Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

06/02/2018

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

Statement by the First Minister

Before we move to questions, I call on the First Minister. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Following the exchange in First Minister's questions last week, I want to apologise to the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr for the answer I gave to him. He will know that we have both received apologies too from the health board in relation to the incorrect information on which our exchange was based. I do believe that information was passed to my office in good conscience, and was subsequently passed on to me equally in good faith. I should also make clear that this was not information personally requested by me in any way, shape or form, but it was information that I chose to use, and, on reflection, I don't think that last week was worthy of the exchanges we should promote in this, our Welsh Parliament, and I apologise for my part in that. 

1. Questions to the First Minister

 Questions now to the First Minister, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth. 

Ambulance Response Times on Ynys Môn

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on ambulance response times on Ynys Môn? OAQ51736

We expect citizens who have a clinical need for an emergency ambulance response to receive one as quickly as possible, whenever required. Despite increased demand in recent months, the Welsh ambulance service has continued to meet the target in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area.

Thank you for that response. Ambulances in the north-west, in Anglesey and across north Wales, I'm sure, have on their sides a large sticker for the FAST campaign, which relates to the Stroke Association campaign encouraging people to phone 999. The slogan is 'when strokes strike, act FAST'. Unfortunately, phoning quickly doesn’t lead to an ambulance arriving quickly. There are two recent examples. The port of Holyhead called for an ambulance for a patient who feared that he’d suffered a stroke and they eventually had to take the patient themselves to Ysbyty Gwynedd and saw eight ambulances parked there. Another recent example is that of an 88-year-old woman—a constituent of mine—who was concerned that she’d had a stroke, waited six hours for an ambulance and then waited another two hours outside the hospital to be transferred to A&E. She passed away some hours later. We know that stroke is now an amber category call. Last week, a senior medical officer in north Wales told me that she was concerned about the categorisation there. Paramedics tell me regularly that they are concerned about categorising stroke calls as amber. So, when will the Government look at this, because lives truly are at stake?

I have to say that the model itself was drawn up by clinical professionals, and therefore it was they who considered the way in which we should do this. It wasn’t something that was done by politicians. It’s true to say that 65 per cent of red calls in Anglesey were responded to within eight minutes, but the Member has raised two issues in this Chamber, which of course are very important, and I would ask him to write to me so that I can consider once again what happened in those cases.

Six years ago, in February 2012, it was reported that a patient had to wait in an ambulance for more than seven hours outside of Ysbyty Gwynedd because of a hospital bed shortage. Last December, Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board released figures showing that 1,010 patients had faced handovers of more than an hour outside their hospitals in October. Last month, with ambulances queuing outside Ysbyty Gwynedd's accident and emergency department, we saw coverage of a pensioner waiting 13 hours for an ambulance after her hip gave way. We know that December figures show that 17,400 patients waited more than the four-hour target time in A&E, with the highest portion—27 per cent—in Betsi Cadwaladr, and 1,460 waiting longer than 12 hours. When will your Government acknowledge that a 30 per cent cut in beds to 10,935 over the last two decades has rendered paramedics unable to offload patients quickly, causing ambulances to be delayed and therefore the next distress calls being unable to be responded to promptly, and will you reverse those bed cuts not only in the district general hospitals, but also in our communities, as called for increasingly by our general practitioners?

What I've said several times in the Chamber is that it's hugely important to ensure that we have a social care system that can get people out of hospital when it is timely for them to do so. And that is, of course, the reason why we have not cut social care spending in the way that England has. Health and social care run together. What I can say in terms of emergency calls, in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area alone, the ambulance service received 11,232 emergency calls in December 2017, which is an average of 362 calls per day. That's 14 per cent up on the daily average for November 2017, and 9 per cent up on the daily average for December 2016. Despite that rise in demand, the national target for red calls was achieved in all seven health board areas in December. And we of course expect health boards to have plans in place to ensure as smooth a transition, and as swift a transition, as possible between ambulance and hospital.

13:35
Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board

2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the financial support that has been provided to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board? OAQ51731

Yes. The Welsh Government revenue allocation to Betsi Cadwaladr health board is over £1.3 billion in the current financial year.

Well, I thank the First Minister for that succinct reply. The health Secretary said recently, in effect, that things have got worse in 2017-18 for Betsi Cadwaladr, despite special measures. He said in particular it's been disheartening and unacceptable that, during 2017-18, issues have escalated in relation to the financial position and some key areas of performance. Betsi Cadwaladr has now been unable to clear its surgery backlog for at least eight years, and, whilst £13 million extra, as announced recently, is very, very welcome, it's clear that maybe up to £50 million is what's needed to bring waiting lists down to within their 36-week target. There's a highly critical report that has been published by Deloitte, much of which has been suppressed by the health board and not made available for public reading. In this it says that there is limited insight regarding how the health board is ultimately going to recover its financial position. Can the First Minister tell us when we will be able—[Interruption.] Yes, I will ask this. Why is the Welsh Government failing in its duty to the people of north Wales, to provide them with the sort of modern health service that a country like Britain ought to deserve?

Well, I am being lectured by a member of UKIP on proper funding of the health service, when his own party leader at one point said there shouldn't be a publicly funded health service at all. Can I say, in terms of answering his question—[Interruption.]

I'll have my apology next week, shall I, at the start of questions? [Interruption.]

Allow the First Minister to continue in his answer, please.

He has made reference to a £13.1 million allocation to Betsi Cadwaladr and the support for developing sustainable unscheduled care—£1.5 million over two years. What does that mean? Well, our expectations are, by April 2018, that there should be a reduction of referral-to-treatment waiting times by around 50 per cent in the numbers waiting over 36 weeks, and progress to continue into 2018 and 2019, and financial recovery actions to result in the health board meeting the £36 million revised forecast at year end, and improving into 2018 to 2019.

Latest data for Betsi board shows that 9,526 patients requiring treatment have now been waiting over 36 weeks from referral. That figure has more than doubled from when the board was taken into special measures, and 41 per cent of these are orthopaedic and trauma cases. In December, your Cabinet Secretary pledged to halve that number by March this year, and last week, of course, we had the further pledge of immediate action and the allocation of £13.1 million to improve waiting times and £1.5 million for an unscheduled care programme. But he also admitted that mental health care in this board needed urgent attention. As our First Minister, what action will you take to ensure that none of these pledges are broken, and will you also ensure that this latest funding will actually reach the front-line patients and help for positive outcomes within this beleaguered health board?

Well, I think I've given the answer to the previous question, in terms of how the money will be spent.

Additional funding to improve waiting times, of course, is very welcome, but it isn't sustainable, clearly. It doesn't address the underlying capacity issues that we have in the health service in north Wales—not enough doctors, not enough nurses, and your Government clearly not doing enough to get to grips with some of those basic challenges. And what does it say about Labour's running of the national health service that, two years after taking direct control, your Government seemingly now has taken Betsi Cadwaladr from special measures into something that looks a bit like extra-special measures?

No, it's a noticeable way of de-escalating maternity services. It demonstrates what can be achieved with focused action and support. There are still significant challenges that the health board faces and further progress and action are required urgently to transform mental health services. The Cabinet Secretary, along with the director general, are holding monthly accountability meetings with the chair and chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr UHB. We'll be setting out a revised framework for Betsi Cadwaladr to cover the next 12 to 18 months, with milestones and expectations set out, clearly agreed with Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, the Wales Audit Office and BCU itself. 

13:40
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.

Diolch Llywydd. It was right that you today acknowledged the wrongdoing in relation to Adam Price's personal data. We will return to the issue of confidentiality of Members' correspondence at another time, but I'll put that to one side for now. I want to ask you about Brexit. The UK Government reiterated yesterday that they want us out of the customs union. Now, as well as damaging the Welsh economy, this will affect our open border with Ireland through our ports. A hard border is coming. Six months ago, the inquiry into the effects of Brexit on Welsh ports made a recommendation for the Welsh Government to set out, and I quote:

'how it intends to address the lack of physical capacity to accommodate new borders and customs checks at Welsh ports, and develop a highways management contingency plan to manage potential congestion resulting from delays in ports.' 

Six months later, can you tell us what work has been done on that, please?

Well, the issue of physical infrastructure at the ports to deal with issues such as customs are matters for the UK Government, not for us. It's for them to spend the money if that kind of Brexit is what they want. However, it's right to say that nobody argues for there to be a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we expect the UK Government to deliver that. It's not clear how they'll do it, but I expect them to deliver that. 

It is right to say that there are some in the Conservative Party who argue for a hard Brexit. There have been calls to expel them from their own party this morning, in fact. I think that's probably going a little bit too far, even by their Stalinist standards, but the serious point here is this: we have—she and I—never argued for any kind of Brexit that even looks like a hard Brexit. There is no mitigating that. There is no making it better. It can only mean that things get worse, which is why she and I have always, I believe, been in the same position of saying that Brexit has to work for Wales, that we have to make sure that we have full and unfettered access to the single market and that also we should stay in the customs union.

But First Minister, that was a specific recommendation—a call for action on your Government, not the UK Government. 

I move on to the customs union question now. If we pull out of the customs union, the UK will have to negotiate its own free trade agreements. Trade deals outside of the EU and the customs union could have a major impact on our economy. I'm sure you would agree with that. You were asked yesterday whether you believed that Wales should have a veto on such trade deals like the Parliament in Wallonia of Belgium, and in answer to that question you said 'no'—no not only to a veto, but no to finding an agreement with the rest of the UK. You said that we should be consulted. First Minister, it's your duty to protect the Welsh economy from an extreme Tory Brexit. Why are you against giving this Assembly a say on trade deals?

Well, this is a reserved matter for the UK Government, but I do take the view that for any free trade deal to be robust it has to have buy-in from all the different nations of the UK. I expect there to be full consultation in order for people to understand what effect a free trade agreement might have. I have never believed that free trade agreements are some kind of panacea. A free trade agreement can work with an economy that is similar to yours, and Europe is a prime example of that, where a free trade deal, enhanced as it is through the customs union and the single market, works well, but I do not believe it's in the interests of Wales to have a free trade agreement, for example, with New Zealand or Australia that allows the free flow of agricultural produce into Wales; that would destroy Welsh farming. I do not believe that a free trade agreement with any country where steel is produced far more cheaply is in the interests of the Welsh steel industry, and that I can promise I'll fight tooth and nail.

But asking for consultation is weak. Why don't you go for the strongest option of demanding a veto? First Minister, on 17 October last year, I proposed that you should have a plan for all Brexit scenarios, including the prospect of leaving the European Union without a deal. You said then, and I quote—and you've just said it again:

'there is no mitigation for no deal. There is nothing literally we can do in the short term if we find there’s no deal.'

The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee has published a report saying that the Welsh Government should be preparing for a 'no deal' scenario. They say that Governments, national and regional, have preparations in place for such an outcome—why not Wales? First Minister, those three words sum it up: why not Wales? There's a strong recommendation for you to start that work and report back in six months' time. Have you reviewed that answer you gave me last October? Are you going to draw up a contingency plan for a 'no deal' scenario, or are you going to leave the fate of Wales in the hands of the hard-right Tories in Westminster?

13:45

The UK Government itself has no idea how to deal with this. I don't think the Scottish Government has a plan in place to deal with a hard Brexit, and as far as we are concerned—[Interruption.] Well, I think we've got to be careful here, because I don't want to give the impression, and nor does she, that, somehow, a 'no deal' Brexit is similar to any other kind of Brexit. It isn't; it's far, far worse than that. There is no way of mitigating the effect of the loss of a market to our farmers. There is no way of doing that. There is no market that will replace that. There is no way of mitigating the effect on the aerospace and automotive industries of losing their links with their European operations on the continent. There is no way of doing that.

So, my argument is not: 'Let's see what we can do to mitigate it', but 'Let's fight it.' Let's fight it. Let's fight it, tooth and nail. Let's say to the UK Government that a hard Brexit, building walls around the UK, turning our backs on our biggest market in Europe is not acceptable to the people of Wales and nor, I believe, to her party nor mine.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last week, I asked you about the Permanent Secretary's inquiry into media speculation around the reshuffle. When I got back to my office last week, I had a written Assembly question come back from you acknowledging that you do, on certain occasions, use a private e-mail address to deal with diary issues and clearing urgent press lines. I'd be appreciative to know if these e-mails were made available to the Permanent Secretary's inquiry, and if this e-mail address was used at all to instruct or to brief staff as to press lines in relation to the reshuffle.

No. And, the answer to the first question is that all relevant evidence was made available to the inquiry.

Well, I'd be grateful if you could be explicit by confirming that your personal e-mail accounts were made available to the Permanent Secretary's inquiry, so that they could've been assessed by the person she appointed who, I believe, was the Welsh Government's head of security, I think, who undertook the inquiry. Can you confirm that access was given to that individual to your personal e-mail addresses that you do use for Government business, which you've acknowledged in your written answer to me?

I can't comment on what the evidence looked like. All I can say is that all relevant evidence was submitted to the inquiry.

