverty strategy. The draft strategy, of course, went out to consultation on Monday this week.

Thank you for the answer, Minister.

Following the publication of the June ONS statistics showing a pattern of declining Welsh employment rates and economic activity, I asked the Minister for Economy last week whether we need a far more candid and brutally honest assessment of the state of the Welsh economy. Now, the 2022 progress report on the child poverty strategy alludes to the fact that children are at increased risk of poverty in households that are struggling to get into work. But, of course, we have had a scenario for quite some time where the prospect of in-work poverty has been dramatically extended to an ever greater number of households in Wales. The refreshed child poverty strategy is, I think, a real chance to implement some ambitious measures to change this. So, in light of the recent ONS figures, is any additional resource being allocated to this and what fresh thinking is being generated between your officials and the economy Minister's to tackle what is a long-standing issue here in Wales?

14:20

Thank you very much for those really important comments and, in your question, reflections on the opportunities we have now with this draft child poverty strategy, which I encourage Members to consult in their constituencies about, and consult on the opportunities that the strategy provides us, despite the fact that we are very constrained in terms of our powers in relation to tax and benefits. But I think the key point about the strategy is it is cross-Government and all members of Cabinet, of course, endorsed the draft strategy for the 12-week consultation.

It is about supporting pathways out of poverty. You focused on the employment figures on economic inactivity, although the First Minister made clear that there is a picture of opportunity here as well, in terms of the Welsh economy. But it is about pathways out of poverty through those early years, education, employment, employment and skills, and the employability and skills plan is crucial to that, and that was a key point of my discussions with the Minister for Economy.

But it is about how we can strengthen the Welsh Government approach to integration of policy and funding to enable longer term collaboration. It's regional, local anti-poverty work and working with our partners to create a Wales where every child, young person and family can prosper.

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

The next item will be questions to the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution. The first question is from Jenny Rathbone.

Youth Experience of the Courts System

1. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the Magistrates Association regarding youth experience of the courts system? OQ59712

Thank you for your question. I have not yet had discussions with the Magistrates Association on this issue. However, a Wales youth justice academic advisory group is currently reviewing the opportunities that arise from youth justice devolution, at our behest. The operation of the youth courts is part of that review, and magistrates are being consulted.

Thank you, Minister, for that. The Counsel General may be aware that the Equality and Social Justice Committee report, called '60%—Giving them a Voice', is due to be published and is due to be debated in the Senedd next week, and that it highlights that at least 60 per cent of young people who become involved with the youth justice system have speech, language and other communication difficulties.

During our inquiry, we heard about the best practice established by Neath Port Talbot and Swansea bay youth justice areas and what a difference that has made, to have people who are communication experts supporting young people so that their voices are properly heard and, more importantly, so that they understand the process that they have got themselves involved with. I wonder whether this important issue is due to come up in the conversations that you have with magistrates, and what influence magistrates have on ensuring the quality of support required to ensure there are no miscarriages of justice involving young people who simply do not understand what is going on.

Thank you for your supplementary question, and I very much do welcome the report. It's not appropriate for me to respond to that report, because it'll obviously be going for debate in the Siambr and also before the Minister for Social Justice, I understand. But what it does highlight is that a number of young people who get involved and come into contact with the justice system come from, often, very difficult backgrounds, and often have a high proportion of additional learning needs, and those have been identified in that particular report.

What I would say is that we have a multi-agency approach that I think diverts many young people from the justice system in Wales, and that has had a very significant impact in reducing the number of cases that go before the youth courts. But what it is is a recognition that the appropriate way of dealing with many of those issues that arise is to actually keep young people out of the criminal justice system, and also to engage all the agencies, the overwhelming majority of which are devolved, more in the form of a problem-solving response. And I really do wonder that whilst we give further consideration to the recommendations of the Law Commission in terms of tribunal reform, whether there's a role within a reformed tribunal system where, for example, you already have the issue of mental health, where you have the expertise in respect of learning needs, and no doubt at some stage in terms of exclusions, that this will be an appropriate area where that expertise would benefit within a reformed tribunal system.

14:25
The Public Order Act 2023

2. What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the impact on Wales of amendments made to the Public Order Act 2023? OQ59717

Thank you for your question. The amendments to the Public Order Act 1986 concern reserved matters, and the UK Government did not inform us of their intention to give the police yet further powers in relation to protests. It is vital that people have the right to express concerns freely, and in a safe and peaceful way.

I thank the Counsel General for his answer, and can I agree entirely with the comments he made there? It is the case that, in the last Senedd elections, the people of Cymru backed Welsh Labour in record numbers. They backed a bold First Minister in Mark Drakeford and they backed a bold manifesto that included pursuing the case for the devolution of policing.

Counsel General, as the Public Order Act gives more powers to the police, what further discussions have you had with law officers in Westminster, ensuring that the justice system as a whole in Wales really does reflect the priorities of the people of Wales?

Our concerns about the changes that have been made have been well made, both in discussions and in correspondence. As we are aware, policing is a reserved matter, and as I've already said, we were not engaged. The Public Order Act 2023 includes powers that we think are far too widely drawn, and the rush to commence the legislation before the King's coronation, I think, has resulted in excessive onus being put on the police to try and make sense of what is badly drafted legislation.

It's also important to note as well, within that, that one of the reasons underlying our concerns is because these proposals were discussed previously in the House of Lords, who actually voted down similar amendments during the passage of the Public Order Act 2023. So, this is now using secondary legislation to actually bypass Parliament.

There have been a number of commentaries, and it hasn't all been from the Labour side. David Davis, former Cabinet Member, said that:

'There’s an issue about what’s legal and I think we’ve lost sight of it.'

He said,

'The truth is, you have a piece of law, that goes into law, and seven days later the Commissioner of the Met has to apologise to people he’s wrongfully arrested under that law.'

He asked,

'It says there’s something wrong, doesn’t it?'

Sir Charles Walker, another Conservative MP, said,

'I think the Public Order Bill, we saw the policing of protests over the Coronation weekend—I entirely disagree with my party on that...More importantly, I warned when we were criminalising protest during the Covid lockdowns where it would all end up.'

Our opposition is clear. Our ability to influence that because it's a reserved matter is limited, but we, of course, do engage with policing and with other bodies within our communities, and we do hope that there is a responsible approach to the application of what is badly drafted and very unfortunate legislation, which has been imposed without the wish and without the merit, really, of proper consideration.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

The Welsh Conservatives' spokesperson to ask a question, Mark Isherwood.

