Y Cyfarfod Llawn



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

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

1. Questions to the Minister for Climate Change

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary meeting. The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Climate Change, and the first question is from Luke Fletcher.

National Infrastructure Commission for Wales Report

1. What consideration has the Welsh Government given to the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales report, 'Preparing Wales for a Renewable Energy 2050'? OQ60341

I thank the commission for their work and welcome the report. The recommendations build on the action we are already taking to meet our vision for Wales to fully meet our electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035. I will be formally responding to the report in the new year.

Thank you for the answer, Minister.

The last couple of years have shown how volatile our energy supply systems can be and how vulnerable our communities are to those price shocks. Any means of insulating ourselves from that should be explored. Now, it was good to see the report emphasise the importance that the community energy sector holds in the process of decarbonising our energy system. But it also highlights many of the barriers that the community energy sector faces, such as the lack of a cohesive policy field as well as grid backlog and costs. Another important barrier is local energy trading, which has the potential to bring that long-term energy stability to our communities. So, I’d like to ask the Minister whether any work has been carried out on assessing the barriers to local trade, and, if not, whether this is on the Government’s radar.

Yes, thank you very much for that question. The answer is 'yes'. We've been working, of course, as part of the co-operation agreement, on Ynni Cymru, which is a company that is going to be directed towards the community energy sector in Wales. Although the company is not fully formed yet, it is up and running in the sense that it has a shadow board and some employees. And amongst the many things that we’re agreeing to do is to look at exactly the point you’re making, alongside a number of the other barriers, actually, in Wales.

The grid backlog is not an insignificant backlog, but we are looking at—as I think you know, because you’ve got some in your area—some closed loop systems, for example, and where those projects are able to generate more than enough energy, we are certainly looking to see what can be done by way of trade. Also, there are different storage solutions for that and different mechanisms. So, we do see it as part of the ongoing work of Ynni Cymru, and we will be working with them to do that.

Longer term, I was very upset indeed to see the Chancellor not capping the price of energy in the autumn statement. It’s quite clear that families are going to continue to struggle this year. And the fundamental problem there, of course, is that the energy market is broken, as you know, and so what we actually need is a different mechanism for charging for renewables, because it’s completely ludicrous that, despite the fact that we have adequate renewables already, it's all pegged to the marginal price of gas. If we were just able to change that one thing alone, we would transform our communities and all of their energy requirements. So, we will continue to lobby for that, alongside our work with the grid and with the company.

I‘m grateful to Luke Fletcher for submitting this question. Having looked at the report and the summary of the recommendations—the need for leadership and a strategic approach, a grid fit for the future of Wales, a built environment, community benefit and ownership—there’s a lot in this report that I would agree with. And noting, Minister, your first response to Luke in terms of your response to this in the new year, just on planning, if I may, could I just probe you with regard to the summary response? 

'By 2025, where renewable energy planning applications...have a mandated, statutory time allocation, decisions should default to a positive if the time allocation elapses with no response'.


'By 2025, a pooled planning resource for energy should be created, to share expertise and technical skills for articulating planning policies, engaging with the public and considering planning applications.'

Not to prejudge your response for the new year, but could I just get your thoughts on those issues with regard to planning, because we know planning is a real barrier when it comes to unlocking the opportunities around renewables? Diolch, Llywydd.

Yes, well, certainly I will be responding formally in January, but just right now, the national planning policy supports the principle of developing renewable and low-carbon energy from all technology. It is technology neutral quite deliberately, and it also supports renewable technologies at all scales as well. So, there’s no barrier to that there.

There’s a comprehensive suite of guidance alongside 'Planning Policy Wales' to achieve our energy goals. And then, in 'Future Wales', we’ve got the national policy on low-carbon and renewable energy development. We’ve got a series of policies—policies 16, 17, 18 in particular—that identify priority areas for district heat networks, for example, for the delivery of large-scale renewable energy projects and also pre-assessed areas for large-scale wind.

We’ve also got a presumption in favour of repowering in those areas, subject to the criteria set out in policy 18, which you'll be aware of, which are undergrounding where possible, and so on. And then, in permitted development rights, we already allow the development of a wide selection of low-carbon and renewable energy technologies without the need to submit any kind of planning application. There are a couple of restrictions in particular areas, you won't be surprised—so, a conservation area, or an area of outstanding natural beauty, for example. But, broadly speaking, there are already permitted development rights in place. We are currently reviewing the guidance on air-source heat pumps, because we currently have guidance in place that restricts them to within 3m of a neighbouring property. That's because some of the older models are very noisy indeed, and we want to make sure that people are able to install the ones that are not noisy. But, as the infrastructure commission has pointed out, there's always more that can be done, there's more technology coming along, and so on, so I will be responding positively to their suggestions.

Nature Recovery Plan

2. How does the Welsh Government collaborate with external agencies when implementing the nature recovery plan? OQ60312

Thank you for that question, Mark. My officials work with a wide range of stakeholders, including Natural Resources Wales, local authorities, national parks, environmental non-governmental organisations, and the farming unions through the nature recovery action plan implementation group. We collaborate with NRW on the nature networks programme and fund the local nature partnerships to implement NRAP at the local level.

Diolch. The 'Review of the wider societal, biodiversity and ecosystem benefits of curlew recovery in Wales' report, commissioned by Natural Resources Wales, who you referred to, shows that curlew recovery would benefit around 70 species, both directly and indirectly, underpinning our understanding of curlew as an indicator species. By definition, this also means that, if we lose them, up to 70 species could be lost or damaged also. In your 7 July written response to me regarding concerns about afforestation, renewable energy infrastructure and curlew conservation, you welcomed my concern about the conservation and recovery of curlew breeding in Wales, and referred to the environmental permitting duties of public bodies in Wales. However, constituents working with Gylfinir Cymru recently contacted me, stating,

'Through a freedom of information request, we're privy to a lot of Natural Resources Wales correspondence regarding the proposed Gaerwen windfarm site, south-west of Corwen. At no point do they even mention curlews. This is centred on Llyn Mynyllod, where we've observed both curlew and lapwing'.

Without urgent action on issues such as this, and the suite of predators waiting to gobble up curlew chicks, the curlew will be gone as a breeding population in Wales within a decade. So, what immediate action do you now propose, collaborating with Gylfinir Cymru members—and many of the organisations you mentioned are Gylfinir Cymru members—to prevent this?

I can't comment on individual planning applications, Mark, but if you want to write to me separately about a specific application, I'm obviously very happy to look at that. Just on Gylfinir Cymru in particular, we're obviously engaged with them, as you know. We're currently considering a series of funding applications from them, to fund a collaborative approach. You know I'm very keen to do this. We're also looking at ways that we can provide opportunities to enable curlew to thrive. We are very, very clear that any tree planting proposals respect curlew and other ground-nesting species that need open landscapes. Alongside my colleague Lesley Griffiths, we're looking to see how we can make sure that the sustainable farming schemes, and other schemes, are flexible enough to make sure we get our tree planting in place, but with the right tree in the right place, as we always say. And, of course, many of the open grasslands that support curlew are also supporting very many other species, and are natural carbon sinks in and of themselves, as you know, from the meadows and the grasslands, and also some of the upland peat areas, and so on. I can't comment on the individual planning application, but if you want to write to me with it, I'm more than happy to look into it.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.

Diolch, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. Now, we all know only too well that there is a serious housing crisis in Wales. We know too that, to address this crisis, more homes must be built, and soon. Now, this cannot be achieved, of course, without an effective planning system in place. Minister, I have held several meetings across the house building and construction sector over the summer, and I've picked up so many concerns about how the planning application delays now are impeding them in their ability to take housing schemes forward. They all noted delays—serious delays—in planning permission coming forward, allowing these much-needed homes to be built. They also pointed to the overstretched planning departments. In every corner, in every local authority, there is an overstretch in the planning department. In our planning departments in totality, there are 135 vacant posts, there are vacancies in our legal departments, and, as was noted only yesterday, we simply do not have enough building control officers in Wales. We saw the direct impact of this in the summer, when Flintshire County Council issued a statement warning of delays in the planning process because of a severe shortage of staff. The chief planning officer for Wrexham warned that all officers are running very high caseloads. We're going to fail—. The Government is going to fail to deliver the number of new homes needed in Wales if you don't unblock the planning process. With the infrastructure Bill coming forward, and the greater emphasis on planning in Wales, what steps can you take to assist our planning departments in recruiting planning officials?


Well, Janet, where to start with you, honestly? You have pushed 10 years of austerity onto local authorities and, in the last budget, there's been absolutely nothing for them. There's no point in shaking your head at me; I remember you saying that what we needed to do was get rid of back-office posts. Well, these are the posts you're now complaining are not there. You can't have your cake and eat it. If you take away from front-line posts in local authorities due to austerity, what you get is no lawyers, no planners, no building control officers, and that's what we're looking at. So, you can't just take the problem at the end of the cycle and then shout at me that it's not happening. 

So, we are doing a whole number of things right across Wales to try and put right the severe austerity programme that has hit our local authorities. It is near impossible for them to expand given their current financial difficulties. So, what we are doing, exactly as you say, is we are working on regional arrangements, which I do not particularly remember you supporting, to try and get those regional arrangements in place, so that we have a better career structure. We're actually working with our construction forum and with our developers to make sure that they, frankly, don't poach them as soon as they're trained and five-years qualified, which has been happening right across Wales for some considerable period of time. And, as I said in my statement yesterday, we're funding specific training programmes for some of the most hard-to-recruit professions. But there is absolutely no doubt at all that it's the austerity programme, driven by the UK Conservative Government, that has caused this problem. 

Just as a point of clarification, it's not me shouting at you; it's actually you shouting at me—

I'll decide if people are shouting in this Chamber, so just carry on with the content of the question. please. 

Okay. And, just as another point of clarification, however, the only time I've ever asked for back-office posts, I've asked for a north Wales regional payroll. I've never, ever asked for a reduction in our much-needed planning officers, legal officers. That needed saying. 

Now, some housing developers, during the engagement I undertook with them, have said that they would be willing to work with the Welsh Government, or individual local authorities, to help to fund these posts, either putting a planning consultant into a local authority department, or have them working in there, but working with the local authority. And they believe this would help to reduce the workload of our local planning authorities, enabling a quicker turnaround of applications. In the last financial year alone, local authorities spent nearly £1 million on planning consultants. So, stakeholders have been clear with me that planning authorities could reduce the burden by working on a more regional basis also. You could probably start ring-fencing revenue generated from planning fees. Looking at them, are they high enough to be able to recruit the staff needed to bring forward these local planning authority officers? One thing that's been raised with me, Minister—

I am sorry to cut across. I've been very generous in the first question, which was almost two minutes. This is now a minute a half. So, if you can ask your question. 

They would like you to review the pre-planning application process. They believe that's unwieldy and it's delaying the actual application process. So, would you consider working with our house building industry and planning officers across Wales to review how the performance of local planning authorities can be improved?

Well, we already do that, Janet. We have a construction forum that all SME builders are invited to. If you know of any house builders who aren't coming to that forum, do tell me who they are; we invite all of them. We do that very regularly. We have an overarching construction forum, and then specific work streams for housing construction, which, of course, includes planning and a number of other areas, of course, like phosphates and so on. We have the phosphate summit coming at the end of this week. We do a lot of work already. But if you're aware of any house builders who feel that they're not included in that forum, do let me know who they are. 


That's actually really positive, because it may well be that the housing construction people we've met with are the ones that are not attending your forum, and if not, why not? So, I'll go back to them on that. 

Now, the average time for planning permission to be approved is 374 days; it's well over a year. In Bridgend, planning permission for residential developments is taking up to five years. Developers are informing me that it is taking them, on average, three years from planning application to laying the first brick. Housing associations and constituents are clear with me: we need more rented social housing and we need genuine affordable housing. Whilst we are in the midst of the planning and houses crisis, will you explore options to fast-track applications for those much-needed rented social homes and affordable housing that we so need here in Wales? 

There are three things tied up in that. First off, obviously, we need the commercials—I can't believe we're doing it this way round, actually. The commercial sector needs to build, because we need the 106 houses coming out of that, so obviously we need all of the planning applications to go ahead. We are exploring ways to make sure that some of the ones with 50 per cent social housing attached to them are going ahead. I've got the phosphates summit tomorrow, actually—tomorrow morning—so we're looking to see whether we've got very specific things we can do to release some of the several thousand homes stuck behind phosphates. We've been successful up in north Wales, actually, on a couple of the sites. We're hoping to be able to extend that further south. We've got—I can't remember off the top of my head—but around 1,500 homes unlocked just recently up in north Wales as a result of some of the things that we've been able to do. So, I hope, coming out of the summit tomorrow, we will be able to advance that a bit further.

We are looking to see what we can do with developers who have land to make sure that the applications that they have are real, because quite a lot of them have land that's marked in the local development plan for housing, but they don't actually have a planning application in. So, what we're doing is looking, just at the moment, at the ones that actually have a planning application in, but then we need to work with the people who own the land that's marked in the LDP for housing to understand why they haven't brought forward a planning application. That could be because they're perceiving that the phosphate issue is there and they don't want to put the effort in upfront, but there may be a range of other areas. So, we are very specifically targeting sites in the LDPs across Wales that are earmarked for housing, to look to see if we can work with the land holders to understand what the hold-up is.

Diolch, Llywydd. Gweinidog, the Government's fuel poverty plan sets out that the Welsh Government is committed to consulting on how to build and strengthen the Warm Homes programme by the end of 2021, to publish the findings in the spring of 2022 and take the new programme forward from 2023. The First Minister said in March, during committee scrutiny, that while the new programme was due to be in place by the end of this year, there had been a delay. Nest has been extended to March 2024, so I'm assuming that the Warm Homes programme will start in April or the new financial year. If that is the case, that will leave thousands of households cold throughout the winter, in fuel poverty or pushed further into debt because of heating costs and low energy efficiency. I know, Minister, that you won't be happy about the fact that that is happening, but through delaying, this is condemning people to the cold, isn't it, with disastrous effects for human health and well-being, household budgets and the environment. So, could you tell us, please, when exactly we can expect the roll-out of the new Warm Homes programme? And could you tell us why it's being delayed until the spring, please?

So, it's actually out to tender at the moment and it just depends who wins it. If the person who wins it is able to start immediately, then we'll start immediately; if the person who wins it needs a ramp-up time, we'll have to take that into account. That will be part of the tender process. We've extended Nest to March as a precautionary measure; it doesn't necessarily mean it won't go into effect. So, if the successful tenderer was able to start the following Monday, then we would be very happy for them to do so. It is a question of them being ramped up and enabled to actually do it. So, that's what we're held up on. The original delay was actually just getting some of the arcane procurement rules now that we're out of the EU sorted out. So, it took us a little longer to get the tender out than we'd have liked, and then you're just in an inexorable process of timescale. So, I can't do anything about that now. 

