Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

17/04/2018

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

And the first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle. 

Child Poverty

1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's policy to tackle child poverty in Wales? OAQ51981

Yes. We are committed to a whole-Government approach to tackling child poverty and we are taking action to ensure that every child has the best start in life, and our child poverty strategy sets out our objectives and policy.

A new Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales report estimates that there could be 50,000 more Welsh children living in poverty by 2021 because of the Tory Government's welfare reforms. Given the challenges we face in tackling child poverty and the huge concern that has been expressed over the decision to end the school uniform grant in Wales, will the Welsh Government look again at this, and will the Welsh Government also take urgent action to ensure that its 2011 guidance, designed to ensure that school uniforms are affordable for families, is strengthened and properly implemented across Wales?

Can I give the Member the assurance that in the next academic year there will be a scheme in place that is broader than the current school uniform grant? That will be of huge assistance to many, many parents and many, many children, and it's intended that the process of moving on to that new system will be seamless. 

First Minister, do you at least welcome the 100,000 reduction in the number of Welsh children living in absolute poverty since 2010, and do you accept that the benefit cap has impacted most in London, which had 90 per cent of housing benefit claims above £20,000 rather than in Wales, and will you credit the near doubling of the tax-free allowance since 2010 for its role in helping many less well-off families?

Let me tell you that I deplore the enormous cuts in public funding that we've seen since 2010 from the Conservative Government, the bung that was given to Northern Ireland of £1 billion for health and education, whereas Wales got absolutely nothing, the fact that so many children have suffered as a result of impositions such as the bedroom tax, such as the incomes of their families, their parents' incomes, not going up, not being supported. Nobody in this Chamber can seriously believe that the Tories care about child poverty or that the last eight years has seen an improvement in poverty levels in Wales. 

I'm outraged by those figures that were relayed earlier on, and many of those contributory factors are outwith your control. But the school uniform grant is something that is within your control. Now, while the Assembly was in recess, and at the same time as your flagship anti-poverty programme, the Communities First programme was wound up, we heard that you intend to cut the school uniform grant to a tune of £700,000, which is a small amount of money in the scheme of things. It is a grant that helps some of the poorest families access education. While you're prepared to cut this amount of money, it looks petty, First Minister. What assessment have you made regarding the issue of child poverty and the impact of this change on child poverty, and will you agree to write to school heads to ask them to allow pupils to wear non-logoed uniform items in order to try and mitigate some of the impact of this cut to the school uniform grant?

Can I give the leader of Plaid Cymru an assurance that the education Secretary is in the process, as I said, of looking to introduce an improved grant that suits families' needs better, something which supports better access to curriculum activities and learning opportunities that might otherwise be denied to learners due to cost? A number of councils have already confirmed they will continue to run the year 7 school uniform scheme, or run similar schemes, in 2018-19. While the school uniform grant is certainly helpful for families, it was also inflexible because the money could only be used for school uniforms, and I know that what we are looking to introduce in September will be a scheme that is broader than that and looks to help low income families with so many of the costs of education. 

Independant Abattoirs

2. What support does the Welsh Government provide to independent abattoirs in Wales? OAQ51983

We'll shortly be launching a £1.1 million food business investment scheme package of grant aid specifically to help small and medium-sized slaughterhouses in Wales. That will enable such businesses, which are often in remote areas, to invest in competitiveness, and also to ensure their resilience and, of course, to make sure that they are sustainable in the long term. 

I thank you for your answer, First Minister. I hope we all want to see high standards of animal welfare in our slaughterhouses, and that, of course, goes for independent abattoirs as well. I know the one in my own constituency takes great pride in the respectful way in which they treat animals. I'm aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs is still looking at CCTV in slaughterhouses, and it seems that no decision has yet been made. Can I ask what specific financial support you will offer to slaughterhouses, and independent abattoirs in particular, for the installation of CCTV should the Cabinet Secretary make the decision in that regard?

13:35

Well, that's what this grant can be used for. What we will not do is impose CCTV before abattoirs in Wales are ready. In England, of course, we know this is moving ahead on a compulsory basis. We want Wales's slaughterhouses to be fully prepared. We don't rule it out, but, at this stage, what is hugely important is that there's assistance for abattoirs to be ready, if that is the direction that we take.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, when devolution came into being in 1999 we said at that time that things were going to be different, politics was going to be different. This morning, your Government, and you in particular, wrote a letter to the Presiding Officer indicating that you were minded to seek a legal judgment from the court to stop a debate in this Chamber taking place tomorrow. The only place we can find any comparable comparisons is the country of Egypt, where the executive tries to stop the legislature debating and discussing and voting on a motion that comes before it that is deemed in competence. Why are you trying to silence the Assembly?

Well, the leader of the opposition is wrong. There is actually no power to prevent a debate happening in this Chamber except that which resides in the hands of the Presiding Officer. That's not what the letter's about.

As I understand it, First Minister, from the letter that you sent to the Presiding Officer, you seem to deem yourself outside the scope of the Government of Wales provision, and therefore you do not feel that you are bound by the provisions within the Government of Wales Act, and that is what you will be seeking a judgment from the court on if you seek that route. That, in effect, places you above the law, if you take your interpretation to the extreme, because you are saying your Ministers are bound by the provisions within the Government of Wales Act but you yourself are not. Now, surely, First Minister, you should allow this debate to go ahead tomorrow, allow the debate, because it's deemed to be in competence—it's on the order paper—and I would seek confirmation from you today that you will not try and intervene and stop this debate taking place tomorrow afternoon.

I have no power to intervene to stop the debate taking place; that's a matter for the Presiding Officer. And also the leader of the opposition inadvertently misleads the Assembly when he claims the effect of section 37, as we interpret it, is to put the First Minister beyond the law. It is not. The interpretation that we place on section 37 is that it applies specifically to Welsh Ministers and not to the functions of the First Minister. Now, that is an issue that is hugely important in law—it's hugely important. Now, if something is in dispute in terms of the law, it's perfectly proper that clarity is sought as to how the law operates. We can't operate in a slapdash way; we have to make sure we have clarity for Government and, indeed, for the Assembly.

First Minister, I never thought I'd stand in this Chamber and find us debating these types of points, or discussing these types of points, where you—you—as First Minister, because it's your signature on the bottom of that letter, are trying to prevent a debate coming forward tomorrow because you want to seek a judgment of the court to prevent that happening. Now, you have said time and time again that the substance of the debate tomorrow, which is the leak inquiry report, is in the ownership of the Permanent Secretary, and it is for her to determine whether that report should come forward. Why are you intervening now to try and stop that report coming forward? Because, if that report became public and people could form an opinion, with suitable redactions, which is what we've called for in the motion tomorrow, to protect the identity of any witnesses who wish that identity to be protected, people could form an opinion on that report. Instead, today—the first day back after the Easter recess—we are looking at you as First Minister who has sent a letter to the Presiding Officer, trying to silence the Assembly. That is the wrong way to do democracy here in Wales.