Diolch, Llywydd. In The Law Society Gazette article of 27 January on the future direction of Welsh Government's justice policy, you state that the Welsh Government's agenda for the law and legal sector includes a tender to assess the need for solicitor apprenticeships in Wales. The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the largest regulator of legal services in England and Wales, covering around 90 per cent of the regulated market and overseeing more than 4,000 solicitors and 400 law firms in Wales, is championing solicitor apprenticeships as an alternative to the traditional qualification route through university for candidates who want to earn as they learn. They also point out that aspiring solicitors can already qualify through a solicitor apprenticeship in England, which typically takes five to six years to complete. Why, therefore, are you only assessing the need for this in Wales, when it already operates in England, opening up opportunities for people who might not otherwise enter the profession to do so, and helping the profession's need for new entrants?

14:30

Thank you. It is a good question. The answer to it, really, is because what has been implemented in England I don't think has been thought through very well. We want to support access into the legal profession, we want to support increased social mobility and diversity, but what we don't want to do is to fund legal apprenticeships that basically merely replace the funding that law firms are already spending on that. That actually advances nothing—it just gives a bonus and a boost to law firms in what they're already doing. So, the approach we've adopted is this: we've adopted support at the legal executive level in terms of assisting those coming into that. What we want to understand is how we can actually support apprenticeships in the legal profession that go into the areas where we actually want more lawyers, where we need more lawyers, particularly into the advice deserts, and how we also do that in a way that we are sure that the people who we're supporting are the ones who would not normally get that support from existing law firms in Wales. It's not an easy task in order to achieve those objectives, but it is something we have been addressing our minds to. We do want that research to be carried out, to give us a further understanding of how we might best use public money, firstly to support the legal profession in Wales, but also to support it in those particular areas of our communities that most need that legal expertise and advice.

I hope you're consulting the Solicitors Regulation Authority regarding the practicalities they've already addressed elsewhere regarding this.

How do you respond to concern raised with me by a barrister and King's Counsel who copied me on the article of 27 January in The Law Society Gazette? His concern was that the present discussion may set in train incremental development where reform of criminal law and justice in Wales leads ultimately to a situation where the civil law of Wales becomes separated from the civil law of England. He added that, although the Thomas commission of 2019 did not recommend this—and the Counsel General would doubtless say there was no intention to do it—the logic of criminal law and justice change, combined with the pace of legislative output from the Welsh Government on devolved matters, would mean that two legal systems would emerge. This would bring about an end to the existing law of England and Wales, which has existed for nearly 500 years, which 'would be disastrous for the Welsh economy and prosperity, and for most people in Wales'.

Thank you. I think the question is one that we've addressed on quite a number of occasions, and continue to address. My engagement with the legal profession and legal institutions is to make it absolutely clear that we're not talking about reforms that lead to any barriers being created. But there are clear anomalies, even if we just take the jurisdictional one as one example. You'll remember that we had a Bill in 2016, I think, and of course it is an area that the Law Society themselves are now addressing. So, if, for example, you have a law on education passed by the UK Parliament, it becomes the law on education for England and Wales, even though it only applies to England. If we have a law on education in Wales, it becomes the education law (Wales). There clearly is an anomaly, isn't there? Any legislation coming from the UK Parliament that only applies to England should actually clearly specify that it is from England, so people know where that law applies and what the jurisdiction is.

There is no difficulty whatsoever in the concept that, when a court sits within Wales, it is part of the Welsh jurisdiction, but when it sits in England, it's part of the English jurisdiction. The laws of England and Wales and the laws specifically just of Wales that apply within Wales clearly form part of the Welsh jurisdiction, and the same applies in respect of England. I don't believe those are difficult concepts. I think the fundamental interest we have is that there are no barriers in terms of the judiciary, there are no barriers in respect of the lawyers. What is important though, of course, is that, in the training of lawyers, in the training of judges, and training of those who work within the legal profession, there is an understanding that there are distinctions. That divergence comes not just from what we do in Wales; that divergence also comes from what the UK Parliament does in England. It doesn't cause major problems and difficulties in terms of a jurisdiction in Northern Ireland or in terms of a jurisdiction in Scotland, and neither should it in Wales.

14:35

The senior barrister and KC I referred to, whose representations were very recent, further stated that the end of the existing law of England and Wales would be 'disastrous in two respects. First, the current law of England and Wales has been, and remains, the gold standard across the world for commercial contracts and business relationships, but the existence, or even the mere prospect of, a different jurisdiction in Wales would have a hugely damaging effect on investment in Wales from business in England or overseas, adding significantly to the cost of doing day-to-day business. It becomes seriously problematic in the event of disputes, not just because of cost, but also because of uncertainty of outcome—which law applies to which part of the transaction, what happens when there is conflict. This would create mountains of work for lawyers and the losers would be everyone else. The second big problem, briefly, is for people who live on either side of the Anglo-Welsh border, and who may live in England and work in Wales, or vice versa. They would find their daily lives subject to two sets of laws.' How, therefore, do you respond to such concerns being raised by senior lawyers who are stating that, and I quote again, 'this is a big issue because two jurisdictions would be a huge problem'?

Can I firstly say that, in respect of the overwhelming majority of lawyers that I've dealt with, many of whom practice just in England, though some have practiced both in England and Wales, and some just practice in Wales as well, none of those actually see it as a problem? Many of them are absolutely very positive about some of the reforms and changes that are taking place. They also recognise the absolute logic that, where you have more than one parliament passing legislation, then, clearly, you have a jurisdiction for that legislation to take place. 

I do sense a certain paranoia about the concept of England and Wales. It was reflected by the previous Secretaries of State for Wales in the UK Government, but I think it was without foundation; I think it was without any evidence. It seems to me a very straightforward matter that, where you have laws that apply within Wales, that are passed by this Parliament, well, clearly, not only should they be heard in Wales, but they become part of a Welsh jurisdiction. And the same thing, every time England passes legislation that only applies to England—and there's quite a lot of it being passed on that side—where is the problem? Lawyers adapt to what the law is. They need to understand what the law is. The judges need to do so. The England and Wales jurisdiction is just a sort of historic mirage. It represented a situation where there was just one parliament. I think maybe your colleague needs to keep up with the fact that we actually have four parliaments in the UK passing legislation, and that legislation creates its own legal jurisdiction. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Cwnsler Cyffredinol, last week, the Scottish Government published a paper on devolution since the Brexit referendum, providing a neat summary of the way in which devolution has been rolled back since 2016. It makes for extremely worrying reading. I think there would be value in the Welsh Government undertaking to produce a similar paper. I'm certain that it would arrive at a similar conclusion, namely that there cannot be true self-government under a devolution settlement that retains Westminster supremacy. Westminster supremacy was given brute expression in the UK Government's use of section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to block Scotland's gender recognition Bill.