We have made sure that the Nest programme is there, just so that there isn't nothing, but I do agree, I'd much rather it had started up beforehand. So, you know, with a following wind we'll get somebody who can do it much sooner than March, and we have been very clear in the tender process that we want that to happen.

Thank you. Brexit obviously casts a long shadow on so many aspects of our lives. Evidently, the programme has been plagued by delays—and I know that you're conceding that—and there are consequences, as has been outlined already. Now, we don't underestimate the scale of the challenge that Wales has amongst the oldest, least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe. I know that it's going to take a lot of effort and resource to bring houses up to standard so that everyone can live in a warm, energy-efficient home. Now, looking at the potential timeline to bring the housing stock up to that standard, there are concerns that the programme won't be at the necessary scale or delivered at the pace required to bring that change about. There is a concern that this has come about because of a lack of urgency on the Welsh Government's part to achieve a satisfactory level of energy efficiency in that stock. What would your response be to that, please? And how many homes would the Government aim for the Warm Homes programme to target by the end of this Senedd term, please?


So, this is about trying to find a good solution, which both gives temporary, better warmth to people and long-term decarbonisation and better energy efficiency. So, it's actually quite a hard line to travel. So, what we've decided—and I've reported on this in previous Senedds—what we've tried to do is hit the sweet spot between, for example, repairing and making an existing gas boiler more efficient and replacing it with a decarbonised system, which frequently needs more work done in the house. So, that's possible under the Warm Homes programme—if that's what your house needs, that's what your house will be able to get. Under Nest, that wasn't so; we didn't do a whole-house thing, we just did a 'What's your heat source? Let's upgrade it' kind of programme.

We've also been very keen to move this one on to neighbourhoods as well, so if you have a neighbourhood where—. Because we've been doing our local area energy audits, if we have a neighbourhood where a street is quite clearly in need of upgrade, but there are two people in that street who are not eligible for the programme for various reasons, that won't be a prohibition for doing it. It would've been before. So, we can do much more efficient programmes across an area, across a whole terrace is a classic example, where you do all of the insulation in one go. We wouldn't have been able to do that before, so we're very keen to work on that. That would be, then, a full decarbonisation. And you'll know that this isn't the only programme that's doing that as well: we run the retrofit programme and we've just announced the new Welsh housing quality standard, and that is deliberately going to overskill its workforce so that we can get systems running for owner-occupiers.

I'm delighted that the local housing allowance has gone up, back to 30 per cent. I mean, it would be better if it was 50 per cent, but 30 per cent, let's not disparage that, because that means that we'll have a lot more private rented sector properties coming into leasehold Wales schemes, because that means that we will have those for five to 15 years—15 years is better, obviously, but five is the minimum—and then we bring those homes up to standard. So, it's a way to decarbonise and increase the efficiency of the PRS, which is outside the Warm Homes programme, because those landlords wouldn't be eligible for that.FootnoteLink So, we've a number of other schemes that jigsaw together to try and get to the people who are the most vulnerable. I just met Marie Curie on the steps, actually, outside, and I accepted a petition off them. We've agreed that my officials will work with them to make sure that we can get as many people that they're aware of into the programme as well.

The Arbed Scheme in Arfon

3. Will the Minister provide an update on support for people in Arfon who have been negatively affected by the Arbed scheme? OQ60333

Diolch, Siân. My officials have investigated the options available for residents in Arfon and I would be very happy to have another meeting with you to discuss the situation and a potential way forward.

I'm not sure how many meetings we need to have about this issue. As you know, I've been talking about this and home owners in Arfon have been pursuing this for years now, and there are still people who cannot obtain help from the company that installed the insulation, or through the guarantee that was given to them when the work was done.

Another of those companies is in trouble now—a company that was part of the Arbed scheme in Arfon—and we now have a further group of people with nowhere to turn. These are residents who have to live with inadequate external wall insulation, and all kinds of problems have arisen because of that, and no way to pay for their own remediation work and nowhere to turn for support. Another winter of worry, therefore. And these are people who have put their faith in an energy efficiency scheme, supported by the Government, and have been let down.

So, fine, we'll have another meeting, but what specific action will the Welsh Government take now to help these people? And returning to the point that Delyth Jewell raised earlier in terms of new schemes that are afoot, how do you expect the people of Arfon to trust these new schemes if they don't receive support in helping them to cope with the problems that have arisen from the old schemes?


Diolch, Siân. I do appreciate your frustration at this. So, as you know, we've been working with you on this for a little while now. Back in 2021, every household in the Arfon scheme was contacted to prompt them on the documentation, including the guarantees that they should retain and act on, and we provided a copy of documents to everyone who responded requesting them. I do hope that, where they were able to, they were able to pursue redress through the warranty schemes that were in place. I do also accept, though, Siân, that some of the companies have gone under and there are others that are in trouble, so I'm very happy to work with you on very specific properties where that's happened.

Let's have a meeting to discuss the nitty-gritty, but my understanding is that the thermal insulation properties have worked on it, but the look of it, the external finish, is poor, and we accept that it is poor. If you're aware that the thermal insulation has failed, that's a different matter, because that triggers some other legal redress routes for us. So, I'm very happy to have a very specific meeting with you about the individuals, because I think this is one where one size fits all just isn't going to work for us, so let's do that. I understand your frustration, but I think it's worth that final push.

I'm grateful to Siân Gwenllian for raising this concern on behalf of her residents, also my residents as a regional Member. You mentioned 2021 in your response to Siân Gwenllian, Minister, and we also know that 2021 was when Audit Wales had serious concerns about the Welsh Government's Warm Homes programme, and they were calling for it to be greener, clearer and more tightly managed—the same programme that Delyth Jewell referred to in her question earlier. We know now that much of the programme of work isn't going to take place until after the winter of this year, so there are clearly some concerns as to the roll-out of that programme. So, I wonder, for the sake of those residents in Arfon, and for residents across Wales who will be looking to this programme of work to support them, what lessons have been learned from the Arbed scheme that you're hoping to be rectified for future programmes.

Thank you, Sam. We certainly have learned the lessons from these schemes, and we had problems elsewhere, as well—my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies had a number of issues in Caerau and other places in his constituency as well. So, it's subsequently introduced independent quality assurance and subcontractor performance management measures into the Warm Homes programme, so they're independently checked and backed for the exact reason that we've got this problem, and, Siân, I apologise, I didn't answer that bit of your question. But we're going to work very hard to make sure that we have a route to redress for anything that goes wrong in the new programme, learning from these lessons.

There are specific problems where the basic functionality works, so the thermal bit has worked, but the external—it's ruined the look of your home, which is very distressing for people. We have better redress if the thermal bit hasn't worked than we do if its cosmetic. I don't want to trivialise that, cosmetic is a big deal, don't get me wrong, but we have a different legal redress route if the actual thing didn't work. I think some of the difficulty we've had in Arfon is that my information is that the thermal bit has worked, but it's very poorly finished. That's a slightly different and slightly more difficult legal problem to sort out. But I'm very happy to work with you to try and get individual solutions to that.

Update on the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 Review

4. Will the Minister provide an update on the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure review, which was carried out in 2021? OQ60328

Diolch, Heledd. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change is in discussions with the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language about the findings of the recent review undertaken on the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 and potential next steps. A written statement will be issued once these discussions have concluded. And then, not part of the formal answer, Llywydd, but just to say that, as the Deputy Minister isn't here at the moment, I have a meeting arranged for Wednesday, 13 December with the Minister for education myself to take it up with him.

Thank you, Minister. It's certainly welcome to know that something is imminent, because for over a year now we've been hearing that the next steps will be shared with us. I know the Deputy Minister shared with Luke Fletcher back on 19 October 2022 that next steps would be shared, so we are desperate. In the meantime, authorities such as Rhondda Cynon Taf are looking to actually change. They have been going above and beyond their duties, but, because of financial challenges, they're looking to do the statutory now. This will obviously have a huge impact, and that inconsistency of experience is something that's of concern, especially when it's a barrier to children actually getting to school at present.

I wonder if you could please indicate what support is going to be available to ensure that any changes that local authorities are proposing to bring in that might be contrary to what you'd like to happen, given the review—. How are we going to support to ensure that no pupil is unable to access school? Because, in many of our Valleys that we represent, three miles up and down hill, there are no safe routes. It's not just a matter of using an active travel route, their only choice is a bus, and, unfortunately, that's going to be a further barrier as local authorities look to charge for even more pupils accessing that bus.


Thank you, Heledd. I mean, you're right; we have some excellent practices around Wales but it's very differential, depending on your topography and the location of your schools and your communities and all the rest of it. So, we've agreed, as I understand it—this is not my area at all, so I'm just picking it up, but—we've agreed, as I understand it, that the learner Measure does need reform and a review. We're looking to see what exactly that will consist of and how it matches with our wider bus reforms. So, I plan to have the meeting with the Minister to just go through all of the issues and see how many of them can be looked at in a shorter term scale and how many of them are reliant on future legislation and so on. I'm afraid I'm not in a position to answer you at the moment, but, as soon as I've had that meeting, I'm more than happy to meet with you and have a discussion about it.

The Hydrogen Sector in Wales

5. What steps is the Minister taking to support the hydrogen sector in Wales? OQ60335

Diolch, Janet. The climate emergency demands we use all the tools at our disposal to accelerate progress to a net-zero energy system. Working with regional partners, we are considering options to support the acceleration and deployment of hydrogen infrastructure across Wales, working across sectors including transport, power generation and hydrogen hub pilots.

Thank you. Despite the excellent efforts of HyCymru, the Wales Hydrogen Trade Association, it is fair to point out the advancement of the hydrogen economy in Wales is falling behind other nations. Norway has a hydrogen-powered ferry. We've asked for a similar scheme between Wales and Ireland; nothing has happened as yet. Next year, Scotland will have a hydrogen gas neighbourhood. Again, we've asked how perhaps similar projects can go ahead here in Wales, and now the USA has announced—jeepers—$7 billion in funding for the US to establish six to 10 regional clean hydrogen hubs across America, where support is available for the production, processing, delivery, storage and end use of hydrogen. Will you follow the lead of the USA? And let's be adventurous by making Wales one big hydrogen hub. Diolch. 

Well, you started so well, Janet, but, as usual, you feel the need to run us down. So, let me tell you what we are actually doing, and perhaps you could talk it up a bit. And you’re very welcome to come to Swansea and get on the hydrogen bus that they're running there, for example. [Interruption.] Exactly. So, we've awarded funding worth more than £2.6 million and other support to projects across Wales through the smart living hybrid small business research initiative scheme over the last two years. It supported 23 feasibility studies in research and development and four demonstrator and prototyping projects for hydrogen deployment across Wales in this period. The hybrid demonstrator projects have been especially significant with regard to furthering the use of hydrogen in our public fleets. The hybrid SBRI projects also directly supported three hydrogen feasibility projects in north Wales, the hybrid momentum project run by Baileys and Partners in Tal-y-bont in Gwynedd, which delivered a detailed feasibility study into the technical design and cost of the development of a green hydrogen hub and the market opportunities for customers for hydrogen fuel in rural areas. Through the hybrid FerMontation project, we’ve supported Menter Môn on Ynys Môn to do a feasibility study on the use of hydrogen in precision fermentation in food production, and we have several pan-Wales hybrid SBRI projects with a strong north Wales focus. The hybrid Wales hydrogen train feasibility and prototyping reports that Arup produced with TfW input identified several rail lines in north Wales as most suitable for trials for hydrogen trains, including the Heart of Wales line, the Cambrian line, the North Wales Coast, and the Conwy Valley lines. And Flintshire County Council has commissioned a project to refine the concept of a hydrogen hub, with support from the north Wales growth deal and Welsh Government money. There's currently a prior information notice on Sell2Wales by Ambition North Wales to engage with potential commercial partners, and they've gone out to appoint a commercial partner with a competitive selection process there. The Hydrogen Sponsor Challenge closed on 11 September 2023, with three applications, which will now go through the rigorous appraisal process. 

We also published the Wales hydrogen pathway in December 2020, and we've got a strong goal-led focus on it. You're very aware, I know, of the HyNet project up in north Wales, with opportunities for both carbon capture for north Wales and for hydrogen. And we have monthly meetings between Welsh Government officials and the HyNet project team to look at that. 

So, I think, Llywydd, I think it's fair to say that, far from nothing going on, there's an enormous amount going on. Perhaps the Member would like to talk it up, rather than talk it down. 

Minimising Flood Risks in Denbighshire

6. What work is the Welsh Government undertaking to minimise flood risks for residents in Denbighshire? OQ60317

Thank you, Gareth, for the question. We've provided over £75 million for flood risk management activities across Wales in this financial year, 2023-24, with £5.25 million revenue and £12 million capital funding available to all lead local flood authorities, including Denbighshire County Council.

Thank you very much for your response, Minister. North Wales was devastated by storm Babet in late October, but particularly affecting Denbighshire, where fire services were called to attend seven flooding incidents and 11 primary and secondary schools were forced to close, and extensive damage was caused to homes and businesses. We are seeing an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, and there's an increase in the severity of the damage caused. This is not the first time in the past couple of years that Denbighshire has been devastated by floods. Lessons have not been learned in the past, so, a month on from these floods, I would appreciate the Welsh Government outlining what plans they have started to put into place, as I mentioned to you recently in the topical question.

Natural Resources Wales has previously failed to mitigate the impact of storms in Denbighshire. We have recently, however, heard positive feedback from Natural Resources Wales regarding drainage work about the waterfall in Dyserth, which is a step in the right direction. I recently met with the owners of the New Inn in Dyserth, which has just reopened after repairing flood damage at great cost. We need to provide reassurance to residents and business owners in towns and villages like Dyserth and St Asaph that this is not going to happen again. 

The financial toll on my constituents is substantial, the trauma is long lasting, and the education lost through school closures has not been reclaimed. This is frustrating, particularly when the damage is preventable. So, could the Minister please outline what the Welsh Government is doing to work with NRW and local authorities to ensure that vital maintenance work is undertaken and undertaken more frequently, giving some reassurance to my constituents in the Vale of Clwyd? Thank you.

Yes, thank you, Gareth. I just want to say I'm absolutely aware of how devastating the impacts of flooding can be on homes and livelihoods, and lives even, so I want to extend my sympathy to everyone who was affected by the storms. Unfortunately, this is a pattern that's increasing in frequency all the time. Climate change is on us. This isn't something that's—. This is existential right now, this isn't some future problem that we've got to deal with, and we need to take drastic measures to do something about climate change, including adaptation. So, last year, we agreed a three-year capital budget, which totalled £102 million, to better plan our investment over a number of years and to support our at-risk communities. We provide £34 million in capital funding to our risk management authorities this financial year as part of our ongoing commitment to invest in flood and coastal risk management. 