I have to say, First Minister, I'm deducing that the person who headed up the inquiry did not have access to your e-mails that you acknowledge that you do use for clearing urgent press lines. Now, people would assume that any activity around a Cabinet reshuffle most probably would be urgent press activity, and it's not unreasonable to assume that, if there's an inquiry into leaks from Government, then all correspondence would've been made available to the person carrying out the inquiry.

Why is it so difficult for you just to say 'yes' or 'no', whether that information was given to the individual undertaking the inquiry? I would be grateful for clarity—crystal clear clarity—as to whether the inspector did have the ability to look into your e-mails. And if he didn't, will you be making those e-mails available so that they can, on merit, decide whether they want to enquire more into these matters?

Firstly, it is a matter for the head of security to decide what he regards as relevant evidence. Secondly, any e-mail that is sent to me to my personal e-mail, which, in any event, is only accessed from a Government machine, is recorded. Any e-mail is recorded in that fashion. So, we know from the Gove judgment that any e-mail that's sent to a Government machine is subject to a freedom of information request anyway. And that is something that I know, but as I say, all relevant information was provided to the inquiry.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'd like to follow up the last question that was asked by the leader of Plaid Cymru a moment ago. She referred to this excellent report from the external affairs committee on how the Welsh Government is preparing for Brexit. In the Chairman's introduction to the report, as she said, there is a need for the Welsh Government to be doing more in terms of scenario planning, including a 'no deal' to prepare for Wales. Governments, national and regional and elsewhere in the EU, and the European Commission itself, have preparations in place for such an outcome. Why not Wales? If they can do it, why can't the Welsh Government?

13:50

I have to say the leader of UKIP comes from a position of saying, 'It doesn't matter if there's a hard Brexit. These things are not important. Tariffs, non-tariff barriers are not important.' He suffers from the same misguided view as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, namely that these things are not important. Well, they are important for Welsh farmers, because the Welsh Conservatives have never said how they will protect Welsh farmers if there are tariffs placed on their produce sent to the European Union. They have never said how the markets of the food and drink industry—90 per cent of which are exported to the European single market—will be protected. Our position is based on evidence, evidence that has been produced, for example, by Cardiff Business School and others, and not on wishful thinking.

But the First Minister is still fighting the referendum campaign. My question was a practical one—that other Governments and regional Assemblies are doing something to prepare for the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit. That will not come about, if it comes about at all, because of what the UK Government wants; it will come about because the EU will irrationally decide to cut off its nose to spite its face. But, the question I asked was a simple one. If there's a 'no deal' Brexit, obviously, there will be certain consequences that would differ from doing a deal of some kind, depending on the nature of that deal. There will always be problems of transition on leaving the EU, just as there were problems of transition, as I remember very well, when we joined the EU. So, it's not that it doesn't matter at all, it's just that, in the long term, economies adjust. I revert to my question, though: if other Assemblies of this kind and Governments throughout the rest of the European Union—[Interruption.] If his Members will stop chuntering, and the chunterer-in-chief in particular over there, then perhaps I can get to my question. I'm sorry to be doing your job, Llywydd; I didn't mean to.

No, you carry on with your job, which is asking the question.

Thank you. Exactly. Why is the Welsh Government not doing anything at all, so far as I can tell, to prepare for the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit, to help Welsh businesses to cope with the transition period that is inevitable, whatever the outcome?

There it is: the word 'cope' is used. 'Cope'—that's the whole point. A hard Brexit is a disaster. Sixty per cent of our exports go to that single market, 90 per cent of our food and drink exports go to the single market. The parties of the right try to ignore that: 'It doesn't matter'—wishful thinking—'we'll find other markets.' There is no evidence of that. Why on earth should businesses have to pay a price for what he said and his party said to the electorate? Why should they have to 'cope'? Why can't they prosper? Businesses will prosper if we remain inside the single market and the customs union.

But the First Minister talks as though there is a world of certainty that we're in at the minute and we're about to go into a world of uncertainty. Anybody who's ever run a business, and I know the First Minister hasn't, knows that you have to cope with changed circumstances. 

Sir James Dyson, who runs one of our biggest companies, has said that uncertainty is an opportunity. [Interruption.] The opportunity, actually, is the rest of the world—

—which is growing at a far greater rate than Europe. So, the opportunity is to export to the rest of the world and to capitalise upon that. What is the Welsh Government doing to prepare for the possibility of opening up other markets around the world, where the European Commission itself says that 90 per cent of growth in demand is going to come in future years?

Do you still want to be part of a common front with him and his party? I mean, that's one of the questions that, perhaps, people will want to ask. Of course not, given what he has just said.

Can I invite him to do something? He is a leader of a political party in Wales. Come to a hill farm anywhere in Wales, a sheep farm—the leader of the Welsh Conservatives can join him, actually, and get away from the Vale and his acres in the Vale—and go and talk to the farmers there, the sheep farmers, and say to them, 'Uncertainty is an opportunity'. Say that to them. I offer him the invitation, he can be joined by his political bedfellow over there. Go and talk to them and tell them they're worrying about nothing, moaning about nothing, and that, in fact, the reduction in their subsidies and the loss of their market is actually an opportunity.

The Invest-to-save Fund

3. Will the First Minister outline how the invest-to-save fund is benefiting South Wales West? OAQ51705

Yes. Since 2009, we have invested nearly £175 million in a wide range of projects across Wales, including over £12 million in the South Wales West region. 

First Minister, while there have been good examples of the scheme being used to improve the lives of constituents in my region, such as funding for additional foster carers in Neath Port Talbot or a support worker for looked-after children in Swansea, the biggest investment of nearly £1.5 million was used to improve the offices of Bridgend council. Surely the scheme should prioritise areas that are suffering as a result of council cutbacks. Swansea council has a £56 million backlog of road repairs. It is believed that insurance payouts and compensation claims will skyrocket as a result of the repair backlog. Therefore, investing in repairs now will save more money in the longer term. First Minister, what consideration have you given to allowing the scheme to be used to make vital repairs that truly benefit the public, rather than those that benefit elected councillors?

13:55

Well, let's have a look at some of the investments made that benefit elected councillors: £2.2 million recently awarded to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board, which includes £769,000 for modernising the patient records system so that records can be located and are available, £400,000 for reducing sickness levels in the board and £441,000 for a primary care out-of-hours service—now, that doesn't seem to me like helping councillors; £500,000 to the mental health charity Hafal, and that's supported the development of a specialist mental health rehab facility, the first of its kind in the UK, that benefits the public; £3 million to the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service; and £108,000 to Swansea council social services to work with young people to break the cycle of ex-looked-after children entering care themselves. This is a way in which public money makes a difference, and I'm surprised that UKIP can't bring themselves to praise that.

First Minister, as you've already pointed out, the invest-to-save in my area, South Wales West, has actually been focused on the health service. ABMU has received money for the new record system, also money for the academy, for the out-of-hours service, to improve that, and also for re-looking at the governance of medicines and the management of medicines. It's that type of investment that is improving efficiency, and therefore delivering better services for my constituents. Do you agree with me that we need to do more of this to ensure that patients can get better services out of ABMU, because they will be improving productivity and efficiency?

Well, this is why, of course, the money was made available to ABMU: in order to make sure that those obstacles that might exist within the system are removed, making it better for the people who work there and, of course, particularly for the patients.

Historical Sex Abuse Cases

4. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with public sector bodies to improve the handling of historical sex abuse cases? OAQ51725

Well, lessons from the Waterhouse inquiry have been taken forward with Welsh public bodies. Safeguarding arrangements have been strengthened through legislation, including a new duty to report, and the National Independent Safeguarding Board, and a multi-agency Welsh reference group has been established in partnership with the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Thank you, First Minister. I do appreciate the devolved limitations surrounding this question, but in my role as an Assembly constituency Member, I am currently dealing with a number of cases of historical sex abuse, and I am having to talk to, on a regular basis, some very, very hurt and traumatised people.

On a number of occasions, there appears to be an absolute marked reluctance by the Crown Prosecution Service to take a prosecution forward, despite good and corroborated evidence, either because of changes in the law within the intervening years—if you're talking about something, say, 30 years ago, the age of being able to be tried, for example, for a crime has obviously changed, I think in 1985 or 1987—or because, in their view, it's not in the public interest. But, of course, it is in the interests of those who've been affected. I have one case where the claimants, in the end, took their case themselves to the High Court and won, and had an improvement in the prosecution or in the judgment. Is there anything the Welsh Government can do to act as a check and balance on the decisions of the CPS, and of the police, in order to ensure that we are doing justice as well as talking about justice and trying to be seen to be having justice?

Directly, of course, these bodies are not devolved. Our view is that they should be, but they're not, and that's for a different time. But she's absolutely correct to ask what, then, we have done as a Government in terms of echoing her concerns. Well, obviously, we have expressed our abhorrence that the survivors in this case didn't receive the response that was owed to them. We have introduced a duty to report children at risk, and a duty to report adults at risk, to ensure that concerns about the abuse of people are reported and can be properly investigated. I know that the Minister for Children and Social Care has contacted the mid and west Wales regional safeguarding children board to request an update on actions being taken to address concerns that have been raised about the current safeguarding arrangements. Dyfed-Powys Police and Pembrokeshire, I understand, have met with representatives of Caldey island because there is a need to strengthen their arrangements—

14:00

I hear what the Member says and, of course, I don't dispute that.

The Minister for Children and Social Care also wrote to the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service to seek assurances they're taking action in relation to current concerns. It's not isolated. I understand that. Caldey island, of course, has been the incidence that has been most in the news, but I hope I've given her some comfort there about what we have done as a Government, given our devolved responsibilities, to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

Well, historical sexual abuse doesn't become historical if we deal with it in the here and now. We know that there is an investigation by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales as a result of the Kris Wade allegations, but it had to take significant public and political pressure for the Cabinet Secretary for health to initiate that particular Healthcare Inspectorate Wales report. I was shocked that it didn't come from Healthcare Inspectorate Wales themselves—that they would take a more proactive role in seeing where there are allegations of abuse, and for them therefore to carry forth those particular reports. What are you doing as a Government to ensure that there are uniform complaints procedures, that people feel confident that they can come forward with these allegations, so that we don't have these problems in the future, where people are having to go back in time, as Angela Burns said, talking about public interest, talking about what's relevant in the here and now, when, to those people who have been abused, it is very important for them to get answers to those questions?

The Member raises a very distressing case, which I'm also familiar with. If I could write to her, giving her more detail in terms of the answer that she seeks—because it is important, of course, that the complaints system is as streamlined as possible and that nothing falls through the gaps, but I will write to her with an answer, a detailed answer, to her question.

Cervical Screening

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on cervical screening in Wales? OAQ51733

Cervical screening can save lives and we want to maximise uptake. Seventy-seven per cent of eligible women in Wales regularly attend for cervical screening. From October 2018, we will be introducing a more sensitive primary test, allowing us to more effectively identify women requiring treatment, reducing the need for repeat smears.

Thank you, First Minister. Despite letters sent to all eligible women in Wales for cervical screening, recent figures suggest that there has been a decrease in participation. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust found that the numbers of women attending screening in Wales is at a 10-year low. In particular, the charity highlighted concerns about the number of women aged between 25 and 29 participating in screening. With cervical screening found to prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancers from developing, what more can the Welsh Government do to promote and encourage women to have a potentially life-saving test?

Well, from October of last—of this year, I beg your pardon—Cervical Screening Wales will be introducing human papilloma virus testing, and that represents a completely new approach to cervical screening. It is a more sensitive test, which will allow us to more effectively identify those women requiring treatment, as I said. We know that coverage, in general, is falling across the UK nations, and there is work to be done in order to maintain and improve participation rates in Wales. Public Health Wales's Screening for Life campaign runs each July to raise awareness of access to cervical screening in community groups that have an inherently low take-up, and it encourages eligible individuals to attend for screening when invited. Through these things, we want to make sure that the trend where we see fewer people having the test is reversed in the near future.

First Minister, research has shown that women from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to attend cervical screening than white women. A survey found that only 28 per cent of women from ethnic minority communities would be comfortable talking to a male GP about cervical screening, compared to 45 per cent of white women. Twice as many BAME women as white women said that better knowledge about the test and its importance would encourage them to attend. First Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to increase awareness of cervical screening among women from our ethnic minority communities in Wales, please?

Well, I'd refer the Member to the answer I just gave in terms of the Screening for Life campaign, which is aimed at ensuring that community groups that have inherently low take-up of screening—to ensure that that take-up improves in the future. 

14:05
Planning Consent and Pubs

6. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of planning consent and change of use in relation to pubs in Wales? OAQ51734

We do recognise the important contribution that pubs make to communities. We are working with community groups and other representatives, including the Campaign for Real Ale—I declare an interest as a member—on how best to protect premises and facilities and help bring people together. I've always said that a community without a pub is a collection of houses. Quite often, I've seen this happen in my part of the world. We will be consulting on a review of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order in May, with a view to looking at how we can better protect our pubs. 