It was also reflected in the recent controversy surrounding Scotland's proposed deposit-return scheme. As the Minister will be aware, the scheme has effectively been blocked by UK Ministers exercising power under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Specifically, the Scottish Government has been prohibited from including glass products in the scheme, a decision that should, by right, be its and not Westminster's to make. Can I ask the Minister if he believes that the UK is a union of co-equal territories, and if so, is this belief not undermined by this kind of Westminster overreach? The Welsh Government has insisted that plans to develop its own DRS, including glass, remain ongoing. Can the Minister provide an update on these plans and, in particular, on discussions with the UK Government about them in light of the decision on the Scottish scheme? Diolch. 

14:40

Firstly, thank you for your question. Yes, I am aware of the Scottish paper. I have read it. It's 38 pages. I don't think it adds anything further to what we know in terms of the Scottish Government's position. The Scottish Government have their own mandate and they obviously pursue that. We have produced our own papers in terms of the way in which we think the future of the UK should look, 'Reforming our Union'. The position that we've adopted consistently is that we see the UK as a voluntary union of four nations, but within that it has a significant number of constitutional dysfunctions. Rather than us producing papers—. I think that would be most inappropriate when we actually have our own independent commission that is doing a considerable amount of work. I gave evidence to it recently, other Ministers have and many other bodies and Ministers from across the UK and elsewhere have done so as well. I think it's due to produce its report towards the end of this year, and I very much look forward to reading that report. That seems to me to be the body that will, I think, influence the debate that takes place in this Chamber on constitutional reforms. 

The point you raise, though, in terms of the deposit-return scheme is a very valid one. It was agreed within the common frameworks that there was an agreement between Wales, Scotland and the UK Government in terms of the need for such a scheme. Work has been under way at different paces, quite advanced within Scotland. The request for an exclusion under the internal market Act has only been partially given, and it seems to me that what has happened is that English Ministers, using UK legislation, have actually disrupted what was a co-operative agreement on an important area of environmental policy. What you actually have are UK Ministers who are now, basically, undermining those collaborative efforts—that common work that formed the basis of the common frameworks, which was established in order to ensure that there was a cohesive discussion amongst the nations and within the various devolved responsibilities of the internal market once we left.

I think the internal market Act is an abuse. The pulling out and the attempts to use the internal market in this way, I think, is extremely unfortunate. Our position is that we do not think the internal market Act overrides our own devolved competence. We will be continuing to develop our own policy and work in that particular direction. But clearly there are common interests across the whole of the UK, there is some form of policy in this that everyone can buy into, and I think it is really most unfortunate that effectively the UK Government for England has become an outlier in this process. 

I thank you for that response, although I have to say I still remain deeply concerned about what the UK Government's decision on Scotland's DRS may mean for developing an equivalent scheme here in Wales. Further, I am concerned by the process by which the decision was taken and what this tells us about the ambiguities of the internal market Act, and you've expressed some of those concerns there in your answer. Correspondence between the Scottish and UK Governments revealed that UK Ministers were confused, and even contradicted themselves, around the process for applying for exclusions from the internal market Act, a process the UK Government itself outlined in a ministerial statement in December 2021. It seems that the Scottish Government was required to jump through a series of additional unexpected hoops to get a decision on the DRS. This added to the delay around UK Government Ministers making and publishing such a decision. The Welsh Government has raised concerns that this represented the ad hoc addition of further steps to the process of seeking an exclusion from the UK internal market Act. Can I ask what assurances the Minister has secured that the UK Government will not be making any further changes to the mutually agreed common frameworks process? Does he ultimately agree with me that the episode reveals the deep dysfunction of inter-governmental relations in the UK? And finally, does he also agree with me that the reports this week that the UK Labour leadership has repeatedly chastised the Welsh Government for its characterisation of the UK as a union of four nations revealed that this dysfunction is not liable to improve with a change of Westminster Government? Diolch.

14:45

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

Perhaps if I just take the last googly that you gave me right at the end there, I can tell you I've not been chastised by anyone. I have stated it at every opportunity I get, whether at UK level, England level or whatever, and I will be doing it in front of an important legal conference next week. I will also be making the point again in terms of the position that the UK is a union of nations, and it must be the case, because you have four Parliaments passing legislation and constitutionally, maybe we have dysfunctions and it hasn't caught up to date, but that is the position that I make. I've not had it actually challenged at any particular level. I've not seen any valid argument that actually challenges that either.

In terms of the point you raised with regard to Scotland and the deposit scheme that you referred to, yes, it does undermine inter-relations within the UK, and yes, it does drive a coach and horses through common frameworks, because within the common frameworks it was agreed that there would be a voluntary agreement that, where there was a need for an exclusion, evidence would be placed and that would be worked out by agreement between all those participating within the common frameworks, and it is the UK Government acting on behalf of England who helped, actually, to change that. They have basically just changed their position. Why they have changed their position, no doubt, maybe at some stage we will find out what it is that has put pressure on the UK Government to change that particular position, but we are left with that, and yes, it causes those dysfunctions, and yes, at every opportunity we are raising those. We are raising it in correspondence, and at the inter-ministerial standing committee meeting that I attended only a few weeks ago, this very issue was raised and concerns about the failure of the UK Government to support the exclusion was raised, or to actually take a decision on the exclusion. We now have a decision and it's an unsatisfactory one.

The Welsh Government's Constitutional Policy

3. What discussions has the Counsel General had about maximising the opportunities provided by Brexit for the Welsh Government's constitutional policy? OQ59716

It could be a short answer. The United Kingdom's departure from the European Union should have resulted in enhanced devolved competence. Instead, the UK Government's unacceptable imposition of legislative constraints on the devolved institutions and its repeated breaches of the Sewel convention are threatening the Welsh constitutional settlement, and placing a strain on the United Kingdom.

Thank you for your response, Counsel General, and the reason I want to ask this question today is that, on Friday, we celebrate the seventh anniversary of the people of Rhyl, Prestatyn, Vale of Clwyd, Denbighshire, north Wales, Wales and the UK voting to leave the European Union and setting us on an independent course away from the bureaucratic constitutional chaos that held us back since the 1970s.