NRW manage flood defences to reduce the risk to over 73,000 properties across Wales. So, for example, the St Asaph scheme, completed in 2018, which cost £6 million, performed really well in the recent storms and prevented flooding to 293 homes and 121 businesses. I just use that as an example of the fact that the schemes work. So, people need to be reassured that, when the schemes are put in place, they do actually work. We've made available over £900,000 for Denbighshire County Council to progress with seven schemes to reduce the risk of flooding to communities, and we're investing over £102 million in Denbighshire to progress three schemes in east Rhyl, central Rhyl and Prestatyn.

We're also working with Denbighshire on a £1.5 million development for five natural flood management schemes in Denbighshire. There's the small-scale works grant scheme available also, with a simplified application process, to fund local authorities to carry out really small-scale works and maintenance. They're up to a value of £200,000 and are targeted towards works to reduce flood risk to individual homes. So, your constituents might well want to approach Denbighshire about how that's going—and we've approved two schemes submitted by Denbighshire County Council this year, which total £195,000. So, you know, there are things afoot to do this; I'm afraid, though, the increasing frequency of these storms will mean that many more people are affected by it, but I encourage you to help your constituents to engage with Denbighshire to make sure that, when they plan their projects, they are taking those into account.

Traveling by Train in North-east Wales

7. How is the Welsh Government encouraging people to travel by train in north-east Wales? OQ60315

Diolch, Jack. Improving services on the Wrexham-Bidston line has been a priority for the Welsh Government this year. From December passengers will see brand-new class 197 trains on the line, alongside the class 230 trains, with a new more robust timetable providing additional services in north-east Wales.

I'm grateful to the Minister outlining the priority of the Welsh Government there, and the Minister will be aware I've raised the topic of the Wrexham-Bidston line on a number of occasions here in the Senedd. It was just last week I met again with residents who rely on the Wrexham-Bidston line. They're frustrated by the cancellations, they're frustrated by the use of the bus replacement services, especially at those peak commuting times to get to work and to get back from work in particular. I'm aware of the Transport for Wales announcement of the 45-minute increase in frequency on the line, and, of course, I welcome this, however, I am seeking your further intervention again, Minister, to push Transport for Wales to further improve the reliability on the line, to end the use of bus replacement services and the need for them, and, importantly, to communicate directly with the residents in Alyn and Deeside about the delivery and the progress on these much-needed improvements.

Thank you, Jack. I think it is fair to say that passengers have had a very poor experience using the rail services, and indeed the rail replacement services, on the Wrexham-Bidston line. I think we would put our hands up to that; we're very sorry for all of the disruption that's gone on there. We have engaged closely with local reps—yourself, of course; you've raised it a number of times—and rail user groups to understand the challenges that have been faced. Transport for Wales have implemented a five-point improvement plan that's being delivered by a dedicated manager for the line, which is, I think, now making a positive difference to the performance of the service. I hope you know who that dedicated manager is, but, if you don't, I'm very happy to put you in touch with them, and that's the direct route to communication, then, for residents. I'm very pleased that we have that dedicated manager in there to make sure that the improvements happen. We do recognise that more needs to be done, which is why Transport for Wales are implementing a new timetable on the line from this December—so, that's from the day after tomorrow, by my reckoning. They are confident this will provide a more reliable and frequent service for all passengers, very specifically including those who rely on the line to travel to and from work. I'm sure, Jack, that you'll be able to keep me in touch with the improvements there and let me know whether they are working very well or not working as well as we'd like.

The Impact of Grid Infrastructure in Mid and West Wales

8. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of grid infrastructure on residents in Mid and West Wales? OQ60321

Thank you for the question, Cefin.

We expect companies proposing new grid to follow planning policy that new power lines should be undergrounded where possible and their impact mitigated where undergrounding is not possible. We need a strategic solution to updating our grid infrastructure to give people reliable access to clean heat, transport and good jobs.

Thank you for the reassurance around the undergrounding, but, in last week's autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to expedite planning processes for new pylons, as well as for people living closest to new pylons and electricity substations, offering up to £10,000 off their energy bills over 10 years. We've yet to see any real detail about these plans, and proposed future reductions in tariffs will provide little comfort to households facing a further 5 per cent hike in the energy price cap this winter. Indeed, this fiscal event really was thin gruel for Welsh households suffering in the face of an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, and the UK Government missed an opportunity to take up Plaid Cymru's calls for a new social energy tariff. So, we know there are a number of parts of Mid and West Wales where proposals for new pylons remain in development and under contestation, so can I ask the Minister what assessment your Government has undertaken of the implications of these announcements for Wales? And in light of UK Government's plans around these changes to planning processes, how will you work to ensure meaningful community consultation around proposals, including the options for undergrounding, and how will you look to ensure tangible, sustainable and lasting community benefits from these developments?

Yes, thank you, Cefin. So, there's quite a bit of complexity there. We don't know very much more about it than you do. We know what was in the autumn statement. But I do have an inter-ministerial group planned with the Minister, so I do plan a series of questions about exactly how they propose that to work. Our understanding, though it's not a firm understanding, is that it's only for new developments as well, which is not much consolation if you've already got a pilot of that sort, and I don't really understand the rationale for that. It also isn't terribly much money when you consider that it's spread out over a long period of time, and, as you've eloquently said, it doesn't make up for the ridiculous energy market that we're currently in. So, there are a number of flaws that you can immediately see. I'm afraid I don't know much more about what the intention was. I can see from news reports across England that it hasn't been very well received in England either. I think people regard it as a not very good bribe for having something they don't want. So, that is not our approach.

Our approach is to make sure that our communities are fully informed and understand what's going on, that we underground where that's at all possible; where it isn't possible, that we do mitigation. We're working with the National Grid to figure out ways that we can pre-look at transmission routes across Wales. There aren't very many. So, we will be able to figure out where they are because we have large amounts of protected landscape, we have peatlands, we have protected—. There are lots of things where you don't want the transmission lines to go. There aren't that many routes, so we can work properly with those communities to understand the impacts, where we can underground, and what that looks like.

The applications that are existing at the moment are a range of applications, some of which will come into the Welsh planning process, but some of which will go to the UK planning process. So, we're working with the UK Government to try and make sure that our planning policies are implemented where it's a UK Government process, because the level is above where we are, and then for onshore wind we're looking to make sure that the grid itself works with us.

I recently went to a renewable developers conference in Newport, where we discussed a gold standard for community benefits that could be rolled out by everyone, where we could assist communities to understand what was possible. Many of the community benefits that are delivered at the moment are very, very worthwhile, but where we could get communities together, for example, to help with retrofitting and energy efficiency and other measures that are rarely asked for by communities at the moment, because they require help to put those bits together. And then, working with yourselves as part of the co-operation agreement, we hope that Ynni Cymru and the enablers that we've put in place will be able to help communities to put their best foot forward, if you like, in asking for what those community benefit schemes should look like. So, there are a number of things to do and, Llywydd, I will update the Senedd once I've met with the Minister, if I've got any more information.


Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Minister. Just to follow up from Cefin's point, if I may. In Mid and West Wales, we have a number of developments, as I'm sure you know, from companies to expand the grid, which of course in principle we all accept needs to be done. However, there are significant implications in terms of consultation and engagement with communities. I just really wanted to follow up on that concept that you've just talked about in terms of community benefits. I don't know if you know about Octopus Energy, but Octopus are based around the UK and in Caerphilly and West Yorkshire, I understand that one wind turbine there, actually, for the community, allows them to engage and to register for the energy fan club. So, 'fan'—I take that as that. And if they do that, then they have an app on their phone that tells them when the wind is blowing, and therefore they can get a reduced 50 per cent off their energy bills. That, for me, is an incredible community benefit, and I just wondered what your views were about taking that forward, and in order for us to include that in the mix of community benefits. That is direct money for people for their energy bills. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Yes, absolutely, Jane. We're very interested indeed in having a small amount of community ownership in some of the bigger energy projects. I've spoken at great length to many of the developers about when they build projects, including floating wind projects, I have to say, whether they would be prepared as part of a collaboration with a Welsh state energy developer to build one or two turbines specifically for community ownership. The Welsh Government could de-risk that and then pass the ownership on to communities over a much longer period of time, because nobody's going to be able to afford to do it upfront, but we could de-risk that for communities. And you're absolutely right—spot on. That allows them access to the energy itself and not just the benefits package that goes with it.

In the longer term, I'd like to see a Government reform the energy system, so that you don't have the ridiculous nonsense of what is a community benefit and what isn't. And also there's the issue that at the moment community benefits go to communities hosting the generation of energy, but not the transmission of energy, and the transmission is actually more controversial, in many instances, than the actual generation. So, I was pleased to see the UK Government at least accept the concept of transmission communities, but they've gone about it in a way that I don't particularly think is very effective, nor will it get the buy-in we want. But I'm very keen to make sure that we push the kind of community-ownership model that you're talking about there, and which we do have a couple of models around Wales of.

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language

The next item will be the questions to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. The first question is from Cefin Campbell.

Modern Foreign Language Teaching in Mid and West Wales

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of modern foreign language teaching in Mid and West Wales? OQ60322

The Welsh Government has a clear vision and strategy to support modern foreign language learning in Wales. The strategic plan, 'Global Futures: A plan to improve and promote international languages in Wales 2022 to 2025', launched last November, sets out how we will improve provision and promote international languages in Wales.

Thank you very much. A number of people have contacted me, across my region, expressing their concerns about the provision of modern foreign language teaching. I heard very recently from a student, in Aberystwyth as it happens, who wanted to continue to study German at A-level, but he was denied that opportunity because the e-learning provision was no longer available to him. And I have seen, across the region that I represent, a reduction in the provision of modern foreign languages generally over recent years, and the numbers of students studying those subjects. In Ceredigion at the moment, apart from one school, French is the only foreign language provided at GCSE level—and that is only at GCSE, not A-level. And that is a general pattern across the region. So, despite the importance of language learning for our global economy, and our economy here in Wales, could you give us an assurance that you do have a strategy to tackle this issue? And how concerned are you about the current situation?

That's a very valid question. I'm very concerned about this situation, and the Member's right to say that there has been a reduction, and a significant reduction in some modern foreign languages. The challenges facing German learning is a specific one, and I receive many letters from Members and from the public about that concern regarding German specifically.

In terms of what we're going to do as a Government, or what we're already doing, we have more than one programme to try and increase interest in modern foreign languages in our schools. So, in the primary stage, of course, and extending to the secondary stage as well now, that element of introducing an international language early in the education of our children is very important, I think. I went back to my own old primary school in the last academic year and heard a class singing Spanish songs. We wouldn't have seen that during my period in school. But I do accept that that will be something that will have long-term results.

We also have a mentoring programme through Cardiff University that provides direct support to secondary schools: students going back to those schools to mentor children with modern languages. We also have an Open University programme that teaches teachers how to teach modern languages and, along with that, an investment of over £2.5 million to increase the availability and interest in taking modern foreign languages at GCSE level.

It's a significant challenge. It doesn't exist only in Wales, but that's no comfort, of course. I would encourage schools—and, at the end of the day, the schools make the decisions in terms of the mix of languages that are taught at their schools—I would encourage schools to get involved in the Global Futures programme and the partners that are there to provide support to schools about how to change the situation.

Pupil Attendance at Schools in Denbighshire

2. What work is the Welsh Government undertaking to ensure good pupil attendance at schools in Denbighshire? OQ60325

We've provided significant investment for family engagement officers, with funding this year totalling £6.5 million. This is in addition to the £2.5 million provided to the education welfare service this year, to provide much-needed additional capacity.

Thank you very much for your response, Minister. We've learnt recently that Rhyl High School, in my constituency, has been put into a situation where they've had to introduce shorter days in order to encourage pupils back into school. I'm sure the Minister will agree that this solution is sub-optimal for the school and students alike. I welcome the group that the Minister is setting up in order to tackle school absence, but as we know, there is a national crisis regarding school attendance and much more work needs to be undertaken by the Welsh Government to put this right.

The lockdowns introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic had far-reaching repercussions for the economy, mental health, and health more broadly, but education was particularly hard hit. Sadly, not enough has been done to successfully reintroduce pupils back into the classroom and ensure that any lost learning has been rectified. The fallout from learning from home is still clearly being felt, with pupils failing to acclimatise to school, and the institutions, such as Rhyl High School, struggling to get pupils back into the classroom. Teachers and other professionals have expressed how a lack of in-person teaching has affected not only pupil literacy and numeracy skills, but also their social skills.

So, how, Minister, do you plan to work with schools to ensure they get the support necessary to rapidly increase school attendance without turning to drastic measures such as shortening the school day, which I'm sure we can both agree is hugely detrimental to a child's education? Thank you.


Well, I agree with the broad point the Member makes in relation to the impact of COVID on standards of literacy, numeracy and attainment generally in our schools; it has had a very detrimental impact. At the time, we were very clear as a Government that every decision we took in relation to schools during the pandemic was taken on the basis of a balance of harms: the risk of infection on the one hand, but the obvious risk of the impact of not being in school or having remote learning on the other hand. The Member's question, I think, illustrates why that approach was so important, as was our commitment that schools would be the last things to close and the first things to open.

On his broad point in relation to attendance generally, he will know from my earlier answer on the establishment of the national taskforce, with experience not just from education but from social services, health, the police, parents and academics with a particular interest and experience of this, that what we are going to try and do is to identify the best practice already happening in the system—and there is a lot of it—and to make sure that all schools have the benefit of that, so that they can draw on that, adapt it, build on it, and have it work for their own areas.

On the point that the Member makes in relation to Rhyl High School in particular, let me be clear that the situation there is a little different, I think, from how the Member described it. It is not a shortening of the school day in general; it is letting some children start school a little bit later in the day to avoid a busy registration period on a temporary basis, to encourage young people back to school who may have struggled to attend. I know that he will be keen to make sure that we are trying whatever steps are practical to ensure young people are back in school, and that is the sort of thing that Rhyl High School, as I understand it, is attempting to do.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Laura Anne Jones.

Diolch, Presiding Officer. Minister, we've recently seen school governors submit a 7,000-strong petition and give evidence raising grave concerns about the 'frightening' financial situation facing schools in Wales, with warnings that some schools are operating 'hand to mouth'. Since 2010, schools have received a 1.1 per cent real terms increase in funding, which equates to a rise of 0.7 per cent per pupil. This is clearly not satisfactory, and only serves to harm Welsh education. Dr Martin Price, chair of the Vale of Glamorgan school governors' association, has said that

'quite a proportion of schools in Wales are running on empty or, effectively, in private sector terms, are bankrupt',

and that

'not enough money is going into many schools, if not most schools in Wales, in order to deliver what their legal requirements are in terms of education'.