It misleads the Assembly to suggest that we have the power to stop the Presiding Officer allowing a debate. That's not what the situation is here. Now, let me explain what the situation actually—. [Interruption.]

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First of all, I have no fear of the leak inquiry; I ordered it. And it is something that I was under no—it was not imposed on me, it was something that I took forward and Members can see the conclusion. There are far wider legal issues here that arise as a result of the operation of section 37. It's worth me exploring that with Members in detail. Now, first of all, there have been discussions with the Presiding Officer. It's not the case that this came out of the blue. It's not something I would choose to do, I have to say, if other options were available, but we have to protect the position of a senior member of Welsh Government staff who, if the motion was passed, would be at risk of prosecution. This is a serious issue—a hugely serious legal issue—and it is incumbent on us to make sure that steps are taken to protect her. But it goes beyond that.

Section 37 is so broadly defined that, without greater clarity—[Interruption.] Well, if the Member wanted to listen carefully, he might learn something. Okay? Section 37 is so broadly defined, and it lacks such clarity, that potentially any document of any kind that is in the control of a Minister, or an employee of Welsh Government, is potentially releaseable—any document—regardless of whether it was caught by an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, regardless of whether it was caught by the Data Protection Act 1998, regardless of whether a document might be libellous, regardless of whether the document might contain details of national security. Now, I have in my possession documents that are given to me as First Minister that deal with national security. Under the interpretation at the moment that we have, that would be releaseable—that would be releaseable. [Interruption.] Well, it is; there is no clarity on it.

Secondly—[Interruption.]

13:40

Secondly, documents that are commercially confidential, under the interpretation and the lack of clarity that we have now, are no longer subject to confidentiality. It means that any document—a tender bid for example, a commercially confidential document—would be potentially releasable without further clarity. That is the reality of it without further clarity. [Interruption.] If Members don't want to listen—. I'm trying to put a reasonable case here for them. If they don't want to listen, that's a matter for them.

More importantly, if a whistleblower came forward to a Minister with a serious allegation on the basis of confidentiality, and a document was created as a result of that, there is now no guarantee of confidentiality without further clarity. There is no guarantee. I cannot give, as First Minister, any guarantee of confidentiality to anybody, nor can any other Welsh Minister, until this matter is clarified—until this matter is clarified. It also means that any person who produces a document in confidence, or who gives evidence in confidence to any investigation or inquiry, is now not able to receive an absolute guarantee of confidence. That's how serious the situation is.

Now, how can this be resolved? How can this be resolved? Well, there are three ways of resolving it. First of all, a change in the law—section 37. We can't do that. Section 37 is incredibly badly drafted and nobody disputes that. We can't do anything about that. Secondly—not my first choice—is for the matter to be decided in the courts by way of a declaration. That is not the way that I would want to deal with this. We have to protect our position as a Government. The third way of doing it is for a protocol to be developed, as happens in every other Parliament—a protocol to be developed—in order for Members to understand what would be in order and what documents would be releasable in the future. This is exactly what happens at Westminster. There is no reason why this can't happen in the Assembly. 

So, I reiterate the offer we have already made to the Commission, and we make it in good faith, and that is that tomorrow's debate is not time-sensitive and I do not advocate cancelling the debate—I don't advocate withdrawing the debate—but there is an opportunity for that debate to happen in the future. What is clear here is that there are serious legal and constitutional issues that have arisen that need to be resolved, and the way to resolve them, surely, is for this to be done working with the Commission to develop a protocol to provide greater clarity to Members. I make that offer to the Commission and, indeed, to you, Presiding Officer, to deal with this issue in a way that avoids the need for legal action. 

The problem is that sounds like a threat, First Minister, and the questions of openness and transparency are not going to go away. They cut to the very heart of democracy, and if there are so many problems with the Wales Act why have they only now been identified? These matters, we'll be coming back to them, but I want to ask you about the question of Syria. 

Does the First Minister support military intervention in Syria? 

I received a phone call at midnight on Saturday morning from Downing Street. I received a briefing from the Prime Minister. It was clear what the action was going to be. I made clear to her my concern that I feared there would be civilian casualties, given the complicated mosaic on the ground in Syria. That doesn't seem to have happened. But my concern, and it was made to her at the time—. I was very concerned that it wouldn't be possible to take any action without civilian casualties and that was something that I wanted to avoid. 

My party is committed to opposing these tokenistic, American-led air strikes, and I'd like to remind the First Minister that the road to peace is rarely paved with the weapons of war. Now, the effectiveness in terms of stopping Syrian suffering is far from clear. The Prime Minister herself has said that these strikes were not intended to change the course of the war in Syria and end the suffering of the Syrian people. Without a single vote cast in this Parliament, Westminster, or anywhere else, the First Minister was quick to show his support for those air strikes. So, can he now tell this Assembly: does he believe that Westminster should be able to start wars without any parliamentary approval?

13:45

Well, it's not a war, because that prerogative lies with the monarch. It is military action; that is true. Well, there is a precedent for it. David Cameron asked for a vote in Parliament, and it's a matter for the current Prime Minister to explain as to why there wasn't a vote this time around. There are great dangers here. Syria is complicated. There's no doubt in my mind there was a chemical attack, and anything that removes the capability of such an attack occurring in the future is something I would support. What I would be extremely sceptical of would be an acceleration or escalation of military action in Syria, which would lead, to my mind, inevitably to civilian casualties, and that, of course, would be a propaganda boost for those countries that are already in Syria and who themselves have a case to answer for what they're doing.

But that risk is there now, isn't it?

'So for me it’s not a question of bombing in Iraq and then bombing in Syria—I don’t see much of a difference.'

Those were the complacent words of the First Minister when the prospect of British bombs being dropped on Syria first arose back in 2015. He supported bombing campaigns in Syria then, and he supports them now. Yesterday, the First Minister's London Labour boss questioned the legality, the morality and the effectiveness of the strikes. Does the First Minister harbour the same concerns, or does he stand by his comments in support for the Prime Minister and her air strikes in the British national interest?

Well, firstly, I have no reason to doubt the soundness of the legal advice. On the issue of morality—well, we are talking here about a chemical attack that occurred on defenceless civilians, and if an attack means that the capability of repeating that is no longer there, then, yes, I would support that. Yes, I would support that.

The third point, then, is effectiveness—well, time will tell. Time will tell. What I would not support is any military action that would put the lives of civilians at risk. That's a propaganda boon to other countries—a propaganda boost.

But there was a chemical attack by the Assad regime; of that, I am convinced. Secondly, I believe that these missile launches were designed to reduce or remove the capacity for a chemical attack in the future. That surely must be something that should be welcomed in order to avoid those attacks happening in the future. But in terms of escalation, no, there are no great dangers of that. 