Now, what the Welsh people have seen is an ideological denial from people on those benches whose constituents voted to leave the EU, including in Alyn and Deeside and Blaenau Gwent. Despite their own constituents voting to the contrary in 2016 in voting for Brexit, they tried every method in the ensuing years to deny their own constituents the benefits of leaving the EU and maximising the potential to the Welsh economy. It was only yesterday that Andrew R.T. Davies quizzed the First Minister on the fact that Wales has the worst employment figures, and the fact of the matter is that the Welsh Government is failing to deliver the benefits of Brexit to the people who indeed voted for it. So, can you outline, on the seventh anniversary of Brexit, Counsel General, the discussions you and your Government have had with UK and European Ministers and officials to alleviate unemployment figures and make sure that the Welsh economy benefits from Brexit?

Well, can I refer you to the response to those particular issues that the First Minister gave yesterday, and on the advances and progress that have been made in terms of the employment situation within Wales? Can I also say that, yes, as we come across that anniversary in another week's time, I can probably do no better than to refer the Member to the Office for Budget Responsibility, who tell me that we will be celebrating—this is in their report—a reduction of 4 per cent in productivity as a result of Brexit and a reduction of 15 per cent exports as a result of Brexit, but that we can celebrate many new trade deals with non-EU countries, but that these will not have a material economic impact because they mainly duplicate pre-existing EU deals? But I can also refer to the one positive, and, of course, the one positive comes from veteran Conservative Brexiteer, Peter Bone, who really sums up the benefits of Brexit. He says, 'We have got to start talking about the benefits of Brexit’, as the Member is now doing. He said that there had been a lot, even small ones—the £50 off motor insurance—but we're not talking enough about them. The fact that that £50 off motor insurance is actually nothing to do with Brexit, but, nevertheless, it is certainly something that he feels is important to highlight, even if it is not true. But then that probably represents most of what the Brexit arguments were.

What we do recognise is that, of course, having left the European Union, there are many changes and strains on our economy. We recognise the need for commonality in some policy areas and even consistency and minimum standards—and one of the positions is—[Inaudible.]—to maintain standards—to do all we can, actually, to protect employment from the impact of Brexit and what we already see, which is the transfer of jobs to the European Union from the UK, and also the reduction in trade through Wales as a result of Brexit as well.

14:50
Electoral Turnout

4. What assessment has the Counsel General made of electoral turnout in Wales? OQ59707

Thank you for your question. Turnout is lower than we would want it to be. Having enfranchised more people than ever to take part in devolved elections, we are now working to encourage participation, as outlined in our electoral administration and reform White Paper and targeted projects to drive engagement.

Thank you for the answer, Counsel General. I believe that 15 per cent of those eligible to be on the electoral register have not registered to vote, and I know you agree with me, Counsel General, that this is 15 per cent too many. But it's not the only challenge we face to improving democratic participation. For the first time last month, voters in England were required to bring photo identification to polling stations, and this has had a significant impact. For instance, in Hull, just one in five eligible voters exercised their democratic right. I'm grateful that the Welsh Government has ensured that ID will not be required for Senedd and local elections in Wales, but this will still impact Welsh voters during the next general election. So, may I ask what Welsh Government is doing to encourage people in Wales to register to vote and, following the local elections in England, what representations you have made to the UK Government calling for a u-turn on voter ID? And I believe that Rees-Mogg actually said that the gerrymandering of the Tory Government actually shot themselves in the foot.

Thank you for your question. Just to make one point, of course, voter turnout in the 2021 Senedd elections was the highest ever with the wider franchise of eligible voters. However, it is still not high enough and there's still important work that needs to be done, I think, across all elections that take place across Wales and across the UK, because participation is really the key to the stability and strength of our democracy. We have a democratic engagement grant of £300,000 per annum, £260,000 of which has been allocated for 2023-24 to 12 to separate projects that aim at engaging and supporting communities to become active citizens.

I've made the point very clearly in the past in terms of the Welsh Government's opposition to voter ID and the reasons for it. They are well known, they are well understood. The estimate we see is that somewhere in the region of 9,000 were turned away during the English local government elections. But there is work that is under way. I attended recently an inter-ministerial group on elections. One of the purposes of that group is to actually look at the common interest we all have in actually management of elections, even though there is divergence taking place. So, it was a very positive meeting for that purpose, and we recognise the difference of opinion that we actually have. The UK Government is carrying out its own assessment of the impact of voter ID, so we await that. We also await the work of the Electoral Commission, which will be publishing their initial findings later this month, and we will then assess further the impact of that.

I thank the Counsel General for his acknowledgment of some of the concerns around the turnout for elections for Senedd elections. Indeed, as the Counsel General will know, in the last UK general election, the turnout in Wales was 66.6 per cent, and in the last Senedd election, the turnout was 46.6 per cent—a full 20 percentage points lower in elections for this place than for the UK Parliament. I must say, it was a brave suggestion, I felt, from Carolyn Thomas, that representations made from this place or from the Welsh Government to UK Government around advice, perhaps, around elections, when, indeed, elections for that place are showing a 20 per cent higher turnout than elections for this place. I agree with the Counsel General that it's absolutely imperative that we see a higher turnout for elections for this place, because that's what provides its legitimacy, not just in terms of the Government here, but as parliamentarians of the Welsh Parliament.

So, Counsel General, you commented on some of the actions being taken by Welsh Government to see that increased engagement in Senedd elections. Could you point to which single action you think could make the biggest difference to that turnout?

14:55

I think the biggest difference was actually in the increase in the registration that took place. Those who took up the offer of support for electoral registration support officers almost unanimously suffered significant increases in the number of registrations. I think that was important; those who didn't get the benefit of that. I think that was significant.

I think what is probably more significant is that, of course, we are looking at the issue of electoral reform and the issues such as automatic registration, and, of course, you'll be aware of the sorts of consultations around those particular reforms. I think there are a number of things that are important. I think automatic registration, whilst making sure that people are on there doesn't force people to vote, but it does mean that there's an obligation then, I think, on the political parties and the democratic institutions around Wales to actually provide the incentive to vote. I have to say, my own personal view is that the voting system we have, the first-past-the-post voting system, I don't think actually creates that climate where people can feel that every vote is helpful. So, there is a lot of work to be done, but I think a lot of that work is dependent on us as politicians and our political parties to actually show that voting makes a difference in the way in which we actually engage with people, particularly those who are disconnected from that.