Thanks for that response. Yes, you mentioned on a previous occasion that you were a member of CAMRA, and it's good that you are involved in the real ale sphere. We are trying to—. We've got a cross-party group now. Nick is involved in it as well. Simon Thomas is running it. We're going to, hopefully, help you to push this forward, because we have been waiting rather a long time for a statement on this. I don't want to anticipate what your review is going to come up with, but we do have the—well, they do have the—Localism Act 2011 in England now, so that does give some protection to pubs as assets of community value. Might that be the direction that you could be thinking about going down in Wales?  

Well, we have been working with CAMRA, and that work has been helpful to explore the implications of splitting the A3 food and drink use class, and we will look at how that might work. We're also considering the recommendations made by the University of the West of England in terms of the operation of the use classes Order, and I mentioned how the consultation will proceed in that regard. It is true to say that, for some pubs, the business is no longer viable, but there are many pubs that I know of where it was a perfectly viable business but there was more money to be made by turning those pubs into flats. That is what we have to guard against in the future, because pubs are hugely important assets to our towns and villages and communities across Wales, and we want to make sure that we can do all that we can to protect those that are viable and provide such a service to locals.

I've also been involved in the CAMRA sphere over the years, First Minister, so we have something in common that we can talk about over a pint sometime. I agree with the sentiments that Gareth Bennett mentioned. There was a CAMRA event held at the Assembly last week, and I'm pleased to see the cross-party group on beer and the pub being re-established. There are many issues facing pubs across Wales. You were right to say in your answer, First Minister, that pubs aren't just pubs. They are, for many of our rural communities particularly, the heart of our communities, and, when you lose the pub, you lose the hub of the local community. At the CAMRA event we heard that many pubs in Wales are closing a week, and, across the border in England, planning law's been changed to make change of use more difficult. Are you looking to follow through with similar changes here? I hear what you're saying about bringing an Order forward later in the year. Will you be looking at restricting planning law so that it's much more difficult to change a pub, particularly in a rural area, into another use?   

All options are open, in terms of how that's done. We want to find the most effective way of doing it in order to make sure that our pubs are protected.  

The Financial Performance of Town and Community Councils

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the financial performance of town and community councils in Wales? OAQ51732

Yes. I welcome the Auditor General for Wales's most recent assessment that progress has been made in improving financial performance, but that town and community councils still need to do more to ensure they have robust accountability arrangements in place. 

Thank you, First Minister. I'm glad that you've read the report. But, as you rightly pointed out, the auditor general has raised several concerns. One thing, in particular, though: local council reserves currently stand at £41.5 million. This is money that taxpayers have paid through a council precept to provide services for them. He also noted that community councils in Wales are receiving avoidable qualified audit opinions—over 170—and 81 councils failed to comply with the statutory timetable for publishing their accounts, and 174 submitted incomplete returns. Now, I know there's an ongoing community council review, cross-party, and I was working with the previous Cabinet Secretary on that. The consultation process, though, is extremely vague, and it doesn't seek to address the fundamental issues of financial probity and auditable accountability, which the auditor general feels the need to raise year on year. Will you work with your Cabinet Secretary in order to address the failings of this particular level of democratic governance?

14:10

I think we should be careful not to attribute failings to every town and community council. We know that there are some that have struggled, we know that there are some that are very small—very, very small—and, sometimes, it’s difficult to see how they manage from time to time, but they seem to.

In terms of the review panel, well, just to be clear, the remit of that panel is to explore the potential role of local government below local authority councils, drawing on best practice to define the most appropriate models or structures to deliver this role, and to consider how those models and structures should be applied across Wales. Now, as part of that, of course, financial sustainability is an important factor. The panel is currently gathering evidence and seeking views from community councils, yes, but also the communities that they serve and the people that they work with. And, indeed, the panel have already taken evidence from the Wales Audit Office.

First Minister, we often hear the word 'austerity' used in this Chamber. So, given the limited size of many of our local authorities, how can the money spent on community councils be justified, in that it requires the expense of a chief executive, several staff, and a number of office buildings to facilitate their operations? In other words, First Minister, what do community councils offer that the local government couldn't implement themselves?

I’m not aware of any town or community councils that have a chief executive, I must say. I’m aware of those that have clerks, and some are full-time and some are part-time. I think that town and community councils are an extremely valuable level of government. If the Member is suggesting we should abolish, for example, Bridgend Town Council or Porthcawl Town Council, then he is welcome to explain that to any—[Interruption.]—apart from the Rhondda, of course, where there are no community councils—he is welcome to come and explain that to them. What is important is not that we abolish an entire level of local government, but look to find ways to strengthen that level in the future.

Promoting Tourism in Mid and West Wales

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote tourism in Mid and West Wales? OAQ51720

Our tourism strategy sets out our priorities to support the tourism industry right across Wales. That includes marketing campaigns in the UK and overseas, capital development funding for new and existing tourism businesses, along with revenue funding for regional products.

I thank you very much for your answer, First Minister, but Wales is home to some incredible wildlife, like the iconic bottlenose dolphin in Cardigan bay, red kites in Powys and other areas, and ospreys in Montgomeryshire. And we are lucky enough to have some fantastic nature reserves, like the Llanelli fowl and wetlands centre, Skomer island, and the Dyfi osprey centre, and many more beside. 

I think that when wildlife centres and wildlife tourism are put together and run very well they offer a real opportunity to the visitor to enhance that local community and to spend their money very, very locally, without harming or doing any harm whatsoever to the environment that they are enjoying. So, I ask you, First Minister: what steps is the Welsh Government taking to promote sustainable wildlife tourism in Wales?

In 2013-14, funding was awarded to Wildlife Trusts Wales for an interactive wildlife brochure, and £15,000 was awarded to the wildlife trusts of south and west Wales for Wild Wales Adventure in 2015. In 2016-17, £30,000 was awarded to the wildlife trusts of south and west Wales for Wild  Wales Adventures and Legends, and £100,000 has been awarded for 2017, also to the wildlife trusts of south and west Wales, for See Wild Wales Lonely Planet projects. There are four examples there of the support that Government has given in order to promote our wonderful natural heritage.

Transport in South Wales West

9. Will the First Minister make a statement on transport provision in South Wales West? OAQ51728

Yes. Our recently published update of the national transport finance plan sets out the delivery of an ambitious programme of road, rail, bus and active travel improvements for the next three years, and that will help to ensure that South Wales West is connected via an accessible, affordable, reliable, and fully integrated public transport system.

Thank you very much for that answer. You may know that additional events in Swansea and Carmarthen have just been added to the consultation programme for the GW franchise, the Great Western franchise, and I hope that constituents in South Wales West will take this opportunity to press the case for a Swansea parkway station to the north-west of the city. Given the cross-party interest in a Swansea-west metro, if I can call it that, and of course your Government's commitment to the concept of that, can you tell me what money the Welsh Government has already committed or spent on further feasibility and scoping, perhaps, beyond the original ideas of Professor Barry? Thank you.

14:15

We have funded the initial concept development work for the Swansea bay metro from the local transport fund. That phase of development work will be completed by the end of next month. We have allocated £4,378,940 from the local transport fund in 2017-18 for the Swansea bay city region. In addition to the metro concept work, we know that there are schemes in Swansea, such as the Baldwin's bridge interchange and the Kingsbridge active travel plan, that are examples of where transport improvements are being made.

A Swansea parkway station would sit on the Swansea district line, which I suspect would need some upgrading. It carries occasional passenger services at the moment. It's mainly a freight line, but nevertheless would serve a substantial area of the northern part of Swansea and the lower part of the Swansea valley, in the same way that Bristol Parkway serves a particular end of Bristol compared to Bristol Temple Meads.

Local Government Support Services for Elderly People

10. Will the First Minister make a statement on local government support services for elderly people? OAQ51698

Social care is an area of national importance. Welsh Government has prioritised funding for elderly people, fully recognising locally provided social care services are a lifeline in supporting older people in Wales.

Thank you very much for that response, First Minister. Perhaps you will be aware of a proposal by Swansea council to charge £40 a day for elderly people who attend day centres that are supported by the council. This is a service that’s available free of charge at the moment. These day centres offer considerable support to the users and are of great help in tackling loneliness and isolation in the city. Therefore, do you share my concerns that introducing a daily charge of £40 risks causing more loneliness, and does your Government agree that there’s a need to review day centre fees to ensure that these centres are accessible and tackle loneliness amongst our elderly people?

Well, this consultation is something for Swansea council and for them to proceed with and to come to a decision on. However it’s crucially important that we ensure that nobody loses out because of any changes, ultimately, if that is the decision taken.

The Pharmaceutical Industry

11. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact that exiting the European Union will have on the pharmaceutical industry in Wales? OAQ51716

The pharmaceutical industry depends on integrated international supply chains and pan-European regulation through the European Medicines Agency. There is a risk of serious damage to the UK industry if the UK Government maintains its red lines in terms of leaving the single market, the customs union and the EU regulatory systems.

Would he therefore agree that the pharmaceutical industry in particular needs a special trade deal, as it's an industry with fast-decaying supply chains and short product-to-market turnaround times, and that the consequences of not recognising that will be dire for skills, jobs and pharmaceutical research in Wales?

Yes it would; in common with many other sectors, that would be true. Rather than have a trade deal for one sector, I'd like to see a comprehensive arrangement whereby we remain within the single market, negating the need for a trade deal with our European partners, and also of course within the customs union. All the evidence that has been published so far, even by the UK Government, suggests that that is actually the most sensible outcome. Those who do not agree with empirical research are trying to suggest that that research is wrong.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are two changes to this week's business. The First Minister will make a statement on 'Trade Policy: the issues for Wales' shortly, and later this afternoon I will be making a statement on the centenary of women's suffrage. 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.

Could I have a statement or clarification on two issues, please, leader of the house? The first is in relation to termination of pregnancy provision for women from Northern Ireland and the consultation that has been brought forward by the Government. I make no observations about the substance of the consultation, but I have had heavy representations over the weekend about the length of the consultation that the Government has allowed for this important piece of work. Apparently, the length of the consultation, it has been put to me, is only a four-week consultation. It was launched on 12 January and will close on 9 February. And I was wondering, in light of the public interest in this matter, is the Secretary prepared to extend the length of consultation? It has been brought to my attention that other consultations that were launched similarly on a similar date do have far longer consultation periods. The one, for example, that's been brought to my attention started the same day and has 65 days to go, and is closing on 3 April, and the next consultation, which was launched on the same day, on the defence of reasonable punishment, has another 64 days to go, and was launched on 9 January and closes on 2 April. As I say, I make no observations about the substance of the consultation, but I do think that representations around the length of the consultation merit an explanation as to why this particular consultation that the Government have brought forward only has a four-week period of consultation, rather than a longer period, which is the traditional norm that Welsh Government attaches to such pieces of work.

And secondly, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for local government? I understand that in a recent meeting of the partnership council for Wales, he indicated that it was very much back on the Government's agenda—local government reorganisation—and that this was as a direct result of no mandatory collaboration being undertaken. This obviously contradicts the previous Cabinet Secretary for local government's assertion that there would be a 10-year window of stability for local government. Now, if he has been misrepresented, then it would be very beneficial to have a statement to clarify his remarks in that partnership meeting, because, obviously, I am led to believe that he did give an assurance that reorganisation was back on the agenda, which does contradict the assurances of the previous Cabinet Secretary. 

14:20

On the first very important matter, the Cabinet Secretary certainly heard your representations, and if you have specific instances that are leading you to the conclusion that that consultation is too short, then I suggest you write to the Cabinet Secretary and set those out. He's indicating his willingness to consider them. 

And on the second, I think you can hear the Cabinet Secretary vehemently denying that he said any such thing. So, I don't think there's any need for a statement to follow. 

Very strangely, I have the same two topics to raise with the leader of the house, but in a completely different way. So, first of all, can we have a debate, indeed, on local government freedom from central Government control? Because I note that Alun Davies, who is the Welsh local government Minister, attends the national executive of the Labour Party, which last week decided to interfere directly in the workings of Haringey local authority. Now, Alun Davies has told me in this Chamber that he believes that local authorities such as Pembrokeshire should be free to make their own decisions, and be answerable only to their electorates for their decisions in the ballot box. But as a Member attending Labour's national executive, he's been part of telling Haringey council how to behave and, indeed, getting rid of the local council leader. Now, I'm not going to take sides in Haringey— 

No, but you do need to come to the point as to why Haringey council deserves discussion here. 

Because of this, surely. It's highly irregular—highly irregular—for a Minister for local government in one devolved nation to be telling a local authority in another devolved nation how they should be behaving, and I think if it had been an English Minister in another party—say, the Conservative Party—telling a Welsh local authority what to do, there would be enough said in this Chamber. So, let's have a debate, Presiding Officer, to tease out these issues. Who is really in control of local government—is it the local elected councillors or the Minister opposite me here? 