You say you care about the education of our children in Wales, and I hope you do, Minister, but you're certainly not putting your money where your mouth is. Clearly not enough money is getting to where it's really needed. Minister, is this a record you're proud of, and if not, why have you seen it fit to cut the education budget this year once again, and when will this Government feel it fit to fund schools properly?

Well, I hope the Member will not want to have said anything that misrepresents what we've done this year, because, in fact, school budgets have not been cut this year. As she will know from our previous exchanges in relation to this, the in-year reductions that we’ve had to make this year have been on the basis of demand-led programmes, where the demand has not met that which we have provided for in our budget. So, front-line school budgets have not been impacted in the way that I think her question implied.

She is right to say that school budgets in many schools are under pressure, as are local authority budgets, as is the Welsh Government’s budget. In the last two years, we have been able as a Government to increase the funding available to local councils, which are, of course, directly responsible for funding schools, by very considerable sums. However, the impact of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis has, of course, eroded the value of that increase, and the level of demand, both on local government budgets and indeed on our own, has increased. So, that is the context in which we are operating at the moment.

We will do everything we can to make sure that as much funding as possible gets to the front line in schools. We were together in a committee meeting this morning where I outlined the very significant sums that we are investing in relation to the additional learning needs reforms, which come from my budget, but also in relation to curriculum reform and many other initiatives. And this is in addition to the revenue support grant that funds schools directly.


Minister, you keep mentioning small pots of money that you've provided. The reality on the ground is that schools are struggling, and whatever you say you're doing, it's clearly not working. Perhaps it's because this Labour Government has chronically underfunded education in Wales year on year, decade after decade, whereas in England the Conservative Government have increased funding for education year on year.

I've already quoted from the Petitions Committee, but that wasn't all that was said, Minister. Matthew Gilbert, headteacher at Barry Island Primary School, described the financial pressures as 'frightening'. He said: 

'I've had over 20 years in education and I've never experienced such difficulties with finance.'

He raised concerns about equality, saying that it's difficult to provide one-to-one support given increasing numbers of pupils with complex needs presenting themselves, as was raised this morning, amid constrained finances. He said:

'we have to set deficit budgets. Otherwise, we won't be able to provide those children with one-to-one support'.

He went on to say:

'we want to break the deprivation, to enable children to read and to write and to break that poverty gap.... But as it stands, the deficit situation is dire.... We are forced to be hand to mouth, and the cupboards are empty.'

And to truly add insult to injury, Minister, Mr Gilbert then went on to say that his schools—and I'm aware that other schools are the same—often have to chase small community grants that should be a luxury, not a necessity, to prop up maxed-out school budgets just to get the basics done.

Following that, I'd like to read one more small quote to you in regard to the education budget that you've slashed, Minister:

'We have made choices, and I'm telling you what choices we've made. I'm proud of them.'

That was you, Minister, earlier this year, proudly championing real-terms cuts to education. You constantly shrug off blame and fail to accept accountability for your department's clear and evident failures. Minister, do you accept Mr Gilbert's characterisation of education in Wales and everyone else's that I speak to, or is it someone else's fault as per usual?

I certainly don’t accept your characterisation of it. The situation in which we are working through the Welsh Government is one in which we are experiencing the direct consequences of a—. And she invites me to compare the position in Wales and England and she will absolutely find, if she looks at education funding, that the picture she paints is completely misleading and incorrect. The position, if she wants to compare, is that the Welsh Government’s budget is affected by a Conservative Government in Westminster running a high-tax, high-inflation, low-growth, low-investment, high-interest-rate economy. That is what is happening, and it is impossible to avoid the consequences of that in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The only way of bringing about that step change in public service investment that we want to see right across the UK is through the election of a Labour Government.

I'm getting quite used to hearing this 'It's not me, guv' attitude from the Minister. Once again, we've been delivered another load of empty words, which is becoming a speciality of yours. 

David Blackwell, headteacher of Sir Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Barry, raised concerns, quoting a massive recruitment and retention crisis:

'we're seeing the quality of applicants alongside the number of applicants dramatically decreasing.'

He went on to say that

'there are fewer people working in my school when the needs are greater than I've ever seen in the 23 to 24 years I've been working in schools.'

And to top that off, the average reading age of a child entering secondary school is two years lower than it was five years ago. Minister, this is a damning indictment of your time in office. Schools aren't happy, your unions aren't happy, teachers aren't happy, school governors aren't happy and parents and children are not happy. You've failed a generation of learners, and yet you still stand there and parrot the same lines back to me, week after week. How many professionals will it take for me to quote to you before you take urgent action? Schools don't need another review, Minister, like you promised yesterday; they need sufficient financial support right now, given the gravity of the situation. Minister, when can schools expect to see some light at the end of this very bleak tunnel? And do you accept the damaging effect that Welsh Labour has had on education by cutting the budget not once but twice under your tenure?


I don't know quite how many times to put this, but the Member makes a case that is entirely unfounded. The number of points that she makes that are not borne out by reality is a new level, even for her. What I will accept is that there are heads right across Wales, many of whom she has quoted there, working hard day in, day out, with teachers and teaching assistants, to deliver for our young people in what are increasingly challenging circumstances. And I'm sure she'll want to join me and others in the Chamber in thanking them for the hard work that they do.

Thank you, Llywydd. Last week saw the publication of the statistical report on patterns in reading and numeracy attainment, using national data as well as personal assessment, along with, of course, your related written statement. Without doubt, these results were generally disappointing and worrying, particularly given that average pupil attainment in numeracy in Wales was four months behind what it was in 2018-19, and, in terms of English reading, was four months behind what it was in 2018-19. The greatest decline was in Welsh reading, which showed that pupils were 11 months behind in average attainment as compared to 2018-19. Can I ask you specifically, therefore, Minister, what work is being done to understand why we are seeing such a great discrepancy between the results in English and in Welsh—I accept that some of this may relate to COVID—and, specifically, to support the progress and attainment of these pupils, and to give parents assurance so that we don’t lose them from Welsh-medium education, which is a concern given the difference between the languages?

Yes, it is a concern, and it’s important that we do publish these figures and that we can have this kind of discussion that we’re having today, and to do that in a transparent way. So, that is a step forward, I think. The Member is right to say that there is a difference in the figures between the two things. Some of the impacts are common, in terms of COVID, and we also know, as regards learners from households where Welsh is not spoken, the impact on their grasp of the Welsh language of not being in school is likely to be more detrimental as a result. So, that’s the assumption, if you like. But there is work ongoing, following the publication of the figures, to look under the bonnet of the data, to see what lessons we can learn from that. As the Member knows, I’ve provided an update to our numeracy and literacy programme, and announced a new programme on numeracy. There are challenges in both areas, but it is important that we do recognise what has happened in the wake of COVID and that we react positively.

Thank you. One of the concerns, maybe, is the messages conveyed to parents, to give them an assurance that their children aren’t going to suffer by remaining within the Welsh-medium sector.

If I could turn then to another report that was recently published, namely the one by the Welsh Language Commissioner on post-compulsory education and the Welsh language, you will see that there are major differences between those in the post-16 sector in schools and those in colleges, and that’s despite the excellent work of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol in this regard. So, can I ask you specifically, given that there is such a difference, and that there are some councils that have changed to a model of encouraging the closure of sixth forms and moving more towards having their learners in college, and having seen the impact this can have in terms of those studying through the medium of Welsh in the post-16 sector, what further steps are being taken and what support is being provided to the coleg Cymraeg to take this work further?

That’s a very important question, and it's really important, I think, to ensure not only that there is an equal offer between sixth forms and colleges, but also in terms of the prosperity of the Welsh language in the local economy. Many people going to the local FE college, maybe, will be working locally, and ensuring that they’ll have opportunities to learn through the medium of Welsh and to work through the medium of Welsh—. It will be very important that we succeed in doing that.

There is good work happening in colleges across Wales. I was in the National Eisteddfod this year talking to Llandrillo Menai college about the innovative things that they’ve been doing to encourage Welsh-language courses in their colleges, and there are opportunities for them to learn from the good practice that's happening, and ensuring that that's disseminated across our colleges. 

What I would say is that I do see that people accept that this is a challenge and that we need to improve provision. There are challenges in terms of the workforce, of course, and we're trying to tackle that in our Welsh-medium recruitment plan over the next 10 years. The work that the coleg Cymraeg is doing is important, and the budget has increased for them to be able to expand that provision, and they have done that in a way that is very encouraging. There is more to be done, of course. 

The Member will know that one of the most important opportunities on the horizon will come in the new year, with the establishment of the new commission, and the specific role of the coleg Cymraeg of being designated to provide specific advice to the commission about this—on how we can have better collaboration between schools and sixth forms, and further education colleges, so that we can increase that provision, and make it more consistent and have greater equity across Wales. 

Teaching Learners about Local History

3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that schools teach learners about local history? OQ60326

9. How is the Welsh Government promoting the teaching of local history in primary schools? OQ60314

Llywydd, I understand you've given permission for question 3 and question 9 to be grouped.

Everyone should learn about, and critically engage with, the history of their local area and of our country. That is why, within the Curriculum for Wales, it is mandatory for schools to teach the history of their locality and of Wales.

I'm very, very pleased to hear that that requirement is in the new curriculum. One aspect of local history that is often overlooked, and was the topic of discussion at a recent cross-party group meeting on the armed forces and cadets, is our local military history. I appreciate there are many interpretations of that, but local heroes in our communities, and their stories, can really help to enthuse our young people and engage them in history in a way that nothing else can.

Even as an adult, I enjoy visiting local churchyards, looking at local gravestones, and visiting local memorials. I was struck just this week to hear about William Donaghy of Towyn near Abergele. He saw active service in north Africa and in Italy during world war two, and was awarded with a distinguished conduct medal for his service and leadership when he was severely injured in the Salerno landings in Italy, having served in north Africa with the Desert Rats.

So, there are fascinating local people, and I think that this is a really effective way to engage our young people with the whole world of history and the treasure of history on their doorsteps. So, what, specifically, is the Welsh Government doing in particular to promote engagement with our military history in our communities, especially with all those names, all those memorials, and the names on the memorials across the nation?

I think the Member makes an important point. I think that the description that he has given can be an important part of that sense of cynefin, which is one of the founding concepts of the curriculum—that sense of belonging to the history, but also to understand the world through the experiences of figures, including those with military experience, in one's local community. In my own constituency a few weeks ago—the First Minister attended as well—there was a service to commemorate a soldier who'd been shot for desertion and had been pardoned subsequently. And I was very pleased to see lots of young people there to mark the occasion as well.

I think the example that he gives is one of many, many ways in which schools will want to reflect on local figures, both from history and from the current time. It is about history, but it's about more than that, isn't it? It's about local contexts more broadly—geography, religion, values and so on—and I think that is one of the richnesses of our curriculum. Teachers, I'm sure, in his constituency, as in mine, and elsewhere, will be looking for those opportunities to be able to enrich the learning of our young people. 

Diolch, Llywydd. I'm grateful to you for grouping question 3 and my question 9, and I support the comments of Darren Millar with regard to the teaching of local military history, as someone who sits on the cross-party group for the armed forces as well. After all, it's local history that engages children in a way that little else does. I recently visited Ysgol Tŷ Ffynnon in Shotton and saw the work that pupils did on a local history project there. These children live in a community steeped in the history of industry. They created a timeline—a local timeline and a national timeline. It included going from Owain Glyndŵr, right to Nye Bevan and the impact of the NHS, through to Shotton steelworks, right on our doorstep. The modern section of the timeline included the creation of this very Senedd. It also included the building of Ysgol Tŷ Ffynnon itself, a new state-of-the-art school, funded by Welsh Labour’s twenty-first century schools programme. Minister, will you join me in congratulating the students and the staff at Ysgol Tŷ Ffynnon for their work, and will you encourage other schools across our nation to do the same to learn more about their local history?


I absolutely will. I thank Jack Sargeant for highlighting the fantastic work that Tŷ Ffynnon primary school is doing. It’s a reminder, isn’t it, that our history in Wales is a history both of princes and also of radicals, and that richness and the fullness of it is what we want our young people to learn about. I think it’s great also to hear how they’re making use of sustainable communities for learning funding, to use the school space for this purpose. I reflect, if I may, that one of the challenges that we have in schools at the moment is how we can re-engage some of our learners who may be feeling anxious, who may be feeling uncertain about being back in school. And the one thing I think we can probably all agree on is that that sense of belonging, that you have a community and a history that you belong to, is a really important part of being on that journey, and I think the kind of example that he’s given today is a really powerful illustration of that.

I very much agree that young people in our schools relate very strongly to their local history, which they can see all around them, and it’s a very good learning and teaching tool. Would you agree with me, Minister, that it’s also important in delivering this local history aspect in our schools that schools link with outside organisations like the local history societies? Locally here in Gwent, a working group of Gwent Archives is able to provide materials and resources, and, in Newport, there’s a very vibrant group that takes forward our celebrations of our amazing Chartist history. These external groups, I think, can really add something to the teaching of local history.

Yes, I absolutely would endorse that. In the discussions that I have from time to time with the third sector in relation to their contribution to our school curriculum, one of the discussions that we have is how we can facilitate those connections between schools and teachers who are busy working on and designing school curricula and the work of external bodies in our civic communities. Actually, if we follow the principles of the curriculum and allow that element of co-design, I think there’s a very significant opportunity for schools, who are in a constant process of creativity, recreation and redesign in relation to the curriculum, and having that external source of inspiration and a partner to support that work, I’m sure, would be very valued by schools.

Opportunities in the World of Work

4. How does the Welsh Government encourage schools to work with employers so that learners are better informed about potential future opportunities in the world of work? OQ60334

Building strong and successful relationships between employers, colleges and schools to support learners in their next steps is essential to improving their job prospects and to help them understand the values that local employers have, and we have a number of initiatives in Wales to support this. And I thank the Member for the work that he has done to set out how we can build on this. 

And in that work that he refers to, I said that the

‘Welsh Government should ensure that further education institutions, employers and other relevant stakeholders have appropriate access to learners throughout their school career,’

from primary onwards, but ‘particularly at age 11-16.’ The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Federation of Small Businesses have recently produced a new report that echoes that, in which they say that, in terms of the policy agenda, the Welsh Government and the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research should build on that, with

‘its themes on transitions to world of work and a commitment to work-related learning, alongside a wider strategy to prime growth in SMEs to open new opportunities.’