As I listened to the First Minister's tortuous, legalistic response to the leader of the opposition earlier on, I was reminded of Denis Healy's first law of holes, that when in one, the best thing to do is to stop digging. Another international comparison of the position that the First Minister seems to find himself in today is the Watergate affair. He'll remember that it wasn't the break-in that actually brought down Richard Nixon, but the attempted cover-up. The President in that case said that when the President does it, it's not illegal. Does the First Minister really want to go down in history as the 'Tricky Dicky' of Welsh politics?

Well, this is the man who defends Enoch Powell. This is the man who defends Enoch Powell, and he seeks to lecture us on morality. 'Have a good look at yourself' is my response to that. No-one suggests that anybody is above the law, but I'd be interested to know whether there's anything that I said with which he disagrees.

Well, if I were counsel, Llywydd, in any legal action that might be brought, I would provide a legal argument for it, but the subsection that the First Minister refers to states, in relation to Ministers' functions—or, rather, the letter states that section 37, in relation to Ministers' functions, must identify a function that is exercisable by the First Minister and Welsh Ministers collectively. If the function in question is exercisable by the First Minister alone, section 37 has no application. So, what he's effectively saying is that if it's Welsh Ministers together, they are scrutinisable, in the way that section 37 provides, but if it's the First Minister alone, he isn't. That seems to be a very perverse interpretation of a very clear section. 

13:50

Well, I find it very strange that somebody who stands here in First Minister's questions every week, and has missed very few, suggests that somehow I'm afraid of scrutiny. But the law is the law, and the law has to be applied. Now, there is a difference of interpretation. There are two ways of resolving that interpretation, one of which would be my preferred way, which I have already outlined, and the other one is more formal, but I believe that there is a way of resolving this in order to provide Members with more transparency and to provide Government with the kind of comfort that it needs. I ask Members in this Chamber, and I ask the different parties in this Chamber: if you were in a position where you had been given documents in confidence and you found yourself with a vote demanding those documents should be produced, what would your response be? You want to be in Government; put yourself in the position of somebody who is leading a Government. It's hugely important that there is clarity in this regard, and that clarity I hope can be developed, working with the Commission and the Presiding Officer in the future.

Well, I'm sure the First Minister is also aware of subsection (6) of section 37, which says that, if the Assembly does pass a motion requiring the production of a document, a direction may be issued by the First Minister or the Government to direct the person at which that requirement is pointed not to comply with it. That, of course, would place the Government in a very embarrassing position, but it would protect against the legal consequences, which the First Minister was adumbrating earlier on. It would seem a very perverse outcome again, in relation to what he said about how this would breach commercial confidentiality, potentially, and the wider implications of what this is supposed to risk, if anything that the First Minister was dealing with would be gaggable or could be prevented from publication, but anything that any other Minister does is perfectly open to scrutiny, whether it would be in a court of law, in the court of public opinion or in this democratic Assembly, which represents the whole of the Welsh people.

There are two issues: firstly, whether the First Minister's functions are actually part of the operation of section 37, and, secondly, the broader Pandora's box that has now been opened, which is what documents are releasable under section 37. If all documents are releasable, I can't see how Government can continue, bluntly. It's that bad. There has to be some limit, surely. The operation of the Data Protection Act, the operation of the Freedom of Information Act—. I know the Tories haven't thought this far, but the operation of the Freedom of Information Act—they would not apply. They would not apply in these—. There has to be some limit to this.

At this moment in time, the Government cannot give a guarantee of confidentiality to anybody, and that is an interpretation that we can't clearly accept. It's in everyone's interests to get that clarity. Secondly, he only read out the first part of the subsection—subsection (6). Yes, it is possible for a direction to be issued that the person need not comply with the notice, but then another person has to be specified who has to comply with the notice. It's not an absolute discretion. So, have a look at the second part of the section, and it will give you a good idea of how the subsection operates. Yes, it is possible to direct that the person should not comply, but someone else has to be put in their place. So, actually, the discretion is not as absolute as the Member describes.

Children and Young People in Clwyd West

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for children and young people in Clwyd West? OAQ51967

Yes. We provide universal and targeted support for children and young people across Wales, enabling them to achieve their full potential. This includes enhanced social care, childcare, education, play, youth services and support for additional learning needs and disabilities.

First Minister, in common with other parts of Wales, children in my constituency have also been affected by the withdrawal of the school uniform grant. I listened carefully to what you suggested was going to take place, i.e. that there's going to be a successor grant, but, of course, this existing grant, which has now been withdrawn was withdrawn without any consultation whatsoever with key stakeholders, including parent groups, nor was there a consultation, as I understand it, with our Children, Young People and Education Committee. Given that that was the case, can I also ask how that demonstrates compliance with the children's rights impact assessments that you as a Government must undertake when taking decisions of this nature?

Where was the consultation on the bedroom tax? Where was the consultation on the personal independence payment? Where was the consultation on the mess of the universal credit? Nothing at all. I don't take lectures from the Conservative Party about consultation. They are the most secretive party in Government that has ever been produced. But he asked the question about what has happened with the school uniform grant. I've already said to him that there will be something better in place in good time for September.

13:55

Was that it? They may be bad. They may be very, very bad. But you haven't answered the question, First Minister, so maybe I could ask whether the First Minister would answer the question.

I answered it in the supplementary to question 1—I thought very clearly.

Question 4, Gareth Bennett.

Please allow the question to be asked.

The Provision of a Bus Station in Cardiff City Centre

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of a bus station in Cardiff city centre? OAQ52011

Yes. The new bus station will be one of the first infrastructure—[Interruption.]

The new bus station will be one of the first infrastructure projects operated by the Welsh Government's subsidiary, Transport for Wales. Construction will start this year, and the project will pave the way for a fully integrated and multimodal transport hub at the core of the new metro system.

Yes, thanks for the answer. I think a transport hub is what we do need, and I think a crucial part of that will be the provision of a coach station as part of the overall plans for Central Square. Do we currently have any guarantees that a new coach station will be part of the finalised project?

That will be something that will have to be examined as part of the project itself. At the moment, the coaches come into Sophia Gardens, if I remember rightly. But, clearly, we would want to move to a situation where the transport hub is fully integrated in terms of all forms of transport.

I think many of us are very confused if this is the coach station, or does it include local buses as well? Because, as I understand it, the need for local transport being centred at the train station is really important, where the central station used to be, and it was part of the scheme that the bus station would be redesigned and be part of this new, exciting project. Indeed, the architects Foster and Partners were chosen to design that last phase to incorporate a bus station for Cardiff Bus. So, what is happening? Is this part of what we're talking about at the moment, or is this drifting into another project completely?

No. What we are seeking to provide is seamless integration between trains, buses, coaches and the metro, and to provide easy access for cyclists and pedestrians. That is important—I know that the Member for Llanelli is looking at me when I say that—so the intention is to provide a hub that is as integrated as possible.