Senedd Reform

5. Will the Counsel General provide an update on the Welsh Government's proposals and timetable for Senedd reform? OQ59679

Thank you for your question. We continue to make good progress on translating the recommendations of the special purpose committee on Senedd reform into legislative provisions. As part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, I look forward to introducing legislation with a view to changes coming into effect for the 2026 Senedd elections.

Thank you, Counsel General. Accountability is very important, and in February 2023, the First Minister misled the Senedd when he claimed that he and others were advised by the auditor general to take Betsi Cadwaladr out of special measures ahead of the 2021 Senedd elections. It transpires that this wasn't the case; he misled the Senedd.

Just last week, the health Minister told the Senedd that forensic accountants from Ernst & Young Consultancy were asked to look at the body's accounts on advice from the Welsh Government. However, two senior officials from an NHS body told the BBC that the Welsh Government was not involved, with the health Minister later admitting that there was no direct conversation on the matter: she misled the Senedd. When Ministers mislead politicians in other parliaments, the Labour benches here call it a disgrace, corruption, and that those people should be sacked. So, in Senedd reform, it's important that we look back at making sure that we improve transparency and accountability. So, Counsel General, will the Welsh Labour Government support a move to establish a privileges committee in the Senedd so that those who mislead, hinder, or prevent the work of the Senedd are held accountable for their actions, and receive a measurable punishment?

Well, can I firstly say that the supplementary question, it doesn't seem to me, actually particularly relates to the issue of Senedd reform? Can I say that, in respect of the point you raised in terms of a privileges committee, that is a matter for the Senedd? It's not a matter for Government; it's not a matter for me in terms of my responsibilities. And can I say how disappointing it was that when we witnessed within Westminster an important privileges committee report being there, how many—[Interruption.]—how many of the—[Interruption.]—how many of the Conservative Members of Parliament actually declined to actually participate within that? But this is not a matter for me, it's not a matter for Welsh Government; it's a matter to raise as a matter of Senedd policy. It's not right for Government to be establishing these; it's a matter for Parliament itself to do so.

15:00

I will take the point of order at the end of the Counsel General's questions. 

Question 6. John Griffiths.

Working Arrangements

6. What assessment has the Minister made of the effectiveness of the working arrangements between the Welsh Government and the UK Government? OQ59718

Thank you for your question. The inter-governmental relations review provides a sound basis to support inter-governmental working, but its impact continues to be undermined by the UK Government’s lack of respect for the principles and approach set out in the review and for devolution more widely.

Counsel General, at the end of last year, the First Minister stated that for nearly 20 years the Sewel convention was observed by UK Governments so that UK Government legislative proposals that might intrude into devolved areas in Wales were only taken forward with the Senedd's consent, but that recent Tory UK Governments have not respected the convention and this is bringing the devolution settlement to a 'very difficult place'. Counsel General, in light of those remarks from the First Minister and the importance of these matters to the constitutional future of Wales and the UK, what is your current assessment of the position under the current UK Government?

Well, can I say that it is only in, really, the last couple of years that we have seen what is a major series of breaches of the Sewel convention? It is suggested from time to time that, of course, these are all only related to constitutional issues around Brexit, but that is clearly not the case, as we've recently seen with the levelling-up Bill, as we've seen with the Energy Bill and with numerous other pieces of legislation.

The Sewel convention really is the oil of the constitutional engine; it's what enables the Governments to work together with confidence and trust. So, the breaches of it are something that I have raised at every opportunity at the interministerial level, and that the First Minister has raised, and other Ministers. We raise it consistently in terms of UK Government legislation that is coming through, where legislative consent is required.

For me, the real challenge is that Sewel needs to be redefined; it needs to be codified and it needs some form of justiciability, and that's why I quite welcome the recommendations that are concluded within the Gordon Brown report, that the next Labour Government will actually introduce reforms that will require a constitutional ceiling for the UK Parliament to be able to overrule devolved legislation or to, basically, breach Sewel. I think some step in that direction would be a significant step forward. I think it probably needs a longer term and more thoughtful way of resolving, ultimately, the relations between the four nations of the UK and also the nature of inter-governmental relations.

We have a structure that could work, but it is very much a structure that is dependent on trust and goodwill. Unfortunately, with the UK Government in these areas at the moment, trust and goodwill are in very short supply. 

Voter ID and Registration Systems

7. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the impact on voter behaviour of the divergence between voter ID and registration systems at UK general elections and Wales-based elections? OQ59690

Thank you. The Welsh Government is committed to inclusive and accessible voting in Senedd and local government elections, and wants to encourage participation rather than to restrict it. That is why we don’t support voter ID and want to introduce automatic registration for all local government electors in Wales.

Well, the voters in Wales are very astute and very intelligent in their choices always, and they will be able to find their way through this morass. But there is genuine scope for confusion as they lurch from a general election at a UK level, where all of the evidence shows that there was clear voter suppression—there were forms of voter ID that were not usable, including, I have to say, NHS photo ID that was not usable or young people's photo ID that was not usable—and then a Wales-based approach at local and Senedd elections that is designed to extend the franchise and make it more available to people, while still maintaining the security of our voting. So, I understand, Counsel General, there is a review that will now be carried out, at a UK level, of how it went. Well, I think everyone informed, including the independent assessors of the election, has made clear the view already: the vote was suppressed, people were turned away; people turned up to vote and couldn't get in. So, would the Welsh Government consider, either in its interministerial meetings or as part of that review, submitting its own views to them, that the way to avoid voter confusion is, actually, to scrap what they're doing in the UK and follow the Welsh example?

15:05

Can I thank you? And the point you make, of course, is that those aspects of the UK Government's Elections Act 2022 were another example of the UK Government diverging from what was the previous consensus around the format of elections. It's created divergence, because, clearly, Scotland and Wales were not prepared to go along with those particular changes, having a different direction. I would say that our approach within Wales is one of modernising the electoral system, to use technology and the ability to maximise inclusivity and accessibility.

But can I just say, just referring, as I did earlier, to the interministerial group that took place not long ago—the first one of these on elections—is that there was a very frank discussion between all the parties in terms of the differences that we have? We recognise that those differences are there. What I do believe there was was a common belief that we have to make the system work mutually, that we can't allow a change in one election to adversely impact on the others, and we have to look at the ways in which our systems operate collectively, the way in which we avoid confusion, and that does depend, to a degree, I think, on the sort of communications, the explanations, we have when elections actually take place. So, there is further work that's taking place on that.