Of course, small businesses find it very difficult to engage with the education environment, and perhaps find it more difficult than larger firms. So, how is the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research making progress on those recommendations, and what further can be done to ensure that we get there?

Well, just to echo the point that the Member makes, I had the opportunity of being able to speak at the launch of the report that he refers to, and it's a report that certainly Members should read. I thought that it had some very salutary recommendations and some insights that we could all reflect on. I think there are some practical things that we have undertaken as a Government, following the report that Hefin David himself provided to us. So, following the pilot of the tailored work experience project last year, we've increased the funding to Careers Wales to support year 10 and year 11 learners, those who have struggled to re-engage with their education after the pandemic. We've also commissioned work to be completed on a set of work placement guidance for employers and schools, to support exactly the kind of links that Hefin David was referring to in his question. And we've also commissioned a review of teacher-employer encounters at a secondary school level, actually, which aims to understand what is currently happening in terms of those placements between teachers and employment settings and to try and pilot potential models for delivery for the future. There are two pilots being taken forward in Swansea and Anglesey at the moment. And when I read the review of the teacher-employer encounters, I was heartened to see that, alongside placements with, as one might expect, some of the larger employers, there were also examples of working with smaller employers as well. And I absolutely agree with him that, in an economy as we have, where small and medium-sized enterprises play such a large part, it is absolutely essential that we make the connections between the work placements they can provide and schools as well, both at a primary and secondary level.


Minister, connecting schoolchildren with potential future employers is absolutely key, and it's something that I've been genuinely working very hard on across south-east Wales to achieve. With my tech hat on for five seconds or so, I was fortunate enough to visit Sony's south Wales hub recently to celebrate 50 years of Japanese business in Wales. Whilst there, I found out more about the company's educational programmes, which aim to inspire the next generation and showcase career pathways. Since 2012, Minister, they have welcomed more than 25,000 students to their UK technology centre, just to start their journey in the industry. The programmes give pupils a chance to experience a manufacturing environment and learn specific skills, including coding. It's a truly remarkable scheme, Minister, and I was particularly pleased to discover Sony's educational programme to get more girls into STEM, which is thriving. Minister, I've been spreading the message about these free sessions with schools across my region of South Wales East, but pupils up and down Wales should have access to this sort of thing as well. So, Minister, will you join me in praising Sony's scheme and also commit to helping raise awareness of it within schools in all four corners of Wales?

That scheme sounds like a very interesting development, and I'd like to find out more about it. So, if she'd care to share some of that information with me, I'd be grateful.

The Cost of the School Day

5. How is the Welsh Government alleviating the cost of the school day for families across north Wales? OQ60343

Among other things, our schools essential grant has made a significant difference to many low-income families across Wales, helping to reduce the worries surrounding the purchase of school uniform and equipment, for example. Funding of £2.5 million has been made available for families in north Wales in 2023-24.

Families living more than 2 miles from a primary school or more than 3 miles from a secondary school can't access school transport. Now, that does leave some of the poorest families, perhaps, who don't have a car but live almost 2 miles or almost 3 miles away from school, reliant on public transport, and that comes at a cost. So, the situation we have is that the less able to afford public transport are having to pay for that in order to get their children to school. According to Arriva Bus, a season ticket for a child is £125, which is a huge cost if you're on the financial precipice, and that's for every child, every term. Do you think that's fair, Minister? And if you don't, are you willing to consider looking at the issue?

Well, the Member knows that work is already going on to look at the arrangements for school transport. A review has happened of the Measure already, and I'm meeting with the Minister for Climate Change in the coming days to discuss the results of that review. What will be a challenge is tackling some of the changes that mean changing the law, but we do have an opportunity to look at a range of things that we could do in the context of statutory guidance, for example, to strengthen the expectations and to learn from some of the good practice that is happening in some places in Wales. So, we'll be able to make a statement in due course about the results of that discussion.

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

Yet again, as a result of this Plaid-Labour Welsh co-operation agreement, we see that all primary school children in Wales will now receive free school meals by 2024. The cost to the taxpayers of this is £40 million in 2022-23, £70 million on 2023-24, and £90 million in 2024-25. Now, there is no doubt that lower income families will be benefiting from this. However, there are parents who do not need this who can afford to contribute, and they want to contribute. At a time when school governing bodies are having to look for savings, it makes no sense at all that children of affluent parents who can afford to pay are not allowed to. Now, I meet and speak with my headteachers on a regular basis. They don't know whether they can afford staff from year to year and, in fact, some are having to lay off staff. So, will you at some stage, Minister, look at this universal free meals policy with the aim of establishing if it can be amended, so that those who can afford to pay, do so? And, more importantly, will you look at whether that's the best use of taxpayers' money in terms of prudence?  


Well, let me reassure the Member that I have already looked at the scheme, and I think it is a scheme that delivers for families right across Wales, many of whom might not be eligible for free school meals but are still finding it very, very difficult, and many of those will be in her constituency. 

Attendance Rates in Secondary Schools

6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of attendance rates in secondary schools in Islwyn? OQ60342

Attendance rates across all schools in Wales remain a concern. That's why I have established the attendance taskforce to set priorities and identify further tangible actions to drive improvements in attendance and re-engage our learners.

Thank you, Minister. You've gone on record as stating that addressing school absenteeism is your No. 1 priority, and, as you've acknowledged, educational data suggest absence levels are higher than before the global pandemic hit Wales and the UK. So, I very much welcome the brave decision to redefine the terminology of 'persistent' to include pupils missing 10 per cent of school compared to 20 per cent, and to address the issues much earlier. There has been much debate around reform of the school year, branded school uniform costs and period dignity—the actual cost of school. But we know that the cost of living is undoubtedly affecting and impacting on our very poorest children the most, and potentially impacting on the actual attendance of our most vulnerable pupils. Minister, then, what update can you give us today on the setting up of the innovative national attendance taskforce, and can I urge you to continue to direct your officials to focus all energies on this key national priority?

Yes, I'm very happy to tell the Member that the first meeting of the national attendance taskforce is taking place on Monday of next week, and that will be an opportunity and a recognition, I think, that the range of partners around that table—all of whom in different ways have their own relationship with families, with children who are not at school—are able to learn from the practice that the others have, and that multi-agency way of working, I think, is really important. But what I will be wanting to hear from the taskforce is a deep understanding of some of the more complex reasons why young people aren't coming to school, because the situation has become worse since COVID, as she mentioned in her question, and that is for a range of complex reasons.

But, actually, I want this to be focused on action so that we can understand what is working well already in schools in Wales, and how we can spread that best practice and, crucially, what more we can do to make sure that this is a national priority for all of us. All the good things that we are doing in schools, all the reforms that we are bringing in to give every young person the best start in life in Wales, if young people aren't in school, they're not able to take advantage of those. So, it's crucial that we do everything we can to tackle this. 

The Communication Needs of Disabled Pupils

7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to ensure that schools meet the communication needs of disabled pupils? OQ60313

The Welsh Government is taking action through our education reforms so that all learners, including those with communication needs, can access education that enables them to reach their potential. For disabled pupils with additional learning needs, the ALN system helps ensure their additional learning provision is properly planned and protected.

Thank you. Questioning you here in May, I asked you to respond to National Deaf Children's Society Cymru's warnings of a looming educational crisis for deaf children in Wales. In your response, you stated that you would reflect further on their report to see what more you could do. At October's cross-party group for deaf issues, NDCS Cymru highlighted the alarming inadequacies in specialist education support for deaf children. Wales faces a recruitment and retention crisis in relation to teachers of the deaf, with one in five having left the profession since 2011 and a further one in three due to retire over the next decade—an issue a Senedd petition currently collecting signatures highlights. The ALN code, which you referred to, states that deaf children and young people, alongside those who are blind or sight impaired,

'are more likely to have ALN by virtue of the fact the impairment is likely to prevent or hinder them from making use of educational or training facilities and is likely to call for ALP.'

How will you therefore respond to the statement by NDCS Cymru members, and this petition, that it is not the case on the ground, due to the falling numbers of teachers of the deaf alongside the other issues with the roll-out of the ALN reforms?


We continue to keep these issues under review, and we have invested over three academic years to support postgraduate training for local authority-based teachers of learners with sensory impairment, which includes teachers for the deaf. Teachers of the deaf and other specialists are obviously a crucial part of the education workforce and are crucial in delivering on the additional learning needs reforms. They provide a range of professional support and advice to the workforce more broadly, which is why we have provided that investment, to increase that capacity. But the Act itself requires local authorities as well to review their arrangements for pupils of ALN and take into account the capability of their workforce and what future skills mix they need in that workforce. We'll continue to keep this under review and to make whatever future provision we feel is necessary. 

The Teaching of Modern Languages in Schools

8. How is the Welsh Government supporting the teaching of modern languages in schools? OQ60331

The Welsh Government has a clear vision and strategy to support modern foreign language learning in Wales. The 'Global Futures' strategic plan to 2025, launched last November, sets out how we will improve provision and promote international languages in Wales.

Thank you, Minister, and I think the fact that Cefin Campbell and myself have tabled questions on this issue shows that it is an issue of concern, particularly in seeing the figures around the teaching of German—only 58 were taking A-level, and that was the lowest in the UK. I accept your point in terms of the Open University and the important work that's ongoing there, and we heard from them that there are 150 teachers that had benefited from that programme. But clearly, one of the other concerns is that the British Council, in looking at the trends, have said that only one in 14 primary schools have the capacity to teach modern foreign languages at the moment.

Therefore, may I ask—because, clearly, Wales is not just a bilingual country, it's a multilingual country—do you think that there is more that we could do in encouraging pupils who do have abilities in modern foreign languages to play a prominent role in sharing their language skills? Because it's extremely important, given that we're outside the European Union now, that we do have the ability to develop these language skills, and to ensure that everyone, whatever their school, has an opportunity to learn languages other than English and Welsh. 

I agree with what the Member says. She's right to say that there is a specific challenge in the primary sector. Therefore, the Open University programme is specifically focused on creating capacity in primary schools, and that's the purpose of that programme. In terms of the work that students can do, I will want to see the results of the pilot scheme in terms of mentoring between university students in Cardiff and secondary school students, in that case, to see whether we can spread that, because I think that would be a way of creating a sense of the importance of learning modern foreign languages.

I think that the Member makes a very valid point that the fact that we're outside the European Union means that we have to maintain a focus on this. One of the things that has emerged as a result of Taith is—. I was in a meeting recently hearing from pupils in a comprehensive school in south Wales about their experiences of collaborating with schools in other parts of Europe. That, I think, is an important part of the broader context, in reminding us of why it's important to learn modern foreign languages. 

3. Topical Questions
4. 90-second Statements

So, we will move to item 4, the 90-second statements. First of all, Huw Irranca-Davies. 


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Pontyclun Bosom Pals are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary, celebrating 15 years of continuous support for those diagnosed with breast cancer and support for their families and carers too. The breast cancer support group, who cover Pontyclun and the surrounding areas, from Pontypridd to Pencoed, are such an important part in so many lives. And I'm proud, as a trustee of the group, to continue my support for them and to shine the light on the incredible work that they do. It can be lonely at times, before and after treatment, for the patient and for the family. Mental health can also deteriorate and it's why it's so important that groups like Bosom Pals exist to give an escape from everyday life, an escape from the worries of diagnosis, of treatment and of remission too.  

They meet once a month. They offer a much-needed break, a breather to patients, to their families and to the carers, to spend time together and with the wider community. A time to enjoy some of the many events they arrange: fundraising events with some dancing, special lunches, afternoon teas, pampering sessions, Christmas lunches even, and days out too, and they're only a phone call away.

Sue Hadlow, Pontyclun Bosom Pals ambassador, is a key figure in making all this work. When you have good people at the helm, good things can happen. And thanks also to Wayne from the Boar’s Head too, who gives the ladies a place to meet. Without people like these, the opportunity for many to chat and laugh with others just wouldn't be available. And from January they're offering further support to the community, extending their normal monthly meetings from regular breast cancer support meetings to provide warm hubs as well.

So, on a final point, Dirprwy Lywydd, just in Sue's words: ‘Sometimes during treatment, you need a hug, a smile or a chat. We give all of this and hopefully more, hoping this will help you through those darkest days.' Diolch yn fawr iawn.

At one time, Cwmdare was surrounded by four coal mines. This was, perhaps, not surprising—the steam coal mined in the area was extremely sought after, used for ships, trains and power plants. By 1971, after a century of exploitation only Bwllfa Dare was still in operation, and the decision was taken to reclaim the land. The next two years saw tremendous transformation—coal and slag tips were cleared, the course of the River Dare was diverted, artificial lakes were created.

In 1973 the completion of the works saw Dare Valley Country Park opening to the public. The park was the first in England and Wales to be created from land previously utilised by industry. It comprises some 500 acres of woodland pasture and moorland mountainside and the southernmost glacial cwms in Britain. A nature lover's paradise, the park is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. It also contains powerful reminders of the area's industrial past.

The facilities that the park offers have been enhanced over the years, with the recent addition being the first family bike park in the UK, bringing over 0.25 million people from both near and far to visit the park each year to enjoy what is one of the best examples of land regeneration in a coal spoil environment in Britain. This Sunday a fantastic festive fiftieth birthday party will be held for Dare Valley Country Park and I look forward to joining the community in these celebrations.

This Friday, 1 December marks World AIDS Day 2023. Last night I sponsored a reception in the Senedd for World AIDS Day to raise awareness of the 2030 goals to end HIV diagnosis and stigma, and to mark the achievements of Fast Track Cymru.

Thanks to organisations and professionals like the Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru and Fast Track we have come a long way from the judgment, isolation and, all too often, death sentence in the 1980s to the present day, where effective treatment means people living with the disease have normal life expectancy and cannot transmit to others.

Earlier this year the Welsh Government launched its 'HIV Action Plan for Wales 2023-2026' to challenge, educate and change public knowledge and attitudes, so we see less judgment and isolation, to ensure more and more people start to think about their sexual health, so we see an increase in the number of people testing for HIV and to completely eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, and so people feel confident and safe to access treatment and to live a normal life. The work required to reach the targets of the Welsh Government's HIV action plan will require the continuation of partnership working and a commitment to the required funding. Often in politics, campaigns, ambitions and making real change—it can feel a long old slog, an uphill battle, with often not much to show for it. But in Wales we already have a plan and we already have the unwavering dedication; all we need is the funding. This is a unique opportunity to change lives, and I, for one, am excited. I would like to thank all at Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru and Fast Track Cymru, and look forward to another year of action. 