Cardiff residents have been waiting over a decade for a new station and this is becoming an issue that is really making people feel very aggrieved. Last year, I was told by Rightacres that the development of the bus station would happen in January this year. Obviously, nothing yet has happened. I hear you say it's now going to happen this year. I'm just really concerned about the constant delays and the way in which this makes people cynical about our desire to provide a bus station that is crucial to the future health and well-being of all the shopping facilities in the city centre. We absolutely do not want people arriving by car because of the air pollution problem. We had an excellent Foster design. The Welsh Government is now the leaseholder, and you're going to be deciding on the design. What's wrong with the Foster design? Is it not possible to go ahead with the first part of it while you're waiting for your new tenants of the area above the bus station? But we definitely need a bus station, because people at the moment do not know where they have to get their bus, and it's over a decade. So, I'd be grateful for any clarification of what's going to happen.

I can give the Member the assurance that spades will be in the ground in June. That is the plan in order to move this forward, and completion is scheduled for the middle of 2021.

The School Uniform Grant

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the future of the school uniform grant? OAQ52013

Well, he’s asking the same question as he asked previously. We are looking at options to provide a more appropriate grant that better suits families, including opportunities that might be otherwise be denied to learners due to cost.

But can you confirm that there will be no cut in the budget available—the funding available—to support the purchasing of school uniforms? The response of a spokesperson on behalf of your Government to the censure following the announcement was that school uniforms are now cheaper. Well, I have personal experience—at least two secondary schools in my area have moved to new school uniforms that you can’t buy in supermarkets. They insist that you buy them through specific providers, which aren’t much cheaper than they have been in the past, so that’s a false argument. What we need now is an assurance that there will be no reduction in the sum of funding specifically available for school uniforms from here on in.

14:00

That is not the aim. The aim is to secure greater flexibility in order to ensure that we have a more flexible grant system that can deal with things such as giving children and learners more opportunities to go on trips, et cetera, and to look at a grant system that is less restrictive than the present one.

Let's have another go. After this announcement was made, the Welsh Government said that the cost of uniforms had reduced. The Bevan Foundation called this a mealy-mouthed justification for a cut that will save a small sum. A headteacher in Bangor said uniform is a way of avoiding social stigma because pupils all look the same. He blasted what he called the bonfire of the grants affecting some of the most vulnerable school children. A Conservative Bridgend councillor described the move as heartless and said it would hit the poorest families the hardest. You were just asked clearly whether you would protect the funding, so can I ask you, yes or no, even if you won't answer whether you'll protect the funding, will all year 7 pupils in receipt of free school meals still be eligible for a school uniform grant?

Well, what we're looking to do is to do that and beyond. Our commitment to the most disadvantaged pupils is there for all to see. We've increased it to £93.7 million through the PDG spend. We are looking at not just school uniform items, but possibly the cost of school trips, stationery, extra-curricular activities, school photographs, cost of equipment or resources. But I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Education is mindful that while, for the majority of schools, uniform costs are now lower, there are still certain schools that aren't doing enough to keep costs down. She is looking at whether there is merit in placing current guidance for school uniforms on a statutory footing.

Information Held by the Welsh Government

6. How is the First Minister ensuring the transparency and accountability of information held by the Welsh Government? OAQ51975

The Welsh Government has followed the principles of openness in Government for many years. We comply with relevant legislation such as the Public Records Act 1958, data protection and freedom of information. We're also active in terms of both the open data agenda and the wider open Government agenda.

As a result of your altercation with Adam Price during FMQs on 30 January, I realised that if your Government was seeking correspondence details between Adam Price and Hywel Dda university health board, then you may have asked the same questions about me. Indeed, for all I know, you may be collating information about all opposition Members' correspondence with public sector bodies. And so, I put a subject access request into your Government on 31 January; 37 days later, I was asked for clarification, which I gave; and on 15 March, I was asked for further clarification—to what is essentially a very simple question, First Minister—and this I gave. I have heard nothing. Meanwhile, a local journalist put an FOI into the health board and got this answer:

'Hywel Dda university health board confirms that the information request from the Welsh Government made on 26 January 2018 was initially regarding Adam Price AM. However, upon acknowledgement of the information sent by the UHB on the same date, Welsh Government requested further information about the engagement activities regarding other MPs and AMs.'

So, a local journalist finds out from the health board that my communications have been shared with the Welsh Government, but the Welsh Government seem unable to give that information to me themselves, despite me being entitled to ask this. [Interruption.]

I can't hear Angela Burns because her fellow Members are shouting across her. Angela Burns.

Thank you. My point, Presiding Officer, is a local journalist can do an FOI on the health board and get the exact same information that I put a subject access request into your Government for at the end of January, and I still have absolutely nothing. So, an Assembly Member can't get their information from you, a journo can from the health board. Your Government is not transparent, is not accountable, and it makes me ask, 'What are you hiding?'

First of all, an FOI request is entirely separate to a Data Protection Act 1998 application, because subject access requests are far broader. They're bound to be. I have to say, Darren Millar sits there pompously, shouting 'disgrace', what does he think happens in Westminster? This is exactly what happens in Westminster. Theresa May, when she receives briefings, is—[Interruption.]

14:05

Please allow the First Minister to respond to the question. 

Theresa May and other Ministers—. Theresa May and other Ministers receive briefing on a Member's interest in a question. That's normal. Plaid Cymru Ministers, as Simon Thomas will be able to tell you, did exactly the same when they were in Government. There's nothing sinister about it. When a Member asks a question, it is quite normal for research to be done on what the Member has said about it, and perhaps what correspondence there is in order for Ministers to answer the question properly. That's all that ever happens. It's exactly the same situation that has existed for many years—all the time since 1999, including for members of Plaid Cymru. There's nothing wrong with it, and this is the way things are done in Westminster. What are the Conservatives—? I know they haven't been in Government, but what do they think happens when an MP asks a question of a Minister? It is standard briefing for a Minister to be told what the MP has said in the past about it, and what correspondence there might be in order for the Minister to be fully informed. That's the way things have always operated both here and in Westminster. There's nothing sinister about it; in fact, it shows respect for the Members.

Comments by a former Cabinet Minister in your own Government today clearly suggest that what happened in my case was not a one-off aberration, as you previously argued, but part of a wider pattern—a smear machine whereby Government resources are being systematically misused to silence and intimidate critics, including people within your own party. And I have to say that, together with the news today of an attempt to intimidate this Parliament with legal action, clearly suggests a picture of a leadership culture within Welsh Government that is dedicated to crushing opposition, whatever the personal cost, and whatever the political cost in terms of public trust in our democratic institutions. My question is a very simple one, but perhaps it's best directed to the people behind you: at what point do we say enough is enough?  

Well, I prefer to stay with the people of Wales. I didn't disappear to America; I stayed and I fought my case with the people of Wales. Why doesn't he speak to Simon Thomas, who will tell him—? [Interruption.] 

You attack me personally on a question about personal attacks. 

The First Minister is attempting to answer the question. Please allow him to finish. [Interruption.] Allow him to finish, please. 

