Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

09/01/2018

The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Before we begin, may I wish everybody a happy new year and welcome a new Member, Mandy Jones, to represent the North Wales region following Nathan Gill's resignation? May I wish Mandy Jones well as she undertakes her role here in the Assembly?

1. Questions to the First Minister

And, so, with that, questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Joyce Watson.

Plastic Recycling

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on efforts to recycle plastic in Wales? OAQ51514

Yes. We've set high targets for recycling in Wales, including plastic. All local authorities collect plastic for recycling, and businesses will be further encouraged to do so under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 provisions, and in addition we are working with the industry to increase treatment capacity for plastics that are collected.

You will be aware, First Minister, that, last week, China made an announcement that they'll no longer be importing plastic waste from the UK, and last year alone Wales exported over 4,000 tonnes. We know also that the amount of plastic produced and disposed of is growing every single year, and the majority of that is single-use plastic for wrapping up food. So, could we take this as an opportunity maybe, here in Wales, to do two things: one, to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the very first place; and secondly, where that's not possible, that we can actually recycle our own plastic—and there are some very good examples of people doing that here in Wales—and grow those industries?

Yes. There are two things to address here. Firstly, we've commissioned a study to assess the feasibility of an extended producer responsibility scheme for food and drink packaging, including disposable plastic. That will report in February. We're also considering a tax or levy on disposable plastic, but there are great opportunities here for Welsh businesses to look at how they can get involved in the plastics recycling industry. We are working, for example, with Jayplas to help it identify suitable sites to base plants in Wales, and Jayplas is the UK market leader in post-consumer recycling, including rigid plastics recycling. 

I think there is universal agreement that China's decision will pose a big challenge to us with regard to recycling here in Wales, with regard to plastics. By commissioning a recycling technologies plant, which would turn end-of-life plastics into light oil, wax or low sulphur heavy fuel oil, we could create an ideal resource here for a wide range of industry applications, and this could, of course, be an opportunity for Wales. Would you agree that it's now time that we end the present system of burning plastics and sending our plastics to landfill, and to be the first country to treat its own plastic waste in a totally environmentally friendly way?

Yes, I do, and I think it's hugely important to work, as I mentioned earlier, with companies who have proven expertise in this area, to make sure that more plastic is recycled within Wales and more jobs created as a result, and, of course, to look to see how we can assist those new entrants to the market.

Just as an example, the Llangattock litter group in Powys, in October last year, just in collecting litter in the village, found 266 coffee cups that had been thrown away. Now, you don’t need a latte levy in Wales, because, as you said, there is a proposal for a levy on single-use plastics as one of the four possible new taxes that you’re considering. When will we hear which tax you have decided upon, and may I encourage you, perhaps for the last time, to take advantage of the Plaid Cymru commitment, and that of some of your own backbenchers too, to ensure that the first tax is a levy on single-use plastics?

Well, as I said, the first thing is to ensure that the report on manufacturers’ responsibility with regard to food and drink packaging is published. The report will be published in February. Once it is published, that will assist us in making a decision on the way forward as regards any tax.

Supporting Enterprise

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policies for supporting enterprise in south-east Wales? OAQ51496

Our plans for economic development are set out in 'Prosperity for All' and the economic action plan. We continue to provide a wide range of support to businesses in Wales through Business Wales and the development bank, and we also provide infrastructure investment and actions that improve business conditions.

13:35

Thank you, First Minister. Happy new year. Yesterday was an historic day for Wales, with the nationalisation of the Severn bridges—something I'm sure you'll welcome—and a reduction in the tolls—a great gateway Wales project. However, this comes only a few weeks after the Welsh Government's call in, and refusal, of a planning application in Monmouth, in my constituency, for a hotel and spa development—another fantastic gateway Wales project. Now, the concern in the town about this decision has not diminished over the new year. The hotel was rejected on planning grounds due to technical advice note 15 considerations. Can your officials look again at either this decision, or, failing that, look again at the TAN 15 guidelines? Because it does seem to be that this has been overzealously applied, and I'm concerned that it is starting to stifle economic opportunities across Wales which otherwise would benefit the Welsh economy.

Well, TAN 15, the Minister tells me, is being looked at. I can't comment, of course, on an individual planning application. He mentions the Severn tolls, but let's not get too overexcited about this. Of course, I very much welcome the return of the Severn bridges to public ownership. But what the UK Government have actually done is to remove the VAT, which they cannot legally charge anyway, on the tolls because they're coming back into public ownership. So, yes, as far as the public are concerned, of course it's a reduction in the tolls, but let's not pretend this is some great concession by the UK Government, because they can't actually charge the 20 per cent in the first place. What would be far better is that they got rid of the tolls altogether.

First Minister, can I welcome very much the Welsh Government's financial support for E-Cycle in my constituency, which is the former Remploy plant that the Welsh Government helped survive and transform into e-cycling, and in fact the further package of funding that enables it to continue to expand and to develop, creating not only business, but obviously jobs within the Valleys areas? I wonder, First Minister, whether you could actually comment on the company's potential for growth, the actual details of the support that is actually being given to that company, and particularly the fact that it is an ethical company, employing disabled workers, many of whom are from my constituency—it's based in my constituency. It's a real example of what the Welsh Government is doing to actually support this type of business, with real potential for expansion in the Valleys.

Well, it's true to say, of course, that E-Cycle have been awarded support, and I'm pleased we are providing support to recycle. We will continue to assist the company in identifying new opportunities for business growth. Both the recently published economic action plan and the Valleys taskforce delivery plan recognise the impact of digital technology, and set out our proposals to futureproof the Welsh economy.

Thank you very much, Llywydd, and fellow Members.

I very much welcome yesterday's announcement by the Welsh Government to create a £50 million Brexit preparedness fund, something that will be essential for enterprise support in the south-east and across the country. And I very much hope that the Welsh Government has looked at the Irish models for support, as we face separation from the European Union and the great economic uncertainty that is bound to entail as Theresa May continues her Brexit shambles. What assurances can the First Minister give enterprises across the country, and particularly in the south-east, that this will be an accessible, straightforward fund that they will find simple to engage with, and that it will be targeted and that it can deliver on its very good intentions indeed?

Can I say what a pleasure it is to see the Member here? And he will hear from the reception that he has received the goodwill of this Chamber, and the friendship that he enjoys amongst many in this Chamber, across parties.

In relation to his question, the announcement yesterday was an announcement that indicates to businesses, to universities and others that we are putting money aside in order to help them to deal with the consequences of Brexit. What we don't know, of course, is what Brexit will look like, and so much of the detail has yet to be looked at. But we will work with all those affected to put in place an effective and simple scheme, to ensure that the scheme provides the support that it's intended to provide.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I also extend a welcome to the new Member here today, and endorse the First Minister's comments about how welcome it is to see Steffan back in the Chamber here, and wish him well in the weeks and months ahead? And I'd also offer my congratulations to David Melding, who was recognised in the new year's honours list—a very worthy contribution to Welsh democracy that has been recognised by the new year's honours list that was put out this year.

First Minister, we've all seen the pressures that have hit the Welsh NHS over the last couple of weeks, especially those specific winter pressures. Were they predictable and were they preventable? 

13:40

Well, first of all, I pay tribute to all our staff in all settings—the GPs, the paramedics, hospitals and social care—for their remarkable efforts in responding to these pressures. The winter is always a very challenging period. There will always be times when demand places our services under great pressure, needing local escalation. There was rigorous preparation in place, but the NHS in Wales has been under considerable pressure consistent with that being reported in other parts of the UK. There was a professional response, more resources were made available and the situation is now stabilising. 

Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. I do recognise that there are pressures across the whole of the United Kingdom as we've all seen in the news. My first question was were they predictable and were they preventable, some of the pressures unique to Wales, such as no GP out-of-hours service, as I'm led to believe, here in Cardiff over the festive period. There were chronic waiting times over and above what we've seen in other parts of the NHS in the United Kingdom. In Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, for example, less than 50 per cent of patients who presented at A&E were seen within the Government's own four-hour wait time, and we already knew that wait times were excessive here in Wales as opposed to other parts of the United Kingdom. You and I can have a political ding-dong about this and it won't really advance the argument that much further. What people want to hear is what solutions the Government will be putting into place to stop some of these unique events that have been happening in Wales—that are specific to Wales—such as no out-of-hours provision whatsoever here in the capital city of Cardiff and, above all, those really long waits in A&Es, across A&E departments in Wales, as I highlighted to you? What are you doing? 

Well, first of all, in terms of A&E, it's not the case that the target is four hours before somebody is seen in A&E. The target is four hours until somebody is discharged or admitted from A&E, just to make that clear. He asks the question fairly: was this predictable? The answer to my mind is 'no' and I'll explain why. For example, when it came red ambulance calls, the figure for new year's eve was 54 per cent higher than new year's eve last year. Similar figures, though lower, were reported for new year's day and also for the Christmas period. Now, is that predictable? I'd argue it isn't. Nevertheless, a great deal of planning went into ensuring that the NHS was able to manage. There were great pressures. I pay tribute to staff and, of course, as I say, the situation is now stabilising. But we will be looking at why there was such a spike on new year's eve, just to give one example, compared to last year. Despite the great pressure that was placed on the health service, staff were still able to work hard to reach the targets that we had set, particularly the paramedic staff. Why it is that there was a spike like that compared with last year, it's something we'll have to look at. 

Thank you, First Minister. I, too, pay tribute to all the staff who were out over the festive period while many of us were enjoying the festive period, and, without that staff, our NHS would not work in whatever section of the service they work in.

But the point I made in my second contribution this afternoon, which is that if there is no out-of-hours provision whatsoever, then it's obvious that the ambulance service, for example, is going to see a spike in demand for its services. What I ask of you in my third question to you is: will we be in the same position this time next year, or what measures will you be taking specifically to address these pressures, which do happen year in, year out? I do take the point that you've pointed to a specific spike in the ambulance calls that were put in on new year's eve, but we are seeing little or no availability in some areas for out-of-hours provision, we are seeing continuing demand for A&E provision and obviously we are seeing a lack of bed space within our hospitals. Thirty per cent of beds have been lost since 1997 here in Wales. So, there does need to be a review of how the Government and the health boards respond to this crisis, and what we need to hear is when that review will be undertaken and whether we can really expect that this situation won't be replicated next year. 

Well, of course, the review has been undertaken, in the sense that the parliamentary review is due, I understand, to publish its findings very soon, and that will look cross-party at ways in which the health service can be strengthened. In terms of GP cover, it is right to say that, in one part of Wales, there were problems on two dates, I understand—not in other parts of Wales, but there was severe pressure particularly there. He asks the question: do we need to look at the reason why there were particular spikes this year, compared to previous years? The answer is, 'Yes, that's something we do want to look at', because that will form part of the LHBs' preparedness for next winter. So, in terms of whether it is preventable, well, there's always pressure on the NHS this time of year, and there's always planning in order to look to deal with that pressure. Predictable? No, I don't think so, given the figures that we've seen on more than one date over the holiday period, when there was a significant increase in demand for ambulance calls, particularly compared to the previous year.

13:45

Diolch. I'm going to continue with health, First Minister. You said that winter pressures are expected every year and you're right, and you should be planning for spikes in demand as well every year. Can you honestly say that you believe that the health service has performed well over the winter in dealing with those pressures and spikes? 

Yes, I do. I think the NHS staff have performed heroically and magnificently over the course of the winter. GPs, of course, are often in the front line. They have worked very hard. Paramedics, incredible, given the fact that they have responded so well to emergency calls, despite the enormous spike in those calls and, of course, hospitals and those who work in the social care sector. They continue to maintain an NHS of enormous scale that receives tens of thousands of contacts and calls every year. There was, of course, a visible peak of pressure into the new year and there were real challenges, but it is now pleasing to see a much improved and stable position that was reported at the end of last week.  

First Minister, the story that you tell is of a service that's under pressure but coping well, but there's another story as well and that's being told by the media, of hospitals being 'like a battlefield' for NHS staff. Both of those stories can't be true, and I think that you know that winter preparations have not been good enough. Isn't that why we had an apology from Vaughan Gething for cancelled operations? Isn't that why we are hearing the claim from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine that patient safety is being compromised daily, and that the solution is more capacity? The Welsh NHS needs more beds, it needs more nurses and it needs more doctors. The £10 million pounds announced over the weekend came with an admission that pressures across health and social care are above those anticipated. Why do you underestimate these pressures every year? Do you now accept that the Cabinet Secretary was wrong to make the claim in November that the service was in the best position possible to cope with the winter, and do you accept that you were wrong to cut the number of hospital beds? 

First of all, I think the Cabinet Secretary was correct. Nobody could have predicted the kind of figures that we've seen over the course of the holiday period; I don't think any Member in this Chamber could possibly have predicted that. She mentions beds, but it's more complicated than that, in my view. It's hugely important not in terms of looking at beds, but in terms of getting people out of hospital when they're ready and that's why, of course, it's hugely important that we invest in social care, which we have done, compared with England where social care funding has been cut. It is important that people are able to leave hospital when they are able to do so and that they have the right support to do so. So, it's not simply a question of the number of beds; it's a question of making sure that people are able to leave hospital when they can.   

You have an 85 per cent target for hospital beds and you breach that as a matter of routine, which means that patient safety is compromised. You are failing to meet that measure of patient safety, and that is unacceptable. And, First Minister, I have to say, I think you're being complacent. It's not just us; the Royal College of Emergency Medicine is also saying that NHS staffing needs to be increased, and it's in your gift to do that. Without nurses, without doctors and without specialists, there would be no NHS.

We've heard a lot of warm words over the Christmas period from politicians supporting front-line NHS staff, and you've just made a tribute yourself. If you really want to support front-line NHS staff then, First Minister, pay them properly. The pay cap means that nurses are still underpaid and it's in your gift to lift that pay cap. Workforce planning is one of the most important tools that you have at your disposal, yet you won't embrace the need for a new medical training school in the north. No Westminster Government will do this for us; it's your Labour Government's responsibility. A Labour Cabinet Secretary has now admitted responsibility for the lack of planning ahead of the winter pressures. It's time, First Minister, now that you did the same. Given that apology from the health Secretary, will you now accept responsibility for failing to train enough doctors for the Welsh NHS?

Far from it. We see that the recruitment campaign that we have put in place has been very successful in recruiting doctors. You can't recruit doctors at the drop of a hat, particularly A&E specialists, and it's hugely important that—. We have training facilities in place, but it's hugely important that the right professional atmosphere is in place to retain doctors and to attract them in the first place. It's not all about training people simply in Wales—we're not a medical autarky.

Secondly, it is hugely important to understand and I believe that the Cabinet Secretary and the local health boards have done their planning. If we look at the spike in demand that we saw, nobody could have predicted that spike in demand. And I have to say to her: I do not accept that we should allow the UK Government off the hook when it comes to the pay cap. Why on earth should the people of Wales have to fund the failure of a UK Government to lift the pay cap? How can we justify to the people who vote for us that we should pay for something that the UK Government should be paying for? I agree with her, I think the pay cap should lifted, but why should the people of Wales have to pay for it when the UK Government have the responsibility to do it? An increase in pay in the health service carries a price tag of hundreds of millions of pounds: where does the money come from? If we are to do that, then it means money coming out of the budget somewhere else.

I don't disagree with her. I agree with her on the pay cap. She and I are in the same position, but I cannot agree with her that, somehow, we should fill in a gap that the UK Government itself has actually created. Let the Tories pay to ensure the people of Wales are able to pay the staff of the NHS properly.