5. Statement by Sam Rowlands—Introduction of a Member-proposed Bill: Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill

Item 5 is a statement by Sam Rowlands on the introduction of a Member-proposed Bill: the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill. I call on Sam Rowlands to make the statement.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity to introduce the Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill to the Senedd here this afternoon. Will Wales lead the way? That's a question I've been asked on social media about this Bill. Will Wales lead the way in ensuring that all children in Welsh schools are able to have high-quality residential outdoor education experiences? Will Wales lead the way in giving those children better educational outcomes and life-changing experiences? Will Wales lead the way by passing a residential outdoor education Bill that provides a practical solution to encouraging better physical and mental health outcomes whilst improving education and environmental awareness? I think these are questions for all of us in this place this afternoon.

It feels like a long time ago when the Senedd gave me leave to proceed with this Bill in October 2022, and even longer ago, in July of that year, when I won the Members' ballot. The journey has been a real learning curve for me, not only in the work of this Senedd behind the scenes but through meeting and working with a whole range of individuals and groups that are committed to outdoor education and doing the very best for children in Wales and beyond. I'm very grateful to all of those who have supported and inputted in this process so far.

So, firstly this afternoon, I'd like to outline exactly what residential outdoor education is. These are experiences that involve a range of activities taking place from a residential setting involving participants being together away from home. The activities are often challenging and adventurous, providing opportunities for physical activity, engagement with the natural environment and development of the competencies at the heart of the Curriculum for Wales—healthy, confident individuals who are creative contributors; ambitious and capable learners; and ethically informed citizens.

Wales has a rich heritage of outdoor education. Many Members here will, no doubt, have experienced an outdoor education residential as part of their childhood; perhaps at Glan-llyn in north Wales or the Storey Arms, if you went to school closer to Cardiff, or maybe Tregoyd House on the other side of Bronllys. For some of you, this time may have offered you your first experience of outdoor activities that maybe became a lifetime pursuit. For many of our young people, especially in our poorer communities, this too may be their first opportunity to have these amazing experiences. Not only are these times great for the people participating, with all of the known benefits, we know that the outdoor activity sector is an economic catalyst in Wales, currently worth around £1.5 billion. So, developing an interest in the outdoors not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, with all its future benefits to our health service, but lays a foundation for improved economic well-being also.

But this Bill is really about focusing on the opportunities for our young people, and there are huge amounts of evidence showing that outdoor education residentials offer significant opportunities for children and young people's personal and social development. Research evidence clearly shows the benefits that can accrue from outdoor education, demonstrating outdoor education residentials as a key part of a young person's education journey. The benefits reach beyond the individual in a school setting, having a potential longer term impact on lifelong learning, health, employment, the economy and the environment. The detail of this evidence is clearly set out in the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the Bill, available to you today.

So, I guess the question is: why is there a need for a Bill? To my mind, there are two core reasons why the Bill is necessary and would benefit schoolchildren across Wales. The first is to establish a course of residential outdoor education as an entitlement on the curriculum, rather than merely an enrichment. This, to me, acknowledges and cements an outdoor education residential as a key aspect of statutory education in Wales. So, this Bill would enable all pupils in maintained schools to experience that residential outdoor education. The Welsh Ministers would have a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a course of residential outdoor education is provided once to all pupils in maintained schools, free of charge to them. Children and young people would be encouraged, but not compelled, to participate in that experience.

The second reason why I believe that the Bill is necessary is so that every child and young person in those maintained schools is given an opportunity to participate without charge in a course of residential outdoor education by providing the financial means for them to do so. This will address a situation whereby a family's economic circumstances might mean that children and young people miss out, either because their school did not organise an outdoor education residential, or their school does, but they cannot participate due to financial constraints.

And let me be clear: these experiences can be life changing for so many. Why should a child from a poorer background be denied this important educational opportunity and milestone that so many children from wealthier backgrounds can easily access? We know that affordability and financial constraints are significant barriers to some people taking up the opportunity for a residential outdoor experience. Put simply, the Bill will ensure that no child or young person is prevented from experiencing residential outdoor education once in their school lives because their family cannot afford it.

At this point, I think it's important to recognise the impact that not going on a residential has also. It's not just about the benefits that are gained by those who attend, which are significant, but the gap that this creates for those who do not. For those children and young people whose families cannot afford to support their children attending, we know that missing out on the ability to participate fully in school life results in low self-esteem and lower levels of confidence, which harms well-being. And unfortunately, at the present time, access to these benefits is inequitable. There are inconsistences and variation in whether schools organise an outdoor education residential for their pupils. We know that learners in around a third of primary schools and between a third and a half of secondary schools currently miss out, as these experiences are not offered. And where residentials are offered, the availability of variable levels of financial support from schools and local authorities means that parents on low incomes are often unable to meet the financial contribution necessary for their children to take part, and so they're missing out on key educational experiences that have the potential to be transformational in their young lives. We know that, in around a third of schools that do organise outdoor education residentials, fewer than 75 per cent of pupils participate, with financial constraints being the main reason.

For colleagues in Government, this Bill will help Welsh Government to meet its socioeconomic duty. It supports the innovation strategy and contributes to the well-being goals related to mental and physical health, equitable access, the Welsh language and the environment. In so doing, the Bill will position Wales at the forefront of outdoor education in the UK, capitalising on our rich landscape, culture and economic opportunities. Welsh Government has consistently highlighted both equity and well-being as fundamental principles of education in Wales. This Bill will ensure that aspects of each are embedded in our education system, and not subject to the significant pressures on local authority budgets or the costs of allocations for other competing policy priorities. There is strong and widespread support for the proposals behind this Bill. The consultation has shown almost unanimous importance placed on outdoor education, and the vast majority are in favour of an opportunity to participate in residential outdoor education. Unfortunately, far too many have not had the opportunity, with the financial commitment required being beyond the reach of hard-pressed families.

So, at the start of this, Members, I asked a question: will Wales lead the way? I think we can lead the way. Let's ensure that all our young people have this great opportunity made available to them. Let's lead the way here in Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


I just want to remind Members, please, that this is a statement, not a debate. It's a statement by a Member introducing a Bill, as a Government Member in charge of a Bill would also be making, so it's questions to the Member. Minister.


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I start by recognising the contribution that residential outdoor learning can bring to the development and well-being of our young people? I have very fond memories myself of that as a child, and I have seen at first-hand in my current role the positive impact that it has. Learning outside and experiencing what the outdoors has to offer broadens horizons, enriches young people's learning, helps them to keep physically healthy and can support their mental and emotional well-being as well. We know that the environment a child learns in is crucial. That's true whether they are three or 16. That's why learning outdoors is important, and why the curriculum expects schools to think about how it supports learning.

To help learners become healthy and confident individuals and build a lifelong positive relationship with outdoor environments, learners need continuous opportunities to learn, play and explore outdoors through all stages of mandatory education. It is much, much more than a single experience, and that is what the Curriculum for Wales expects.

This Government has and will continue to emphasise the role of outdoor learning across the curriculum in areas including health and well-being, science and technology, humanities and expressive arts, and to value the commitment and contribution that the residential outdoor education sector brings to education in Wales. In March 2021, we established a bespoke fund of £2 million to support the sector during the pandemic, when social distancing regulations meant that most were unable to operate. The establishment of the fund recognised that the sector has always been a valued part of the educational experience for children and young people, and that it was important that the sector was able to remain viable and able to trade successfully again once the pandemic was over. There is more that could be done, of course, and I'd like to be clear that my offer to the Member, made earlier this year, to work with me and others on ways to strengthen, support and continue to develop the contribution residential outdoor education makes to education in Wales and to the development of our children and young people, that offer still stands.

However, this support has to be developed within the confines of the real-world financial circumstances in which we currently have to make decisions about funding for education and for our wider public services. The First Minister has been very clear with the Senedd and the public over recent months that the budget situation for public services is under extreme pressure. Just last week, in response to the UK Chancellor's autumn budget statement, the finance Minister stated that the Welsh Government's budget for 2024-25 is now £3 billion lower than it would have been if it had grown in line with the economy since 2010. The finance Minister is currently preparing the draft budget for 2024-25, which we intend to publish on 19 December.

Let's be clear right now, however, that, as the First Minister has already said, we are facing significant financial pressures. This is the toughest financial situation we have faced since devolution. Members will be aware that this toxic combination of record inflation and high energy prices has already led us to look at in-year budget reductions. As I mentioned earlier, we've worked hard in my portfolio to protect front-line services through making reductions in revenue funding from underspends in demand-led budgets and grants. But, after more than a decade of austerity, we know that finances are extremely tight.

The explanatory memorandum estimates that the additional cost to the taxpayer would be up to £19.7 million a year. You've heard what I said about the value of outdoor education and what I've said about wanting to do more, but a Bill that creates a need for a £20 million cost for schools and councils—. I'm afraid I'm not simply willing to cut front-line school budgets to fund that legislation. This Bill is not a broad statement of support for outdoor learning. We would all vote for it unanimously if that was the case. The Bill places an absolute obligation on the Welsh Government to provide and fund all outdoor residential education provision, whatever that may be and whatever the cost. That is simply not affordable.

The EM states:

'The proposal was to establish a Bill to place a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure that young people receiving maintained education are provided with the opportunity to experience residential outdoor education, for at least one week, at some stage during their school years',

but the Bill doesn't place the obligation to provide that on local authorities, as stated in the EM, but instead places it directly on the Welsh Ministers, whilst, at the same time, requiring them to fund the provision of residential outdoor education, secured, presumably, by others—it isn’t clear. The EM states that:

'Children and young people will be encouraged but not compelled to participate',

but, unfortunately, in requiring the Welsh Ministers to make this a mandatory part of the curriculum, it does make it compulsory. That does not add up to a sensible set of legislative provisions.


So, while I commend the Member’s Bill in its intentions, and I share his commitment, I would like to ask him to explain to the Senedd what services he would propose to cut in order to pay for his proposals. Much of those services directly benefit the learners who he has said are his focus in this Bill. My invitation to him still stands: let us find another way to work through our new curriculum to let our young people experience the advantages and the joys of outdoor learning.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you, Minister, for your response to my statement here this afternoon. And I certainly share your acknowledgement that outdoor education is more than just a single experience. But I think, as you would acknowledge, there is a significant amount of evidence that shows that that single experience does go a long way as part of that journey of outdoor education, often for many children—and for many people in this room, I guess—being a memorable moment within that journey of outdoor education, building on a significant amount of learning through that time together. And I certainly acknowledge also the support that Government provided to the outdoor education sector during the COVID times, as you outlined as well. I’m certainly grateful for your continued offer of engagement around this broader issue of outdoor education, particularly the residential aspect of that. I certainly continue to be open from my side as well to those conversations.

On the budget side, it's a fair challenge. There’s a Bill in front of us today that costs money, as Welsh Government often put Bills in front of Members here that have significant costs behind them, and I guess everything we do in this place, and we hear it often from the First Minister, is about priority. There’s an around £22 billion budget that the Welsh Government has in hand to spend every year. As the Minister pointed out, the cost of this particular Bill is a very small part of that: a £22,000 million budget and I’m seeking less than £20 million of that to put in place something that could be life-changing for so many people.

So, I guess it’s about priority in the first instance when it comes to that funding, and the second part within that, I guess, I think is a challenge for all of us in this place from time to time: it’s about thinking beyond the immediate, around the preventative agenda. It’s a challenge for all Governments, I think with electoral cycles as well: how do we think beyond the immediate time in front of us and the immediate years ahead of us? There’s a huge amount of evidence to show the level of involvement that young people have with the outdoors and the long-term impact that has on their health; indeed, recent research presented through the British Educational Research Association shows significant connections between older people’s health, activity levels and the experiences they had as young people in engaging in outdoor education.

We know we have a challenge in front of us when it comes to our health as a population, and we know that we have things like the future generations legislation, which seeks to minimise risks to future generations. I guess we also need to consider about our generations today and their future, what risks do we need to minimise for them, and I think these experiences would go a long way to doing that and would certainly make a big impact on the future budgets of Welsh Governments.

Firstly, congratulations to Sam Rowlands, my colleague who represents North Wales, on introducing this Residential Outdoor Education (Wales) Bill today. It’s a pleasure to speak on this first reading, and I wholeheartedly support his Bill. I know how much time and effort that he’s put into it—countless visits, meetings and dialogue with professionals in this sector—so, I thank him for that. I admire the aim of this Bill, which is to enable all pupils from maintained schools to experience residential outdoor education free of charge for a minimum of four days or five nights in their school career. As we all know, outdoor education residentials offer a wide range of benefits that impact on pupils’ personal and social development. We've seen how beneficial and important that is, obviously, during the pandemic and post pandemic within the education life of a child.

The benefits reach beyond the individual in a school setting and have a potential long-term impact on lifelong learning, health, employment and economic outcomes, and the environment, as you outlined. So, I was disappointed to hear the Minister’s response just now. And I’m sure the Member would agree with me that it’s all about priorities, isn’t it? I’d say that this sort of Bill would hold more financial benefit than 36 more politicians in this place.

So, I’d like to ask you if you could expand on how you believe that this would help the worst-off in our society and, obviously, go a long way to helping tackle the growing number of mental health issues within our schools at the moment.

It is not just important to help families financially to ensure equality of opportunity within education, which this Bill would provide; as my colleague knows, the Bill has the potential to go a long way to supporting those learners with additional learning needs and disabilities specifically. As the explanatory memorandum states,

‘For children and young people with ALN it can be argued that these benefits are even more profound'—

that this Bill could provide—

'and life-changing. Bendrigg Trust, a specialist provider for disabled and disadvantaged people from across the UK, states that "high-quality residentials provide 'opportunities for students with disabilities to be engaged in physical activities' which is greatly needed as 86% of families with disabled children go without leisure activities".'

And this is a picture that I recognise from visiting schools across Wales and talking to parents with children with severe disabilities, who tend to miss out on school activities and trips for a variety of reasons.

So, there’s a real need for truly inclusive outdoor provision, with real opportunities to experience risk in a controlled manner, to ensure that everyone can enjoy our beautiful country. By making a course of residential outdoor education an entitlement within the curriculum, every child with ALN or with a disability will have the opportunity to access the benefits, no matter their circumstances. And this could be life-changing for many across Wales, and often it serves as a leveller for many pupils and brings pupils together.

Finally, I’d just like to—. I’d like to ask the Member—. Sorry, what groups has the Member engaged with during this process—those with ALN and disabilities—and talked to them? I’d be interested to hear what they said when you presented your Bill idea to them.