Adam Price stood in this Chamber and just attacked me personally; he complains when he gets it back, but it's not one law for one and one law for the other. If he speaks to Simon Thomas, he will explain to him that this is quite normal—. [Interruption.] There is no control, Llywydd.

There is at least one party in this room that is being very quiet and listening to the First Minister. I want all political parties to allow the First Minister to finish his questions and answers. 

The idea that Members are subject to a smear machine is complete and utter nonsense. [Interruption.] Well, look, if a Member stands up in the Chamber and attacks the First Minister, surely—. 

Just let's get through this. Allow the First Minister to finish. 

If a Member stands up in the Chamber and questions and attacks another Member, that Member is entitled to respond. There are no special cases in this Chamber. Surely, it's part of the debate within this Chamber. What I can assure Members on is that there's no smear machine—that is absolute nonsense, wholly untrue and has no basis in fact.

It is true to say, as I've said before, that where Members ask a question, then requests are made in terms of what a Member has said and what correspondence might be available in order to be able to assist the Minister with an answer. Plaid Cymru Ministers did exactly the same thing when they were in Government, and why? Well, it shows respects to Members. Surely, Ministers shouldn't go into questions without knowing anything about what the Member has said about a particular issue.

Welsh in Education Strategic Plans

7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of Welsh in education strategic plans? OAQ51969

Aled Roberts was appointed in February 2018 for a 12-month period to implement the recommendations of the rapid review of the Welsh in education strategic plans. Fifteen plans have been approved and work is ongoing with the remaining seven authorities. We are committed to improving the planning of Welsh-medium provision, as outlined in 'Cymraeg 2050'.

Further to that answer, and naturally, as you’ve already mentioned, following the statement made by the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning on 15 March, there are now seven local authorities that have yet to have their WESPs approved by your Government. Three of those authorities—Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend—are in my region. Indeed, their first-draft plans were a disgrace and an utter embarrassment, given your Government’s target of 1 million Welsh speakers. Are you, therefore, disappointed by the lack of vision and ambition of these Labour councils in the south-west, and what are you doing, as a Government, to progress matters?

14:10

May I say, historically, that it was the Labour councils that were in the vanguard of establishing Welsh-medium schools, particularly in south Wales, so they have a very good record on that? It’s true to say that some authorities haven’t come up to the standard we expect, and we have asked them to ensure that the plans are rewritten and redrafted in order to attain the ambitious target that we have. The Minister will speak with the leaders of those authorities that haven’t had their WESPs approved at present, and we wish to ensure that every new WESP is submitted to the Government by the end of May.

Economic Development in Newport

8. What plans does the Welsh Government have to support economic development in Newport? OAQ52012

The 'Prosperity for All' national strategy and economic action plan set out the actions we are taking to improve economic development across Wales, including Newport.

Thank you, First Minister. A regular, reliable service on the Ebbw Vale to Newport rail link would ease congestion on our very busy roads and improve economic prosperity throughout the region. There is deep frustration as people have been waiting a long time for this to happen. One extra train per hour on the line, running from Ebbw Vale to Newport via Rogerstone and Pye Corner and on to Cardiff, would connect the Valleys and two of the largest cities in south-east Wales and vice versa. 

While I welcome the Welsh Government's commitment to increasing the frequency of the service on the Ebbw Vale line, with the up and coming decision on the award of the rail franchise, can the First Minister provide reassurances that the Ebbw Vale to Newport rail link will be a priority? 

We do remain committed to increasing frequency of services along the Ebbw Vale line and the options being considered do include services calling at Newport. It is important that the Ebbw line is consistent with our metro aspirations, so we will work with the winning bidder to identify the technical solution that's required to complete the infrastructure that's needed to enhance the number of services along the line. 

First Minister, Newport council recently unveiled their master plan for the future of Newport city centre, but unfortunately it contained so little detail and so little in the way of firm proposals that it only attracted 24 responses. Would he join me in encouraging Newport City Council to step up to the opportunities that the scrapping of the Severn tolls gives and put real investment into the centre of Newport so we really, really benefit from those opportunities? 

I have to say, Newport council has an excellent record in terms of investment. We see the development along the river, the university campus and the opening of Friars Walk, which I was pleased to open some years ago now. So, there has been significant development in the centre of Newport and I expect the council's good record to continue. 

This week, we saw the unprecedented step of a joint statement between the UK National Cyber Security Centre, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security, warning of heightened risks to our internet infrastructure and hardware from Russian state-sponsored hackers. Newport is at the forefront of cyber security expertise, with the excellent National Cyber Security Academy located in that city. What discussions is the First Minister planning to ensure that—as we need to increase capacity in the UK to face this very real threat, with economic and political implications for us all—what discussions is he planning with the UK Government to ensure that it's not centralised in London, and that the UK response is actually shared between the different cities of the UK where expertise exists and, indeed, to go even further and to say that the expertise and the remit of the UK National Cyber Security Centre should be shared to the areas where there is already existing expertise, in places such as Newport? 

I agree, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary is speaking at an event on Thursday that deals with this exact point. We are supporting a number of initiatives to assist the region's technology credentials. We have the UK's first National Software Academy, a National Cyber Security Academy and innovation point. The Member's quite right to say that this work cannot be centralised in London, not just economically, but I would suspect from a security perspective as well. 

Farmers and Livestock Owners

9. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to help farmers and livestock owners affected by the current fodder shortage in Wales? OAQ52005

The Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs is meeting the unions later this week and will discuss the current fodder situation. I understand that the National Farmers Union has opened its fodder bank.

14:15

Thank you, First Minister. Of course, straw last year was £42 a tonne bale. Now, it's as much as £70. Hay is £90 a tonne, clamp silage has gone up £15 a tonne to £40, and round bale silage has increased by over 230 per cent. Now, on top of this is the price of transportation, adding an extra £10 per bale. The situation, as you quite rightly point out, has led NFU Cymru and Forage Aid to set up a fodder bank to allow their members to post listings to find much needed feed. This is affecting a lot of farmers in Aberconwy, and I ask you, First Minister: what are you doing to support our farmers? And will you confirm whether the Welsh Government is prepared to follow Ireland by helping farmers through subsidising some of the costs of this transportation?

Well, first of all, Farming Connect's locally based team of development officers are on hand to provide advice and guidance. We expect the weather to improve, of course, over the next few days, which may provide some relief. We are in contact with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other devolved administrations, which are all monitoring the impact of persistent wet weather on farm businesses. And, of course, as part of that monitoring, we'll continue to see what can be done to help farmers.

Thank you, Llywydd. The fact that the Irish Government is willing to pay and to transport animal fodder is having an impact on the market across the British isles, and it is having an impact on the markets and putting prices up for farmers in Wales. I think that is the argument, and the thing that's become clear because of the wet spring that we've had. What happens as a result of that, of course, is the broader question as to how we manage the market across the British isles as we leave the European Union. It raises all sorts of questions on the customs union and on the fact that the meat market is a common market between the Republic of Ireland, Wales and the rest of the British isles. In addition to assisting farmers over this season's problems, can you tell us a little more about what the plan will be in order to ensure ongoing subsidy to farmers to ensure that they can be economically active as we leave the European Union?