We will consider very carefully the UK Government's own review and, indeed, the Electoral Commission's reviews, when they take place, and there will certainly be further discussions in this Chamber as well on these issues. Because reform is inevitable within our system in Wales; we do want to press ahead with modernisation, inclusivity and accessibility, but we have to ensure that we do also work collaboratively with the UK Government to ensure that those common areas that we have in terms of the administration of elections work for the benefit of everyone.

Jurisdictional Arrangements

8. What consideration has the Counsel General given to the need for accuracy and clarity in the terms used to describe future jurisdictional arrangements? OQ59681

Thank you for your question. Accuracy and clarity are crucial to all aspects of the law, including future jurisdictional arrangements. The current terminology of an England-and-Wales jurisdiction does not reflect the reality that, clearly, the law here is different.

Diolch yn fawr, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. As you indicated, uncertainty is always a bad thing within a justice system, and, as indicated by Mark Isherwood earlier in this question session, any suggestion of the devolution of justice will create anxiety with some within the legal profession in Wales and England. It's very important, then, that we're clear and accurate in the terms used when we are discussing any future jurisdictional arrangements. What discussions are you therefore having, Cwnsler Cyffredinol, with the legal professions, and also law schools, to make sure that Wales remains an attractive place to practise law?

Well, thank you for those important comments. Can I just say, I've been having a lot of discussions in many legal fora in the whole area of justice, social justice, accessibility and devolution of justice? The issue of jurisdiction is one that frequently arises and, of course, as you know, this was raised and set out in draft form, actually, in the Government and Laws in Wales Bill that was published in 2017, which was about the clarification. It wasn't actually about devolution of justice, it was just about the establishment of a recognition of the legal jurisdictions that exist in practice, or exist in reality, although the actual practice and processes and operation of the administration of law don't necessarily reflect that.

Can I say also that I have been engaged with the Law Society Wales, and very positive and constructive engagements they have been? And I do very much welcome the recent work by Law Society Wales on this issue, and was pleased to note their endorsement of the paper entitled 'A Separate Legal Jurisdiction for Wales' last week. So, I think within the legal professions there is an increasing recognition of that and the importance of that. It is also, though, equally important in terms of the training and in respect of the law schools. Of course, not everybody comes into the profession through law schools, but we're very pleased with, for example, the work of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the specific requirement for students to have to learn about Welsh law. And of course they should have to, just as a Welsh law student should have to learn about English law, and, in fact, are required to learn about English law. 

So, as I said earlier, in some of the earlier questions, these are not things that are complicated or difficult to understand. Once we recognise the fact that with four Parliaments you have, effectively, the creation of four jurisdictions, maybe those jurisdictions overlap and there's commonality. In some areas there may be barriers, but, between England and Wales, we don't see the need for any barriers. But you're absolutely right: education, training and clarity I think are the three key components. 

15:10

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. During questions, the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire made a number of serious allegations against Ministers, stating that both the health Minister and the First Minister had deliberately misled this Chamber. I was certainly in the Chamber when the Conservative chief whip raised some matters with the health Minister, and she then corrected the record. I believe that the First Minister's also clarified remarks that he's made here where there's been some dispute, but I recognise some of his remarks remain contested by others. But it is unacceptable, of course, when a Member is talking about misleading the Chamber that he himself misleads the Chamber. 

I thank you for that point of order and I will reflect upon the contribution on the record, and I'm sure the Member will also reflect on the contribution on the record. And we will both reflect upon the accuracy of the events identified in that contribution, and I will look then carefully after that. 

4. Questions to the Senedd Commission

Item 4 is questions to the Senedd Commission. First of all, Heledd Fychan. 

The Trade Dispute with the PCS Union

1. What action has the Commission taken to resolve the trade dispute with the PCS union? OQ59703

The PCS union is currently taking industrial action in relation to its pay claim with the UK Government. The pay claim extends to the UK civil service pension scheme, a proposed job security agreement and to the terms of the UK civil service compensation scheme. Whilst Commission PCS members have voted in favour of industrial action, the grounds for this action relate exclusively to the UK civil service schemes, namely matters that are beyond the remit of the Commission. 

Thank you, Llywydd, and you responded on 25 January confirming that there was no specific dispute locally with staff here, so I do understand the elements related to the UK. 

But I do understand that, since then, the PCS union has written to you setting out not only how this is a matter that the Commissioners have some local control over, but also how the Commission, as a public service employer, should be using its bargaining power with the Cabinet Office to resolve these matters not only for those staff supporting us in this place, but for the wider civil and public services. Could you provide an update on how Commissioners have made representations to the UK Government to attempt to resolve the wider matters of the dispute? And what local mitigations have been put in place to avoid any escalation of the dispute that could result in a greater impact on Senedd business?  

Thank you for that additional question. I did receive a letter from the PCS union to the ends that you outlined there. So far, the Commission hasn't intervened directly with the UK Government on this issue. My opinion on the whole is that it is for the political parties in this place that have representation on the Commission to apply some pressure, if they believe in that as political parties, on these issues through the ways that are relevant to them. It's not a matter for the Commission to intervene directly with the UK Government. Just to add once again that this is a dispute with the UK Government, this dispute with PCS. Our co-operation, I hope, as a Commission, with the PCS union and with our staff generally is one that operates in a respectful way and a way that can react to the current financial situation that a number of our workers find themselves in. And, of course, we have responded in that sense by providing some support to those workers in the form of a direct payment in the last financial year, and through a range of measures available to our workers who face serious problems in their everyday lives because of the cost-of-living crisis.

15:15

I chair the PCS cross-party group in the Senedd. The Senedd has prided itself for very good reason on being a good employer, and I am sure most Members, if not all Members in here, are very pleased that we see ourselves, and have been seen by others, as being a very good employer. Can I associate myself with the questions raised by Heledd Fychan, which you'll be thankful that I'm not going to repeat? What I am going to ask, however, is what discussions the Commission had with PCS to discuss the concerns of PCS and to work towards resolving this dispute.

Well, I'm not privy myself to those discussions as chair of the Commission. They're undertaken by the staff responsible within the Commission to hold the discussions on any matter that the PCS bring forward as a trade union within our structures here, in discussing both the current dispute, yes, but also how we prepare ourselves for further negotiations into the future on pay and terms and conditions for our staff here. To reiterate the point that both Heledd Fychan and Mike Hedges have said, we are served in this place by excellent staff who go very often beyond what would be expected of them, especially during the particularly challenging times we have had. We hope that we are able to respond to our staff needs when they develop, and in a respectful way with our trade union partners in particular.