13:50

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Can I start on a note of amity—which will certainly not continue—at least at the very beginning of the proceedings, and wish the First Minister, and indeed all his Ministers, a happy new year? And I do genuinely wish them success, although I think it's unlikely to be realised. And can I return to the point that was raised by Steffan Lewis earlier on? I'm sure everybody would agree with this too, and say that it's actually an inspiration to us all for him to be here today, and if it's not too frightening a prospect, I'm right behind him in his battle against his terrible disease.

I welcome the transition fund that the First Minister has announced, but does he not agree with me that that would be far more effective if the Welsh Government weren't so relentlessly pessimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit? And can I ask him, in 2018, for a change of approach to this opportunity for the whole of Britain? And if he's more positive and uplifting about the future, then Welsh businesses themselves will have more confidence in the future, and investment will increase, and we will all be better off.

Well, first of all, can I wish him all the best as well, and to say to him that I congratulate him on the temporary expansion of his group? I know it didn't last very long, but there we are, back to the famous five.

In terms of the EU fund, businesses are saying to us that they're worried about Brexit. They're worried about the nature of the trading relationship with Europe; that's their major market, and why should it not be? More than 60 per cent of our exports go there, more than 90 per cent of our food and drink exports go there. It's fantasy to suggest that somehow a new market or markets will appear by next year in order to mop up all these exports. If we cannot get right our relationship with our nearest, biggest market, what hope have we got of conducting any kind of agreement with any other market or nation?

That has to be done first, and we don't know what Brexit will look like. Very good to see the UK Government is moving towards our ground, compared to where they were last year. Last year, they weren't going to pay for any kind of financial deal, they weren't interested in EU citizens, they weren't talking about a transitional period: they've done all that. We welcome the fact that they've moved towards the light in that sense, but I have to say to the Member: it's important to be realistic and not be a fantasist when it comes to Brexit. In the referendum, we were told time and time again by members of his own party, 'There will be a trade deal; we can be like Norway.' Now we're hearing, 'Well, don't worry about a trade deal.' Well, businesses are worried about the lack of a trade deal.

Well, can I respond to the First Minister's sally about the temporary expansion of our group? UKIP has done a great deal since the beginning of the year to entertain the country and cheer us all up. But, we are here to fight for what we believe in and we will continue the fight as we have done in the last year with a group of five.

But one of the opportunities that Brexit offers to us if we are not part of the single market is that we then secure control of regulation. He will have seen that, last week, the markets in financial instruments directive came into force throughout the whole of the EU. This is 7,000 pages long, it contains 1.4 million paragraphs, it's six times the size of the Bible, and it will require all financial firms that deal in shares, bonds, derivatives—indeed, all financial instruments—to acquire a huge mass of documentation, which they'll then have to publish and preserve for five years, imposing mammoth costs on financial services firms. If we're outside the single market, we can slim down that burden of regulation without any danger to the public at all. Dublin has made a great success out of expansion of its financial services businesses by having a tax advantage by reducing corporation tax. Does the First Minister agree with me that Cardiff, as a developing financial centre, could greatly benefit from a slimmed-down financial regulation system whilst properly serving the public interest? Ten per cent of people who work in Cardiff are in financial and professional services, they contribute £1.2 billion a year in gross value added and, indeed, in Wales as a whole it's £3 billion. So, will the First Minister agree with me that it would be a good thing if he were to look to have proportionate regulation in the financial services sector as a means of kick-starting the financial services industry here in Wales?

13:55

First of all, I don't begrudge his party's ability to provide us with entertainment, as he rightly pointed out. But, turning to the points that he makes, first of all, the issue is not devolved, as he knows, but, in terms of the principle of it, I don't agree with him that the point of Brexit is wholesale deregulation. Our financial services sector will still have to operate in the European market. If it doesn't follow the rules of the European market, it won't be able to operate there, and that will have enormous consequences for jobs, not just in Wales, but also in the rest of the UK, particularly the City. The City has been a place where a great deal of European operations have taken place. If the regulations in the UK are substantially different, people won't come to the UK, because they want to operate in a bigger market.

Secondly, we have to remember that the financial crash of 2007 was caused, at least in great part, by deregulation of financial services, and the fact that an opportunity was given to irresponsible financiers to play around with people's money, to lend to people who had no hope of paying them back, and the financial system collapsed as a result of it. So, from my perspective, yes, regulation has to be proportionate, but it has to be there because, bluntly, given what we saw in 2007-08, there are some who work in the large financial centres in this world who cannot be trusted with other people's money.

The First Minister knows that MiFID has nothing to do with the kind of conduct that caused the crash or made it far worse in 2008, when I remind the First Minister, of course, we had a Labour Government, a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a Labour Prime Minister who himself wanted a light-touch regulatory system. Of course, we all learnt great lessons from that. But, regulation such as MiFID II, which requires this vast amount of information storage and retrieval, is far too great for any regulatory body to be able to use effectively. So, it's imposing a vast cost upon firms and, therefore, the public at large, which ultimately bear the cost of all business taxes, for no practical benefit to anybody at all. The result of that is to drive financial services business away from Europe altogether to places like New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and so on and so forth.

So, for Britain, there's a great opportunity post Brexit, if we can't do a deal with the EU. And nobody ever guaranteed any kind of trade deal with the EU; nobody was able to do that. It's not in our gift to force the EU to enter into a deal with us, we just said that it was in their own self-interest, as indeed ours, to come to an agreement, but nobody can force them to do that. But if no such deal is available, then the world out there is much bigger than Europe: 85 per cent of the global economy is outside Europe. Should we not be positive about those opportunities, rather than relentlessly negative and saying that the future lies in what is a contracting part of the world economy?

Well, the thing is, he contradicts himself now, because he complains about a directive, but in the future, the UK will have no role at all in influencing those directives. The UK will have to accept them or not have access to the European market. The UK's voice is much diminished now compared to where it was in the past.

Secondly, he seems to think the world out there is a world that is open to trade with the UK. Other markets are equally as closed. If you look at the US, that is a market that does not trade freely with the rest of the world, nor does China, nor does India. There seems to be this thought among some in his party that, somehow, the world is just waiting to conduct free-trade agreements with the UK. That is certainly not what other countries are saying, and certainly not what the experience has been in the past. Six or seven years is the average timescale for agreeing a free-trade agreement. We have in the US a President who puts America first. Does he really think that we will have an equitable free-trade agreement with the US with a president who is open about his views on protecting American industry? Will we have, for example, a back-door TTIP as a result of the Trade Bill, which forces us to privatise large parts of the public sector—something that we will oppose tooth and nail?

But, ultimately, as I've said before, we are at present in the single market. I'd like us to stay in the single market or have full and unfettered access to the single market. We already have a great deal of convergence with it. If we cannot agree a deal with a market where we have so much in common to begin with, we have no chance of agreeing a deal with other markets that are much, much different, with different regulations that we would then have to try to harmonise. The European market is our biggest market, it's on our doorstep, we have a land border with it, we export 60 per cent of our exports to it. We cannot allow our policy on the European single market to be blinded by ridiculous, nationalist nonsense. 

14:00
Economic Development

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on economic development in South Wales West? OAQ51508

That wasn’t aimed at him, Llywydd. But may I say that our plans for economic development are set out in 'Prosperity for All' and the economic action plan? We continue to provide a wide range of support to businesses in Wales through, for example, Business Wales and the development bank. We also provide infrastructure investment and take actions to improve business conditions.

Thank you for that response, First Minister. Now, naturally, the latest GVA figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the Welsh economy continues to perform worse than the rest of the UK, with GVA per capita at only 72 per cent of the UK average. We also have significant economic inequality here in Wales, with Neath Port Talbot in my region, for example, almost 10 per cent below the Welsh average.

Now, people feel that the area is being neglected and they are not convinced that the efforts of the city deal and the Valleys taskforce will deliver the necessary economic change for our communities, particularly in the valleys of the county. Do you agree, therefore, that the Welsh Government and Neath Port Talbot council must do a great deal more to ensure that areas such as the Swansea valleys and the Neath and Afan valleys catch up with the rest of Wales and the rest of the UK economically?

Well, fine, but may I say in the first place that Welsh Government did a great deal of work as regards securing the future of the Port Talbot steelworks? The UK Government did nothing, from what I can see. I spoke a lot with Tata here in Wales, and also in Mumbai, and worked with the unions to secure the future of the steelworks. A year and a half ago, its future looked very shaky indeed. And, of course, we know that the steelworks pays well in the area. And, of course, by using the Valleys taskforce, and also collaborating with the city deal, it is vital that that work continues. May I say that it is essential that Neath Port Talbot considers itself part of the Swansea bay area and works with other councils in Swansea bay in order to secure the economic future of that whole area?

Since I've been an Assembly Member, which is the best part of seven years now, Welsh Government has given over £320 million of taxpayers' money towards businesses in Wales, which, of course, includes South Wales West. By October, just at the end of last year, we heard that less than £7 million of that total has been repaid to date, and, even from a Welsh Conservative point of view, which embraces calculated risk, that's really a pretty poor rate of repayment. Will the—and I quote this—

'Economic Contract between business and government',

referred to in the new economic plan, include a requirement that all loans are paid in full and on time, and contain the relevant provisions for enforcement?

Well, yes, but she doesn't say that the loans aren't being paid on time; she just says that a relatively small percentage have been repaid, which I would expect at this stage anyway, in terms of the process—unless she is saying that we demand that loans are paid back in a time period that is not appropriate in terms of job creation. Of course, we've always taken the position, over the years, of ensuring that money is recouped where that can be done. We've taken action to do that when it comes to grant funding, for example, and we will continue to do that. Can I remind her that the £60 million package that we put on the table ensured the survival of Tata Port Talbot at a time when the UK Government did nothing? We asked the UK Government to deal with energy prices; they did nothing about that at all. We asked the UK Government to deal with the issue of pensions; they did nothing about that either. Tata and ourselves worked together to secure the future of the steel industry in Wales as the UK Government stood by and did nothing. 

First Minister, I agree totally with the actions the Welsh Government have taken to support Tata, particularly in my patch, and the failure of the UK Government—they've done literally nothing. But the question is—. I want to expand on Dai Lloyd's point, I think: the consequence of Tata losing its workforce has meant that well-paid and skilled jobs have gone. As we see, in industries and businesses coming in, they tend to be more the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts. What are you doing as a Welsh Government to actually encourage jobs into the area that are matching the skills and the pay levels that we are seeing lost?

14:05

It's down to training on the job. First of all, the economic policy of the late 1980s and early 1990s was to attract investment into Wales based on the fact that we had lower wage rates than anywhere else in western Europe. Those days, thankfully, are gone. We now attract investment that is well paid. We have investors coming into Wales who would never have come here 20 years ago. They wouldn't have seen Wales as a place where they could get the skilled, well-paid workforce that they require. That's why, of course, we have the economic action plan. It's why we've put so much emphasis on skills through schemes like Jobs Growth Wales, to make sure that our people have the skills they need to earn more when investors come to Wales and when they set up their own businesses. That is the answer, to my mind, in making sure that we see GVA per head improve over the next few years.

The Centenary Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government action to mark the centenary anniversary of women’s suffrage? OAQ51524

We'll be fully involved in the UK-wide celebrations of the one hundredth anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. More details about how we will mark that centenary throughout the course of this year will be made available this month.

I thank the First Minister for that answer. In November 2017, data from the World Economic Forum showed for the first time a year-on-year worsening of the gender gap since 2006. In fact, the group predicts that it would take a century to close all areas of equality that it monitors globally, well up from the 83 years predicted in 2016. They predict that women will have to wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and are equally represented in the workplace. So, will you join me in backing Chwarae Teg's goal to make Wales the global leader in gender equality with their fair play employer benchmark, and embed this in the Welsh Government's economic action plan?

Yes. We work with businesses, trade unions and others on implementing the plan, the economic action plan, and that will be informed by the advice and recommendations of the fair work board. Because we've asked the fair work board to provide recommendations to us, it wouldn't be appropriate to pre-empt their findings by committing to Chwarae Teg's benchmark at this stage. But I do welcome very much Chwarae Teg's initiative in developing the benchmark, which will help to support organisations to deliver gender equality in the workplace.  

One hundred years after women obtained the vote and almost 50 years after Equal Pay Act 1970, it is outrageous that here in Wales we still have a gender pay differential gap of around 13 per cent. Interestingly enough, the highest pay gap in Wales is in your own constituency of Bridgend, where it stands at a staggering 27 per cent. First Minister, what actions are you taking or have you taken, perhaps looking at your own constituency, to address this, but more widely across Wales? Because you are the First Minister, and you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that there is genuine equality across Wales for both men and women.

First of all, we introduced a public sector equality duty in 2011 to address pay and employment differences, and specifically gender pay differences at that time. Those duties apply in Wales. They're broad, encompassing the need to understand and address the causes of pay differences for all people. Improving women's place in the workforce is a long-term structural change. We know there is more to do—the Member said that, of course—through programmes such as our Agile Nation 2 project, run by Chwarae Teg. We are seeing that, with the right training and support, we can help women move into management and into senior roles. And, of course, as I mentioned earlier on, the economic action plan will be informed by the recommendations that come through from the fair work board.

It’s important to bear in mind exactly what happened in 1918, of course, when women were allowed to vote for the first time, but there was no equality with men at that time. Men were allowed to vote at 21, but women had to wait until they were 30 and had to own property. It took another 10 years before men and women were treated equally as voters. Of course, I’m sure you would agree that we are a long way from being in a situation of equality between men and women in Wales, and we’ve just heard about the gender pay gap.

Would you agree that the ‘A Parliament that Works for Wales’ report, which suggests introducing a gender quota for the electoral system for the next Assembly elections, is something that should be pursued? And do you agree that if the Assembly adopts a single transferrable vote approach then it should be a requirement in law for all parties to introduce 50 per cent women candidates and 50 per cent men?

14:10

I’m not against that in principle at all. There is a great deal to be discussed on STV, for example, and the method of electing Members to this place. The record of Welsh Labour—you only need to look at the benches here. But what has been said about whether we should consider or argue for balance between the genders in this place, I believe that that’s something that we should discuss to ensure that the good record that we have had over the years continues.

China’s Decision to Ban Imports of Plastic

5. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact on Wales of China’s decision to ban imports of plastic? OAQ51528

I'd refer back to the answers I gave to the previous question, but I can say that our assessment is that Wales has a good bit of resilience to the ban because of our policies for high-quality recycling. In addition, we are working to get even higher quality and to increase the take-up of plastic recycling in Wales, so safeguarding businesses and creating jobs.

I thank the First Minister for that response. I'm sure the First Minister would agree that stopping the use of plastic to begin with is the key to cut down on any exports that were needed. Does he think that one of the ways possibly of doing this is to offer incentives to local authorities to bring back drinking fountains into use? Because, if you have widely available drinking fountains, that does take away the need for the plastic bottles of water that many people carry around. So, would he think that the widespread introduction of fountains would be a good way to move forward?

It's an interesting idea, I have to say. It's been a long time since there was a drinking fountain that operated in my hometown. In fact, I don't remember it operating, but it's still there in my hometown of Bridgend. I think a lot of people would use drinking fountains if they were there. It's not that long ago that the very idea of buying water in a plastic bottle would have seemed very strange to so many of us, when it came out of the tap. It wasn't until I lived in London in the late 1980s that I realised why people in London were drinking bottled water, given the quality of the water that was there, certainly at the time.