Secondly, can I call for a debate on the other issue that I said was common to myself and the leader of the Conservatives, but again, in a very different way—a debate on, indeed, the provision of abortion services for women and girls from Northern Ireland in Wales? The First Minister gave an undertaking, actually, in July to this Chamber that the provision would be made. So, actually, I'm a little uncertain as to why we're having a consultation. [Interruption.] I take a very different view. Why is there a consultation? Why has the announcement of the First Minister that this would be done in July not been actioned already? But nevertheless, let's take the opportunity that this consultation has given us, and the fact that it is 100 years since women first had a vote and a say to have their own political rights over their own bodies and reproduction, to hold a debate on abortion rights so that we can move towards a truly medical-based approach in this country. I believe that this Parliament would resolve overwhelmingly to extend to our sisters in Northern Ireland the same medical support that is extended to other citizens in the UK and indeed throughout the EU.

Finally, can we have a debate on a real crisis in rural banking in Cymru at the moment? In the next few weeks, Fishguard will lose its last bank. If you look at a map of west Wales, there will be very little banking between a part-time bank in St David's and a bank in Cardigan. We can see, from ONS data, that west Wales has suffered most from the loss of banking over the last five years compared to other parts of the UK. I and Adam Price have laid a statement of opinion here referring to the Public Policy Institute for Wales report, 'Time for a Full Public Bank in Wales?' This would be an excellent subject for debate, I think. It would allow all Members to reflect on the issues of public banking in their own communities and also enable us to express a real positive alternative, including a Welsh people's bank on the model of local savings banks.

14:25

Thank you for those three topics. On the first one, I can't help but feel that the internal workings of the Labour Party are not a matter for the Senedd, although if the Member is that interested I can supply him with an application form, if he wants to join the party and take a further interest. 

On the second point, the Cabinet Secretary was here to listen to the important points that you raised, and I'm sure that he will be writing to you in due course to explain what the consultation is about. Indeed, he is indicating to me that he is happy to do so.

In terms of the rural crisis in banks, actually it's a crisis across the piece. I have a similar crisis in my own very central and urban constituency. It is an important point, and I will certainly be discussing, as the equalities Minister, with a number of Cabinet Secretaries, the best way to discuss that and the solutions here on the floor of the Senedd.

On this one hundredth anniversary of women getting a limited vote—of course, this was at a time when men also had a limited vote; it wasn't all men who had the vote either—we need to make sure that women's votes count and that women's representation in our political institutions counts as well.

I wanted to raise, leader of the house, the issue of period poverty, because it is shocking to learn that one in 10 women cannot afford sanitary products when they get their monthly period and even more shocking, I think, to learn that 12 per cent of girls are using other materials to deal with their period because they simply can't afford these materials, and obviously that has a huge impact on their ability to engage in their studies and all other aspects of engagement in civil society. So, I wonder whether it is possible to have a statement from the Government on how we deal with this very complex and intimate subject so we can have a debate on how we are collectively going to resolve it.

The Member raises an extremely important point. As part of the Welsh Government's wider work to reduce inequality and mitigate the impact of poverty, we are exploring a number of ways of having a scheme to supply feminine hygiene products free of charge to, say, food bank users and in schools and so on. The work's in its early stages. We are monitoring a lot of the work that's being done by colleagues in Scotland and elsewhere, and we will be bringing forward a range of measures once we've completed the work of monitoring the exact impact of the various possibilities of the schemes that could go forward, and it may well be that we introduce a range of different measures in appropriate circumstances. But I assure the Member that we take this very seriously indeed and we will be looking very seriously at these schemes in the future.

Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on waiting times for bowel cancer tests in Wales? A report published by Bowel Cancer UK has revealed that patients at five out of seven health boards in Wales are waiting longer for the test to diagnose bowel cancer. Worryingly, they also found that fewer than half of the people eligible for bowel cancer screening tests in Wales took part. This is actually a worrying state. Wales is ranked—out of 29 countries in Europe, we stand at twenty-fifth for bowel cancer survival after five years, which is virtually the second-largest killer in Wales and the fifth, virtually, in the whole of the United Kingdom. Also, there is increasing demand for endoscopies in hospitals and a lack of capacity also in our hospitals and long waiting times in our hospitals for bowel cancer screening, which is totally unacceptable these days. In view of the fact that bowel cancer is the fourth—not the fifth, sorry—most common cancer in Wales, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on what action he will take to address the serious findings in this report as soon as possible? Thank you.

14:30

Well, we publish all of the information that the Member is using there very regularly. The Cabinet Secretary was here to hear your concerns, and you raised a number of important points there that are a matter for some discussion between myself and him on the equalities issue, for example, and the take-up in different communities and so on. We've certainly heard that and I'd be very happy to speak to the Member about how we can best ensure that all communities in Wales are served. 

Leader of the house, you may be aware that this morning there's been yet another accident on the M4 at the Ynysforgan roundabout just outside Swansea, which, as you will know, is a common occurrence in the area. And as well as being a clear safety issue, it can bring about traffic chaos on this stretch of motorway and surrounding roads. Now, back in October 2016, the Cabinet Secretary for transport issued a written statement where he stated that he had asked his officials to engage with the Swansea bay city region in a wider study of the M4 corridor around Swansea. So, recognising the importance of this issue, will the Cabinet Secretary now agree to bring forward a debate on the options for improvement on this stretch of the M4 around Swansea? Thank you. 

The Member raises an extremely important point. The M4 around Swansea has experienced a number of difficulties recently on an ongoing basis, which I'm sure we all know, especially those of us from that area. I know the Cabinet Secretary is looking at a range of measures on that and he will be updating the Senedd when that piece of work is done. 

As previous speakers have said, today is a historic day, celebrating 100 years of some women getting the vote for the first time. So, what can the Government do to try to make it easier for women to vote? I wondered if the Government could give consideration, in the course of its business, to see what they could do, particularly for women whose first language is not English, and whether there are any specific schemes that could be developed. 

And, secondly, if there was any possibility of extending the anonymity that victims of domestic abuse receive—. That only lasts for a year, which means that every year they have to reapply and go through all the proof to show what they have been suffering. I don't know whether the Welsh Government has any powers in this area, but is this something that the Government could look at?

Yes, indeed. The Member raises a number of very important points there. Electoral powers will be devolved to the Assembly in the Wales Act, and they're not yet enforced, as I'm sure Members are aware. We have been working very hard with the Cabinet Office in looking at the law of electoral registration, to make it easier for women to register anonymously in circumstances of domestic violence and other circumstances. And the UK Government has just confirmed in September that they will press ahead with plans to make it much easier for domestic abuse survivors to register anonymously, and we're fully co-operating with that in advance of having the powers ourselves.

We're also introducing a range of measures. The Cabinet Secretary for public services has been looking at a range of issues around electoral reform, many of which will be around making it easier to vote in a number of circumstances, and they will include for people where English isn't a first language, and for people with mobility and other equality issues, and I'm in a series of discussions with him about that consultation and its results, which we will be taking forward. 

I only wish to raise a single item and call on the Welsh Government to have a Government debate on prevention and early intervention services, which its legislation and its statements continuously and rightly support, but in practice its actions are stripping out these services at huge additional cost to our health services and social services, which are at crisis level. Last week, we heard disappointment from both the First Minister and the education Secretary about the closure of Afasic Cymru, despite the decision to close Afasic Cymru being forced on its trustees by the Welsh Government's decision to end the children and families delivery grant and switch the funding elsewhere. Afasic Cymru is the only charity representing families of children with speech, language and communication needs in Wales, and in north Wales alone it has supported hundreds of families over the last year, taking pressure off statutory services, improving lives.

Welsh Women's Aid has expressed concern that the direct funding it receives from the Welsh Government has fallen from £355,000 for specialist violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services, to just £34,000 in the current financial year, and although the funding is passed to regional health boards, this, they say, hasn't happened. Last Friday, I attended the Save the Welsh Independent Living Grant exhibition at Theatr Clwyd, to show my support for the campaign, led by Nathan Lee Davies in Wrexham, because they recognise that Welsh Government plans to remove ring fencing will mean that independent living for disabled people with high care and support needs will be at risk, as the funding instead goes without ring fencing to local authorities. Similar concerns have been raised loudly and consistently with you by the housing-related support community about Supporting People, after you wrote to local authorities saying that you're removing the ring fence for Supporting People, and giving them spending flexibility that currently goes to prevention and early intervention services.

And finally I'll mention one more example. Last year, you scrapped or removed £5.5 million from the Family Fund for vulnerable families with disabled children, meaning that the number of families supported this year has fallen from 5,429 to just 875, and the majority not getting the support said that there was no other support available for them. This false economy is adding tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds and pressures onto our health and social services. It goes completely against the spirit of your legislation and actions in respect of prevention and early intervention, and I urge you to have a debate so that we can air this fully, and hopefully agree a way to start restoring the support to the projects making such a big difference in the communities and families across Wales.

14:35

Thank you for raising those important points. And I don't doubt the Member's sincerity in wanting to support the organisations that he set out, but there are a number of underlying causes, not least the continuing austerity programme of the UK Government in cutting the budgets to this place, quite severely, for ideological reasons. It's very difficult to separate the two things out in the way that the Member seeks to do, because these are direct results of austerity policies. On top of that, we are responding to local government's request, which I fully support, and so does the Government, to trust them, and the local democratic mandate that they have, in distributing money equitably locally. And so we are taking ring-fenced and hypothecated restraints away from them, to give them maximum flexibility, in the face of the continuing austerity agenda. So, I don't think there's any need for a debate on that. The ideological lines are very firmly drawn, and I'm afraid we are very much on the side of both trusting local government and ensuring that we do our very best to offset the austerity agenda that his Government continues to pursue.

I wondered whether we could have a debate or a statement giving us an update on the Valleys taskforce and its discussions. I'm aware that they had engagement with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council last week, and it would be useful for us as AMs to understand what those deliberations were. I say it in the context of having been at a public meeting last night, where there are proposals to close Cymer Afan school in the Afan valley. We appreciate that the taskforce isn't just to do with education, but if you do close the school, it will take away the heart of the community, and therefore may lead to the taskforce being not as relevant as the Welsh Government would like it to be. So, I wondered whether we could have an update on those discussions, because we want the community to engage in that taskforce. But if they're going to be confused by the agenda of the Welsh Government as to the local council, then we need to have clarification over that.

Yes, the Minister for public services, who chairs the Valleys taskforce, will be giving an update to the Senedd after this current round of meetings, and there's another one on Monday, for example. A number of us are members of the Valleys taskforce, and it is absolutely the intention of the Valleys taskforce to report back regularly to the Senedd, giving the update, as the Member sets out.

I was actually going to ask the same question Bethan Jenkins just asked. We both attended a very emotional, very well-attended meeting last night of communities who are passionate about their community, who have seen services gone in their community, and as far as the Valleys taskforce is concerned—not one of the hubs, but on the periphery of two hubs, and it doesn't understand whether they could actually benefit from either of those two hubs. But what's important is to understand what the resilience means in those resilient communities. Because if resilient means including education provision delivered within the community, to actually ensure that community is able to build within itself, then it's important. Now, I understand that Cabinet Secretaries can't comment upon individual school closure proposals, but the role of Welsh Government policy in this proposal is going to be important. And therefore a statement on exactly what they mean by resilient communities, and how education plays a part in that definition, is important.

The Member makes a very good point. Obviously, we can't comment on individual school closure programmes by individual local authorities—it's a matter for them. The Valleys taskforce isn't a thing in itself—it is the way to co-ordinate Government action across the Valleys areas. So, the Member's quite right to highlight that we need to be able to set out what we're doing across each of those areas, not just in the hubs, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for public services will be taking that into account when he does his update.

14:40

I want to call very briefly for two statements. The first is from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on emergency vehicle access to Shell Island campsite via Llanbedr airfield. Emergency vehicles have had high-tide access through the Government-owned airfield for more than 50 years, but the tenant, Snowdonia Aerospace LLP, has not guaranteed long-term continued access, putting the future of that business in jeopardy. So, I just feel that where we own land and where we sublet it, we are actually mindful that the two businesses, in this case, operating either side of that are able to communicate and carry on to the benefit of those communities.

And the other statement that I'd like to see is from the transport Minister over the collapse of the Express Motors bus company. I understand that Gwynedd Council has found other operators to deliver subsidised bus services, but the bulk of the former Express Motors services that were commercial have not been replaced. For example, as far as I'm aware, the hourly Barmouth to Porthmadog service has already disappeared. And this is the third commercial operator to go out of business in this area in the last five years. Every single time that happens, people's jobs and the services locally are badly affected, leaving people stranded and without work. And I think this actually raises a need for a much longer term vision on how we deliver bus services and whether we need to look at regulation if we're going to get those powers back here to stop this stop-start bus service that people are completely dependent on in those areas.

The Member raises two very important issues there. On the first, we are aware of the emergency services access issues in relation to Shell Island during periods of high tides especially. It is a matter for the directors of Shell Island to pursue discussions with Snowdonia Aerospace directly to reach amicable arrangements, and we are encouraging both parties to explore all the options available to seek solutions that work for everyone concerned. I'm sure the Member has made her concerns very clear as well.