Well, the Farmers Union of Wales, of course, has raised concerns about what the Irish Government has done, whether it's legal or not, and that is something, perhaps, that ultimately we must consider. We understand that the farmers are now seeing the grass growing because the weather has changed. But can I say that there is a charity called Forage Aid, which supports farmers where they have been impacted by extreme weather conditions? They can ensure that there are things available to farmers. So, if some farmers have a major problem then they should perhaps approach Forage Aid in the first place.

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. I've one change to this week's business. Tomorrow, the Counsel General will make an oral statement on the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers, which are available to Members electronically.

Leader of the house, I wonder if we might have a Government statement or debate on road safety in Wales, in the context of the new powers devolved under the Wales Act 2017 giving the Executive and the legislature powers to set speed limits and the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, which called for a 20 mph default speed limit for built-up areas, something supported by the campaign 20's Plenty for Us, which is calling on Welsh Government to introduce such a policy. It's also supported by numerous organisations, including Public Health Wales and Sport Wales. In Scotland, there's a proposed Bill to introduce such a 20 mph default speed limit, and I think it's timely, leader of the house, given the ongoing accidents, fatalities and serious injuries on our roads in Wales in built-up areas, that we debate and consider what further steps might be taken to make our roads safer for all our communities.

Yes, thank you. The Wales Act 2017 does of course give the National Assembly the ability to legislate on national speed limits from 1 April this year, as long as the legislation does not create or modify road offences or affect exemptions from speed limits, so it does have some limitations.

The Department for Transport has commissioned a three-year study into 20 mph limits, which aims to consider road safety and the wider impacts, and the results of that are being reported this summer. So, we're taking a very active interest in monitoring that and other relevant research with a view to seeing what we can do in Wales. Of course, the 20 mph zones would need to be signed, because there is an issue about the national speed limit and what happens in unsigned roads. So, there are a number of things to look at, but it's something that the Government is actively considering at the moment.

14:20

Could I call for two statements, the first ahead of World Curlew Day, next Saturday 21 April, and Curlew Crisis Month, which will be running throughout May—an oral statement in the Chamber on the curlew crisis in Wales? The population in Wales has fallen by 81 per cent and continues to fall by over 6 per cent annually, with country-level extinction expected by 2030. Now, 21 April was chosen as World Curlew Day because of a traditional Welsh tale identifying the first curlew conservationist as St Beuno, a sixth century abbot from Wales and, of course, his feast day is 21 April.

Because of the seriousness of this crisis, there was a major conference in Builth Wells on 24 January, attended by 120 participants from across conservation, farming, game and rural policy sectors in Wales. That's led to regional workshops—I attended one in north Wales on 23 February—and local meetings. There was one in Loggerheads, Denbighshire only two weeks ago. I met the chair of the Welsh Ornithological Society who said, 'Given the plight of the curlew, we can't wait. We must work with the Assembly and Welsh Government to bring in a special curlew prescription as soon as possible.'

Well, as Wales species champion for the curlew, I'll now be joining a panel at the Hay Festival to discuss this crisis, our most endangered species. Clearly, there are many calls from species champions because there are many species champions here, but this bird is the most endangered species. It's on the red list in Wales and UK. Agencies across Wales are working on this crisis. Please can we have a statement in the Chamber so that we can find out further from the Welsh Government how it is working with Natural Resources Wales and the other sectors to address this?

Secondly, and finally, could I call for a statement on the recently tendered Welsh Government Warm Homes all-Wales area-based fuel poverty scheme Arbed 3 scheme manager contract via the National Procurement Service? The north Wales housing association, Grŵp Cynefin, has been working hard in partnership with south Wales based Melin Homes to develop a bid for this contract, but they heard earlier this month that the National Procurement Service for Wales has instead awarded the contract to a Scottish company, Everwarm, part of a much bigger group, which I'm told is called Lakehouse.

I'm told that due diligence appears not to have been fully met, that Melin Homes, which have run Arbed in south Wales for five years, have reality-checked their prices, 100 per cent of their spend goes into the local economy, they employed a team of local people, they support local SMEs, and that's all at risk. But I've been given a letter that says that the Lakehouse group, the parent company, has operated a loss for the last two years and are named in an ongoing fraud investigation by the Metropolitan police resulting from work on fire alarms undertaken in Hackney and linked to Grenfell Tower, and have agreed an £8.75 million payment in respect of a fire that destroyed a school where they were the principal contractor. These are serious matters, and an important procurement contract on behalf of Welsh Government in a key area, fuel poverty—something very close to my heart and many others. This does merit a statement, and these two Welsh-based housing providers need an answer.

The Member raises two very important points. I wasn't aware it was World Curlew Day—that's very difficult to say, World Curlew Day—so, I'm very grateful to the Member for raising awareness on that matter. The Minister's indicating to me that she'd welcome a meeting with you to better understand some of the issues you'd raised, and so I'd suggest that we arrange such a meeting and then see what happens as a result of that. The Member also mentioned that he was species champion for the curlew. I can't resist, therefore, the open invitation to say that I am the species champion for the native oyster, which I hope will flourish and therefore assist the curlew in its nutrition as it does so. But it's a very important point that the Member raises, and it's a very important issue that we need to address. So, I would urge the Member to meet with the Minister and see what can be done about it in that way.

In terms of the second matter, procurement, there are a range of legal issues surrounding the award of particular procurements and the process to be followed after that. If the Member has such letters in his possession, I suggest he writes to the Minister responsible quickly and puts those in front of her so that the process can be followed through to its proper conclusion.

14:25

I think we're certainly in for some interesting days in the business for the Assembly, but I'll concentrate on a couple of issues that have emerged over Easter, if I may, and ask first of all if it's possible to have a statement from the Government on the issue of Caribbean and Commonwealth immigrants here in Wales? We've seen over Easter stories emerge of what's been described as the Windrush, empire generation, who have been, through no fault of their own—the children and grandchildren, or children, mainly, of immigrants who have not had British passports, or haven't needed to prove who they are, now being turned away from NHS services—that may not be happening in Wales because we have a different approach in the NHS in Wales, to be fair—but certainly being turned away from job opportunities, landlord checks and so forth. These things do apply in Wales, unfortunately, and we have—certainly with the communities we have in Wales, we have communities of people who will fall into this category.

Now, under severe pressure, the Westminster Government yesterday did a u-turn and is now meeting the heads of Caribbean Governments at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, and so forth to discuss this. But I think it would be useful to have a statement from the Welsh Government as to how you are liaising with the UK Government on ensuring that our citizens, particularly of Caribbean and other Commonwealth origin, are not being penalised by this failure by the Home Office to have a considered, if you like, understanding of some 0.5 million people. It makes you wonder how they're going to cope with 3 million EU citizens when we leave the EU, mind you, but let's concentrate on what we have at the moment. Many of them will be in Wales, many of them will be citizens who will feel, even if they haven't experienced any difficulties yet, concerned about their future, and I think a statement from the Welsh Government setting out how you intend to liaise with the UK Government on this would be extremely useful.