Finally, I’d like to comment on how I too believe this could be truly transformational in terms of education in Wales. It is clear, as the research shows, that this Bill would lead to truly positive outcomes relating to confidence, communication, resilience, social skills and independence. I remember my own outdoor education excursions to Forest Coal Pit in Talybont as such fun, and real bonding experiences between all children from all backgrounds and all colours. And they were often the first time that children would have an experience away from their parents as well. And you’re right that the benefits carry on after that school experience, because I still enjoy those experiences now, spurred on by that spark it ignited back in my school days, and I know that that’s a love that I’ve carried on with my own children.

This can only bode well for learning in the classroom as well, tackling bullying and future challenges that learners will face in later life. The Bill will give learners a real boost that they so badly need after the damaging effects of the pandemic and school closures. As I visit schools across Wales, I see that outdoor activities are always hugely enjoyed and engaged in and welcomed by pupils, and I’d like to ask him about what some of those young people’s reactions were when he presented them with that Bill. And, of course, I’d like to just finally say that I urge everyone in this Chamber today to support Sam Rowlands’s Bill today. The cost, Minister, will pay for itself in prevention, of course, which is better than cure. And I wish you luck, Sam, and you have my full support.


Well, thank you very much, Laura Anne Jones, for that contribution as well, and certainly for acknowledging the benefits of the Bill, particularly within the classroom. I thought it was an interesting piece by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which carried out a piece of research over a seven-year period in recent times, involving 60 schools incorporating forms of residentials. And just to back up what Laura Anne Jones has said there, they found that well-planned and progressive residentials had a positive impact on multiple factors, including relationships, resilience, self-confidence and well-being, engagement with learning—which was an interesting part from the classroom-experience point of view—achievement, knowledge, skills and understanding and also teacher pedagogy.

And the aside there from the teacher side is an interesting part when it comes to, as you acknowledge, benefits in the classroom. Because again, research clearly points that these experiences, where teachers are going away often with the pupils that they are spending time with, spending time in a different environment, research shows greater knowledge of students, their interests and aspirations, which transfers back into the classroom, and improved relationships with students, which promotes engagement in the classroom. And Laura Anne Jones herself has highlighted in recent times some of the issues that some teachers are experiencing in terms of inappropriate behaviour, and bad behaviour, in our schools. And these types of experiences help to build those positive relationships between teachers and pupils.

On the points you raised around children with additional learning needs, I'm pleased that on the face of the Bill, the duty within there ensures that there must be provision

'that residential outdoor education is suitable to a pupil’s age, ability, aptitude and any additional learning needs'.

Because as you rightly pointed out, far too few children with additional learning needs get to have these experiences. And indeed, of the 37 special schools that we have in Wales, last year, only nine of those schools actually organised any of these experiences, despite the fact that there is very specialist provision out there to support pupils at those times.

In terms of the engagement, as you'd expect, there has been a huge amount of engagement with all sorts of organisations over the last 18 months. I undertook a consultation back in January this year, broadly around the idea of the Bill. I undertook a consultation with children and young people as well before the summer, then a formal consultation over the summer period as well. In terms of young people's reaction to this, as you'd expect, they are extremely positive about these experiences, and certainly would want to see these made more available to them and their school friends in the future.

And interestingly—not from the engagement I undertook, but through the research I undertook—when pupils were asked about their anxieties about school, in the top three consistently from pupils, regarding school anxieties, was the inability to go on school trips or school residential trips themselves. So, for them as young people, they are fully aware, in that classroom at the time, if their family cannot afford to have these experiences, the impact it has on them. And I'm sure all of us would like to see that anxiety removed.


I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk on this today, and, in terms of the objective, we as a party are supportive.

I must make a point though in terms of universality—something that I support—as your colleague Janet Finch-Saunders mentioned earlier the free school meal provisions, and that people who can afford to pay should be able to afford it. Well, actually, we do pay for things like free school meals through our taxes. I do support this, but we need to have a consistency from those benches in terms of what universality means and why it's important that these kinds of experiences don't have that price tag attached, and that everybody can access. So, I would ask you to respond in terms of why are we picking and choosing universality, because this is a matter of principle.

And similarly, I don't know how many times the Conservative benches have spent the additional money for more politicians. That's not the point here. And that's why I do support what you're proposing here, in terms of ensuring that every child has that equity of opportunity, and that should apply—[Interruption.]

I would like to listen to the questions coming from the Member, and not listen to conversations across the Chamber between two backbenchers—well, the leader of the opposition and a backbencher of the Government. Heledd. Sorry.

Thank you very much. Without doubt, there are financial challenges facing this Government, and I do think that we have to look, if the Government doesn't have the funding available at the moment, at how we ensure that more learners have these unforgettable experiences. And I have some specific questions therefore in terms of children with disabilities. I'm very pleased that you've included them in this. But we see with the children and young people committee at the moment the great many barriers that there are in terms of this, and I just want to have some more clarity about how you would tackle concerns, and how your Bill would work in a practical way to ensure fair access to everyone, and opportunities for all, because the kinds of resources needed to support all learners does vary greatly. 

And I'm sure you'll also remember my previous contribution when we discussed this, when I referred to the Welsh language, and how this is an opportunity, therefore, to promote the Welsh language and develop the language. Could I ask you specifically, therefore, in terms of children from English-medium schools being able to experience open-air education through the medium of Welsh? We know that many children from English-medium schools enjoy their experiences in Llangrannog and Glan-llyn, and that's often their only experience, or their first experience of using the language beyond the classroom. So, could I ask you what conversations or discussions you've had about that? And you mention in the Bill that the proposals will not affect the sustainability of Welsh language communities, or Welsh-medium education, or Welsh learners. Well, I would hope that it would have an impact on them, but a positive impact. So, if I could just ask you about that. 

And, finally, I'm aware that some concerns have arisen in terms of the staffing implications if the Bill becomes statute. Now, we know that there is a crisis in terms of staffing in our schools. So, how will your Bill tackle the need for an adequate number of school staff to accompany these pupils on these trips? Because, very often, teachers do this because they want to support children to have these kinds of experiences, but it can place additional stress on them. It's very important that pupils have these opportunities, but I don't think we should disregard the impact on the workforce. 


Wel, diolch yn fawr iawn, Heledd, for the questions and comments there. I appreciate the broad support for the principles of this Bill, certainly, here today. In terms of the first point in regard to the universality of this, I guess it comes down to the universality of education, and the idea of the Bill is to insert it within the Curriculum for Wales. So, therefore, the universality of education continues through the curriculum. And so it's about, as I said in my response to the Minister earlier, the priority for this type of education within the Curriculum for Wales, and the importance, and the benefit, and the effect that it has within education more broadly. 

In terms of fair access for everyone, in particular for those with additional learning needs, Laura Anne Jones pointed out earlier the gap that is there at the moment, and rightly pointed out that 86 per cent of families with disabled children go without leisure activities, so, again, reiterating the point of the importance of this for people with additional learning needs. One of the benefits of the Bill is around the perception of risk and physical danger, because around 71 per cent of children with disabilities do lack a perception of risk and physical danger. So, there's a really interesting opportunity here within this Bill, and the experiences that people would have, to build on that perception of risk and physical danger—a more rounded education for those individuals.

So, in terms of the access and the costings of that, that is within the costings estimates of the Bill here today. The costings weren't done without children with additional learning needs in mind. It is considered in the costings that are in front of you here today. 

On the Welsh language, I'm absolutely with you. I think these experiences do more than just protect; they actually promote the Welsh language significantly. I was at the Urdd's event this afternoon, where they had the economic impact assessment of the Urdd and their work, and that highlighted again that the experiences that children have through the Urdd centres in particular certainly promote the Welsh language. And there's a lot of evidence—I'm not going to quote it all here today—but there's evidence provided by the Welsh Language Commissioner in particular that goes to show that learning outside the classroom, in those experiences in the outdoors, brings Welsh alive to people, and learning the language alive to people. And to give you some assurance, again on the face of the Bill, the guidance for the Minister to follow shows that the provision of this experience must—. Sorry. The guidance

'must provide that residential outdoor education be provided in Welsh, subject to availability, where requested by a school'.

So, to give that reassurance: those schools that would ask for that, whether they're an English-medium school or a Welsh-medium school, if they want that experience in Welsh, that provision must be made available to them.

There is a challenge, I think, in terms of the capacity in the sector at the moment around Welsh language provision. There’s some really good work being undertaken by the Outdoor Partnership in particular, around training people up, who are outdoor education specialists, in Welsh as part of their training as well. And that capacity would need to be built up because there aren’t enough Welsh speakers out there in outdoor education centres providing this work.

And then on the staffing impact on schools, again, the costings section of the Bill takes that into account. Depending on when children undertake this experience, more often than not it takes place in year 5 or year 6 for many children, and more often than not the teachers do go with their classes on those experiences. Generally, a whole class going with a teacher means there’s not a space back at the school to have to fill. But the Bill and the explanatory memorandum have taken into account that there may be times when that isn’t possible and that is within the costings in here as well.


What we’re not debating here is the virtue of having more outdoor education including residential education. We can all agree on that. The thing is: how is it going to be paid for? Where is this £20 million going to come from? Obviously it’s the children and young people’s committee who can scrutinise the budget in due course, early next year, to see whether they can screw £20 million out of the education budget. And I’m sure that the Minister would, you know—. If we could find it, we’d do it. So, I think what we’re left with is: how do we prioritise ensuring that more young people who don’t have any money are getting outdoor education, including residential education?

I’m astonished that only nine out of 32 special schools organise trips away, because that should be a top priority, and there are plenty of voluntary organisations that specialise in that sort of thing. The ones I know about are in the Lake district, in north Wales and the Wirral, but there must be some in south Wales as well. Why are they not responding to your consultation?

At the moment, what we should be doing is, where schools have decent outdoor provision, as some of my schools do, we should be encouraging them to use it more, because learning is so much more inclusive and calming, as well. But I want to know how we can mobilise more voluntary organisations to offer these opportunities, for example, to go camping, because many families will not take their kids camping, which is the cheapest way of having a holiday, because they simply don't know the basics of how you put up a tent. So, how could we get young people educated in how to do that, so that they can then take their kids away?

Thank you, Jenny Rathbone, for those points. I appreciate, again, the broad support for the principles of the Bill. I certainly acknowledge, as well, the challenges around the funding of this. First of all, to your point around special schools perhaps not taking up this opportunity to the level we'd want them to, I too was surprised at that. I'm not entirely clear why they don't all do that at the moment. It is interesting to note that only 67 per cent of primary schools last year organised these trips. So, there are gaps within mainstream education as well. Through the consultation, one of the main factors in that was financial constraints, but also, perhaps, a misunderstanding of risk from some of our schools and teachers, and of engaging with risk-based activities, like being out and about in the great outdoors. So, there's some work to be done there.

In terms of your broader point about how we mobilise voluntary organisations, we do know that there are some great organisations out there. We think of organisations like the Scouts and Girl Guides, outdoor education providers and all sorts of other great organisations that do engage with young people in the outdoors. I think there's an element of parents perhaps being less encouraging of children being out and about. I'm not sure how we change that through legislation or through the Senedd here. I'm not sure if we've created a culture of unnecessary fear, sometimes, of children being out and about. I'm often surprised myself, when I take my children down to my local park, how few other children are actually out there. I think that, for many parents, it's easier to stay at home and be behind a screen, perhaps. So, the whole point of bringing this into legislation is to guarantee those experiences and for those young people to have that opportunity that, perhaps, gives them the confidence to have those experiences themselves in the future and to engage with some of those voluntary organisations on a more regular basis. There's massive inconsistency across Wales at the moment, and I think we need to see that being more consistent. 


Can I thank Sam Rowlands for his statement and for introducing his proposed Bill to us today? In Wales, and in the UK, we have some of the worst health outcomes when compared to our European neighbours, for several reasons: we eat less healthily, we eat too much processed food, and we live unhealthy lifestyles in terms of our activities and a lack of walking and cycling. And for me, the Welsh Government has introduced a number of measures encouraging cycling, walking and other measures to encourage lifestyle change, and this is potentially another avenue as well. But can you talk to the point of what evidence you've got that we will see—whether it's 10, 15 or 20 years from now—a healthier Wales, specifically point to that? And perhaps also you can tell us about what research you've done in terms of other nations around Europe and around the world that have brought forward this legislation or similar legislation that have brought about or are bringing about that positive change. 

You've been rightly challenged on the cost by the Minister, Jenny Rathbone and others, but what evidence have you got that this will lead to people in the future—whether it's, again, 20 years from now—being less likely to present themselves into health settings as a result of living those healthier lifestyles? Everything tells us that, when you encourage a lifestyle change in a younger person, that's likely to follow through into their adulthood, but what evidence have you got to support that and back that up?

I thank Russell George for pointing to some of the health benefits of this Bill. As you alluded to, we do know there is a growing problem in Wales, and more broadly in the western world, with things like diabetes. We know that there are around 200,000 people in Wales currently with diabetes, and the cost to the NHS in Wales is estimated to be around £500 million a year for that alone. And we know that physical activity can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with around 50 per cent of those cases being preventable. So, I guess the question is how do we then prevent that and how do we help make that saving of £500 million a year to the NHS. It's things like this: getting young people engaged with the outdoors. I quoted earlier the significant connection between older people's health, activity levels and the experience young people have in engaging with the outdoors also. 

In terms of the evidence behind this, there is research, again, which points to the social return on investment. The social return on investment is about improving mental and physical well-being, self-confidence, independence—all of those good things. And the Outdoor Partnership showed a social return on investment, for every £1 invested, of £7.12 around that prevention agenda. There's also research that, where outdoor learning is embedded in school, shows that there's a £4.32 return on investment for every £1 in a school setting. So, there's a lot of good work out there that shows that, if you can invest in children and young people having these experiences at a young age, they'll continue to have that in the future, and therefore it will pay for itself in the very long term. And that's the point that I was making to the Minister earlier: that we find it very difficult to make decisions today that will benefit people in the very long term. 

There's also, just briefly, a further piece of research, called the economic and social evaluation of the outdoor activity sector, which suggests that, if you just get a 10 per cent increase in participation in the outdoors, that will create a value of about £187 million across mental and physical health, mental well-being, social capital and individual development. So, there are significant sums of money that can be saved in the health service by getting young people engaged in this. In terms of your point around other nations, there are other countries who take this very seriously. Singapore, in particular, has it within their curriculum. Children in Singapore will have three residential experiences as part of their curriculum over there. Also, I'm aware that Slovenia have in place residential experiences as part of their curriculum. I've met with colleagues from Singapore and Slovenia as well to hear about how they implemented it and the benefits that they've experienced.