In terms of the serious bus issues that the Member raises, I know the Cabinet Secretary is looking, as we speak, into the regulation of bus services and the pros and cons of that, and what we can bring forward when the powers arrive here in Wales. I know that he is planning to update the Senedd at an early stage as to some of the plans that we are able to bring forward in terms of the regulation of bus services and to ensure the joined-up travel system that I know that she would like to see for Mid and West Wales.

,Leader of the Chamber, I recently raised the plight of the Kurds in Afrin, Syria, who are being attacked by an aggressive Turkish state. I asked you if you would write to the UK Government to urge them to use their diplomatic channels to stop what Turkey is doing. There are Kurds outside our Parliament right now who are from Afrin and they're incredibly worried about their families and cannot believe this Government's complete reluctance to do anything. They tell me that most AMs have not gone to speak to them—and that's not right; their loved ones are dying and they deserve a hearing. You've said nothing about Yemen either where part of my family originated from. I gave an example, a precedence, last time, where the First Minister spoke giving his sympathies to Belgium after an attack there. So, why does Labour have such selective sympathy for victims of violence? Are only whiter, European countries worthy of sympathy? [Interruption.] With respect to everybody here, this Government has made a statement about Belgium, and you are refusing to say anything about the Kurds and Yemen. Will you make a statement?

The Member is—. I can't comment on the language he uses. It's clearly not an acceptable thing to say and it's not true either. We expressed a statement of sympathy for a fellow European country after a terrorist attack. The countries you're talking about are unfortunately embroiled in war situations.

14:45

It's state terrorism. Civilians are being bombed. [Inaudible.]

Neil McEvoy, shouting does not make your political point for you, neither does trying to discriminate in attacking a particular ethnic group help you in making your point. So, I'm asking you to make the political point you want to make, but make it in language that is appropriate to this Chamber. Shouting is certainly not appropriate.

Thank you, Llywydd. I was simply saying everybody in this Chamber expresses their sympathies to all communities caught up in war—of course they do. That's quite different from expressing specific sympathies in specific instances of terrorist attack that we would do to any country in any part of the world subject to such attacks.

3. Statement by the First Minister: 'Trade Policy: the Issues for Wales'

We'll now move on to the statement by the First Minister on trade policy for Wales. I call on the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.

Thank you, Llywydd. We have published a new document in our series of Brexit policy position papers entitled 'Trade Policy: the issues for Wales'. This is the fifth in our series of papers, which sets out how we believe we in Wales, and the UK as a whole, should respond to the very significant challenges posed by the UK's decision to leave the European Union. The paper sets out our trade policy ambitions and reflects the analytical and practical work we are doing in preparation for our exit from the European Union.

Llywydd, this paper illustrates the importance of trade to Wales. Wales is an outward-facing, globally trading nation, and we are committed to internationalism. However, we can't lose sight of the fact that a clear majority—61 per cent—of Welsh goods exports goes straight to the European Union and that our strong record of attracting inward investment reflects our historic position offering a business-friendly environment within the European single market.

The work we have undertaken over the last 12 months, including the research commissioned from the Cardiff Business School—also published last week—has only strengthened our conviction that the position we set out in last year's White Paper 'Securing Wales' Future', authored jointly with Plaid Cymru, is the right one. Continued full and unfettered access to the single market is vital to Wales's forward economic interests, as is continued participation in a customs union with the EU. We have seen no sound economic arguments to the contrary, and the recent leaks of the UK Government's analysis of our economic future outside the EU suggest that this is because there are none.

Can I just emphasise here the strong commitment of the Welsh Government to evidence-based policy? Of course, we have limited resources and, of course, we can't predict the future with any precision. But we can, and have, gathered evidence about what practical issues our larger businesses are facing as a result of the vote to leave the EU, and we will continue with further research focused on smaller businesses. We can and do listen intently to the evidence from stakeholders in Wales and beyond about the implications of different scenarios for their capacity to operate effectively in future.

It is on the basis, Llywydd, of listening to the evidence, not some ideological zealotry, that we have arrived at our position supporting the closest possible relationship with the single market and the customs union, one which is completely compatible with fulfilling the mandate from the referendum of ceasing to be a member state of the EU—a position that is also broadly in line with that of all the main business organisations as well as the TUC.

What a contrast, then, to UK Government Ministers, seemingly attacking their own civil servants for failing to come up with the right answers and simply holding their hands over their ears to blot out the rising clamour for a sensible Brexit; a Brexit that puts the interests of our economy first, not one dictated by the arbitrary red lines set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech.  

Of course, we fully accept that there are also significant trading opportunities outside of Europe, but we don't believe that the UK Government should pursue free trade agreements at the expense of our trading relationship with our closest and most economically integrated neighbours. Building new trading relationships with other countries around the world should be seen as a complement to the relationship with the EU and not as a substitute.

Brexit poses huge challenges to our economy, but, as we set out in our paper 'Brexit and Devolution', it also raises questions about the way in which we manage inter-governmental relationships within the UK. Over the last 45 years, the European Union has had exclusive competence to manage customs and the common commercial policy—the negotiation and agreement of international trade agreements—on behalf of the UK. Once we leave the EU, although international trade will remain a reserved matter in terms of our devolution settlement, we will need deeper and more sustained co-operation between devolved administrations and the UK Government over these issues. Because trade policy will have a significant intersection with devolved powers, such as environmental standards, economic development, agriculture and fisheries, and skills and qualifications. The UK Government can't develop a trade policy fit for purpose for the whole of the UK in isolation—something that the UK Government itself recognises.

I'm not used to finding myself in agreement with Dr Liam Fox, but the trade White Paper ‘Preparing for our future UK Trade Policy’, which the UK Government published last autumn, is quite clear about this. It says,

‘The devolved administrations will have a direct interest in our future trade agreements. We will work closely with them to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the UK, reflecting the needs and individual circumstances of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and drawing on their essential knowledge and expertise’.

For our part, we have called for the establishment of a United Kingdom council of Ministers, which brings together devolved Ministers with UK Ministers, who should be fully engaged at all stages of the development and implementation of our future trade policy. In the shorter term, a new joint ministerial committee on international trade should be established to agree joint approaches on trade.

I commend, then, this paper to the Assembly and welcome any questions.

14:50

Yesterday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he respected the UK's decision to rule out any form of long-term customs union, but he did add—and I'm sure the First Minister will be alluding to this—that, without a customs union and outside the single market, 

'barriers to trade in goods and services are unavoidable',

which, of course, is exactly the position we would expect at the start of negotiations towards an agreed deal and just as apparently uncompromising as the position taken at the start of negotiations on the stage 1 discussions [Correction: 'deal'], which were successfully concluded with compromise on both sides before Christmas.

In response, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in the UK Government, David Davis, yesterday said that he wanted a free trade deal with the EU, but also the freedom to strike deals with other countries where trade opportunities are growing. Well, given that the First Minister has repeatedly stated that he accepts the outcome of the referendum and believes this was more a protest vote than about control of borders, laws, trade and money, will he confirm to the people of Wales that continued membership of the single market and customs union would mean that the UK could not strike trade deals with countries outside the EU, other than through the EU?

According to both Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Office for National Statistics figures and subject to small adjustments for finance, travel and transport, some 90 per cent of the UK economy and 85 per cent of the Welsh economy is not involved in exporting to the EU. The UK does more trade with the rest of the world than the EU. I know that, in Wales, the position is fractionally different, but we're talking about negotiations into the UK single market, which Wales is key to. That trade with the rest of the world is growing faster than UK trade with the EU, and because the EU sells some £80 billion more to the UK than the UK to the EU, clearly, it would not be in their interests to stop that trading.

When the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee met the Flemish Government, they told us that they were reliant on access to the UK and Welsh markets and were working with similar regions and sectors across the EU that needed a deal that enabled them to continue frictionless access to the UK market. So, what engagement have you had with regions and sectors across the EU that need a deal that enables them to continue to have free trade with Wales and the UK?

Of course, HMRC published details of changes to how regional trade statistics are calculated in May 2016, the result of which, under the old methodology, were that Welsh EU exports accounted for 39.2 per cent of all exports in the four quarters ending in June 2016, but, at the stroke of a pen, that rose to 67.4 per cent of all Welsh exports. So, in practice, not a lot had changed. Now, in his statement today and in the document published last Friday, the First Minister talks about 61 per cent of identifiable Welsh goods exports being traded with the EU single market. Why has that figure, therefore, already apparently fallen from 67 per cent to 61 per cent?

He talks about his belief that continued full and unfettered access to Europe’s single market is vital to Wales's forward economic interests, and says,

'We remain to be convinced that leaving a customs union with the EU is in our interests, at least for the foreseeable future.'

What do you mean by 'at least for the foreseeable future'? I'd be grateful if you could clarify. Is that simply a transition period, or do you have something else in mind? As you indicate, you,

'welcome the UK Government’s recognition in their White Paper, Preparing for our Future UK Trade policy, that Devolved Governments (and...legislatures) have an important role in shaping future trade policy'.

But, in evidence, as we heard earlier from the leader of Plaid Cymru, yesterday from you to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, you said you 'don't think we should have a veto—it's hugely important that we have consultation'. And, of course, in your seven years in office, you have fostered the least diverse export economy in the UK, leaving Wales more reliant than any other nation on EU trade. So, what discussions is the Welsh Government, official to official, having with the UK Government, which I know are going on in detail, regarding frameworks, regarding a UK single market with agreed approaches on a range of matters, of course, including trade? Perhaps you could provide us with a progress report on discussions that are clearly already happening. Thank you.

14:55

Time is running out, and we still have no idea what UK Government's endgame is. We don't know in what position they want to be. We have, on the one hand, the Jacob Rees-Moggs of this world saying it doesn't matter about tariffs, it doesn't matter if we lose manufacturing jobs, because they'll be made up for in some unspecified way, and then we have another branch of the Conservative Party demanding that Jacob Rees-Mogg should be expelled. This gives you some idea of the chaos that sits at the heart of the UK Government.

If he talks about a free trade agreement with the EU, the EU will look to have alignment with a market that it has a free trade agreement with. What's the difference in terms of where we are now compared to a free trade agreement? Some will say free trade agreements give us the opportunity to have free trade agreements with other countries. Which ones? Which ones? Everyone talks about New Zealand—what for? Countries such as China—goodbye, steel industry. We need to be very, very careful in terms of what kinds of free trade agreements we should have, and this is a false promise. If we cannot come to an agreement with our closest, biggest, most aligned market, we have no hope of free trade agreements that take six or seven years to negotiate, on average, with any other economy, and why would we want to? One of the things I hear from Brexiteers is this suggestion that, somehow, Europe is not important, 'Forget about that, look at other economies instead'. I disagree; Europe is our most important market. It's bigger than the US, it's on our doorstep, it's not 3,500 miles away. To ignore our single most important market, I think, is folly.

Now, Mark Isherwood talks about gaining control of money. I wasn't aware that the UK was in the euro, and so I don't understand what he means by control of money. In terms of laws, well, that must apply, of course, to this place as well as to the UK Parliament. In terms of trade, well, one of the things he said later on was that our economy was weak because it relied on EU trade. What on earth is wrong with relying on trade with Europe? We're not an autarky, and it's hugely important that we trade with other countries and other economies like Europe.

Finally, on borders, let's nail this myth once again. The UK will not and cannot control its own borders. It just isn't going to happen. Why? Because the UK has a land border with the Republic of Ireland that will be an open border. So, let's nail this now: this idea that the UK will control its borders in some way with controls on borders is just simply untrue, and that is something that needs to be emphasised over and over again.

In terms of what he said about trade deals, yes, of course we want to see the best trading relationships possible with other economies. We do look at other countries. If we look at Welsh lamb, for example, that is sold in the United Arab Emirates, but we cannot ignore the fact that we have a large economy and a large market on our doorstep. There is no market—there is no market—that will replace the market for Welsh sheep meat exports in the European single market. It does not exist. It does not exist. And when I hear Brexiteers, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and others, say, 'It'll mean we have cheaper food,' what they mean is, that food will be imported and our farmers will be shafted. That's what they mean. So, let's be quite clear about it: they are willing to sell the agriculture industry down the river in order for there to be cheap imports, and they will do the same for other industries. Why? Why? Because it doesn't matter to them. If you listen to some economists, it doesn't matter: 'So what if we lose manufacturing jobs, because they'll be made up for in some way in service industries?' So, goodbye, steel industry; you don't count. Aeronautics, automobile—don't count. 'Economics without human beings', I call that, but that's what is advocated by the hard Brexiteers. If we look, for example, at—[Interruption.]

15:00

He talks about the Flemish Government. Of course the UK is an important market, but the integrity of the European single market is far more important to any country or any manufacturer than anything else. We were told that the German car manufacturers would drive—they would probably drive—to our rescue. They've said quite clearly that, 'The UK is an important market, but the integrity of the European single market is far more important to us, and we're not going to do anything to disrupt that.' So, that was untrue, and that is something that was found to be wrong.