The Independent Remuneration Board

2. What recent discussions has the Commission had with the independent remuneration board of the Senedd? OQ59697

The Commissioners have received two letters from the independent remuneration board recently. The first letter highlighted the board’s current consultation on proposed changes to the determination on Members’ pay and allowances for 2023-24. The Commission agreed to respond to the consultation to highlight the implications for the Commission's budgeting process. The second letter identified a request from the board to engage in dialogue with the Commission about how support will be provided for Members in the future to deliver their duties through Commission services and the board’s determination.

Commissioners discussed the significance of protecting the integrity of the two bodies, and emphasised the importance of not creating confusion about their respective roles and safeguarding the separation between the two.

Thank you for that answer, Presiding Officer. In my view, the remuneration board is not fit for purpose, and frankly doesn't have a place in this institution anymore. The rem board, as it's often known, is not accountable to anyone, meaning they can do whatever they want without proper scrutiny. The board does not act in a fair manner and there's a long list of reasons why I'm wholeheartedly against it, but I haven't got enough time to go through all of them today. I firmly believe the rem board should be scrapped and an alternative body should be put in its place. For example, the UK Parliament has the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in place, and based on conversations I've had with parliamentarians from all different parties here, they are fairly well received. So, I'd be interested to know if the Commission's thoughts are indeed going to be on perhaps replacing the rem board going forward, and if any discussions about this have taken place, because surely the board's lack of accountability to anyone or anything is undemocratic and raises some serious questions going forward in this Welsh Parliament.

I am aware, Natasha Asghar, that you weren't here in 2010. Some of us were, when we passed the National Assembly for Wales (Remuneration) Measure 2010, which established the board's independence from any influence by the Senedd or the Senedd Commission when exercising its functions. I was here prior to 2010, and that lack of independence that Senedd Members here had at that time from decision making on our own salaries or the resources available to us led us to very difficult situations in our own accountability to our constituents. I would urge the Member to be careful what you wish for here. That independence between the remuneration board and ourselves as a Senedd is something to be protected. We do not want to go back to a situation where Members here are voting for our own salaries and are responsible for decisions that put resources at our disposal or not.

Your conversations with MPs about what is in place in other Parliaments seems to be at odds with some of the conversations I have with MPs about how they are served as well. So, the independence, the fact that the remuneration board is a statutory body, I don't need to highlight to a Member of this place what that would entail. We would need new legislation. It's not for us just to stand up and to say that it's not fit for purpose; we would need new legislation if ever that was to happen.

What I would say, though, in a more constructive way, is that these issues—new legislation even—are always open to have that debate. I think, in the context of Senedd reform, and as we prepare for 2026 and beyond, I think it's right to have a wider discussion about the roles and responsibilities that both the Senedd and a body such as the remuneration board can have into the future. So, in that respect, in a longer term respect, I think that having that conversation would be welcomed, even by the remuneration board itself as well as the Senedd.

15:20
The Senedd's Public Engagement

3. What steps will the Commission take to enhance the Senedd's engagement with the Welsh public? OQ59698

Engaging with the people of Wales is one of the Commission’s three strategic priorities. We have set up new systems for measuring the reach and impact that our work has on improving the public’s understanding of the Senedd. Two years ago, we commissioned Professor Diana Stirbu from London Metropolitan University to undertake an external assessment of how we engage with the public. We are now implementing her recommendations. This includes developing new online engagement tools to enable the public to contribute to Senedd committee inquiries in new ways by using digital methods in particular.

Diolch, Llywydd. I think the earlier joint session between the Senedd and the Welsh Youth Parliament was a very powerful demonstration of just how interesting, important and uplifting it is for the Senedd to engage with our young people. I know that our Senedd education team do a fantastic job with schools and colleges across Wales, again, increasing that engagement between Welsh democracy and our young people. I have very much enjoyed attending sessions in Newport East, most recently at Lliswerry Primary School. I'm very encouraged, Llywydd, to hear that work has taken place and will take place to look at how we increase and strengthen our engagement with the Welsh public, and I certainly think that any more that we can do to engage with our young people, as well as the general population across Wales, is absolutely invaluable. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about your own thinking on these matters. 

Thank you for all those comments leading up to your question. I think we all found the session with our Youth Parliament this afternoon to be an uplifting experience, challenging for Welsh Government and Ministers, challenging for us as Members as well to think about how the priorities that our Senedd Ieuenctid have can be reflected in the work that we do in this Chamber and in our committees. The young people of Wales, represented in their Youth Parliament, are a clear voice and a challenge to us as Members.

We should reflect that in the work that we do, as you've outlined in your constituency, and we all do in our constituencies, in having that direct contact with young people in their school environments and in the wider community. That's an area of work that we need to continue to improve directly as a Senedd as well, and provide as great and as much opportunity for young people to witness directly our work here in the Senedd, but also to have the ability via digital platforms these days to have that direct contact with young people in their own communities.

So, as you’ve challenged, John, there is more to do; there is good work already happening, but there is always more to do, and more young people to have direct discussion with. And as a point that you’ve made in the past in this Chamber, we need to make sure as a Commission and as elected Members that we’re not always going to the same young people; that we are going to young people who are not the usual suspects, or from usual schools, even, that have that relationship with us, and that we continue our efforts to reach every community and every young person in Wales.

15:25
Electoral Reform

4. What preparations are being made by the Commission for electoral reform of the Senedd by 2026? OQ59691

7. Will the Commission provide an update on its role in Senedd reform? OQ59696

Deputy Presiding Officer, I understand that you've given your permission to group this question and question No. 7.

The Senedd Commission is preparing in four ways for this work. Firstly, it is preparing to support scrutiny of Senedd reform legislation. It is essential that the Senedd receives the support it needs to thoroughly scrutinise the Welsh Government’s legislation on Senedd reform, when it comes.

And secondly, the Senedd Commission, as a leading stakeholder, is preparing to assist the Senedd and its committees when they come to consider Senedd reform legislation, for example, should a committee invite the Senedd Commission to contribute to its scrutiny work on any legislation. The Commission is currently responding to requests by the Welsh Government for information on an estimate of the costs to the Senedd Commission that might arise from the Welsh Government’s legislation on Senedd reform.