But I think that is an idea that's worth looking at. Whether there are any legal issues that arise as a result, I don't know. I can't see, sensibly, why there should be, but it is something that I will take up and write to the Member further on.

Is the First Minister confident that the huge volumes of plastic that we have been exporting to China have been properly recycled, rather than, for instance, sent to landfill?

Well, we know that we cannot keep on—. I mean, in terms of what happens in China, that's a matter ultimately for the Chinese, but they have made it very clear that they won't accept any more plastic. I think that, in the medium to long term, the Chinese ban could help to improve the quality of recyclable materials. It will encourage investment in recycling infrastructure here in Wales and could have a positive effect of the development of a circular economy.

The challenge now is there for businesses to see the opportunity that now presents itself, because it's no longer the case that there is a cheap alternative that makes it difficult for the business model to work. There is now an opportunity to recycle more in Wales and create more jobs in Wales.

It should be a national target, surely, that we shouldn’t be exporting our waste and, specifically, that we shouldn’t be exporting plastic waste. Yes, we should reduce our usage of plastics, as Julie Morgan suggested, but, when plastic is used, ensure that it is also reused even before it’s recycled. Now, reuse relies on a system of some sort of deposit-return scheme. There is agreement between his party and mine on looking into that in light of the budget. So, what sort of role does he see for such a proposal and such a plan in order to ensure that we reuse more plastics?

Well, that is one thing, of course, that the report next month will consider: in what way can we ensure that more plastic is reused and recycled, and also, of course, how can we ensure that people use less plastic. The problem that we have, of course, is that the majority of the waste—not just the plastic, but the majority of the waste—that’s generated in Wales comes from outwith Wales. We cannot put rules in place in terms of how things are wrapped, and we have to deal with what’s imported into Wales, but that doesn’t mean to say that we must not consider schemes to reduce the plastic that isn't recycled. That's what the programme will be looking at, and that's what the report—part of the report—will be looking at when it's published next month.

14:15
Priorities for Aberavon in 2018

6. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's economic priorities for Aberavon in 2018? OAQ51509

Yes. Our economic priorities for all parts of Wales, including Aberavon, are set out in the 'Prosperity for All' economic action plan.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The Welsh Government obviously has the concept of enterprise zones as one of its important factors in local economic growth, but the only enterprise zone in South Wales West is actually in Port Talbot. It was created as a consequence of the uncertainty in steel making, and I appreciate the Welsh Government's investment with Tata, but there's still uncertainty over the future of the steelworks because of the joint venture, and we don't know the details of that joint venture yet. So, there's a need to keep that enterprise zone active and attractive to people.

Now, there appears to be little movement in the enterprise zone at this moment in time on inward investment and seeing jobs come in, but perhaps that could be down to the fact there's a prison coming to the enterprise zone. There's definitely uncertainty there because of that. Now, what we want is the Welsh Government to remove that uncertainty. It's easy, because all you have to do is say you're not going to sell the land to the Ministry of Justice and that uncertainty is removed, and businesses can be looking forward to that enterprise zone as an option. It's important that the industrial and commercial use of that land is for building the local economy and growth, and not for a prison.

Well, I can say to the Member that I've received a response from the Ministry of Justice to a letter that I sent. The response is not satisfactory, to my mind, and so our position remains the same. We're not in a position to sell that land because the response is not satisfactory. I can say, in order to assist him, that in terms of Port Talbot, some 37 applications from Port Talbot Waterfront were awarded financial support to a total value of £676,000 to help them to offset the cost of business rates. We have secured enhanced capital allowances for three specific sites within the waterfront enterprise zone in order to boost investment and employment opportunities for the area, and those ECAs will be available in designated areas within Baglan energy park, Baglan industrial estate and Port Talbot docks. 

Ending Homelessness

7. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's policies to end homelessness in Wales? OAQ51527

Yes. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 has made a substantial and positive difference. There is still work to do. Our commitment to combatting homelessness is demonstrated by the priority given to it in 'Prosperity for All' and we've seen significant additional financial investment in terms of dealing with rough sleeping, with housing, with youth homelessness and mental health.

Thank you. We noticed, as Assembly Members, that you made an announcement before Christmas of an extra £10 million into youth homelessness, with the intention to eradicate that in 10 years with £10 million. I was wondering if you could give us a bit more detail on that, because I did ask Llamau, who seem to be the only organisation involved in that announcement, what the detail was, and they couldn't give me any more detail. I also made the effort to contact other organisations in the homelessness sector who also had no idea as to what your intentions were. So, could you outline what they are, especially in the context of the fact that there is already a 10-year programme in place that was worked upon with Plaid Cymru as part of the One Wales Government? Of course, we're not going to shun the announcement of £10 million, but we want to know who will be able to apply for those contracts, if it is going to go to general public contract, and how we can scrutinise that money—because of course 10 years is a long way away, and we would hope that by now we could have actually eradicated youth homelessness.

First of all, 10 years seems a long time, but it's what the sector tells us is realistic in terms of ending youth homelessness. As far as the money is concerned, it will be available to any organisation that is able to meet the right criteria in order to help to ensure that homelessness is eradicated. But I went to Llamau before Christmas, I spoke to young people particularly who had been helped by Llamau. Llamau is one organisation amongst many, of course, and it was encouraging to see the work that they had been doing and the work that they do. But we want to work with those now in the sector to make sure that that money is put to best use with the shared intention of ending youth homelessness in Wales. 

Local Authority House-building

8. Will the First Minister make a statement on local authority house-building in Wales? OAQ51530

Yes. House building in Wales is a key priority for the Government. Local authorities are expecting to build 1,000 new council homes towards our target of 20,000 affordable homes. We're also protecting existing social housing stock by ending the right to buy.

First Minister, I've said from this side of the house that we would support the move to local authorities building social housing once more if that was thought to be a strategic way of improving the level of house building. Just 16 homes were completed last year in the local authority sector, 13 of those in one authority, Flintshire. So, if they are going to become major builders, they will need to improve their capacities and skills in this area, and that needs to be considered now, because we face a 15 or 20-year crisis if we don't start building many, many more homes.

14:20

Of course council housing is something that we want to encourage, and we've done that financially. It doesn't mean that they can plug all the gap themselves, but it's hugely important that they're able to make provision in their local area. I was with the Member for Swansea East, Mike Hedges, recently, and I saw for myself the good work of Swansea council in the Mynydd Newydd area of his constituency. Cardiff council are developing 543 affordable new homes under their housing partnership programme. I know that Ynys Môn plan to build 198 new council homes over the next five years. Flintshire is moving forward with developing 200 new council homes, and Carmarthenshire—just to make sure that everybody knows I'm not picking on certain councils run by certain parties—through their affordable homes delivery plan do intend to provide over 60 new council homes over the next two years, in addition, of course, to the work that's being done in Swansea.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Julie James to make the statement.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are three changes to this week's business. The Minister for Children and Social Care will make a statement shortly on the consultation on legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, directly after this business statement. This will be followed by a statement by the Counsel General on the Welsh Government prosecution code, and finally, the time allocated to the Counsel General's OAQs tomorrow has been reduced. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers that are available to Members electronically.

Leader of the house, is it possible to have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for transport in relation to the northern access road in the Vale of Glamorgan, coming from the St Athan enterprise park? Today, Members who represent that particular area have had an e-mail from residents of the residential park on Millands road—Millands caravan park—who have highlighted how the road is going to be stopped up during the development of the northern access road. This is going to hinder the access to the site for 40 residents. There doesn't seem to be—and that's why I'm asking for the statement—there doesn't seem to have been much dialogue or consultation with the residents over what alternatives might be put in place, and as has been highlighted to me, the residents of the site do depend on all sorts of vehicles for access, from refuse collection to just the general grind of daily life such as the post et cetera coming there. I'd welcome a statement so that we can have clarity and that we can give assurances to the residents there that options have been looked at and solutions will be put in place.

Thank you for that question. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he will ensure that officials liaise properly with both the Member and the residents to ensure the situation is resolved satisfactorily.

I wondered whether we could have a statement from the environment Secretary with regard to classifications of floodplains in Wales. People will be aware that last week, and over the Christmas period, really, there's been much more drainage problems in the Baglan Moors area, which is the area where the prison is being proposed to be built. Drainforce has been out in force there. Residents have been sending me pictures of those issues, and we just wondered whether we could have a statement from the environment Secretary so that we can understand some of those problems from the perspective of the environment agency here in Wales and so that residents can raise those concerns with them.

My second question is: I was promised a response with regard to the situation of the Action for Children playgroup in Neath Port Talbot Hospital. I did receive something, but it was recalled from the children's Minister. I'm asking again today because those who have been affected have been told by Neath Port Talbot council that they were consulted by Aled Evans, the officer in charge, but many of the parents have told me that they weren't consulted over the changes. So, I would like for the Government to give an urgent response so that I can go back to those parents who are currently quite anxious, as they were before Christmas, to try and come to an understanding as to what will happen in the future. Thanks.

On that second one, the Minister is indicating to me that it should be with them today. So, hopefully, that will be resolved very shortly. In terms of the flooding statement, I'm sure the Minister responsible will be bringing forward a statement on the general arrangements for flooding and its review after the winter period, which is normal when we look at it. If the Member has specific issues about a very specific area, I would suggest she writes to the Minister and gets a very specific response.

Twelve months ago, I had a short debate on the alleged sexual abuse of young boys in Llandrindod Wells school for the deaf. This happened in the 1950s and a constituent of mine, Cedric Moon, brought it to my attention. We've now reached the stage where one of the victims has been awarded legal aid and a letter has gone to Rhondda Cynon Taf—the successor authority—seeking compensation for the sexual abuse suffered. That's gone in the last few weeks. Can I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government about how these sorts of injustices are righted and about any ways there could be to minimise the legal costs and the stress for people who are now older, who are vulnerable, and who wish to make claims going back decades—or may not wish to make a claim, may just wish for an acknowledgement or an apology?

14:25

The Member raises a hugely important point, and I know in her short debate the issues arising from the book and so on were very comprehensively gone through. I think the Cabinet Secretary at the time, the late Carl Sargeant, went through all of the actions at that time that we'd taken, both to learn from past abuse and to act to ensure we prevent similar mistakes reoccurring. I think it's enough to say that we're continuing to be vigilant and putting listening to children at the heart of our policy, practice and guidance. We're determined that children should have a voice. Even if they are adults now, they should have the voice that they should have had when they were children at the time. We want to continue to emphasise that the duty to report children at risk and the duty to report adults at risk are intended to ensure that any safeguarding concerns about children or adults are reported and properly investigated.

I understand that one of her constituents has legal aid to take the matter forward and I'm very pleased to hear that. That's to take the matter forward against a successor authority. So, there are legal arrangements in place to make sure that an authority continues to hold the legal responsibility for the things that have happened in the past. I think she raises an important point: it's not for us to comment on individual cases, but it is something that we can look at when we look at general access-to-justice issues across the piece in Wales, which have been considerably undermined by the Tory cuts to legal aid and the access-to-justice issues that we're all aware of. I think it would be really interesting to talk to the Member outside of the Chamber about some of the issues specifically raised and see if there are very specific things we ought to put in place to ensure that people do get the very best advice when taking these things forward.

Diolch, Llywydd, a blwyddyn newydd dda. Can I call for two statements, please? First, at the beginning of the Christmas recess, Members received a written statement on transport vision for north Wales, and I call for an oral statement so that we may further question the Cabinet Secretary to fill out some of the gaps that, clearly, a written statement alone cannot address. Particularly, it refers to the north-east, and says there'll be further announcements in the new year regarding north-west Wales. It refers to cross-border issues, Northern Powerhouse links and so on. The growth deal bid for north Wales was submitted a matter of days later and we know that negotiations with both the governments will be commencing early this year, focused, to a large extent, on transport issues in north Wales. So, it would be helpful, in that context and the context of the rail franchise as it moves forward, and its impact on Wrexham-Bidston and other links referred to in the statement, if we could have an opportunity to question the Minister on an oral statement accordingly.

My second and final statement relates to Scouts in Flintshire. Now, you might have seen in the last week widespread coverage of Bear Grylls's support, as the chief Scout in the UK, of the petition in Flintshire, which by then had gathered 7,700 signatures, against Flintshire council's unique proposal so far amongst councils in Wales to remove discretionary rate relief from Scouts where they have their own headquarter buildings. This will affect up to 16 Scouting groups in Flintshire, but only raise for the council somewhere around, at a maximum, £6,000 a year, at high cost given the social benefits that the Scouting groups are delivering in the communities in which they work. Now, you might state that this is a matter for the council's budget, but the potential precedent this could set across Wales is concerning more widely. I therefore call for a statement on that matter also. Thank you.

In terms of the first request for an oral statement to follow the written statement, the Member, of course, will have plenty of opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary during his oral Assembly questions, which will be occurring later this month. But I understand that he's also making an oral statement generally on transport later this month, which will afford an opportunity for the Member to closely question him on the matters contained therein. 

In terms of the Scouts decision in Flintshire, the Member is entirely right—it is a matter for the local authority. And whilst I understand the Member's understandable concerns about some of these decisions, it is a discretionary decision, and the whole point about a discretion is that it's exercised locally by local politicians who are seized of the matter. I will say that it is a really sad reflection of the continuing austerity theme that the Government imposes on all of us that these very cherished local organisations are struggling for money in this way. 

14:30

If I can say, we've been on recess for three weeks, so I think I've got one a week to raise with the business manager, if I can just about do that. First of all, can I ask for a debate in Government time on what we've just been discussing in questions, which is around the condition of the NHS at the moment in Wales, accepting there are a lot of winter pressures there? But my particular concern is to explore some of the issues around GP recruitment and retention, because there are serious problems now in many GP surgeries throughout the region I represent—the latest example being Abersoch losing a GP, and patients there being allocated to Botwnnog, which on a map doesn't look very far, but it can actually take an hour and 50 minutes by bus, incredibly, just to do those few miles. This is a real problem. I do agree with some of the comments that have been made earlier that the lack of thoroughly reliable and standardised access to GP primary services throughout Wales is driving more people to go to A&E and is putting more pressure on that. So, I think a debate rather than a statement would be good in Government time, so that we can explore some of these issues and challenge Government, as we need to do, on training, and on the lack, as we've seen in the figures that have come out in the last couple of days, of Welsh domiciled medical students accessing our own training facilities here in Wales. And, of course, Plaid Cymru will make the argument for a third training facility in north Wales at that time. 

The second thing I'd like to ask from the business manager relates to her own Government responsibilities as well, which of course, is broadband. As she will know, the current programme—well, it's no longer the current programme—came to an end at the end of the year, and I did have a bet with myself how long it would be before I got the first letter saying, 'We were promised by the end of 2017 and it hasn't happened', and it came over the weekend. And I think that will be the first of many, and I'm sure she accepts that it will be the first of many. So, I think an updated oral statement is what I would like to ask for from her about what has been achieved under the previous scheme by the end of 2017—how much did Openreach actually achieve and do in accordance with what they set out to do? Anecdotally, I've got many examples of where they haven't delivered, but I'd like to know the facts from her. She mentioned, in correspondence with me in the past, that there would be financial penalties if they hadn't delivered, so I'd like to explore that with her, and, of course, she's stated an £80 million new fund, which she says is open to innovative solutions as well, and I'd like to understand how that can be applied to those communities in my region that have not been high-speed broadband enabled over the last couple of years. So, an oral statement would be very welcome from the business manager with her Cabinet Secretary policy hat on. 