In terms of our exports, the figure varies, in terms of the 60s—sometimes up, sometimes down. But what is absolutely clear is that the vast majority of our exports go to the single market. Does that mean we can't sell there in the future? No, of course it doesn't. It doesn't mean we can't trade and sell in the European single market. All it means is that what we produce will be subject to barriers that don't currently exist, whether they are financial barriers or non-tariff barriers—paperwork, bureaucracy. People say about reducing bureaucracy; this is a vast raft of bureaucracy that's going to be imposed on business as a result of Brexit, and those barriers are important, because it would mean that we are less competitive in those markets. We already know that some countries in Europe are looking at producing light hill lambs, because they think that our products will be more expensive on the European market and they will be able to compete against us. And we must be absolutely clear about that.

He mentioned how long membership of the customs union should be. Well, until there are better alternatives, frankly. A transitional period, yes, but I'm not wedded to the idea that the transitional period should be for a specified amount of time. Surely the transitional period should be for as long as is good for the UK and is good for Wales.

And then, finally, in terms of frameworks—he asked about frameworks. Progress is being made on frameworks. Discussions are happening. They are without prejudice, of course, to an agreement being reached on clause 11, and the other clauses of the withdrawal Bill that impinge on the devolution settlement, but those discussions are ongoing. And I can see from the Conservative front bench that the hard Brexiters have already been expelled. [Laughter.]

I do welcome this important statement and if I may also say, I also welcome the apology that I received from the First Minister earlier this afternoon.

You mentioned in your statement the evidence base for the Government’s policy, and I agree entirely with that, and the research that you’ve commissioned from Cardiff Business School is useful and interesting. What we don’t have so far, though, is a full impact assessment showing the difference between the various different scenarios. That’s the kind of study that the Scottish Government has published, as has the mayor of London, and of course it’s now been revealed that the UK Government had such an assessment, and you referred to that and other studies across the UK too. Wouldn’t it be useful for us in Wales to have such a study, so that we can put a figure on this gulf in terms of the impact of the various scenarios, so that we can make the case even more strongly?

The Wales Centre for Public Policy published, last week, I believe, a paper that deals with this question of the role of sub-state Governments in terms of trade policy. The report made a number of recommendations to the Welsh Government in terms of recruiting negotiators, a team of influential negotiators, and also developing almost a para-diplomatic service, if you would like to describe it in that way, in terms of Wales having influence at various levels internationally, both pre Brexit and post Brexit. So, do you intend to implement some of these recommendations?

Finally, in providing evidence yesterday to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, you said that it wasn't possible to be entirely clear as to what sort of Brexit people had voted for. Isn't there an opportunity here for us in Wales to use the powers that we have as a Parliament to hold an advisory referendum, and to ask the people of Wales what kind of Brexit they want to see? Do they agree with us that the best option for the Welsh economy is membership of the single market and the customs union?

15:05

Work has been done by Cardiff Business School, looking at the impact on businesses, and we are, of course, considering evidence that has come before us from other assessments about different scenarios. We know what's going to happen with a hard Brexit. That's clear from what Cardiff Business School have said and, of course, it's not a story that provides any sort of assistance to us.

One of the things that we have done as a Government is to ensure that a few White Papers have been published. We have been completely clear about the kind of direction that Brexit should take, as a Government. He asked a question about para-diplomatic powers and whether those are important. Yes, they are. I have met with Michel Barnier already, I have been meeting with other leaders and, of course, we have an office in Brussels that will remain whatever happens—that's going to be vital—and, of course, we have opened offices, or are preparing to open offices, in a number of cities, not only in Europe but across the world. Why? It's vital that we ensure that we have a presence in many new cities so that we can secure investment and are able to export to those markets. It was clear to me, after Brexit, that it was vital to ensure that we had offices, for example, in Germany and in those economies that are vital to the Welsh economy. So, that is important to ensure that we know the views of Wales. Every time I have been in Brussels, they had a White Paper before them, and they knew what the view of the Government of Wales was, and they could see sensibly what was in the paper itself.

Referendum—interesting. One of the things, of course, that we would have to consider—. First of all, there is a cost, but without that, with any sort of advisory referendum, are we talking about something that has many questions? In what way then can you know what exactly people's views are if there's a split in terms of answers? So, there are things such as those to consider. For me, what I think is vital—and I've said this on many an occasion—is that this Parliament should have the power to permit, or not permit, the Brexit settlement that we will have at the end of the day. It's vital to me that there is permission from, or at least the blessing of, every Parliament in the UK before Brexit moves forward.

Well, this is quite an interesting document that's been produced by the Welsh Government, but only for the statistics it includes. There seems to be very little, if anything, that is new in terms of policy development. It's very disappointing, I think, that the same kind of pessimistic refrain that we've heard at any time in the last two years nearly, now, since the referendum, is coming from the mouth of the First Minister. Oscar Wilde once said,

'The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.'

I'm afraid that the First Minister is the man who is constantly looking into a hole. He sees a difficulty in every opportunity whereas the alternative view is to look at the opportunities that are in every difficulty, and that's what business people do.

Anybody who has ever run a business knows that the world is constantly changing and you adapt to it. If you constantly pretend that there are no alternatives to what we currently know, then you will never keep up with what's happening in the real world. All the academic studies in the world are merely projections of assumptions that are plugged into a computer. If those assumptions don't turn out to be consistent with what happens in due course, then those forecasts are always wrong, which is why most economic forecasts are wrong, and most specifically those that have come out of Her Majesty's Treasury in Whitehall. So, I wouldn't advise the First Minister to pay too great attention to academic studies of any kind, whether they suit his view of the world, or indeed mine.

The point about a second referendum, which has been raised by Adam Price, is that in the referendum—the real referendum that we had nearly two years ago—people were only asked one simple question: do you want to leave the EU or stay in the EU? There were no ifs or buts. It's not about, you know, 'What sort of trade deal do you want to see as a result of leaving the EU?' We could have a referendum on different kinds of trade deal, no doubt, but that wouldn't affect the real question, which is the right to recover control of our own borders, and the right to make our own laws in parliamentary institutions such as this. Staying inside the single market and customs union is not consistent with leaving the European Union because we would then actually be in a worse legislative position than we were before: outside the EU, but subject to the rules that they make and we would have no formal role in the development of policy and the laws that we would have to obey.

I do counsel the First Minister to keep things in perspective. Yes, as a result of leaving the EU, even if it's not possible to do a deal with the EU because they are too intransigent and they see—. They are the ideological zealots in this, as the First Minister pointed out. In relation to the spokesman for the German car industry, he said that they are much more interested in keeping the single market together as a political unit than in the economic damage that would be done to Germany if we were to leave the EU without a trade deal. One in five of all passenger cars that are made in Germany—that's 820,000 vehicles—is exported to the United Kingdom every year. They have a £20 billion a year deficit on trading account in cars alone. The United Kingdom has a trade deficit with the EU of over £60 billion. There is enormous opportunity here for import substitution, for example.

The First Minister concentrated very heavily on lamb. The document itself shows how small the market is that we are talking about there: £402 million a year are our exports of lamb—or agricultural products, rather. But, we import £600 million-worth of agricultural products, so 60 per cent of all the food that is eaten in Wales every year is imported. So there is—[Interruption.] I'm going on the figure that appears in the document. [Interruption.] In the document. I'm sorry, Llywydd, I thought that was you.

15:10

No, it wasn't me, but it is me now, and you do need to ask questions. This is your opportunity to question the First Minister.

Yes, exactly. I'm asking the First Minister if he will not keep this matter in perspective. As 90 per cent of the growth in trade in the next 15 years is forecast by the European Commission itself to be outside the European Union, the global market for what we produce in Wales is going to grow, whereas the market in Europe is stagnant. That's why, as Mark Isherwood pointed out earlier on, the proportion of our trade that we are doing with the EU is now declining, not least because of problems with the eurozone.

So, what I'm saying to the First Minister is that he should be doing far more—and going back to what I said in First Minister's questions this afternoon—he should be doing far more to help Welsh business cope with the inevitable changes that are going to be necessary in the transitional period that will follow immediately upon our leaving the European Union. There's no point in carrying on banging your head against a brick wall. The United Kingdom Government is resolved to leave the European Union, leave the single market, leave the customs union. Let us now work together to produce a practical set of proposals on how to make that process much more palatable, even to those who are against leaving the European Union, and a practical way forward for the businesses that will have to cope with extra changes. Nobody denies that there are extra changes that are going to come about, but they're all easily manageable.

Wishful thinking again. Can I remind him, I have actually run a business?Successfully, thanks, so I do know how it operates. Secondly, can I remind him that the European economy is growing faster than the UK economy? So, it's hardly hidebound in some way by the euro or by anything else. Can I express surprise at his wilful dismissal of evidence—something that is, of course, highly inconvenient to those who love to see wishful thinking? He says, 'Well, you know, people voted to leave the EU. That much is true.' Actually, we don't know what they voted for beyond that. There are some people who have a more extreme interpretation than others. Norway is not in the EU. The Norwegian model was offered by members of his own party, and now we are told it is not properly leaving the EU. Norway isn't in the EU, and yet it has the kind of beneficial trade arrangements that it wants with the European single market. If Norway can do it, then why can't the UK? Again, he repeats this mantra, and I invite the Brexiteers in this Chamber to answer this question at some point: the UK will not control its borders. It will not control its borders; it will have an open border with the European Union in Ireland. So, this idea that the UK will control its borders is simply a myth and never was true, and it was something upon which people were misled, bluntly, in the European referendum. So, forget about that; the UK cannot control its own borders in that way.

He mentions the irrational foreigners—the irrational foreigners that exist in Europe who are so irrational they will not bend to the will of the UK. How awful that is that they will simply not agree with what the UK is actually saying. Well, of course they’re not going to do that; they have their own corners to fight.

And he mentions the German car industry. The German car industry sees the single market is more important than anything else, more important than the UK market. And why? Well, they’ve calculated that people will still buy BMWs, they'll still buy Mercedes-Benz, they’ll still buy Audis, and pay the extra, but it's not the same for other car manufacturers when they try to export cars that don’t have the same sort of premium marque in the future.

He talks of lamb. Lamb is a tiny market. It doesn’t matter about lamb—something we can sacrifice. It’s only a few hundred million pounds. The reality is that the Welsh lamb industry needs exports to survive, because the UK consumer does not tend to buy it in the numbers that are required.

Then he says that we import £600 million; we need to have import substitution. We tried that in the war, and we had rationing. Is that what he’s suggesting? Because what he’s suggesting is this: it is a bad thing that the UK imports food. So, in other words, if you want to buy apples in January, tough. If you want to buy leeks in December, tough. If you want to buy strawberries out of season, in May, tough. So, what he’s saying to the consumer is: actually, what we want is to stop those imports coming in, so you can’t buy what you want to buy. Well, try that one to get past consumers in the future.

So, my advice to him is this: open your eyes and look at the evidence, don’t be blinded by ideology or nationalism, and start saying that we can have a Brexit that actually is sensible to the UK, not one that is costly in terms of bureaucracy, not one that destroys our farming industry, not one that destroys our steel industry, not one that makes it more difficult for us to attract investment from other countries because we're not part of the single market, and let’s have common sense, a commonsense Brexit, and not one driven by sheer zealotry.

15:15

First Minister, I welcome your statement. I'll try and keep my contribution to the questions and to the topic, which is the trade policy, and not repeat referendum discussions, as we seem to be hearing elsewhere.

First Minister, the trade policy, which I very much welcome, also reflects upon something that was raised earlier, because I was very pleased to see, on page 15, the reference to a 'no deal' situation, because at least we're starting to see now recognition that 'no deal' needs to be addressed, and it does refer to that. So, I'm very pleased at that.

But the paper that it builds upon, which is the work of the business school at Cardiff University, also discusses sectors that were very much at risk, mainly being those sectors that were deemed to be branches of global organisations, and, consequently, their supply chains as well. But what I want to know in relation to that is: what preparations are being made to develop support plans for those types of businesses and their supply chains? And it highlights that you shouldn’t focus on sectors; you should focus upon the businesses themselves, because they have different needs within it, and it’s very important that we look at that and identify those that are priorities for the Welsh economy, because—that means perhaps the ones that add value to Wales, not just simply coming in and going out again, where it doesn’t add much value to the product and, therefore, the economy doesn’t grow by much. So, can you tell me what you’re doing to look at those sectors, those businesses, and are preparing to help them in a situation where we may now end up in a 'no deal'?

Also, we talk about the transition period in your paper. Now, Dr Tobias Lock from Edinburgh University has given talks and written a paper on the legal challenges that arise during the transition period. Can you tell me what analysis the Welsh Government has done on the legalities that may be changing during transition and what you’re going to do to ensure that Welsh businesses and the Welsh economy do not have to face additional challenges because no-one’s thought of them in this legal situation?

Also, you talked about, in the paper, divergence of regulations. Now, yesterday, we attended a roundtable session as a committee, and one of the issues that came up was certification beyond the EU. What they didn’t want was a duplication of certification in the UK, where they have to get UK certification and EU certification because discussions haven’t taken place between the UK and EU on how they can actually represent one another and accept each other’s certification. So, can you tell me what discussions the Welsh Government's having with the UK Government to ensure that our businesses don't face increased bureaucracy and duplication of certification because no-one has got together to say, 'Let's ensure that this is equal across the EU'? They actually want it across the world, equal certification, but at least what we've got now is an EU certification. We want to ensure that we don't increase and have to duplicate that as a consequence.