The second thing I'd like to ask you to consider is whether you would give Welsh Government time to a debate on the activities of the Crown Estate in Wales. This is a very important body. We've had discussions about naming bridges and things like this, but let's concentrate on big, important bodies like the Crown Estate. I think it makes something like £300 million a year from its estate in Wales—mainly, of course, renewable energy is the link there, with its ownership of the shoreline and many Crown estates. It doesn't have an office in Wales, it doesn't produce its reports to the Assembly, we don't debate what the Crown Estate does, and yet it's a big economic driver. We have to ask the question as to whether it's doing the best for Wales—I can't answer that question because we don't get those debates. So, in the context of the new powers that you now have as a Welsh Government over energy and the National Grid, or over fracking coming down the line, these are questions that will relate to the Crown Estate and their activities. I think it would be opportune to have an opportunity to debate those and perhaps to examine how we as an Assembly and the Assembly committees can get better interaction with the Crown Estate and better reports back from them on their activity in Wales and the economic benefit that they bear and what ways they seek to work with the Welsh Government in ensuring that that is for the maximum benefit of all the people of Wales.

Yes, well, the Member raises two very important issues. In terms of the Windrush generation, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday, and I think—. Presiding Officer, I will have to check the legality of this, but I'm not aware that there's any reason why we can't copy all Members in to that letter, but just with the caveat that I haven't checked. So, unless there's some reason why I can't do that, I will make sure that we do. But I can say that, amongst the things he says in that letter, he says that:

'This situation requires urgent action to resolve the unjust and injurious circumstances which are leading to the children of the Windrush generation being made vulnerable to homelessness, unemployment or deportation due to Home Office mistakes over the past half century.'

I'm actually the lead Minister for that. We are doing a piece of work about how it's affecting the generations here in Wales, and I'm very happy to commit to bringing a statement forward when we've got that piece of work complete, which is very much at the top of our agenda, because I think we've all been truly horrified by the treatment of people who came here, after all, to rescue Britain after the war and who contributed enormously to the success of Britain and its rise from the ashes of the second world war. For them to be treated in this way is nothing short of shameful, embarrassing and disgusting. So, I'm more than happy to commit to such a statement.

In terms of the Crown Estate's activities, I think the Member makes a very good point. I haven't had a chance to discuss that with the relevant Cabinet Secretary, but I think he does make a good point, and I will have that discussion with the Cabinet Secretary, and I will commit, Llywydd, to bringing forward a statement or a debate once I've had that discussion with the Cabinet Secretary because I think he's raised a very important issue. 

14:30

As the Westminster Government rolls out universal credit, which will make many people in Wales poorer, the number of people getting a personal independence payment has decreased from the number who previously received disability benefits, and last year the Welsh Government ended the Communities First scheme. And whilst I welcome what the First Minister said today regarding the pupils clothing allowance, I was very concerned, as were many other people here, when we heard that it was being cut. Can I ask for the Minister to make an oral statement on action being taken to alleviate poverty in Wales by the Welsh Government?

Yes. I think I'm going to be discussing, with my personal equalities hat on in my portfolio, with the Minister for Children and Social Care, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration and the Cabinet Secretary, bringing together a number of poverty programmes around some of the equalities issues, and as part of the rapid review of gender-focused policies, which the First Minister has also asked us to look at. And some parts of that will highlight some of the things the Member has just raised in terms of the effect in particular areas of specific Government policies and, more importantly actually, some of the unintended effects of the juxtaposition of several policies at once on some people. So, we are having a piece of work done amongst a range of us at the moment, and I'm happy to commit to bringing forward—. I'm not too sure which one of us will do it, but one of the Government Ministers who has responsibility for this in their portfolio will bring forward a statement in due course. 

Leader of the house, can I make two requests, if I can? The first is in relation to Natural Resources Wales's consultation on salmon and sea trout fishing controls. There have been a number of concerns raised with me, and I know with other Members as well, that NRW's proposals are neither fair nor proportionate, and that applying a blanket restriction could be unenforceable and also do nothing to reverse the decline in fish stocks. And there's certainly a concern that there'll be a negative impact on the rural economy, forcing many angling clubs to potentially close. Now, as I understand it, the Cabinet Secretary has said that once she receives the formal application from NRW, she will consider the issue before making a determination. But can I please request that, before the Cabinet Secretary makes a determination, there is a debate on this matter in Government time to allow AMs to express a range of views on behalf of their constituents?

And secondly, and briefly, it has come to my attention that there has been some delay in receiving some Government responses to committee reports and papers, and I would appreciate it if the leader of the house could just investigate this, as I'm sure we'd all agree that responses from the Government should be received in a timely way and within the agreed timescale. I'd be grateful if you could just look into that matter. Thank you.

On that second one, I'd be more than happy to meet with you, and if you could give me some specifics to look at I'm obviously very happy to do that. I'm not sure if you were asking me for a more general report on response times, but I'm more than happy to meet and clarify what you meant with that. 

On the NRW point, the Cabinet Secretary will be making a decision in due course and, of course, it's open to all Members to put forward their own views and those of their constituents on those proposals, and that's part of the Cabinet Secretary's responsibility as she makes a decision once NRW has come forward with that. So, I don't think it would be appropriate to have a debate as part of that process. But I'm sure she would welcome representations from all AMs on behalf of their constituents as regards those proposals. 

The leader of the house will be aware that Caerphilly council will be spending another £193,000 to cover the ongoing costs of the ongoing, never-ending senior officer pay scandal, a cost, of course, which is being borne by local people themselves through no fault of their own. The total cost of this entire fiasco now is well over £5 million—incidentally, £5 million that could be put to use for local services, perhaps to keep a local leisure centre that is currently under threat open. Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for local government on what a local authority has to do, how incompetent it has to be, before it is put into special measures?

14:35

Well, I know that the Cabinet Secretary is aware of the situation with Caerphilly council, which has been highlighted just very recently, in terms of the ongoing matter with regard to the senior staff there. I'm not too sure what the status of that is in terms of where it is in process, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment further. But I'll certainly raise it with him and ask what his view as to where we are at the moment is.

I'd like to ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services about the impact of the proposed 6.5 per cent pay increase for NHS staff and its effect on clinical staff who are working in the voluntary sector. I know that the hospices are very concerned about how it will impact on their funding. I declare an interest as vice-president of City Hospice in Cardiff. And this concern has been expressed to me, and I believe they may have already written to the Cabinet Secretary about this issue. But, obviously, it is causing a lot of concern to hospices throughout Wales because it will be an additional amount of money onto their funding, and they are uncertain about whether that will automatically come from the health boards, who fund them. So, it would be helpful if we could have some clarification of that.