And the final update I'd like to request from the Government is one from the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs on where we are with circus and wild animals here in Wales. We've had a proposal for the licensing of wild animals in circuses and other animal exhibits. I do draw a differential myself between wild animals and circuses and occasional animal exhibitions and exhibits that you do see in rural Wales. And, of course, the Westminster Government and Michael Gove are talking once again about banning wild animals in circuses. I wouldn't want Wales to become a haven of circuses that happen to have wild animals, performing wild animals—you know, not ones that are generally domiciled and domesticated in that sense. So, perhaps this is an opportunity for the Government to be more forceful in its approach, and again, an update from the Cabinet Secretary, by means of a statement, would be, I think welcomed by many Members in the Chamber. 

Well, thank you for those three very interesting topics, Simon Thomas. So, in the spirit of largesse in the new year, I'm going to say that we welcome all three of them. We're very happy to bring forward a debate on matters to do with the NHS. There are a number of issues that I know the Cabinet Secretary wanted to talk about generally in the Chamber anyway, and he's certainly heard some of your concerns there, so we're very happy to bring forward such a debate in Government time. 

In terms of broadband, I am planning, you won't be at all surprised to hear, an oral statement to tell Members exactly where we are at the end of the Superfast Cymru contract, which did come to an end on 31 December. There are a very large number of Members, across the Chamber, who've got an interest in how that contract panned out. It will be around 16 weeks until we know the figures for sure. We'll know immediately what BT has claimed that they have passed, but the Member will know that we have a vigorous testing process, to ensure that what they claim is in fact verified by us. And indeed the Member will also be aware, as will a number of other Members who've drawn this to my attention—I'm aware that Russell George has two letters outstanding from me in my inbox at the moment—of people who we've written to, saying that we think that they can get broadband, and they write back and say they can't. That's actually one of the testing processes. It's very frustrating for the people who get those letters, who can't get it, but it's very reassuring to us that we send out thousands of those letters, and we gets tens back. So, it's a small percentage. But, nevertheless, the checks are there and they're very vigorous. It does take a while—there's a lag between what BT claim and what we know is verified. So, we will not be able to put final numbers, and therefore contractual clauses into play, until we've gone through that process. There will be a small lag. But I can tell you where we are in terms of that process straight away. 

In terms of the new fund, I'm hoping to bring forward a series of workshops and solutions to some of the outstanding issues there. I'm doing a circuit of Wales. Some of you will know that I've been on my travels around Wales doing this for quite some time. I'm very happy to come and talk to any community, or any group of people, who have an innovative solution they want to put forward or who have particular issues. I've visited a number of constituencies already, and I'm continuing to do that. The issues are very straightforward really. Our choices will be between playing a numbers game—so get to as many people as possible, even though those people might not be desperate for broadband right now, and might not buy it—or get to the people who are desperate, but that might reduce the numbers of people who actually have access to it in the short term. So, we are still in the process of making some of those decisions, and I expect that we'll go for a balance between those two things. But if you have specific—and this applies to Members across the Chamber—if you have specific communities of interest, or individuals who have particular solutions they'd like to discuss, I'd very much like to hear from you on that. But I will be bringing that forward in the next few weeks.

And the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs and other matters has just indicated to me that she is going to bring forward an oral statement on circuses in the near future, as we share the concerns that the Member outlined, and very much do not want to be in the position that he suggested might happen.

14:35

Good afternoon, leader of the house, and may I wish you and all my colleagues here a very happy new year? I hope that 2018 brings us all a measure of health and peace.

I do welcome your largesse in offering to bring forward, on behalf of the Government, a debate on the NHS, but I did pick out that you said 'in general'. And I would like very much to ask you to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to bring forward a debate specifically around the recent reports on the problems with the winter pressures that we face. I do appreciate that we are in the middle of winter pressures, and winter pressures will continue for some months, and I do appreciate that it is exceptionally difficult. I also appreciate that steps have been taken. However, it is our job to scrutinise, and through the Cabinet Secretary, it is our job to scrutinise the health boards and what they have achieved or not achieved, and how they have handled the large sums of taxpayers' funds that they have received to help them get through what has been a very, very tricky time. And I think we all know it's been a tricky time, because we are hearing first-hand stories from constituents, stories from people who work within the NHS and, of course, the media stories. So, I would ask for us to actually have a specific debate on this issue so that we can not only scrutinise, but bring forward potential solutions that might help us, even in the short term, let alone going forward for next year, because this is a cycle we absolutely must break.

And my second statement I would like to ask for—I would actually be very happy to have a written statement—again from the Minister for health and social services, and just some clarification, please, on who funds and how training places are funded within Wales, and how training places are funded between the deanery, what kind of training places are asked by the deanery to be funded by local health boards, because my concern is that the deanery may be taking money away from local health boards, which, of course, is money away from front-line services, and we need to have a really good examination. So, I'd like to have some clarification on the reports that I've been hearing from royal colleges that there is a lack of clarity over funding for training places by the deanery and by local health boards—who is responsible for what—because we cannot grow our training places otherwise.

14:40

Well, thank you for both of those important points. On the first one—the winter pressures—I know that the Cabinet Secretary is planning to make a statement on winter pressures and how they've worked over this winter and future—. He'll be bringing that forward in due course. So, it won't be a debate, but there is a statement planned for that. The Cabinet Secretary is also indicating to me that he's more than happy to write to Members and clarify the issues that the Member has raised and just to make sure that we all understand the situation as it is.FootnoteLink So, I'll make sure that he writes to all Members and sets out that clarification as requested. 

Llywydd, I'd like to point out that I'm not always in this good a mood, so people should take advantage today. [Laughter.

Well, thank you, Llywydd—it is indeed. The leader of the house has probably guessed what I'd like to request my oral statement on, and that is indeed broadband, of course, now that we've seen the end of the Superfast Cymru fibre broadband project. You have given a commitment, I'm pleased to hear, to bring forward an oral statement, but you mentioned that it will be 16 weeks until you get the data from BT. But I would be grateful if you could bring forward an oral statement well before then and then a further oral statement after 16 weeks after you've received the data you've mentioned. I am, of course, one of the AMs who has been inundated with complaints from residents who have previously been promised an upgrade by the end of 2017 who have now been told, of course, that time has run out. So, I would be grateful in your oral statement for a cast-iron guarantee from you that all those premises that were previously listed as in scope for an upgrade will now be automatically transferred into a successor scheme, because I think it would be unacceptable if these people were simply left in the lurch. These people have been repeatedly promised an upgrade by a certain date and they've repeatedly been let down and I think that really isn't good enough—it's completely unacceptable. 

The second oral statement I'd like to request from you is an update on the Government's mobile action plan, one year after, of course, your initial round-table discussion with stakeholders, so that Members can see what the Welsh Government has been doing in the nine key areas that were identified to improve mobile connectivity in Wales.  

Yes, on the first of that, just to make that point of clarification, I certainly wasn't saying that I was going to wait 16 weeks. I was simply saying I wouldn't have the definitive figures for 16 weeks. We will be bringing forward an oral statement shortly to set out what we intend to do with the second phase and to say where we are and the definitive timescale. I said about 16 weeks but we'll have a definitive timescale for knowing where we are with that. 

One of the constituent community groups—community in the widest possible sense—is that of those people who were in scope and for one reason or another were not in scope. A huge exercise needs to be undertaken as to what—. Sorry, for the technical stuff here, but Openreach builds out something called structures and we're undertaking an enormous technical exercise to find out where those structures have been built to and what the cost of continuing them might be and what the best method of doing that might be. We're not in a position to say so yet, but it's certainly under consideration. I absolutely recognise the problem that the Member says, and I know, Llywydd, you've had similar problems in your own constituency, as have a number of other Members. So, we're very aware of that as an issue and we are looking into the technical difficulty of being able to make those. So, I don't want to make any more promises that we can't deliver. We've discussed ad nauseam some of the communications difficulties and we certainly don't want to go there again. But I'm more than happy to come and talk to another group of people in those circumstances in your constituency and indeed, Llywydd, I know you have similar difficulties yourself. So, they're very much in our mind and I will be addressing that in the oral statement as well. 

In terms of the mobile action plan, I am also planning to bring forward another statement on the mobile action plan, not least because the UK Government has brought forward its Digital Economy Bill and turned it into an Act and they've made a number of announcements about a differing approach to both mobile and spectrum sales and to the correlation between the universal service obligation for broadband and mobile, which are all very inter-related. So, I will be bringing forward a statement when we understand what that means for us here in Wales in terms of where we are. Indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for planning—on the research that we commissioned—will also be bringing forward a statement to say where we are with that research in terms of how we deal with permitted development rights and their impact.

14:45

A happy new year to all. May I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on preparations by the national health service to deal with the outbreak of Australian flu in Wales? Public Health Wales has confirmed that cases of the H3N2 strain of the virus have been detected in Wales. Over 100,000 people needed treatment in A&E in Australia due to this particular nasty virus. Over 370 people died there, and the majority of them were senior citizens. Could I ask for a statement on what is being done to raise awareness of the dangers of Australian flu among our vulnerable groups, and also the availability and effectiveness of the flu vaccine in combating this virus in Wales?

The second statement I would like is again from the health Secretary. Minister, I met a total gentleman, 79 years old, just after Christmas, and he was crying like a child. The reason was because he lived very close by to a pub, and that pub, in his words, is not a pub for social drinking and meeting but it is actually a drugs den and his life was really so disturbed. He was happily married for over 50-odd years. I won't mention the area, but he wanted to move away from Wales. I said, 'Why are you leaving?' He has given all his life, work, children and everything, but because of the smell, noise, disturbance and nastiness in the area, these vulnerable old people—. I travel extensively in south-east Wales, in all these areas, and believe me, Minister, I smell, myself, in pubs, the corner shops and other areas, the marijuana smell. So, I would be grateful if you'd make a statement, or we make sure that we have a debate here on whether we legalise marijuana in Wales, or have some places where people can go and smoke, rather than giving these vulnerable people such a hell of a time in Wales. Thank you.

On the first point Mohammad Asghar raises, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services will be covering that as part of his statement on the winter preparedness issue. On the second, I'm afraid that's a matter for the local authority, very much. It's a matter for either the police commissioner or the local authority, or both of them acting in concert. I would suggest the Member takes up specific issues of that sort with the authorities that deal with it.

3. Statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care: Consultation on Legislation to Remove the Defence of Reasonable Punishment

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care on the consultation on legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. I call on the Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, to make a statement.

Thank you, Llywydd, and a happy new year too.

I am very pleased today to be launching a consultation to inform the development of our legislative proposals to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. The national strategy 'Prosperity for All' recognises that confident, positive and resilient parenting is fundamental to preparing children for life, and the importance of providing help and support to parents. The Welsh Government is rightly proud of our record in Wales of working to ensure all children in Wales have the very best start in life, and of promoting children’s rights. This is why, as a Government, we intend to bring forward legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. We want to make it clear that physically punishing a child is no longer acceptable in Wales.  

The proposed legislation is part of a wider package of measures aimed at bringing about changes in attitudes towards the way children and young people are raised and disciplined, by making physical punishment unacceptable and by promoting positive alternatives. As a Government, we have invested significantly in parenting programmes right across Wales, and in information campaigns such as ‘Parenting: Give it Time’ to support parents to be the best they can. We want the legislation to accelerate behavioural change in the way parents discipline their children, and we also want to provide parents with the support to feel confident in choosing positive and more effective methods of discipline.

Our knowledge of what children need to grow and thrive has developed considerably over the last 20 years. The interactions that parents now have with their children have also changed in response to that knowledge, and public attitudes to parenting practices have changed as well. We now know that physical punishment can have negative long-term impacts on a child’s life chances and we also know it is an ineffective punishment. Whilst physically punishing children was accepted as normal practice in previous generations, we know that it is increasingly being seen as less acceptable and parents feel less comfortable using physical punishment. We also have a longstanding commitment to children’s rights based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and we must continue to deliver on this commitment.

Legislation was introduced many years ago to stop physical punishment in schools and in childcare settings, and now is the time to ensure it is no longer acceptable anywhere. We are committed to removing the defence of reasonable punishment and we want to ensure we develop legislative proposals that are fit for purpose, as well as ensuring that we have a wider package of measures in place to support parents.

Now, I'm aware that there are differing views on this legislation. In order to inform our understanding of its potential impact, we have already engaged with a wide range of public service bodies, including the police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service. This consultation provides an opportunity to further develop our proposals and provide everyone with an opportunity to have their say to help us to try to address any concerns as the legislation develops. And I'm keen to ensure that this legislation can proceed with as much agreement as possible in this Assembly and in Welsh society as a whole. I'm particularly concerned that parents should feel confident that this law and our wider efforts to promote positive parenting are designed to help them give their children the very best possible start in life. That is our intention and I welcome ideas, through the consultation process, on how best we can achieve it, and I look forward to hearing from Members today. Thank you.

14:50

Minister, I'd like to thank you very much for your statement today, and for the courtesy you have extended to both myself and my colleague, Darren Millar, who is unfortunately unable to be with us today, in going through your plans and your rationale behind the consultation. You will be aware that the Welsh Conservatives are a broad church that actually reflects the opinions, concerns and questions posed by a large section of the Welsh population, and there is a diversity of opinion within us, and therefore we will be proceeding along this legislative pathway with a free vote to each and every Member within our party. 

I'm very grateful for that earlier conversation. There are a couple of questions that I feel it would be beneficial for me to ask and to put on the record, and to give you a chance to expand back to me and to other Members of this Chamber, and indeed to the wider public. I think, first of all, I would like to really understand what the Welsh Government will be doing to ensure that this consultation gets out to ordinary people—not the third sector, not the politicians, not the lobby groups, not those of us who have views or may have already made up our minds, but to ordinary parents and ordinary children who aren't part of any sort of grouping or gang, so that we can get their opinions, their thoughts on what they think because, of course, we all know that whatever your view may be, we tend to be very protective about the herd that is our family. And I would like you, in doing that, to make it crystal clear that we all accept that the majority of parents in Wales are good, loving, reasonable individuals, and I really want that message to go out loud and clear. This is not about punishment, coercion or trammelling those individuals. 

I would be very keen if you could give us a little bit more knowledge on how you see this consultation proceeding and explaining to people not just the proposals you've put forward, but what other solutions you looked at and what you discarded. You and I had a conversation about the fact that, by removing the reasonable chastisement, we effectively, in theory, allow everyone to be immediately culpable of a criminal offence. Did you look at other methods where we might be able to go out and help and support those parents who use chastisement inappropriately, wherever you are on that scale. What did your Government take a look at? What have you discarded? Where else did you look, around the world, as to how this might be implemented in a tolerant and proportionate way?

I would be extremely grateful if you would perhaps explain a little bit—finally, Presiding Officer, this is—about the proportionate test, if this legislation were to go ahead. I want to give you one brief example, and I believe you might give me another. I have a teacher, for example, in Pembrokeshire, who took, along with a number of other teachers, a group of kids up to a rugby match. I cannot remember if it was Cardiff or London, but it was one of those cities. And one of the children was a young lad, a bit full of the joys of spring or whatever, and he ran out onto the road. The teacher grabbed him forcibly, dragged him back in. The parents sued that teacher for assault. That teacher has a black mark against his name. To an onlooker, that might have seemed like unfair chastisement. 