Finally, First Minister, the Trade Bill. It wasn't mentioned, really, in your paper. We do know the Trade Bill refers to changes to existing EU trade rules and how that's put into place, including the Trade Remedies Authority. Can you actually give us a little detail as to how you see the Trade Remedies Authority coming in? Because you mentioned in your own statement the issue of steel; we do know that the EU has now put trade remedies in against steel from China in particular. Obviously, it affects my constituency very much. But how are we actually going to address trade remedies post Brexit to ensure that our industries do not suffer as a consequence of a trade deal done by the UK Government with, particularly, China, that allows imported steel getting in cheap? That's just one example, let alone what goes on in America and everywhere else. So, it's important that we look at that and ensure that we have a say in trade remedies.

15:20

Can I thank my colleague David Rees for those questions? If you look at the work that's been done by Cardiff Business School, it does look at what a 'no deal' scenario would be. It is right to say that it identifies some sectors as being more at risk, for example, from tariff barriers, and others from non-tariff barriers, and we're working with those sectors to make sure that we can understand their difficulties.

There is one thing that I hear time and time and time again—I heard it again yesterday—and that is the impact on recruitment, from businesses who are saying to me, 'We recruit from other countries. What happens now if we can't recruit? We are an international organisation, we need the best people from wherever they are. What happens how?' We're not sure how that's going to work in the post-Brexit future.

In terms of the legal challenges that he—. The other thing I should've mentioned is of course we are opening offices around the world, working with the UK Government to make sure that we identify new markets to try and mitigate what a hard Brexit would look like, but let's not pretend we can actually overcome the challenges that that would create.

In terms of legal challenges, much of it depends on what happens in the transitional period. If the UK is willing to accept that the European Court of Justice would still have jurisdiction and EU laws would apply in that transitional period then there's no difficulty. But of course the difficulty arises in terms of the UK saying, 'We're not going to do that'. Who then acts as the trade court? What scope will there be for divergence? All these things are unaddressed.

There is no reason, of course, in devolved areas that a devolved Parliament and Government couldn't just accept new EU regulation and incorporate it into domestic law. There's nothing to stop us doing it, but of course that would be a matter for this Parliament. If we look, for example, at the regulatory bodies: I've mentioned the European Medicines Agency already this afternoon, Euratom, if we look at the regulation of the air industry—none of these things have been addressed. No-one knows yet, and we're only a year away. No-one knows yet how these issues will be resolved in the future, and the Member's quite right to say that nobody wants to see duplication in terms of certification. I've heard some in the UK Government say, 'Well, you see, what Brexit is all about is basically keeping the same rules as the European Union, but it's our choice as to whether we keep them or not'. I've heard some say that. I've heard others talk about a bonfire of regulation. They want a low regulation economy, one where wages are suppressed, where environmental standards are depressed, and that is the classic right-wing ideology when it comes to what Britain should look like beyond Brexit.

In terms of trade remedies, it's hugely important, of course, that we have a role in shaping what that might look like in the future. We know it's a powerful tool. We've seen it in the United States in the last few weeks, and how important that can be, and the effect it can have on economies outside of the USA. That will be an important factor in terms of the discussions that we have with the UK Government as to what the trade relationships and the trade structure within the UK should be in years to come.

First Minister, I've only got a few, relatively minor points. You know my constituency well, and over the past couple of decades you'll have been aware of the impact of the closure of the mines, the closure of heavy industry. Yet over the last five years there has been significant growth and formation of new companies. A lot of that is due to a number of the projects of Welsh Government, the partnership with local government. In the last five years there have been 1,015 new businesses set up in the Pontypridd constituency, a 53 per cent increase.

I'm glad that you commented a little bit about some of the issues of regulatory frameworks in conjunction with the EU, because one of the concerns that's raised by a number of these companies that export to the European Union is that, 'We can cope with the tariffs, we can manage the tariffs; the problem is there must be no delay on the transit of goods.' The transit of goods is the fundamental point. If they cannot deliver on time then they will lose that particular market and that is their biggest concern and obstacle. And if we are not in the customs union, or something very similar to the customs union, if there is a divergence of regulatory frameworks, we will not be able to trade at all. What can the Welsh Government do in order to ensure that there's some assurance to those small companies that have set up, that have grown in difficult times, that are now facing yet another obstacle from the UK Government because of its approach, its ideological approach and obsession with the customs union?  

15:25

There is no doubt in my mind that staying in the customs union is the best way forward. I've seen no evidence of any alternative arrangement that delivers anything that is as good as the arrangements that we have now or anything that would be better in the future. If you're a business at the moment and you export to the European Union or, indeed, you supply a business that exports to the European Union, you are reliant on the free flow of trade. What Brexit has the capacity to do, although it doesn't have to do it this way, is to impose a vast bureaucracy on businesses—more form-filling, more red tape, more delay. This is particularly true and particularly acute in, for example, the fishing industry, where, of course, goods are highly perishable, they need to be moved very quickly, the industry's highly dependent on exports—sending goods to markets where people will pay the most and put more money into those who work in the fishing industry's pockets. The last thing they want is to have to fill in forms before they go, to find queues in ports such as Dover because the physical infrastructure isn't there—and no steps have been taken, to my mind, to address the issue of infrastructure. Checks at the ports—where will they be carried out? That's not been done; the work for that hasn't happened yet. All these things are barriers, let alone potential tariffs, but all those barriers will be put in place for business. The Member asked the question: what comfort can I give him? The comfort that I can give him is this, that we will continue to fight to ensure that businesses have access to our biggest single market, free of bureaucracy and part of the customs union.  

I’m grateful to the First Minister for his statement today and for the paper published. The fact is that this paper, as well as the analysis that was released behind closed doors in Westminster, reveals that there is a cost of Brexit to the Welsh economy, whatever the scenario you follow. There is a particular cost, as has been outlined in this paper, for the sheep sector, in terms of agriculture, and that’s very grave. We must also bear in mind that, behind that sector, there is an economy, but there are also people, communities, a landscape, water management, land management, the Welsh language, and a way of life that has been on the land of Wales for over two millennia, and it’s important that we keep a focus on what is supremely important for us as a nation, as well as important to us as an economy. That is something that we should bear in mind in all of this.

Could I just ask the First Minister how he intends to proceed with this work now? Adam Price asked you about dealing with other regions and other Governments. I’m sure you will have seen that the Labour Prime Minister of Gibraltar has said the constitution of Gibraltar, in his view, gives a right for the business of tariffs to be decided by Gibraltar, within the constitution approved in a 2006 referendum. You visited Gibraltar in June of last year, I believe. Have you discussed this with the Prime Minister of Gibraltar? Secondly, are you of the view that there should be a vote in this Assembly, this Parliament, in terms of any trade deal that is done? I know that we will have a vote on the legislative consent motion as far as the European withdrawal Bill is concerned, but this is a specific question on any trade deal. Despite us perhaps having an advisory referendum or not, as Adam Price suggested, we should have a meaningful vote in the Parliament on these issues.

And, finally, I must ask you, because you’ve set out something today, as you know, there is a great deal of agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party on this issue, but you are led by a leader in Westminster, Jeremy Corbyn, who doesn’t believe in remaining in the single market, who doesn’t believe in remaining in the customs union and is doing everything within his power to stop that happening at the Westminster level. I have to say: what are you going to do as the First Minister of Wales to put the interests of Wales before the interests of your own party in these issues? Because if we continue on the current route, then it’s very possible that we will have a very hard Brexit led by the right wing of the Conservative party with some silent consent from your own party in Westminster.

15:30

Our view as a party and as a Government is completely clear, and I’ve made that clear of course to our neighbours in London. On what you said about the sheep industry, it’s completely true that farming is part of life in rural Wales and farming of course can affect so many things such as the environment, and to ensure that rural Wales is kept in a way that we want. The fear that I have is that it’s possible of course to give more money to farmers, but because of the fact that they would lose so many of their markets, they wouldn’t be farmers anymore and farming is not what they would do. We’d lose that tradition. There’d be fewer in number, we’d lose that tradition and the nature of the livelihoods of those living in rural areas would change and farming would not be part of their lives.

In terms of the frameworks, work is proceeding well. A lot of discussion has been taking place between governments. We’re not in a situation yet where there is agreement, but of course, as I said, this is something that has to be considered in looking at the situation with the Bill itself.

In terms of Gibraltar, it is different. We have to remember that Gibraltar is outside the customs union and therefore there is a very hard border with Gibraltar. I wouldn’t want that to happen in Wales. That of course shows what happens if you’re outside the customs union, because if anyone wants to see what exactly happens if one landscape is within the customs union and one is outside, go to Gibraltar. That is what people want to avoid with Ireland. If that happens in Gibraltar, how do you avoid that in Ireland? Of course, that’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet.

In terms of some sort of vote on the trade Bill, there’s no problem at all with that. I’ve said many a time that it’s vital that the Assembly gives its consent on what the frameworks are at the end of the day, what Brexit looks like, and of course it’s vital that the Assembly gives a view on whatever happens on any sort of trade agreement.

First Minister, can I welcome your statement and the Welsh Government's trade policy paper? Of course, that paper shows that the Welsh economy would be disproportionately impacted by a hard Brexit, and identifies the sectors most at risk from tariffs—automotive, chemicals, steel and electrical engineering—while the aerospace industry is more at risk from non-tariff barriers. These are the sectors that are amongst the most productive in Wales and provide a large number of highly skilled, well-paid jobs. I know the First Minister would agree that it's vital that the voice of these key businesses in Wales, and in these sectors, is heard.

Yesterday, in fact, as David Rees said, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, for a round-table discussion, visited Aston Martin in my constituency and, last week, I spoke to engineering graduates at the Aston Martin careers fair at Cardiff and Vale College. That attracted young engineering students and graduates keen to hear about the opportunities at the Aston Martin St Athan plant, amongst the 750 new jobs coming to Wales.

The Aston Martin investment, with Welsh Government support, provides new hope and prospects, but can the First Minister clarify what the Welsh Government can do, what influence it can have on the negotiations in phase 2, to provide certainty and continuity for businesses like Aston Martin, not just as David Rees said in relation to issues like certification, which is key for the automotive sector, but also for environmental standards and skills?

Can I thank the Member, my friend and colleague, for that comment? Yes, of course, these are uncertain times for Aston Martin and, indeed, other businesses, as they seek to try to guess what kind of framework the UK Government wants to put in place following Brexit. Indeed, those negotiations will continue, and we've said to the UK Government that we wish to be part of those negotiations, not in the room, as it were, but close at hand in order to offer advice and to point out what pitfalls there might be. Now, this is not as strange as it might appear, because this is exactly the model that existed when I was rural affairs Minister way back between 2000 and 2002. We would meet every month, the Ministers from across the UK, and we would agree a common line at the European Council of Ministers. I would attend the European Council of Ministers when there was relevant business as far as Wales was concerned. I was in Luxembourg when the deal was done in Luxembourg for the future of the common agricultural policy. And it was the practice of the UK Secretary of State to come out of the room with proposals, and ask our view on them, and ask us whether we were comfortable with them, and that worked exceptionally well. We were never in a position, as a result of that system, where we felt that we'd been cut out in some way, or indeed that we could not support the deal that the UK finally came to. That's a model that we've urged once again for the UK Government to adopt.

15:35
4. Statement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration: Tackling Rough Sleeping and Homelessness

The next item is the statement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on tackling rough-sleeping and homelessness. I call on the Minister to make her statement—Rebecca Evans.

We all need a decent home if we are to realise our potential and enjoy basic well-being. Thousands of households have avoided homelessness through the preventative approach required under our Housing (Wales) Act 2014 legislation, which is the envy of other countries. But we still have much to do. We have all seen people living on the streets, and, clearly, the numbers have grown. Talking to people I meet, I hear distressing accounts of family breakdown, domestic violence, mental ill health, financial problems, substance misuse and bereavement. These issues lead to people losing their homes, but then they can then create a vicious cycle, leading to rough-sleeping. All too often, people become trapped in this situation, and their trust in services may be undermined, and their lives become more chaotic. The rough-sleeper national statistical release was published last week, showing the results of the November 2017 count. The figures show that the two-week estimate is up 10 per cent compared to 2016, and the one-night snapshot shows a 33 per cent increase. This is disappointing in the face of our efforts and investment, but not unexpected, and I believe it largely reflects the increasing effects of continued austerity, increased in-work poverty, and welfare reform.

The £2.6 million announced last summer is funding a range of innovative projects, supporting the needs of rough-sleepers. The PATH programme, designed in partnership with Public Health Wales, Cymorth Cymru and the Welsh Local Government Association, seeks to establish a psychologically informed approach to housing advice and support services. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to this training programme, to help professionals in the sector enhance their ability to engage meaningfully with people with the most complex needs. By the end of April, we will have provided training to 1,000 support staff across Wales.