The Member makes a very good, strong and powerful case for his legislation. In many ways, I think there's agreement across the whole of the Chamber that these are the experiences that we want young people to have, which will enrich their childhood and enrich their learning. I was very lucky in Tredegar to have a teacher, Peter Jones, PJ, who didn't simply talk to us about the history of Tredegar, the Heads of the Valleys and the Brecon Beacons, but he actually made us live those experiences. He didn't teach us about the Physicians of Myddfai, but he took us to Llyn y Fan Fawr and then he forced us to climb Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Hir and even Picws Du. We hadn't walked enough that day. And he was determined that we not simply learn these lessons, but we love the experience of learning. I think it's an absolutely crucial thing, and I very much commend the Member for his ambition in this area.

Where I disagree with the legislation is that I don't believe this is how we should be making a curriculum. Members who were here in the last Senedd will remember the very real personal dilemma I faced when Suzy Davies was pushing for CPR to be taught as part of the curriculum. I had some very difficult conversations with Kirsty Williams through those times. I have a personal commitment to that, as people will understand and appreciate, but you cannot create a comprehensive, holistic curriculum by piecemeal pieces of legislation. We need revision, which has been outlined by successive education Ministers and is being delivered by the current Minister. What I would suggest to the Member is that he works alongside the Welsh Government to ensure that children and young people do have these experiences, which enriched my life, and which I believe will enrich the lives of children that we all represent in all the different parts of the country.

I thank the Member for his positive comments about residential outdoor education and outdoor education more broadly. I think that experiential education is really important from a learning point of view, but also from a cynefin point of view for us here in Wales—what it means to us to be out and about and the difference that makes to our understanding of being Welsh and our history and our culture through that as well. In terms of how legislation should be formed around the curriculum, I accept the challenge that the Member presents, but I also would push back a little if we are suggesting that the curriculum cannot be adjusted and cannot be changed as and when good ideas come along. We should be open, I think, to saying that, yes, the curriculum is in place, but it doesn't mean it's in place as it is forever and a day, and adjustments should be made to it as and when those good ideas do come along. I accept that it shouldn't be week after week making those adjustments—it would be a disaster for our school staff to handle that—but when there are good ideas, when things can certainly make a big difference to our students, then I think those adjustments should be at least considered.

The Llywydd took the Chair.

Thank you, Sam, for bringing this Bill forward today. I think it's one of those pieces of legislation, one of those Bills, that you look at and you think, 'Well, why isn't this something that has happened already?' quite frankly. I think it's one of those crucial ideas. Members across the Chamber today, I think, have spoken of their own personal experiences of outdoor learning. I remember going to Glan-llyn, and I was delighted to hear you mentioning it in your statement as well. It's the first time I'd been to north Wales and it's one of those things that leaves a postcard on the mind, if you like, of an area, of a part of the country, and an invitation, if you like, to return. But it also allows you to understand more of that culture of that country more widely that you live in. So, I wonder, from your perspective, what you think the main tourism benefits could potentially be, but also the cultural benefit of outdoor education and young people exploring the land that they live in perhaps for the first time. 


Thank you, Tom Giffard, for that. You're absolutely right, and I referenced it in my response to Alun Davies a moment ago, about pupils engaging with their cynefin. It's within the Curriculum for Wales. And actually, being out and about in a national park, or perhaps not as dramatic as that but being in our beautiful countryside, does embed that sense of cynefin and what it means to be Welsh—our heritage, our culture, language—because beautiful landscapes do that for you, particularly here in Wales. So, I think—it was part of my response to Heledd Fychan earlier—there is an opportunity with a Bill like this to not just accept the status quo when it comes to the love of our language and love of our culture and heritage, but to enhance all of those things.

In terms of the economic impact, we know, as I said earlier, that the sector is worth about £1.5 billion a year to Wales. It helps to support tens of thousands of jobs, and, actually, of tourism jobs in Wales, outdoor activities account for around 21 per cent of those tourism jobs. So, if there is a sustainable way of children being supported and having these experiences, that can only be a good thing, I would suggest, for the stability of this part of the economy and those jobs overall.

The Bill has laudable aims. I am a huge believer in the benefits of outdoor education, and welcome forest schools in our facilities. However, I do feel it is disingenuous to put forward such a Bill when your party has spent close to 14 years cutting funding for public services, including for education, in the pursuit of austerity. The Chancellor's autumn statement delivered a £20 billion blow to public services as inflation continues to spiral, and you yourself, as a previous north Wales council leader, oversaw cuts to schools in Conwy. Councils used to fund outdoor education centres such as Glan-llyn. When the Bill was proposed, local authority education leaders were flabbergasted, and now valuable committee time has to be given to this when there's not enough funding to deliver basic education and health needs. So, Sam, may I ask, what representations have you made to your party colleagues in Westminster asking for the consequential education funding we need in Wales to make Bills like yours a possibility? Thank you.

Thank you, Carolyn, for that. I'm sorry that you think committee time has been wasted by looking at a private Member's Bill. I think as Members who aren't in the Government, we're all grateful to committees for their work on this, and I think it's really valuable time, actually, when committees do look at Members' Bills, because we don't have the chance every day, like Government do, to bring forward legislation. It's a really important part of this Senedd, actually—Members having the chance of bringing forward legislation.

In terms of working with colleagues across the United Kingdom, I'm really pleased that a colleague of mine, a Conservative colleague, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, Liz Smith in Scotland, has put forward a very similar private Member's Bill there. It's pleasing to hear that Tim Farron MP, of the Liberal Democrats in Westminster, has a very similar Member's Bill, which has had cross-party support in Westminster as well. So, there is a significant amount of support for a Bill like this across the United Kingdom, but let's not forget, despite the noises we hear from time to time, this is a devolved area of competence, and Welsh Government have a responsibility for education here in Wales, and that's why the Bill is presented here in the Welsh Parliament.

Thank you, Sam, for bringing forward this extremely pragmatic approach to education and a vehicle to drive social change. I absolutely believe in outdoor education. As a past leader of Monmouthshire, we retained our outdoor education sector, whilst our Labour colleagues in next-door authorities pulled out investment. We hung on and carried it on, because we saw the importance of that. Thank you for bringing it forward. There's a considerable body of evidence that demonstrates the importance of this. We've heard today from the Minister the stock answer: 'Where's the funding coming from?' I felt the same thing in your place when we discussed my food Bill, and there's always a reason why something can't happen in this place, not why it can happen. There is an absolute lack of ambition in this place, and it's important that people like you bring forward legislation like this, because there is always somebody finding a reason why something can't happen here. You're quite right, this is a devolved area, and if the Government really wanted to make a difference, they could look at driving forward, or at least help you to explore how much more we could do in this area. So, my question, Llywydd, is: with this in mind, what long-term savings can be found in the Bill, both in terms of public money and wider benefits to the economy?


Thank you, Peter Fox, for your contribution there. I certainly acknowledge the efforts made, at your time, in maintaining the centres in Monmouthshire, and I was proud also, in Conwy, that—. Conwy, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, I believe, are the only councils in Wales that have maintained their outdoor education centres—very important indeed.

In terms of the financial benefits and support, I've already pointed to a number of studies that show the value of learning outside the classroom in terms of social return on investment. We know that one of the most significant areas of change that these experiences have is on physical and mental health as well. We know that mental health problems account for nearly £1 billion of total NHS Wales expenditure and, as we heard earlier, if we see a 10 per cent increase of people engaging with the outdoors, we could see a saving of nearly £200 million as a result of people being more physically active, having better physical health outcomes, better mental health outcomes—better engagement with the outdoor makes a huge difference.

Can I just say how much I support this Bill? I think it's a disgrace, frankly, that people are using the fact that there is going to need to be an investment in outdoor education not to allow this Bill to proceed. We all know that the Welsh Government's own Senedd reform agenda is going to cost the taxpayer in excess of the sorts of sums that need to be invested annually in the outdoor education Bill, if we're to see this thing through. And we know that these are long-term decisions for a better future, aren't they, as well, because, at the end of the day, £19 million invested on an annual basis now is going to save a huge amount of money in the future in terms of the health improvements of the nation because of those public health gains, as Russell George has quite rightly said.

But the one thing I wanted to ask you about, Sam, is we know that there's a potential here for a huge net gain to the Welsh economy. Okay, you've mentioned the investment and the return on the investment that's potential, but I think if we deliver these sorts of opportunities for our young people here in Wales, then I have no doubt whatsoever that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow. And, of course, we know that we have a preponderance of excellent outdoor education opportunities here in Wales that people will then be able to avail themselves of across the whole of the United Kingdom. So, what work has been done so far on looking at the economic benefits of your Bill to Wales, particularly in view of the fact that there could be a huge bonanza for the outdoor education sector should your Bill proceed?

Well, thank you, Darren, again for your broad support of this and also for acknowledging the economic impact that this Bill could have, and the economic difference to the economy that outdoor education and outdoor activity centres have currently. As I said earlier, the outdoor activity centre does attribute about £1.6 billion to our economy here in Wales. By increasing that capacity in this sector, we will, invariably, see that improve significantly.

It was an interesting study again, from around the world, seeing how these things play out. In Denmark, as and when residential experiences and better engagement with the outdoors has been adopted there, it shows that an equivalent—it's a huge number here—but an equivalent of a £840 million difference to lower expenses for health and social cost in the first place. So, in terms of the public purse, there is, proven time and time again, a significant difference to the public purse.

In terms of the economy, you're absolutely right that we would see the sector boom even further, more jobs created, and we'd be leading the way. As I say, there are similar Bills working their way through Scottish and Westminster Parliaments at the moment. I would be proud for us here in Wales to lead the way on this, and to show how it can be done.

6. Debate on the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee Report, 'Wales-Ireland relations: Exploring an old relationship in a new age'

The next item will be a debate on the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee report: 'Wales-Ireland relations: exploring an old relationship in a new age'. I call on the Chair of the committee to introduce the debate, therefore—Delyth Jewell.


Motion NDM8417 Delyth Jewell

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee ‘Wales-Ireland relations: Exploring an old relationship in a new age’, which was laid in the Table Office on 6 October 2023.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Llywydd. It's my pleasure to open this debate on behalf of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee.

Today we will be debating our report on relations between Wales and Ireland, as the Llywydd said—a report that follows a deep inquiry that we undertook as a committee. I'd like to thank the committee's team for their help, to members of the committee and to everybody who gave us evidence.

Our nations, Wales and Ireland, are closely intertwined. Out of shared legends and myths is a kinship that has developed between our lands, and that has withstood the tests of time. That kinship, I'm glad to say, is alive and well. Last month committee members visited the Other Voices music festival in Aberteifi, a festival that celebrates what's about to be created, and the things that are about to disappear. Being ephemeral, on the border or the edge of things, is familiar territory for our nations; being on the cutting edge of creativity, located as we are on the far edge of Europe, or, as it seemed to our Celtic ancestors, the edge of the known world. Our literatures follow traditions that revere lost things; the lost lands of Cantre'r Gwaelod, which linked our islands before the time of memory, the dust of Branwen, Bendigeidfran—those shared stories that lap at the shores of our isles. We are peoples, in R.S. Thomas's words, who are 'bred on legends'.

But what was so vital to see in the course of this inquiry was how that expanse of water that separates our nations is also the space where innovation is afoot, linking our shared efforts to combat the climate crisis, to explore how the Celtic sea could propel us to a greener future. We could, as a committee, witness the things about to be created, not just in art, but technology and business too, and to evoke the words of the magnificent Phillip King:

'Where culture leads, commerce follows'.

And, indeed, throughout our inquiry, we witnessed at first-hand the reach of those fiercely strong connections that link us through history, language, culture, art, music, innovation, research, education, and commerce. We as a committee can attest to those connections and to the strength of that ongoing kinship.

Members, today we are joined in the public gallery by the Consul General of Ireland in Wales, Denise McQuade. We welcome warmly Denise to the Senedd, as we were welcomed to the Oireachtas in April this year. I would also like to take the opportunity now to thank everyone we met in Dublin during our visit. The croeso we received was so in-keeping with those strong relations between our two nations.

Bilateral international agreements between our political leaders can only fortify the age-old foundations that underpin our shared history. We welcome the shared statement and joint action plan concluded by the Welsh and Irish Governments.

Llywydd, we as a committee share in the abundance of goodwill, passion and enthusiasm that so many partners feel about co-operation across the Irish sea.

Now, I’ll turn now to the report’s recommendations and the First Minister’s response. The committee made recommendations designed to improve the visibility and transparency of information to assist us and the wider Senedd, as well as stakeholders and the public, to better understand the Welsh Government’s approach to its relationship with Ireland.

Now, some of these recommendations were accepted by the First Minister, and we welcome the plans that he outlines, including exploring a dedicated webpage for Wales-Ireland relations and to resume reporting on Horizon Europe.

Now, the First Minister explained, however, that he believes current reporting arrangements produce sufficient information on Wales-Ireland relations and the Welsh Government cannot commit to additional reporting because of its 'acute state of resource constraint'. Llywydd, we believe the Welsh Government is doing itself a disservice here by not capturing its strategic approach to its relations with Ireland and communicating this work more fully, by not shining a light on the positive and beneficial work that is taking place. We remain concerned that this will continue to pose a barrier to our full understanding of the Welsh Government’s approach.

But just as the importance of our relationship has never been greater, so too have the challenges intensified, of course. Brexit has wrought changes and questions remain as to how joint work between the two nations will be resourced in future years. We were told by staff at University College Dublin that while EU funding for some projects has ended, opportunities have not. We echo the concerns of many witnesses, including the First Minister, who spoke of much-reduced funding amounts in the absence of EU funding. Now, we welcome the fact that the Welsh and Irish Governments are discussing a joint mechanism for support and that the Welsh Government continues to prioritise Ireland in funding decisions. Nevertheless, the First Minister’s response notes that the full sum of Agile Cymru’s £150,000 fund has been committed in this financial year and that commitments in the next financial year would require reprioritisation of other budgets. That is why, Llywydd, the committee called on both Governments to commit funding proportionate to their ambition, to provide certainty to stakeholders and to ensure that opportunity costs are minimised.

Now, we as a committee will continue to keep a close eye on this issue during upcoming budget scrutiny, to ensure the excellent work we've learned about is not undermined. We welcome that the First Minister has accepted two significant recommendations: to take into account the report’s findings and apply it to future bilateral international agreements with priority partners, and to apply the inquiry’s evidence to inform decisions on the next phase of Wales-Ireland co-operation beyond 2025. Now, in this regard, the First Minister says the role of Government is to make sure that there are engagement opportunities for the Senedd and its committees, and we ask the First Minister, please, to set these out.

Llywydd, I believe this approach can only add value to the Welsh Government’s important role in promoting Wales to the world and shows the value of the committee’s international relations scrutiny too. We will monitor closely whether these commitments materialise.

But I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say in our debate this afternoon, and I hope that this will be the start of the process of deepening the relationship between our nations and our countries. Thank you very much.