Personally, as a parent, I would be ripping my child a verbal shred and being very grateful to the teacher for saving their life, but that's not that teacher's experience. And you know, we've done it, and I'll hold up my hands: I remember my small one, when she was three years old, ran out in front of a concrete lorry coming from Carew quarry. She was grabbed by my friend, because I had a pushchair with my baby in front of me. Katie just let go of my hand and went for it, and she was grabbed by my friend. And I can tell you, I grabbed my child, I burst into tears, I hugged her, and I smacked her bottom, because you just have that enormous conflagration of emotions that sweep through you. So, I'd be interested to know that, in any legislation that is looked at, we are divining the differences between an impulsive moment and a parent who just absolutely loses it on a consistent basis and beats their kid, and I would have to say that I think that the criminal justice system at the moment does have very effective assault and grievous bodily harm capacity to deal with that.

But I think that this is such a delicate area, and I will come back to my original statement: I believe that most parents act from a good base of love, responsibility and a deep, caring perspective on their family, and most parents are very protective of their family, and I do want to make sure that parents do not feel that the Welsh Government, or the Welsh Assembly, is punishing them all for actions they may not have even taken.

14:55

Thank you, Angela, and I might begin actually by reinforcing that message. I think probably all of us in this Chamber, and the Welsh Government itself, would fully accept and endorse those sentiments that say that the vast majority of parents in Wales are those who want to bring their children up in a loving environment, and do it with great care, with great attention, with great encouragement, with great support, and showing all those aspects of positive parenting that I'm in danger of turning into the greatest slogan ever here. It means being brought up in an environment where they feel safe and treasured and nurtured, and the vast majority of parents do exactly that. But, I am a parent of three children. They don't come with rule books, unfortunately, because each one is different. It's like some of these devices you buy on the internet; they've all got different cables and different things that wire them up and so on. And we know that sometimes we need support. So, actually, part of this consultation and part of us taking forward this is to do with providing the right support for parents and families. And, by the way, we're not just talking about families where there are great complexities of issues and challenges, but families generally. So, that includes, from the health visitors that first of all arrive with families, through the schools, through the Families First, through the Children First, all of those things, to help parents like myself as much as anybody else. But, absolutely right: the vast majority of parents do a great job, and do it with the best intentions in the world.

The question here is very much to with: we have what we would regard as a Government—and it was certainly in our manifesto and it's been debated for a couple of decades, including by some Members here when they were actually Members of Parliament as well, arguing the case—a taking away of a defence that, at the moment, is only available to parents when they use physical punishment or corporal punishment against their children. You could not advance the same reasonable chastisement defence if you were, for example, to hit somebody who was elderly and had dementia, or somebody who was 25 years of age and had learning difficulties. You cannot advance the same defence, but you can advance the defence, successful or not in its application, against children. So, it's a question of saying, very much supporting the parents, providing the support that is needed, not in a nanny-state way, but in, actually, a good partnership with parents, because we know the direction we want to go, and it's going in this direction, and, secondly, to provide clarity, taking away this defence of reasonable chastisement.

Angela, you asked had we considered any other options. We have, and we've been back and forth in terms of legal counsel, and we've learned from the over 50 examples of other countries of different types of legal jurisdiction where they have done a version of taking this defence away and have clear delineation that an assault is an assault is an assault. We've been able to learn from that. But, we do have our own legal setting within this country and the parameters that we work in, and the very strong, clear advice that we are receiving is that the clearest way to do this is remove the defence of reasonable chastisement and what you are left with is, actually, what is currently there within law, which is an offence of assault.

In the offence of assault, there are certain hurdles you need to pass by. It is not simply, 'I've spotted somebody who was doing something with their children and I think that was assault, that was out of order.' There are evidential tests that, actually, in a court of law, the Crown Prosecution Service would say, 'We think there is evidence here that an assault took place.' Secondly, it needs to be in the public interest. Part of the public interest reasoning behind taking a charge forward—as it currently is, by the way, right across the piste, except in terms of children—would be that not only is it in the public interest, but there is a reasonable chance of success of a prosecution.

I would refer her and other Members to section 9 of the consultation, because, within that, it looks at international evidence, but also the evidence of where this has been used in other countries, including New Zealand, with a slightly different model. Yes, it has led, in the early years, to a rise in reporting; it has led to occasional prosecutions; it's also led to several being cautioned or warned and dismissed, and, of course, then it tails off, because what happens is there is a cultural shift—the same with seat belt laws, the same with many other things—where people accept it is simply not reasonable any more to physically or corporally punish a child, no different from any other member of society.

15:00

Thank you for the briefing that you afforded me yesterday, it was useful. I've been pleased to support these efforts in the past, as has Plaid Cymru, when we were campaigning for this—former Assembly Members such as Lindsay Whittle and many Assembly Members from across the political divide. I think it's crucial to state, from the outset, that I'm not in favour of punishing a parent for disciplining their child, and that's not what this change should be about, as has already been outlined. This is, and should be, first and foremost, the removal of a defence in court and under the law that allows someone who beats or abuses a child potentially to be acquitted under the guise of it being a reasonable use of force for a parent or guardian, and I don't think that's acceptable.

I understand this is a debate that can cause passions to rise—in fact, when I asked people on social media, I had more comments than I've ever had, in relation to this issue—as is any question that goes to the heart of the relationship between the people, the family and the state, and how far is too far for the state to go. But I think it's important to set out that, from my perspective, any law change should not and will not be to bring about persecution of anyone who disciplines their child in a moment of frustration or panic. I know that when a child moves towards a plug socket or tests patience and boundaries to the limit how difficult it is. There should be no desire to punish good parents or guardians, and I believe that the vast majority of parents and guardians have no wish to use physical punishment.

I do, however, believe that the Welsh Government must get this right, or the well-meaning law change does run the risk of being swept up by some reactionary elements that would like to paint what is, at heart, a well-meaning policy, and a long-overdue one, I should say, into something ugly and nefarious on behalf of authorities.

My first question, although I'm pleased with the Welsh Government, that you've come around on this issue, finally, is: what has changed between the last time we debated this issue in the previous Assembly term and now? It was the Welsh Government's prior position that a change to the law on reasonable punishment would not be viable, as it would be challenged as not only beyond our responsibilities as an Assembly, but also open to court challenge. Could you clarify what the legal position is now, for the record, and if there has been any substantial development that would mean that the Welsh Government now no longer considers this as a stumbling block?

It's important to know what this will mean in practice, also. We don't want the removal of reasonable punishment to be used for anything more than the removal of that defence in a case of child abuse or assault, and we must make sure that no court or element of law enforces uses of law change to channel an overzealous prosecution of something innocent. So, you mentioned earlier the public interest test. The de minimis rule, as well, is also pertinent. How will we be talking to the courts, the CPS and the police about how they would potentially use this, ongoing?

In the statement earlier, you outlined other reasons for this law change, such as promoting—and I quote what you said—'behavioural change' in parents. Could you clarify what behavioural change is necessary, and are you seeing that that behavioural change is something that is higher in Welsh society than it is elsewhere, or that it's a behavioural change that we all should acknowledge in ourselves? Because what I want to understand is that we're not only targeting certain families in certain areas of Wales, but we are saying that this is a general way of treating others in our society. I think I would be much more comfortable with that type of policy initiative than I would be to say that some families would be more culpable of this than others. You mentioned other countries, and I've also done some research with people I know in Sweden. Sweden's law, as far as I understand, doesn't come with a penalty. I asked one person who works in government in a municipality in Sweden, and they have 94,000 residents, but 200 youth workers, so that they can go into the homes via social workers, via youth workers, to try and talk about cultural and behavioural change. If this is your intention also, well, we may have to look into financial resource for this. So, how far have you got with this, or do you think that that is necessary at all?

One of my final questions is: are you satisfied, in order to effectively convey to the public that the existing law isn't enough, that there is a valid and warranted reason for the law change? I've also spoken to some people to say that this particular ruling is used so little in court that you haven't got enough statistics to compare it with, and it's very difficult to find trends from it. So, it would be useful to know, if we are going to change the law, that it is going to be meaningful.

My last point in this, because I listened to the debate in the last Assembly, although not taking part in it, is we always reference, in these debates, 'as a parent', and you somehow feel that parents are potentially more attuned to making laws in this area. But, having read a lot about this, it's not just parents that are responsible. It's parents and guardians, and foster carers, and other people in society. When my sister was born, I was 17 years old, turning into an adult. I looked after her quite a lot, and I was given that parental responsibility. So, I want to have this debate, not as something that nobody who isn't a parent can have a view on, but so that everybody in society can have a view on this and make a constructive contribution. Because, at the end of the day, we may be in situations where we're thrust into caring responsibilities beyond our control, and we need to know how to deal with children in those types of situations, but we need to know that the state and other people in society believe that we have the respect and the capability, I should say, of looking after children, just as parents do too.

15:05

Bethan, thank you very, very much for that indeed. I think many of the detailed issues that we're starting to touch on now we can get into as the consultation goes forward, but I'll try and answer some of them now as well, if it's of help. It's worth saying as well that, genuinely, I would like to engage with all Assembly Members of all parties on this, so that we do get this right in going forward, and that is a genuine offer. If I can do anything to help with those discussions, myself or my officials, I'm happy to make that offer.

You made the point about not punishing well-meaning parents. It's a similar point that Angela made as well. Absolutely right; entirely right. The balance of this, as we go through the consultation, has got to get to that point where we take away this defence of reasonable chastisement, which, to the best of my knowledge, has only had the possibility of being cited, actually, in the defence of cases over the last few years, probably a dozen times. Actually, it came down to four of them where it could actually have been used, and in those four cases, by and large, they ended up in acquittal or dismissal of the case. So, it is an anomalous situation that doesn't actually normally come to anything within a court of law, but it is an anomaly that sits there. When you speak to front-line professionals working in things like Flying Start, Families First, doing those interventions—good, clever, early interventions with parents—I've literally had this conversation with them and said, 'Is this clarity that we would give with this a problem for you, or would it help?' And, to a person, to a woman—because it's all women that I've spoken to who are doing these front-line interventions with families—they've said, 'This gives us the clarity that we would need.' So, in addition to the positive parenting, the help and advice and support that we give to parents, we can now say, 'Look, by the way, it is not physical punishment; there are other ways, and you know we can do that', and on we go. It is not to punish well-meaning parents, but it is to make absolutely clear that there will be no defence of reasonable chastisement.

Nothing changes, by the way, in terms of what penalties are out there. You mentioned the issue of penalties. The penalties remain as they are for assault, and the same evidential tests and public interest tests apply to assault. The Sentencing Council set the guidelines for assault. The Sentencing Council actually set separate guidelines that relate to assault on children. They also set separate guidelines that relate to assault on children by parents who are under 18. Those are all there. Nothing changes with that at all, but it takes away reasonable chastisement being used as a defence for assault against a child.

You asked, quite understandably, what has changed. I think there has been a period of pulling together evidence to show, one, that we can actually proceed and we can do it on a legally sound basis; but, secondly, gathering that world-wide evidence that now shows what works in terms of positive parenting, the negative impacts in aggregate across children who do receive physical punishment, and, also, legal advice as well—getting to that point where legal counsel can suggest—. By the way, I have to be quite honest: this is not that this would not be legally challenged, because it could well be. But, what we have to get right in terms of proportionality is that the rights of the child, which are universal and are unqualified rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are also balanced against those articles of European rights that defend the rights of the family and the rights of religion. But, there is a way to do that because those two sets of rights—the latter two—are qualified rights. If you can show that the measures here are both necessary and proportionate, as we have done before in other policy areas, you can actually impact upon those qualified rights, if the rights of the child in protecting those children are there in the primary purpose.

Do we have evidence of behavioural change and attitudinal change? Yes. Again, I won't recite what's within the document, but I hope that all parents, and guardians and carers, as well as organisations, go and look at this document. We have tried to put in there quite a substantial amount of the best available knowledge that we have. But, yes, attitudes in Wales are changing and attitudes in the UK are changing. What’s significant is, where this approach has been taken in other countries, of actually making clear that you cannot physically or corporally assault a child, it has itself effected a change by the sheer significance of saying, 'No doubt, no ifs and buts.' It has effected a change itself, so that the attitudes towards corporal and physical punishment have changed as a result of introducing this law. It's a bit like the seat belts law or other laws like it.

Finally, you mentioned the point there of effective use of current resources. It's vital, to make this work, that we see what we are doing currently on the ground. Again, I won't recite it chapter and verse, but they are laid out in here: everything between health interventions, education interventions, Flying Start, Families First, Children First areas and so on. Are we making sure that, across the piste, we are giving the right support to the right parents and the right families in the right circumstances very early on, so that we actually avoid getting to the situation where children are being physically punished?

Thank you for the questions. I know we will return to more of these in detail as this goes through, but I would also invite Members to engage with me as this consultation goes forward, so I can hear more views like that.

15:10

May I first of all say how much I welcome this consultation and congratulate the Minister for bringing it out as one of, almost, his first actions on taking up the post? The Minister mentioned that I had been involved in this for a long time as an MP. We also have Simon Thomas, who was also involved in it as an MP, and I was remembering when we went to Stockholm as a group, where Jane Hutt came as well, as well as Christine Chapman, and maybe others—I can't remember now. I think, in politics, you learn that you have to have a long game. I suppose that is my conclusion over most issues I've ever been involved with. But, still, I really welcome this.

I wanted to just ask a few brief questions, because I'm aware we'll have all the detailed discussion when we're in committee. But, obviously, the Scottish Government is going through the same process almost at the same time as us, so I wondered whether you’d had any communication with the Scottish Government and whether you’ve learned from what they’ve been able to do so far. The other question was: in terms of a timetable, I know this is a 12-week consultation—what is the timetable for the legislation after that?

I think you have said that we will look further at the change of attitude that has happened amongst parents, which I think is there in the consultation document. Have you had any opportunity to look at how children view this issue? Because I think that is quite an important thing to look at. I think there have been some studies done that show children’s views, but I think that is something that we should certainly do as part of this consultation, especially in view of the fact that children do have less protection than adults under the law as it stands at the present time.

The final question, then, is to ask you, as—you know, you clearly see this as part of a package of children’s rights, and I know the UNCRC has urged the Welsh Government and the UK Government to do this on many occasions, so I’m sure you would see this as the opportunity for being fully compliant with the UNCRC, which, of course, we are fully signed up to.

15:15

Julie, can I thank you very much for those questions, but also quite genuinely thank you and others over the years who've campaigned on this long and hard? I know it has been like Sisyphus pushing the rock continually uphill and then seeing it roll back for the following morning. But I think we are now getting there, and that is good to see. And that brings me to—. If I can deal with first your question over the legislation, if it is the will of this Assembly to pass this legislative change and to make sure that we have the right package in place and the resource is being used well then we could move ahead on this in short order, in possibly the third term of the Assembly. Now, this is subject to the business managers granting that and so on, and it being a priority, but I have no doubt that if the Assembly were to strongly support this—and the Cabinet, I know, are keen to see this moved forward—then we could see it as early as the third term.

You mentioned the Scottish Government proposal—indeed, and it has been mentioned to me, 'Wouldn’t it be nice if Wales could get there first, just ahead of Scotland?' But, look, one of the advantages of—. It would be nice to get there before Scotland, but there is a private Member’s Bill being used as the vehicle in Scotland, but it's actually probably more important to get there in the right way and to have the right piece of legislation in front of us. There is an advantage, possibly, to coming slightly behind Scotland, in that theirs, of all the countries that we’ve looked at, is the most similar in terms of its criminal jurisdiction and its body of case law. In fact, if we looked at some of what they are learning at the moment, it might help us in devising this and minimising, I have to say as well, the chance of a legal challenge being successful against it. However, we are in close liaison with officials and I look forward to speaking to my contemporaries in the Scottish Parliament as well and the Scottish Government to discuss in detail their proposals and their timescale.