We are funding 10 housing first pilot projects. The evidence of success from housing first approaches is well documented, but it's not a solution for everyone. However, it can be the route to stable housing and getting lives back on track. The Wallich, for example, has been providing a housing first service in Ynys Môn for some years, supporting people with complex needs to access and sustain their tenancy. We have funded research, which will report over the next few months, evaluating the impact of Part 2 of the housing Act, and the impact of legislation on former prisoners. Shelter Cymru will be reporting on the experiences of rough-sleepers in our cities, and this evidence will add to the body of knowledge such as the recent Crisis report on what works in their homelessness monitor.

We have a firm foundation for our next steps, working with stakeholders to develop policy, practice and guidance, drawing on the best international evidence, backed up by our own action research. We have the funding in place to invest in programmes and approaches that make a difference. Local authorities will have an additional £6 million in their revenue settlements. I will work with local government to ensure this delivers the secure long-term funding for which the Wales Audit Office recently called. A further £2.8 million is being channelled to local authorities to build on statutory prevention work, with a focus on improving access to the private rented sector, application of trauma-informed practice, strengthening services to people with mental ill health and/or substance misuse problems—including improved joint working between housing and mental health and substance misuse services—and action to prevent youth homelessness and reduce rough-sleeping. Talking to front-line workers, I repeatedly hear the message that the roof is the easy bit. People need help to overcome debt, deal with the effects of domestic abuse, poor mental health and substance misuse. And these issues, if not resolved, result in repeat homelessness.

Today, I am pleased to be launching two new policy documents. The first sets out principles for taking housing first forward across Wales. The second is an action plan to reduce rough-sleeping. And these are living documents. They will form the basis of dialogue and action across the sector. They will change as we acquire more evidence of what works, and they can build on successes. We have developed our housing first principles working with stakeholders, including the Wallich and local authorities. There is strong evidence that housing first works, but it works best where the core principles are adhered to: housing with no strings attached, ready and available support services, and a small fund to help meet individual needs. The principles document sets these principles out, and my officials and I will work with key partners over the coming months to explore how we can best use existing resources to support delivery of programmes based on these principles.

The action plan reflects my determination, and that of our partners, to significantly reduce the number of people forced to sleep on the streets. This plan has been developed in partnership with stakeholders such as Shelter Cymru and members of Rough Sleepers Cymru. It is a dynamic working document, subject to continuous review and change as necessary. The document covers a spectrum of activity, supporting people to engage with services and get off the streets as quickly as possible. It also addresses wider issues such as a review of priority need and our guidance on cold weather plans.

Rough-sleeping is one aspect of homelessness, and we can only truly address the issue if we have a system that offers secure housing for all. Building market homes and expanding social housing stock can only go so far to achieving this objective. I will work with the private rented sector to find innovative ways to harness their supply and meet demand. I will also be looking at how we continue to reduce the number of homes lying empty. The funding announced in the budget is welcome, but we must spend it carefully. I have deliberately not laid out how every penny will be spent. I intend to review progress and the evidence from the pilots alongside the research reports due in the spring and summer. I will also work with partners to consider what is needed most to develop our approach to rough-sleeping.

We all recognise the challenges in delivering collaborative services. It will require new ways of working and significant cultural change. I believe we have a good track record of delivery on homelessness prevention. This Government will continue to provide the leadership to ensure we deliver a reduction in rough-sleeping and end the need for people to sleep rough. Thank you.

15:40

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

Can I welcome the fact that the Welsh Government is now moving to adopt a housing first policy, or at least to extensively pilot it? It's something the Welsh Conservatives have been urging for some time, and I'm pleased to see it.

I do have some specific questions, however. First of all, how many of the pilots will be on a county basis, or are they on a smaller scale? I think we need to know how comprehensive the pilots will be in the areas where they are applied. I would urge us looking at a county level to really see whether this type of policy is going to work if we roll it out across Wales. I would like more detail on when the pilots will be evaluated so that we can make that determination, because many of us believe, from the evidence that we've observed, that this offers the best hope for the future.

Surely the Government now needs to review its attitude to the Supporting People fund. It's at the heart of the housing first approach, the support services that people receive, and you will know that those in the sector, like the Wallich, have been urging an urgent review and a reversal of Government policy in this area. I must commend the Minister. You did say in touching on this subject that putting a roof over someone's head is the first vital step but it's not the most challenging thing. In sustaining that improvement, it's the support that people get. So, I just want to know how coherent the Government's approach is. Obviously, if you're going to re-badge it and call it something else, I'm not particularly bothered, but at the moment there's been a reversal out of this type of approach by the Welsh Government.

Can I say, Deputy Presiding Officer, that I think we do need a target date for ending rough-sleeping? We know that, in Manchester, they've set a highly ambitious target of 2020. The UK Government target is for mid-2020s—2027, I think. I would like to see a more ambitious target than that, but it's perhaps somewhere in between—maybe an interim target that we could initially establish. And if we do see successful policy development here—and you will get widespread support, I think, for the innovations that are seen to be working—then we could, perhaps, advance that target and really be a leader in this sector, as Manchester at the moment are hoping to be.

Regarding the independent private sectors, I will give you credit for at least, in the statement, mentioning this because it is an important part of the solution, and I would like to know if you've been having any direct discussions, particularly with the private sector, because you do refer to the Wallich and other charities like Shelter, but I do think that private providers are going to be part of the solution as well, and I'd like to know what sort of discussions you're having. And I'm not quite sure of the rationale behind what you're saying in terms of you not intending to spell out the budget in great detail. I mean, the one advantage of being more candid on your spending commitments is that you will give much more information to the independent private sectors, so that they can then plan their services in terms of expansion for the future.

Finally, on house building, I'm not going to rehearse the whole argument. Of course, we need more supply, and for that, given that we're talking about medium and longer term targets here—well into the 2020s and even beyond—you do need to return to the assessment of housing need, and I think the Holmans projection is the one we should be adopting and working towards fulfilling, and I'd urge you to do that as soon as possible.

15:45

I thank you very much for those questions and for your welcome of the housing first approach. I certainly recall it was the first question that you asked me about when I came into this portfolio, so I'm glad to be able to be making some progress on this, I think, very much shared agenda of promotion of housing first.

We've approved funding for a number of projects and they are with local authorities. So, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, Conwy and Swansea have already recruited staff teams and are already moving tenants into accommodation using that housing first model. But as a condition of that funding, local authorities do have to provide us with feedback on the development and the impact of each of those schemes, and we'll be using that information to update and take forward the principles as we seek to move things out further across Wales, because both of the documents launched today are very much living documents and they'll be changing and responding to the evidence that comes forward to us and to the things that we're hearing as the housing first principles are rolled out. We know it's worked well in areas of America, and we know it's worked well in Finland, but there might be specific issues that we need to look at addressing in Wales, which is why we've got the principles, which are very much embedded in our policy and in our legislation that we have already—our Housing (Wales) Act 2014, for example, and our approach through the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to have all policy with the individual at the centre and always giving the individual the opportunity to have that voice and that control in the decisions that are made about them and ensuring that those decisions are made with them as well.

With regard to the Supporting People funding, I've been really clear that I am in listening mode at the moment. No decisions have been taken with regard to the funding for the second year. We're looking closely at the pathfinder projects that are taking place in seven of those local authorities that have the full flexibility across those 10 grants, and also the other local authorities with a 15 per cent flexibility as well, to see if it does give us the improved services for people who are experiencing or who do need support in order to maintain their home.

As I say, no decisions have been made. I've been listening carefully to individuals in receipt of Supporting People. Cymorth Cymru recently held a series of round-tables across Wales. I was pleased to attend the one in Carmarthen where I heard from people who spoke about the impact that Supporting People's had on their lives, and talked quite powerfully, really, about where they thought their lives would be if they hadn't had the support of Supporting People. So, there's no doubt at all that Supporting People is an important initiative that does have a huge impact on the lives of some of our most vulnerable people. I've also met with and had visits with a variety of organisations, from the Wallich, Shelter, Caer Las and others in order to try and understand the different projects that are taking place locally, because, obviously, the breadth of people and the breadth of vulnerabilities that are supported is quite something.

With regard to a target date for ending rough-sleeping, I think there's an inherent problem, really, in the data that we have for rough-sleeping. In my introduction I talked about how the two-week figures showed an increase of 10 per cent, whereas the one-night snapshot showed an increase of 33 per cent. It's extremely difficult to measure rough-sleeping, which is why I'm really pleased that the Wallich is undertaking some work to have a much more comprehensive look at the individuals who are rough-sleeping to take forward more of an individual casework approach, so that we do understand the lives of those individuals, because there are only a relatively small number of people rough-sleeping in Wales. It's too many, but there's no reason why we shouldn't have a better understanding of each of those individuals and understand better how to support them off the streets and into housing, and deal with all of those other issues that we've talked about: mental health, substance misuse, domestic violence and so on as well.

I'm really keen to see what we can do to encourage the private rented sector to take more individuals who are coming straight off the streets. There's some really good work being done again by the Wallich in Bridgend in this regard. I've spoken to the National Landlords Association and other organisations representing the private rented sector and I've been really clear that I am keen to hear their ideas. I'm keen to hear from the private rented sector and from landlords themselves what they see as the barriers to taking people who are more vulnerable. Sometimes it is a case of bonds, and we've had very successful bond schemes for many years now, in which Welsh Government provides the bond for the individual, so lessening some of that risk for the landlords themselves.

In terms of where do we take funding next? I would expect some of the future funding priorities to be around access to the private rented sector, but also application of those trauma-informed practice and psychologically informed environment ways of working, and strengthening the delivery of services to people with mental ill health and substance misuse problems, alongside improving the implementation of the national pathway for homelessness services for children, young people and adults in the secure estate, because we know that homelessness amongst those groups of people can be particularly acute as well.

I hope I've addressed as many of those questions as possible.

15:50

Thank you for the statements today. I'm pleased that there is extra funding over coming years for homelessness prevention and reaction. In the past, there has been focus on preventative measures, but perhaps there has been an eye taken off the ball to the growing extent of the crisis, with those slipping through the gaps of the services that are meant to be preventative.

However, reading through the action plan outlined today, I've immediately noticed one glaring problem, which is a major contributory factor to people falling through the gaps of preventative services, and that is that there's no clear commitment to remove priority need. As I've said in this Chamber before, we won't properly tackle the problem of street-sleeping while perceptions and, in fact, procedures remain that deter and deny permanent housing and accommodation to those who need it.

I understand there is a commitment to consider modifying legislation in 2020, but I think this is too far away and we need to have that consideration sooner so that we can legislate sooner still. And that is something that we need to look at because it is a huge contributory factor to rough-sleeping. People from across the sector—I've also done the visits you've done—are saying that removing priority need is something that would really help them. When I asked them what their wish list is, that is at the top of their wish list. 

I do welcome the plans for pilot projects throughout Wales for housing first, and I've also heard some of the successes via our committee visit to the Salvation Army recently. But I will say, and I hope it's just the guiding principles that are coming here—and I hope that's what you'll confirm because I do think it's quite vague in relation to funding. I hope the statutory element that you're going to release afterwards will come up with more meat on the bones because I'd like to know, for example, how it's going to be funded. It says you would expect local authorities to make the decision. Is it more or less an opt-in, opt-out-type agenda? And you say that it won't suit some people. From looking at research, if you do housing first properly, it could be rolled out as a flagship policy, not just as an option for housing associations, or for whoever is providing. I do think that it could be that effective if we put out a bold statement to that aim. 

But I'd like to be confident, for example, that the numbers of new homes outlined in the affordable homes strategy will be enough to be effective. If housing first needs, for example, more housing—how will you be able to accommodate that if the numbers are not high enough within the strategy already announced?

I'd also like to touch on some of the extra money announced, and again, as I've said before, there is a lack of detail here, but I hear what you're saying—that you want to keep some of the money back to be flexible, but I think, in particular, it's relating to the youth homelessness announcement by the First Minister before Christmas. I've already pointed out, but I think it's worth saying again that I don't think it's appropriate to put these statements out in the public arena before they come here. I understand that that money is for 2019-20, so I'm really confused as to why a statement was made last December for money that will be made available later on down the road.

I've also had housing associations and others telling me that they want to get involved in the youth homelessness partnership. There was a photo of you and the First Minister alongside Llamau and the future generations commissioner, but other people didn't know much about it, and when I clicked on the link, it clicked over to Llamau as opposed to the Welsh Government's website. And when I've gone on today, again, there's not any information as to who is part of it, how you can be part of it, or how people can shape that. So, I'm getting those requests from the third sector, so I would love it if you could explain to me fully, today, how people can get involved in that youth homelessness partnership. 

My final question is: you've referred twice to mental health and substance misuse—again, fundamentals to this whole agenda—how are you going to improve mental health provision? Because, again, when we went to the Salvation Army a few weeks ago, they were saying that they had to wait and wait and wait, and by that time, their health had deteriorated. So, how can we make sure that when people in these quite intense situations want mental health support, they can get it?

15:55