Thirdly, the Commission must prepare for the potential change. Without pre-empting the Senedd’s decisions on Senedd reform, the scale of the proposed change is such that the Senedd Commission has had to start preparing for the possibility in a prudent way. 

And finally, if the Senedd legislates for Senedd reform, then the Commission, in partnership with other organisations, will need to help communicate clearly any electoral changes to the public ahead of the Senedd election in 2026.

Thank you very much for that answer, and I’m really glad to see that sensible preparations are being made across a range of areas, because certainly, it’s not simply to do with the physical adjustments that will need to be made in terms of the support for an enlarged Senedd, in terms of the Members and the support that’s often invisible to many members of the public. But it could also be aspects to do with internal reconfigurations of things like Standing Orders, the way of business, the number of Commissioners, et cetera, et cetera, the way we operate within this Senedd Chamber. So, I’m glad to see that proceeding.

Will the Commission also be turning its mind to how we do this, as we've tried very hard over the years to do, utilising very much a value-for-money approach as well? Democracy doesn’t come free; we actually have to spend money to have good accountability, good transparency and good democracy. But what we don’t want to do is see some of the excessive spending that we might have seen in other places within the UK, curiously, because whilst it’s lovely to be grouped together with Tom on this question, he might be coming from a different angle, and it would be good to see, for example, some of the money that’s been spent on the enlargement of the second chamber in the Houses of Parliament being directed this way, because we could do a lot with that.

As I outlined in my original answer, and as you’ve expanded there in your contribution, Huw Irranca-Davies, there are so many facets to this work. Some of the work is currently being done in preparing for and in responding to the request from Welsh Government in providing costings for the legislation that will come forward in the usual way. I’ve no doubt, as we move to a scrutiny stage of this legislation, when it comes forward, that those costings and the finances that we intend or put forward to spending on Senedd reform will be highly scrutinised by Members across the political divides here.

As a Cardi Chair of the Commission, I will make sure that those costings provide for the people of Wales the value for money that democracy requires of us as well. So, this is an area of work that will be open to the people of Wales to watch what we do and what we decide, and, in that context, I'm looking forward to the introduction of the Senedd reform legislation. It feels a bit like we're shadow-boxing at the moment, but we're waiting for that day when we see some of the detail on all of this. That day will come, and this Senedd will have its view.

15:30

Can I just first follow up, Llywydd, on your latter point there about costings, just to know exactly when you anticipate they'll be available, and whether, in the interests of transparency and scrutiny, those costings will be made available to all Members of the Senedd, and also to have an understanding of how the costings perhaps have come about?

But the actual question I wanted to ask—. Huw alluded to the enjoyment that he and I have had sitting on this bench together; I've actually enjoyed the last couple of months sat here on our Labour bench, particularly having many conversations with my friend Carolyn Thomas as well. One of the reasons I'm sitting here, obviously, is the physical construction of this Chamber. You would have been elected in the very first Senedd, and I think the Senedd at that time was meant to be a very modern Parliament—the physical construction of this building suggests that. But obviously, the physical reason why there are 15 seats over there is dictated by the number of computers, for example, that are in this Chamber. So, will the Commission look at whether that is still a modern requirement? Lots of us use laptops and iPads, and so on, in this Chamber to do some of the work that perhaps wouldn't have been envisioned when the Senedd itself was constructed. You can take that to the outside of this Chamber as well—things like the press conference room. In my two years, I don't think we've had a press conference. So, will the Commission be looking at whether what was perhaps intended as being very modern when the building was opened is still very modern and forward-looking today, or will it be a museum, if you like, to the mid noughties?

The museum is next door, in Tŷ Hywel. 

Just to answer the off-the-cuff question you asked at the start, of course the costings of the legislation will be scrutinised when the legislation is introduced by the Welsh Government, and they will go through the usual processes of scrutiny here in this Senedd, as they will in terms of public consultation as well, as part of the legislative scrutiny. We have a legislative statement next week by the First Minister. Who knows, we may get an inkling then as to when to expect the Welsh Government to introduce this piece of legislation.

I remember a colleague of mine, Steffan Lewis, who stood on these benches and who urged in one of his earliest of contributions in this place that these computers were taken away, and that we didn't focus on what was on the computer in front of us but rather on the debate around us, and that stays in my mind to this day. Mind you, sometimes, I forgot to call him, because he hadn't been able to get the message to me in the Chair, because of the issues around that. But as you say, how we design this Chamber, if we have 96 or more Members—. No, sorry, I need to rephrase that; I didn't mean more than 96 Members, I mean more than 60 Members for the 2026 Parliament. How we design it will be a matter that we can discuss, and it may well be that, by then, these phones are enough for all of us and that we do not need the computer screens that we have in front of us, and that will provide us with greater flexibility as to how we can extend this Chamber to meet the requirements of the 2026 Parliament.

Senedd Visits

5. What assessment has the Commission made of the impact of rising costs on the ability of school children to visit the Senedd? OQ59706

Senedd officials are currently in the process of reviewing the Senedd’s travel subsidy scheme, which is available to schools and colleges participating in education sessions at the Senedd. This review will consider the rising costs schools and colleges face against the current value of our offer, and opportunities to prioritise groups form poorer areas.

Thank you for the response, Llywydd. I'd like to start by placing on record my thanks to the Commission, and the engagement team in particular, for the fantastic work that they do with schools right across Wales, to reach children and to teach them about democracy and the Senedd. I think they do a fantastic job, actually, in schools, and bringing children here as well. That choice that they have to do it virtually or in person is really good. An important part of that is the schools visits here, particularly for children from north Wales to come here and to actually see Cardiff as well, and the Senedd and its setting. The travel subsidy is vital, really, to ensure that they can get here. I know that school transport costs have increased by 40 per cent, so I just hope that, going forward, that is considered, and I'm grateful for your response. Thank you very much. 

15:35

As I said in my response, Carolyn Thomas, the costs associated with schools being able to visit Cardiff and our Senedd have changed quite considerably—over the past 12 months, even. We need to consider how we reflect that in the offer that we make to schools to be able to come the Senedd. So, we're reviewing that at this point, and it will take on board the points that you and other Members have made in this Chamber over the last few sessions, as we think about how we promote this Senedd to schoolchildren and colleges throughout Wales and make sure that everybody, in every place, is not prohibited from visiting here merely by the cost of doing so. 

External Contractors

6. Will the Commission update the Senedd on plans to bring serv