Julie, you mentioned the issue of how children view physical punishment. We refer to some of that, I hope helpfully, within the document. There is a fair degree of evidence now that children—it’s not hard to understand why—are quite savvy and quite cogent in their articulation—different ages of children as well—on the fact that they see physical punishment not simply as unnecessary and so on, but actually detrimental in the impacts that it has on them, not only physically, but emotionally, and the relationship with carers, the relationship with guardians, and with parents, whereas they're also quite articulate in saying they recognise that the best way to impose discipline and to drive good behaviour is in that more positive approach to recognising good behaviour, rewarding and encouraging, and setting clear boundaries. There are ways to discipline that don't require physical punishment.

And, finally, in respect of the UNCRC, I think it is the case that we are quite clear that, in terms of previous legislation we have brought through this place that have regard to the UNCRC, this would be a piece of legislation, together with the wider package, that would put Wales into a leading position, not only satisfying the requirements of the UNCRC, but leading once again in terms of how we deal with children's rights and protect those children's rights. So, we look forward to the consultation and the views that come forward, but we are keen to progress with this.

15:20

I would also like to thank the Minister for taking the time to contact me yesterday, discuss things with me, and provide me with a statement this morning. It is appreciated that, while we are in the consultation stages of this subject and the legislation is not yet implemented, the proposed legislation is referred to as removing the defence of reasonable chastisement. In simpler terms, the general public will know that this is called a smacking ban, simply. During consultation, it is important that we reach as wide an audience as possible, because this subject is one of a controversial nature, and, obviously, a delicate one. There are many issues here to consider prior to a ban being implemented. We've got to ask ourselves: is the state extending its claws into family life—you know, how far we are prepared to go with this? And what would the effectiveness of the ban be?

We all agree that we must encourage positive parenting. I looked after two children for many years and never once did I smack them. They weren't my children. It was a very long time I looked after them permanently for, but things worked out for us without any smacking at all. Children's rights are important, but I looked at the quotations of two mothers regarding a smacking ban—both of whom disagreed with it—and one said: 'There is a difference between disciplining a child and abusing them. Parenting these days is far too soft, which is the reason we have people running around the street without any regard for authority. I feel sorry for teachers. The pupils now control the teacher. Teachers can't do anything to discipline the children, and, in the majority of cases, incentives simply do not work and teachers cannot do things and a lot of parents don't think that this is good enough.'

So, it's open to consultation, and, you know, I'm just saying the views of other people. Everyone has a right for their views to be heard. This is what I'm saying—a quotation from someone else—and they have every right to put that quotation forward.

When we talk about the effectiveness of such a ban, I'd like to ask how it will be implemented, how it will be enforced, how will the cost be borne—you know, what will it cost? And a second parent's view also stated that she thought that people advocating the ban want us to treat children as mini adults, as people that you can reason with, but sometimes you can't reason with children. Children don't always know their own mind and are prone to pushing boundaries. And they've asked, 'If they ban smacking, can you please provide us with solutions? Grounding, taking away privileges, are mostly ineffective.' She then went on to say, 'People of my generation were smacked and I felt that we were well adjusted as opposed to some of the younger generation now.' And she said, 'My first child was smacked. A disciplinary smack is not a beating, and, by the time my second child was growing up, there was much media opposition to smacking, so the second child was not smacked. She was placed on the naughty step, and this had no effect whatsoever; grounding was exactly the same. So, in terms of how they turned out, the first was a lot more respectful towards any kind of authority than was the second. Two teachers who I know couldn't wait to move to Dubai to teach because, in their own words, "Regarding discipline, there is no comparison. In Dubai, we can do what we are paid to do, and that is to teach. There are very few discipline issues here, but, unfortunately, Wales has lost it. We have no intention of returning. We are teaching, and the children are learning. It is a win-win situation".'

So, our work as politicians is to help parents become the best parents that they can. We encourage and nurture a way of life, perhaps, as opposed to banning, and abuse must be dealt with when recognised and punished by law. It is parents who live with their children 24/7 and we must understand and respect their rights also to reprimand, within reason, the children they bring into the world. Thank you.

15:25

Caroline, thank you very much. I think this illustrates why in the 12-week consultation we do want to get all views into this, but without being under any misapprehension that the intention here is to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement. Now, again, in referring to the document, which we've put a lot of time into—in the consultation document, it does refer to what has happened in other countries and it has not led to queues of parents and guardians outside courts waiting to be prosecuted; it hasn't led to baskets of prosecutions. It has led, by the way, to things such as a spike within the first couple of years of more reporting, but that hasn't led to endless prosecutions. It's been assessed that that has as much to do with the awareness within society of the effect of legislation like this that, suddenly, it is not actually the best way to discipline a child, to use physical punishment.

But there will be a wide variety of views that are fed in on this. I would draw, Caroline, your attention to page 21 of the document, where it looks at some of the studies around attitudes towards punishing children. Back in 1998, the Department of Health did a study of 2,000 British adults—88 per cent of parents then at that point said, 'It is sometimes necessary to smack naughty children.' November 2015, Welsh Government survey: 24 per cent of parents agreed it's sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child. Things are moving: I speak to people who tell me this. If you've seen the vox pops over the last couple of days of parents, they say that, 'What my parents felt was normal is not the same as what their grandparents felt' and so on. That's not to say, by the way, that they were bad parents; they weren't, at all. But society moves, we move with it, and sometimes our legislation needs to catch up with exactly what's happening and make it clear, as well, I have to say, for somebody in a court of law, exactly what's acceptable and what isn't.

You mentioned the issue of costs. I'm sure there will be lots of submissions during the course of this consultation on that wider package of support. There won't be any additional cost here that we foresee in terms of courts or prosecutions or so on, because the evidence doesn't show that that happens, but there might be suggestions put forward in terms of where the resources are deployed in terms of parental support or social care et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and we'll look forward to receiving those.

And, finally, you made the point, as others did, about getting this to as wide an audience as possible. I forgot to mention, Angela, and others, in response, that, as we're speaking, the consultation has gone live on the website and it is a good and easy consultation to respond to, and I would encourage Members to advertise this to their constituents within their regular newsletters and so on to make sure that people do put their views in. Whether they are a parent or not, they will have a view on this. So, put their views in. Thank you.

Can I say that this consultation and the national debate it's now going to spark, I hope, is highly welcome? I'm the only Conservative Assembly Member that has served in all the Assemblies so far. This is the fifth, and, in the first one, we did actually debate this issue of physical chastisement of children on a motion I think that was proposed by Christine Chapman and there were nine Conservatives in the Assembly then, and three of us voted for that motion. So, there has been cross-party support for this and there have been, obviously, people from all across the parties who feel the defence should be retained. I think what's vital is that we have this debate in the context of promoting the most positive parenting and an environment in which our children are allowed to flourish. One of the concerns we do need to remember is that it's much less the de minimis smacking, so called, that goes on in a culture that allows that, however minor the physical assault is. There is then a certain acceptability of the use of physical force, which can get way out of control, and those sorts of abuses may well be more preventable in a culture that says, 'The law here is very, very clear'. And I think we need to be minded of those children that are vulnerable to real physical harm sometimes, although I completely accept that that's way beyond anything that the vast majority of parents would regard as being remotely reasonable. 

Can I end by saying that we unfortunately have to face this debate as a question of criminal law? And I don't think that's helpful. I think it's much better to talk about the lawfulness of something, and, if we change the law, it's much better to say that physical chastisement is no longer lawful, and where it occurs, you would expect an intervention, but in the vast majority of cases, it will be informal and way below any criminal proceedings. That's my understanding of what's happened internationally, and that's what we should be encouraging. I do commend the Welsh Government for now taking this forward, and I'm sure that we will have a very extensive conversation with the people of Wales that we serve. There'll be many opinions, and Caroline is quite right to express the opinion of those who have a different view, but I think we need a full and proper debate. In my view, 20 years ago, I felt that it was time to move on, but I certainly think it is now. 

15:30

David, can I thank you for your comments? Perhaps you and other Members here were ahead of their time, but this proposal is now catching up with you. Again, I would stress that I would very much seek to take this forward with as wide cross-party support as can be, and to those Members who've previously adopted alternative positions to the current proposal, I would genuinely say 'Engage with us, be open in terms of what we are proposing.' I'm happy to discuss this ad nauseam with people, both formally and informally, because I think what we have in front of us is proportionate, it is well balanced, and it focuses very much on the issue of a positive approach to parenting, recognising that parents want to do the right thing by their children—sometimes, parents of all types need support in order to do that. But it is also giving, critically, that clarity that you mentioned, David, both for people out there in wider society, myself included, but also for courts of law, so that there is simplicity, there is clarity and people know where they stand, and so that people who work in front-line services know where they stand as well when they give advice to parents and carers and guardians. So, I thank you for your support and look forward to engaging with you and many others on this. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I also want to thank the Minister for his statement today, and also reflect on the fact that we've had some very positive advice and responses from people like Professor Sally Holland, who's the independent children's commissioner. Before she became a children's commissioner, she was, in fact, professor of social policy and social work at Cardiff University. I also acknowledge the evidence that's been provided over the years, going back to the debate that David Melding has just referred to in the first session, by the children's voluntary sector as well. And I think it's very important that people can look to and turn to the well-established and esteemed children's voluntary sector—Barnado's, the NSPCC, Children in Wales—who have been very clear about this from those early days in terms of discussion. 

I also thank Members like Julie Morgan for her sustained support for this change in law from the time she was an MP and her time as an AM. In fact, I would like to say that I've been in a ministerial position and I might have even responded to that debate that was inspired by Christine Chapman, and at that time saying, 'Yes, we want to move forward on this.' I think it is very important that we look at the positive parenting agenda, and that comes through not just in terms of waiting for responses, but I do recall that we funded some very good guidance on managing behaviour. There were two documents, and I think they were produced by public health professionals, health visitors, midwives, people working with the children. There was a document for the under-fives, and then it was about managing behaviour, and managing behaviour for the over-10s too.

This is where we need to make sure that we are getting that information across, so I hope you will also make sure that the positive parenting guidance and advice that we all need—. And I think Bethan Jenkins made a really important point: that this is about all adults—and, indeed, Caroline as well. It's about adults looking after children, and the advice that we can give. But I am very impressed with the way you as Minister have taken this forward, with such detailed consideration, and your own personal commitment and exploration of this issue.

15:35

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

Jane, thank you very much for your long-term support of this. Quite rightly, you recognise the role of the children's commissioner in advocating this for some time. I understand she has been supportive of the proposals that we are now bringing forward, and has said so—but also the wide variety of voluntary sector organisations that have also long campaigned for this. And I'm sure they'll all be—as others who have opposing views will be also—inputting into this consultation as it goes forward. You rightly stress the importance of focusing again on the positive parenting aspect, and we know—and we refer to it within the consultation document—where we can see the benefits. There are tangible benefits, with international examples, of the beneficial effect, long term, on those children and young people as they move into adulthood, through those positive approaches of parenting, rather than physical punishment.

But we also know that this is building upon the work that we've done so much of in Wales already. Again, I won't read them into the record now, but they're there in the consultation document. The question is: are those the right interventions, going forward, do they need to be tweaked, adjusted, do we have adequate resource going in, do we need to redeploy the resource? But we know that this isn't coming out of nowhere; this is coming out of a trajectory that this Assembly, and successive Governments, have set about the way we approach parenting, families, children, within Wales. I think it has always been a positive and very progressive agenda, and this is the latest stage. But it takes us on to a defining stage, where we actually say, for children and for parents, that, in Wales, we have an approach where there is clarity in the law, and there is also clarity of purpose around positive parenting. And we know that we as a Government, and we as an Assembly, have a pivotal role in taking this forward. Thank you.

4. Statement by the Counsel General: The Welsh Government Prosecution Code

Item 4 on our agenda this afternoon is the statement by the Counsel General on the Welsh Government prosecution code. I call the Counsel General, Jeremy Miles, to introduce the statement.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. The Welsh Government holds a number of prosecution responsibilities in connection with its functions. These prosecution responsibilities principally relate to animal welfare, food production and fisheries. It is in the interests of good government that where laws create regulatory obligations and related offences, they are appropriately enforced, and it will be of no surprise to Members, therefore, that the Welsh Government takes the enforcement of these matters very seriously.

Enforcement action that the Welsh Government has taken in relation to animal welfare and food production has resulted in prosecutions. Most recently, for example, a prosecution was brought in the Counsel General’s name for a breach of the EC egg marketing regulations and fraud. I am pleased to say that this prosecution resulted in a conviction, a fine, and a proceeds of crime order. This case, and others like it, serves as a reminder that when illegal action—in this case, within the Welsh egg industry—is uncovered, offenders should be in no doubt that the Welsh Government will act to ensure that the law is upheld.

In relation to fisheries, marine enforcement officers acting on behalf of the Welsh Ministers have investigated numerous infringements of fisheries laws in Welsh waters, leading to a number of successful prosecutions. These prosecutions protect the integrity and sustainability of this important sector. However, our prosecution responsibilities do not end there. We also have prosecution responsibilities in relation to regulated activity in the fields of social care, childcare and independent healthcare. Prosecutions may therefore be brought against persons who are registered providers in one of those fields for breaching regulatory requirements. Equally, prosecutions may be brought against persons who carry on a regulated activity without being registered. 

The Welsh Government is committed to fair and effective prosecution as a way of maintaining law and order, protecting individuals, the public and our resources, and ensuring that we all live in a safe and just society. A decision to prosecute or even to recommend a caution is a very serious step that affects not only the suspect in a case, but all those involved, in particular victims and witnesses. It is of paramount importance that we maintain public confidence when making decisions in relation to prosecutions and a major part of this is explaining how we make our decisions and the principles we apply when making those decisions. All prosecution decisions must be taken fairly, impartially and with integrity. I am therefore delighted to announce that today I have issued the Welsh Government prosecution code.

As Counsel General, I am generally responsible for prosecution decisions in the Welsh Government, though some prosecution decisions are taken in the name of the Welsh Ministers under statute. In each and every case, I need to consider whether the case is suitable for prosecuting. This has, up until now, been done by reference to the Crown Prosecution Service code for crown prosecutors. However, from today all Welsh Government prosecution decisions will be made by reference to the Welsh Government prosecution code. The Welsh Government code is based on the existing CPS code but has been adapted to take Welsh Government prosecution functions into account.

The CPS code was developed primarily for use in relation to mainstream criminal offences. It therefore takes into account the type of prosecutions that are commenced by the CPS and the police. So, it is inevitable that there are parts of the CPS code that do not apply to the Welsh Government. For example, the CPS code contains a threshold test that applies to custody cases. In light of this, and coupled with the fact that the Welsh Government’s prosecution functions continue to grow, it is only appropriate for the Welsh Government to have its own prosecution code. This specifically tailored code will ensure that fair and consistent decisions about prosecutions are made by the Welsh Government.

The new code sets out my general power to commence prosecutions under the Government of Wales Act 2006. Further, the code contains the prosecution test, which will be applied to all prosecution cases. This test has two separate stages: firstly, the sufficient evidence test, and secondly, the public interest stage. The sufficient evidence stage requires the prosecutor to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect for each offence. The public interest stage requires prosecutors to go on and consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.

The code sets out a number of specific factors for the prosecutor to consider when deciding on the public interest, which vary depending on the context of the prosecution. For example, in the context of an environmental prosecution, a prosecutor will need to consider the impact that the offence may have on the environment. The greater the impact of the offending on the environment, the more likely it is that a prosecution is required. And in the context of a social care prosecution, a prosecutor will need to consider whether there is an element of danger to the health or safety of the public.

Before this code was issued, my predecessor and colleague Mick Antoniw launched a public consultation on a draft code in order to give stakeholders and members of the public the opportunity to comment and provide their views. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who responded to that consultation. A number of valuable comments were received and I can confirm that amendments were made to the draft code as a result of those comments. In particular, I would like to thank the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for their comments on points of clarity. The code has benefited from the committee's input and I hope the committee will agree that the final code is clearer as a result. I would also like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service, finally, for their close engagement with Welsh Government officials on the development of the code.

The Welsh Government's objective throughout has been to develop a Welsh Government prosecution code that is clear, accessible and fit for purpose, and the input of all stakeholders has been valuable in developing a code that would give a clear basis for Welsh Government prosecutions in future as we continue to enforce the laws for which we are responsible.

15:45

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'll make a short intervention, but I'd give one principal response, really, and that's: what was the tenor of the consultation responses overall? As the Counsel General has said, last May there was a draft code published for consultation. As far as I'm aware, the consultation responses have not been published. I do apologise if this is my IT failure, but I've not been able to get hold of them, and I don't think an analysis has been made available to us of the responses. I do think it would be quite useful, especially as you've said that the code has in fact been amended in light of these responses. However, independently I have seen the RSPCA's response to the consultation and it did have concerns about the prosecution test, which, as you said, was key to the consultation in that it narrows the application of the Welsh Government code compared to the CPS code, which is obviously a point that would need careful thought and either reassurance or rebuttal from your point of view.

Finally, I would like to ask whether there's any assessment of the capacity of the Welsh Government to undertake this task and effectively implement the code, given that we will have more Welsh law, presumably, it's getting more distinct, and the duties of prosecution are likely to grow. I certainly agree with you that we need fair and effective implementation of law, otherwise we will not be well governed, so that really does go to the heart of this. In doing that, I'm very mindful that the human rights issues involved when people are confronted with law-breaking and gathering evidence and the like need to be considered very, very carefully as, obviously, they are at the moment in terms of what the Crown Prosecution Service uses.

Thank you. In relation to the publication of consultation responses, they have in fact been published, so I can make sure that they should have been emailed again today, but I'll make sure that the Member has a copy of that. He's right to say that there were a number of points raised in relation to the scope, as it were. Stakeholders wanted further clarity on who the code applies to, for example, and therefore there have been amendments to make it specifically clear that it relates to Welsh Government functions only as opposed to third-party bodies who may have their own prosecution functions.

You mentioned the prosecution test in particular, and, again, various stakeholders commented on the public interest stage and had some specific suggestions to make about amendments to that, and several of those have been taken into account.

You asked about the question of the impact of the code on capacity generally to pursue some of the prosecutions. You may be aware that the Welsh Government has previously been applying the CPS prosecution code, which sets out its own stages, so what this represents is a sort of evaluation of that that is particular to the Welsh Government. Obviously, decisions in relation to prosecutions are taken on the facts of each individual prosecution, and the volume of prosecutions in different areas varies, and of course varies over time. It is part of the public interest calculation or analysis that relates to proportionality of decisions taken to prosecute, and one of the factors there is cost, although you wouldn't make a decision based simply on that.

On the question of capacity more generally, other devolved administrations have separate prosecution agencies, of course, and you might regard that in the long term as a natural part of the devolution journey, closely related to the devolution of justice responsibilities. Those agencies exist in Scotland and in Northern Ireland and, I dare say, over time, as our prosecution responsibilities grow, that will be part of the considerations that we might wish to have here in Wales as well.

15:50

May I welcome the Counsel General’s statement this afternoon? May I also welcome the intention and also welcome the appearance of the Welsh Government prosecution code, because this builds on gaining legislative powers here in Wales? Of course, the Counsel General will be too young to remember the Acts of Hywel Dda, over 1,000 years ago, but we’ve had these powers to make legislation in Wales in the past and to prosecute people, so I see this as a first step in regaining that legislative ground. That is why you will get a warm welcome from this party in terms of your intentions in this area.

There are challenges, of course, because, as you’ve already mentioned, and it’s well known to everyone, criminal justice is currently not devolved, but the Government here does have powers to prosecute people who transgress in those devolved areas—as you’ve mentioned: fisheries, animal welfare, food, social care and children. Of course, there will be a challenge when the offence can be seen as being more grave than the powers that we have in those devolved areas. I’d just like to learn more about the process there, but I do welcome the intention to have this clear code, which will be accessible and proportionate for the work that needs to be done. Because it’s very important—although we only have powers to prosecute people who offend in devolved areas at the moment, those areas are hugely important. Safeguarding our natural resources, for example, is crucially important. It’s important that you, as Counsel General, should have the power to actually tackle that problem.

I follow on from David Melding’s question on human rights legislation in that same manner of thinking about how relatively serious issues in devolved areas are going to be dealt with when you have two different codes, as you have already mentioned—your code and the CPS code. There is challenge there. I would support you in doing the very best that you can and in ensuring that all boundaries are pushed to their full extent to ensure that your prosecution code as a Government is sufficiently powerful to ensure that we can do what it is expected to do. Because at the end of the day, what we want to see here, as we step forward and see further devolution, is a Welsh prosecution service and also a Welsh legal jurisdiction that would be separate to the England and Wales jurisdiction, as we currently have it.

In the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, we have been scrutinising legislation in this place, which is now naturally bilingual, and there is a challenge there too in terms of how we develop law in the future and how we prosecute people in these devolved areas in moving forward. I also saw one of the phrases in the consultation asking, ‘Well, what of the Welsh language?’ and ‘Is it possible to prosecute through the medium of Welsh?’, and I would hope that you would be able to confirm that it is possible that you could prosecute individuals in these areas through the medium of the Welsh language.

Of course, in concluding, we do need to ensure that there is consistency in legislation. We have heard talk in this Chamber in terms of ensuring that new legislation runs in accordance with the previous legislation and brings bilingualism into it, so that eventually we can simplify all legal codes as we move forward. So, could I ask you to explain how much broader work is ongoing in terms of the need to ensure that your Government’s prosecution code will be successful in this regard?

The fundamental point, of course, is that you have mentioned what’s happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland and so on, and with all the talk of prosecution and legislation, we on these benches are strong believers in the need to devolve these issues in their entirety. It would, therefore, simplify the process; you wouldn’t have this wall between your code and the CPS code. It would be far simpler if policing were devolved to this place as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland and London and Manchester, even. And if the courts and the probation service and the prisons were all devolved to this place, it would make your work in developing this prosecution code far simpler and far more robust. Would you agree that the way forward in terms of working consistently to devolve further legislative powers to this place is to do that? Thank you very much.

15:55

Thank you to the Member for the question. On the last matters that he raised in his question, as he’ll know, the First Minister has established the Thomas commission, which will be looking into a lot of the questions related to the points raised by the Member on the journey of the devolution of justice and the institutions related to that, including the police. I wish the commission well in its work and I hope that there will be clarity and an analysis and that the work of the commission will be able to take that journey further ahead.

He also talked about the question of accessibility of the law in general and the justice system. He’ll know the work of the Law Commission, which has provided a report on that in particular, and the Government has accepted several of those recommendations. The fact that the Government is undertaking work on that is known to him as well.

He asked for an example of how the decisions to prosecute are being taken at present. Using the example of fisheries, officials at grass-roots level will prepare a file for Ministers to consider. That will come to me with their recommendation to bring forward a case and I’ll assess that case to ensure that the tests are met, and I’ve already talked about that in the statement, and I’ll be deciding, on the basis of the new code, what the right decision is to be taken. That’s how it happens on the whole.

You talked about the relationship between this code and the work of the CPS in general. I’ll restate that: this code applies only to the Government in Wales's decision to prosecute. This code is relevant to that alone. The CPS code is independent, but the content of that code is very similar to the Welsh Government’s new code, with the important changes that I’ve already mentioned. From time to time, the Welsh Government can pass something on to the police and the CPS, and in those circumstances, it will be under the CPS code that those matters will be taken forward. It’s also possible for the CPS to take over prosecution by the Welsh Government or a Government in any part of the United Kingdom. Again, in those circumstances, it will be the CPS code that will apply.

Thank you for the code being published today. I'm afraid I haven't seen it so some of the questions I ask may have already been answered, so apologies if that's the case. 

The first is whether the code as published makes it clear where it diverges from the present CPS code so that we can actually see pretty easily where the differences are. The reason I ask that question is that when the proposition of additional laws for Wales was discussed in the last Assembly, particularly in the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, we had clear reassurances from the First Minister at that time that the principles of law, if I can put it like that, would not diverge between England and Wales. So, for example, what constitutes a criminal law isn't different in the two potential jurisdictions; what constitutes a contract isn't different. So, it's not about specific offences, it's about those underlying—you know, the stuff we learn in law school, basically. So, I'm just looking for a bit of reassurance here that in putting together a code that is about the application of law and the administration of law, there's nothing in there that might inadvertently trip over that line that would result in a set of facts being treated very differently on either side of the border for a criminal offence, because I'd be not expecting there to be a difference in outcome when it comes to criminal law where the facts are the same on either side of the border.

And the second is: what consideration have you given to crimes of strict liability or crimes where the burden of proof is reversed? Usually, the burden of proof is reversed in those offences that are Wales-only. The example that springs to mind is in the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016—I'm not going to rehearse the whole thing here—but there is certainly an offence in that Act where the burden of proof is reversed, and when the question of human rights was discussed, the Cabinet Secretary at the time understood that the right to a fair trial test had been met, but I would've argued that in England and Wales law that is evidenced through the principle of innocent until proven guilty. So, again, I'm wondering: would you be applying this code to Wales-only legislation differently from law that applies in England and Wales for an offence that happens to occur in Wales?

16:00

You asked for clarification of the differences with the CPS code in general terms. There are a number of key differences: they're mainly in relation to the different nature of the offences the Welsh Government has prosecution responsibilities in relation to. So, one of the main differences is that, unlike the CPS code, the Welsh Government prosecution code doesn't include reference to a threshold test, for example, which is, as you may know, where there's a custodial offence and where the suspect represents a substantial bail risk. That doesn't apply to the offences that the Welsh Government generally has responsibilities for prosecuting. Therefore, that, for example, hasn't been included.

The CPS code has been adapted to reflect the prosecution functions more specifically, and we have a summary of the Counsel General's prosecution powers set out in the code, which obviously does not appear in the CPS code for obvious reasons. I mentioned in my earlier answer the question of the public interest test, and it gives specific examples of how the public interest test might operate within the context of offences that the Welsh Government would prosecute. And there are also some key changes in relation to venue-for-trial questions and in relation to out-of-court disposals. Again, the rules are different for the kinds of offences that the Welsh Government would prosecute than for the general CPS code. The CPS code applies, of course, across the general criminal law, if you like, which is a different operating context to that which the Welsh Government's Welsh prosecuting code applies.

On the question of the burden of proof and how one assesses whether to proceed in individual offences where that is the case: again, as the code sets out, it sets out the sufficient evidence test, effectively, which includes within it the requirement to anticipate the arguments on both sides of the case. And that will involve evaluations of the admissibility of evidence, the reliability of evidence and the credibility, and that applies to the evidence in the round, if you like.

You raised the question of human rights legislation, and indeed other Members have raised that. The code makes it clear that prosecutors must apply the provisions of the European convention on human rights in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998, and it's been made explicitly clear in the code that prosecutors must have due regard to the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which of course has been given further effect in Wales in particular.

5. The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018

Item 5 on our agenda is the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. I think you need more time for this if you're going to have to keep repeating that. So, I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move that motion. Mark Drakeford.

NDM6618 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales; in accordance with Standing Order 27.5:

Approves that the draft The Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements and Default Scheme) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 27 November 2017.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you for the opportunity to bring forward these amendment regulations today.

I’d like to thank the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for its report on the regulations. The regulations before the Assembly this afternoon amend the council tax reduction scheme regulations of 2013. The UK Government actually scrapped council tax benefit from 1 April 2013 onwards, and passed the responsibility for developing new arrangements to the Welsh Government. They also made a 10 per cent cut to the budget for this programme. The Welsh Government responded by providing funding to enable some 300,000 less wealthy households in Wales to continue to have the right to support. This amendment regulation is needed to ensure that the figures used to count the right of each household to a reduction in council tax are increased to take into account the fact that living costs have increased.

In slightly more detail, Dirprwy Lywydd, in the regulations in front of the Assembly this afternoon, the financial figures relating to working-age people, disabled people and carers for 2018-19 are increased in line with the consumer price index, that is to say, by 3 per cent. This contrasts with the UK Government's policy of freezing working-age benefits until 2019-20. Figures relating to pensioner households in the regulations are proposed to be increased in line with the UK Government's standard minimum income guarantee and mirror the uprating of housing benefit. The UK Government has introduced new restrictions on housing benefit for families with two or more children, and a child born on or after 1 April 2017. This is in addition to restrictions introduced from April 2016, which remove the family premium for new births and new claims for housing benefit. I do not propose to adopt these changes in respect of council tax reductions in Wales. The Welsh Government is committed to protecting families on low incomes who have been affected by welfare reforms from further cuts in their income.

In making these regulations, the opportunity has also been included to include minor technical changes and to make additional amendments to reflect other changes to related benefits and welfare payments. For example, from April 2018, there are a number of additional funds and payments that, if these regulations are approved, will be disregarded for the purposes of calculating council tax reductions. These include the new bereavement support payments, the infected blood scheme, and the thalidomide health grant amongst others. Recipients of such assistance in Wales will not be disadvantaged in obtaining help with their council tax.

These regulations, Dirprwy Lywydd, therefore maintain the entitlements to reductions in council tax bills for households in Wales. Provision of £244 million have been made in the budget for 2018-19 for these purposes. As a result of the scheme, some 220,000 of the most hard-pressed households in Wales will continue to pay no council tax in 2018-19. I know that the scheme has been strongly supported by Members in different parts of this Chamber since it was introduced in 2013, and I hope that this support will extend to approval of the regulations before you this afternoon.

16:05

Thank you. Can I call on the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Mick Antoniw?

Thank you for that. The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee considered this instrument at our meeting on 11 December. We reported one merits point identified under Standing Order 21.3. This particular piece of legislation is very complex and technical when read alone. The explanatory memorandum accompanying these regulations uses everyday language to explain the technical changes being made and it really helps the reader to make sense of the legislation. The committee appreciated this helpful approach, given how complex the legislation is, and, as Chair of the committee, on behalf of the committee, I know you'll be overjoyed and enthused to know that it was the view of the committee to commend the Welsh Government on this example of good practice.

The council tax reduction schemes are vital to the most vulnerable people in Wales and this is a scheme that allows many people to receive a reduction and it exists, to an extent, because the council tax is not progressive enough. So, I’d like to ask, first of all, whether the Government has an intention to look at a fairer taxation system so that we won’t need a council tax reduction scheme that’s as wide ranging as the one that we have at present in future.

You’ll remember that it’s Plaid Cymru that compelled the previous Government to take responsibility for this scheme, leading to the passing of the regulations in 2013, and following that the Welsh Government has been meeting the deficit, on an annual basis, for the scheme, by ensuring that £0.25 million is available for the scheme within the local government settlement every year since 2013-14. Truth be told, the fund that is available, if it continues at the same level, and I think you just said that it will be, that means that it’s less in real terms than it was four years ago. As far as I can see, the new figures mean an increase in what the residents are going to receive in support to meet inflation costs and an increase in the cost of living. So, how is that going to be paid for? Will there be a corresponding increase in the size of the fund? You’ve said now that there won’t be. Does it mean that there will be some residents who will receive more as a result of inflation and so on, while others will be left out entirely from the scheme, because of changes to the welfare system? Or, indeed, are you expecting the local authorities to find the funds from their budgets, which are getting scarcer?

So, I would like you to confirm how much funding is available, because if it’s the same figure that’s available, then there’s a danger that some of the most vulnerable people in Wales will suffer. I do understand that there is an impact assessment that has been undertaken to the likely costs of complying with these regulations. I haven’t had a chance to look at that, or to pursue that. Could you tell us what the result of the assessment was? I’m sure that you can understand that we need to have all of the information before we can support these regulations. Thank you.

16:10

Thank you. Can I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to reply to the debate? Mark.

Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thanks to Mick Antoniw for the work of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in scrutinising these regulations. I'll certainly report what he had to say to those who helped to prepare the explanatory material that went alongside it. I know they work very hard to try to turn some complex and technically challenging material into an account that can be understood by people who have to operate them in local authorities, and those who have a general interest in the way in which support for families in these circumstances can be provided.

May I tell Siân Gwenllian that I recognise the support provided by Plaid Cymru when the original scheme was being prepared back in 2013, and I also acknowledge the support that we’ve received from Plaid Cymru over the years in maintaining the scheme and keeping it going, year on year?

Of course, the points that Siân Gwenllian raises are important, and matter to me as finance Minister. What has happened in the last 12 months, Dirprwy Lywydd, is that the number of households who are claiming council tax benefit has gone down. This is associated with the rise in employment levels in parts of Wales over the last 12 months, and that has the effect of allowing us to sustain the scheme in full and to make it slightly more generous in some aspects next year, so that the qualifying criteria for the scheme next year will not have been narrowed at all, and that we can continue, we think, to meet the costs of that from the budget that we were able to provide in this financial year. That's £244 million of Welsh Government money, topped up, it is true, as Siân said, by a contribution—from memory, Dirprwy Lywydd—of around £12 million by local authorities themselves. We don't expect their contribution to have to rise next year either.

But, should conditions in the economy change, should there be an upturn in the number of people needing help from the scheme, then of course, in bringing the regulations before the National Assembly next year, I'd have to put proposals in front of you either to increase the budget available or to find a way of narrowing the entitlements within the schemes, so that it can live within the budget that it has. We are in the fortunate position of not having to do that next year. The budget we have is sufficient. The scheme has not been narrowed, it's been marginally extended in its generosity, and I hope that Members in the Chamber will be willing to support a scheme that puts a large sum of Welsh Government money directly into the pockets of those whose circumstances are amongst the most difficult in the land.

16:15

Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 12.36, the motion is agreed.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate: 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan'

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Paul Davies and amendment 4 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

We now move on to item 6, which is a debate on 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan'. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services to move the motion—Alun Davies.

NDM6617 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

Notes the publication of the Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan.

Motion moved.

Member
Alun Davies AM 16:15:49
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Members will be aware that I agreed to bring forward this debate following question sessions before Christmas, when Members sought the opportunity to have a wider and deeper conversation about the Valleys taskforce and the work that the taskforce was leading and undertaking. I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for allowing us to table this debate as early as possible in the new year.

I will say at the outset that the Government will be accepting all amendments except amendment 4. Paul Davies, in his amendments, sets out quite clearly, in many ways, many of the challenges facing us in the Valleys of south Wales and many of the challenges facing the people in the communities of the Valleys of south Wales. He does so very clearly and quite eloquently. The purpose of the taskforce, of course, is not simply to rehearse those difficulties and those challenges, but to provide answers to them.

We do not support the amendment tabled by Rhun ap Iorwerth because we do not wish to create a quango in the Valleys of south Wales. We do not wish to create another level or layer of complexity within the geography of public service delivery in the Valleys. What we want to do is ensure that all the resources we have available are focused on delivering, and front-line delivery of, our aims, objectives and ambitions that we have outlined in the last year or so.

The purpose of the taskforce—. And I think it's very important that we clarify the purpose of the taskforce, because I think, in some quarters, there's been some misunderstanding over this. The purpose of the taskforce is to shape and to bring the full weight of Welsh Government resources to bear on the issues facing the Valleys, and the communities and the people of the Valleys of south Wales. The purpose of the taskforce isn't to establish new bureaucracies, or isn't to establish new forms of delivery, but to shape the approach of Government and to use all the power and resources available to Government, to use the resources of people, of expertise, of knowledge, of experience, the resources of finance that we have available to us, but also, and perhaps most critically, the resource of influence and the resource that Government can bring to bear in bringing people together—the power of acting as a catalyst for change, the power of bringing people together to look for solutions to questions that have been facing us for some generations—and then to use that power of Government in order to set out clearly how we wish to address the issues facing us, and to do so in a particular way.

I was very clear 18 months ago, when we established this taskforce, that I wanted it not to be a group of politicians or civil servants meeting in private, almost in secret—a conclave of politicians presenting the awaiting electorate with the answers to all the problems that they hadn't even thought of. What I wanted it to be was a process that involved, and which sought to actively involve, people across the whole of the communities of the Valleys, but also to hardwire accountability into what we were doing. One of the first questions I was asked, and one of the first answers I gave, when we established the taskforce, was to confirm that all our papers will be made public—the agendas, the papers, the presentations, our meetings, would all be put into the public domain. People would be able to understand and to see and to follow our work, to influence our work, to guide our work. 

The plan that we published last summer wasn't a plan for the Valleys, but a plan from the Valleys. It was designed and published as a consequence of conversations that we'd had with people across the whole of the Valleys region. We set clear objectives that were defined by the conversations that we'd had with people. We published a delivery plan in November that sought then to give clear undertakings and to again ensure accountability in what we were doing. We set out in that delivery plan a number of different actions and objectives. We set deadlines, we set targets, we set timelines for the delivery of the objectives and the ambitions that we have set ourselves. In this way, what we are seeking to do is to address some of the fundamental issues facing us in the Valleys in a serious way—not simply to produce reports and public relations exercises, but to address the fundamentals of an economy that has been in decline for too many years, for too many generations, and then to address some of the issues that affect us in our communities and the people who live in those communities.

We've invested time in listening to people from across the Valleys and are working together with people from across the Valleys. And we will continue to work in this way. Let me give this and make this undertaking this afternoon. I will be publishing further plans over the coming months. Each one of these plans will have clear timelines, targets and deadlines attached to them. We will be publishing clear plans for each one of the strategic hubs that we are currently considering and consulting upon, and I will return to the Chamber to make further statements and to lead further debates on all of these issues as the work continues. It is right and proper that the Government doesn't seek to avoid accountability but enables us to be held to account by publishing all the information upon which we take our decisions.

Deputy Presiding Officer, we've had a number of different strong messages from people as we've undertaken this exercise. We have set three clear areas where we will focus our work: first, the need for good quality and sustainable jobs and the opportunity to train so that people in the Valleys will be able to access these jobs, setting an ambitious target of helping 7,000 unemployed or economically inactive people living in the Valleys into work by creating thousands of new, fair, secure and sustainable jobs by 2021. And let me be absolutely clear: when I talk about jobs, we are talking about fair work in the Valleys. All too often we know that there are people in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet, for many of the reasons that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance outlined in the previous debate, but they are working hard day in, day out but not receiving a reward for that hard work. We know that our economy is not working for the many in the Valleys. We will ensure that, in creating work, we will be focusing on fair work in the Valleys, and we will make that a part of everything that we do.

We will create seven strategic hubs. We are currently going through a process of leading a series of seminars on all of these hubs so that they reflect the interests and the needs of the areas they serve. There isn't a single template created either in Cardiff Bay or Cathays Park that will be ruthlessly deployed in each one of these places. It will reflect the needs of each individual area. We will seek to use public investment to attract private sector investment, creating jobs and opportunities. We will also ensure that we have the best possible public services. One of the points that has been made to us time and time and time again in meetings right across the whole of the Valleys has been the need for access to high-quality local transport. We can create as many jobs as we like on the M4 corridor, but we will not address the issues of poverty in Treherbert or Tredegar unless we have opportunities for people to work within the Valleys as well as the southern corridors. So, we will invest in training opportunities, we will invest in transport, and we will seek to invest in stimulating economic activities in the Valleys themselves. And the economic Secretary, my friend and colleague Ken Skates, has already made a number of statements on that.

The final area and theme that we will be addressing is that of the community. Very often, we talk about our communities in overly romantic ways, and I'm not one who's known for romance, unfortunately. But let me say this: we need to focus in on what it means to be a community and how we can invest in the lives of people in the Valleys. Like many people, I enjoyed a Christmas and new year break with the family, using the opportunities to walk and to enjoy the environment of the Valleys, and, certainly, when I'm taking my son and my children for walks around the Valleys and the areas and the Brecon Beacons and the rest of it, I'm always telling them about the history of their place and the history of our communities. It is important that what we are able to do is to make people and enable people to feel proud again of the community in which they live. We need to address issues such as littering and fly-tipping, but we also need to invest in the heritage and in the place of the communities of south Wales. I took my son up to Blaenavon, up to Foxhunter's grave, on Boxing Day, and I took him along there and explained to him how this part of the world, where he is rooted and where his family are from, played its part in creating an industrial revolution that created a new world order and created industrialisation across the world—our Valleys, our history, our community, our heritage, and we need to ensure that all of our people are able to access that and then live lives where they are proud of what we are able to achieve and also live in communities where we can be proud of what we are able to achieve. So, I hope the Valleys taskforce will act as a catalyst and help us to achieve many of those objectives, and I look forward to the debate this afternoon.

16:25

Thank you. I have selected the four amendments to the motion, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move amendments 1, 2 and 3, tabled in the name of Paul Davies. Mark Isherwood. 

Amendment 1. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes with regret that:

a) the value of goods and services produced per head of population (GVA) in the West Wales and the Valleys sub-region is still bottom across the UK, at just 64% of the UK average - with the Gwent Valleys second only to Anglesey as the lowest in the UK;

b) the Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report states that although UK unemployment is forecast to remain at around 4.3% over the year, 'performance is unlikely to be enough to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stands well above the UK figure such as Merthyr Tydfil (7.3%) and Blaenau Gwent (6.7%)';

c) the delivery of the Welsh Government’s new Working Wales employability programme has been delayed until April 2019.

Amendment 2. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to outline how it will talk, consult, design and deliver its 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan' with people who live and work in the south Wales valleys; the UK Government; and the business and third sectors, as the taskforce’s work progresses.

Amendment 3. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes that true engagement with the 'Be The Spark' movement, to create more profitable home-grown businesses that generate wealth and prosperity for the whole of Wales, will require Welsh Government collaboration with a culture that links innovation and entrepreneurship together.

Amendments 1, 2 and 3 moved.

Diolch. We're pleased to note the publication of this delivery plan and we share both the key priorities identified by the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys and the Cabinet Secretary's reservations as expressed at the beginning of his speech about the creation of a new delivery body. However, I also move amendment 1, noting, with regret, that the value of goods and services produced per head of population, or GVA, in the west Wales and the Valleys sub-region is still bottom across the UK, at just 64 per cent of the UK average, with the Gwent Valleys second only to Anglesey as the lowest in the UK, that the Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report states that although UK unemployment is forecast to remain at around 4.3 per cent over the year,

'performance is unlikely to be enough to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stands well above the UK figure such as Merthyr Tydfil, 7.3 per cent, and Blaenau Gwent, 6.7 per cent'

and that the delivery of the Welsh Government’s new Working Wales employability programme has been delayed until April 2019.

Figures published three weeks ago show that, in the eighteenth year of Labour Welsh Government, Wales remained the poorest part of the UK, producing the lowest value of goods and services per head amongst the 12 UK nations and regions, despite billions spent on economic regeneration and anti-poverty programmes. Anglesey remains bottom in the UK, with its GVA falling to 52 per cent of the UK average, and the Gwent Valleys come a close second bottom, at just 56 per cent of the UK average, with the central Valleys at only 63 per cent of the UK average. Then, this month’s Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report notes that

'there is nothing to be gained by pretending that all is rosy',

and, adding to the unemployment figures detailed in our amendment, that performance is also unlikely 

'to help young adults, with more than one in eight 16-24 year olds out of work in Wales as a whole'.

Overall, although unemployment in the UK remains at its lowest level since 1975, Wales’s unemployment rate is 4.7 per cent higher than any other home nation and, compared with a year ago, Wales is the only part of the UK where unemployment has risen, and Wales has the joint highest economic inactivity rates on the island of Britain. However, despite a Welsh Government pledge to introduce a new all-age employability plan for both job-ready individuals and those furthest away from the labour market, its introduction has been deferred for a further year. Despite past calls by the Westminster Welsh Affairs Committee for devolved and non-devolved employability programmes in Wales to work together, the Welsh Government is now lagging behind last month’s Remploy launch in Wales of the UK Government’s Work and Health Programme for people with a health condition or disability, long-term unemployed and voluntary early-access groups such as carers and veterans.

The Welsh Government’s delivery plan refers to working with people in the south Wales Valleys. It states that

'to make this plan a success, the taskforce must bring all the resources of the Welsh Government and its many partners together',

that it will

'publish annual updates and monitoring reports against a number of key targets',

that

'it has been very important for the taskforce to talk and consult with people who live and work in the South Wales Valleys',

and that

'an engagement plan will be published, which will set out how the taskforce will engage and empower people'.

The actions detailed also include working with the Cardiff region and Swansea bay city deals, UK Government, business and the third sector. However, true co-production is required if Welsh Government is not to continue the mistakes of the last 18 years, thereby enabling people and professionals to share power and work in equal partnership, acknowledging that everyone is an expert in their own life, everyone has something to contribute, and that enabling people to support each other builds strong, resilient communities. I therefore move amendment 2.

The plan also refers to working with Be The Spark and I therefore also move amendment 3, noting that

'true engagement with the “Be The Spark” movement, to create more profitable home-grown businesses that generate wealth and prosperity for the whole of Wales, will require Welsh Government collaboration with a culture that links innovation and entrepreneurship together'.

As Be The Spark state,

'big things happen when enterprising and forward-thinking people work together'.

And, as business groups recently told the cross-party group on small shops supporting entrepreneurship inquiry, it’s important that policy makers understand the challenges that business faces. Therefore, I’m pleased to conclude by commending the three amendments to this Assembly and welcoming the Cabinet Secretary’s support for those at the beginning of his contribution. Thank you.

16:30

Thank you. I call on Adam Price to move amendment 4 tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth—Adam. 

Amendment 4. Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new points at end of motion:

Recognises the need for strategic investment in all parts of the South Wales Valleys, including the western Valleys.

Believes the Delivery Plan will only be fully achieved with a sufficient level of funding.

Believes an overarching delivery body will be required to monitor, drive forward and implement the Delivery Plan.

Amendment 4 moved.