The Cabinet Secretary has indicated to me that he is aware of the issue and is about to write to you about it.FootnoteLink

Thank you very much. And just to add, I am fully in support of Simon Thomas's issue that he raised about the Windrush generation.

Can I call for two statements, please, from the leader of the house? The first is in support, really, of John Griffiths's call for a statement on road safety. The leader of the house will be aware that there's significant concern in my own constituency around speeding on the Evo triangle, which is a triangular route in Conwy and Denbighshire that has been the scene of many deaths and a number of accidents in recent years. Now, to be fair to the Welsh Government, funding has been made available for the local authorities to bring forward some road safety measures on that route, with the installation of average speed cameras, but I think my constituents are very keen to have an update on whether there's been any progress towards that end, and a statement on road safety would afford them an opportunity to have an update.

And, secondly, can I call for a statement on skin camouflage services in Wales? The leader of the house may not be aware but, of course, skin camouflage services are a very important provision, particularly for those with skin conditions or those who've suffered disfigurement following accidents or illnesses, in terms of supporting their self-confidence and independence. But the skin camouflage services that are currently provided in Wales—or that were provided in Wales—have just recently ceased. These were provided by an organisation called Changing Faces, and it has withdrawn its services from both Wales and Northern Ireland because it's been unable to come up with funding arrangements to continue them, because of the different ways that the NHS approaches these services here. That's given a cause of great concern for a number of people in my own constituency who've benefited from these services in the past, and there's currently no service available other than for them to pay privately in order to access skin camouflage services. So, I would be grateful if there could be a statement on this, and I'm sure that the Welsh Government would not want people to be in that position. Thank you.

On the first, as you heard me say, I know there's a piece of research that's due to report back—that's been done by the Department for Transport—this summer. I know the Welsh Government's looking at that, and a number of other pieces of research, with a view to seeing what can be done with the new powers. So, I certainly hear you make the same points as John Griffiths did earlier.

On the second point, I was not aware of that. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that, if you supply him with details, he'd be very happy to look at it.

Leader of the house, you will be aware of the disappointment in Swansea following the decision by health boards across Wales to approve the siting of a new major trauma centre for south Wales in Cardiff, at the expense of a very strong bid from Morriston Hospital in Swansea. Now, not all of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board members agreed to this proposal, however; the vote was not unanimous. One board member, Professor Ceri Phillips of Swansea University, has claimed that the whole process was, and I quote, 'fundamentally flawed', because the cost of creating the centre and network was not known at the time the decision was made. He also stated that the decision, and I quote again,

'smacks of politics trumping economics again'.

Now, given the strategic importance of this major trauma centre, and the concerns in south-west Wales on yet another decision to centralise a service in Cardiff at the expense of Swansea, will your Government be prepared to bring forward a debate on this matter so that we can scrutinise the issue in detail and address the pretext that this is a clinical decision, when actually, in fact, it's a political decision? 

14:40

Yes, the Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he's intending to make a statement at the end of the process, when the process has run its course. Can I say, Presiding Officer, I want to declare an interest in this because, obviously, my constituency is one of those most affected by this decision?  

I will only ask for one statement. Can I ask for a statement on the social implications for the people of Wales and in respect of access to justice of the Tory Government's court closure programme? And can I just remind you of the particular courts that I'm concerned with that the Tories have closed: Abertillery, Rhondda, Caernarfon, Aberdare, Barry, Carmarthen, Port Talbot, Pwllheli, Aberaeron, Newport, Llandrindod Wells, Neath, Port Talbot, Pontypool, Flint, Bridgend, Pontypridd, Swansea, Holyhead, and I think there maybe one or two I have missed? Could I also ask for some consideration to be given to the fact that, for example, a valuable site such as the Pontypridd magistrates court seems to have been sold or dispensed with for the sake of £350,000? But it seems to me that access to justice is being increasingly denied. That has serious implications for the people of Wales and for many of our communities and we need to have a debate on this issue.   

Yes, the Member raises a very important point. My understanding is that 26 court buildings in Wales have been sold since 2010 and their receipts total just over £5.5 million. The Government is extremely concerned that we keep access to justice locally in Wales and we've made those points to the UK Government on a number of occasions. I know that the Cabinet Secretary who's responsible for this—who is Alun Davies—is working very closely on this with the Ministry of Justice in developing a justice policy for Wales. We all know that it's essential in a democracy that people have recourse to the rule of law swiftly, locally and easily and are not prohibited from that by centralising decisions that take that ability out of their hands. We are very concerned about it, and I know the Cabinet Secretary is very actively pursuing a policy of attempting to understand what the overarching strategy is, because it's not entirely clear to us.  

I wonder if I could request a fairly urgent oral statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services please on the role of fire co-responders? Since the red categorisation has been narrowed as regards the number of conditions that are within it, if you like, the role of co-responders in attending amber calls has become far more critical in my view, particularly in attending those calls that I think most of us would consider very serious and probably should be included in the red category. The Cabinet Secretary will be aware of one particular occasion where, actually, co-responders weren't called and with the very saddest of consequences. 

To me, it's actually inconceivable that the ambulance trust is now considering reducing the role of co-responders to being only able to attend red categorisation calls, which limits the work that they're able to do, considering their expertise, to a very small number of cases. I'd be grateful if he could consider having a statement on that sooner rather than later, because I know the Assembly's concerned about the categorisation generally but co-responders very specifically. Thank you. 

Yes, the Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that he's going to ask the ambulance trust to write to all Members and explain what the situation is exactly. 

I would like to ask for two statements, if I may—the first from the Minister for Environment on the response to the flooding in Anglesey in November. One of the most important action points to be taken in the case of the Llangefni floods, certainly, was that monitoring should now happen in order to understand how the river Cefni behaves so that we can plan flood prevention measures for the future. I understand that NRW staff who are supposed to carry out that monitoring work have been withdrawn to work on other aspects of the agency’s work. I don’t believe that that’s acceptable, because without that monitoring now, local people will continue to live in fear that future periods of rain will cause similar damage again. Therefore, I would seek a statement from the Minister to explain exactly what’s happening and to seek the assurances that people in that area are looking for.

The second statement I would like is one from the Minister responsible for the Welsh language. Councillors in Anglesey are extremely disappointed, having been invited to the Welsh Government offices to an independent review panel session to discuss the future of town and community councils. They are disappointed because the invitation asked them to state in advance if they wanted to contribute through the medium of Welsh, and unless 10 per cent stated beforehand that they wished to do so, they would assume that they were willing to participate through the medium of English. We are talking here about councillors who work through the medium of Welsh in their day-to-day activities within their councils being invited to an event hosted by the Welsh Government on the Welsh Government’s estate. I don’t think this is acceptable, and I would like a statement to explain exactly what the Government’s views on this are.

14:45

Well, on that second point, I wasn't aware of that myself, so I think if the Member would be prepared to send details to—it's actually the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services who would be responsible for that. But to both him and the Cabinet Secretary, I'll undertake to make sure that we find out what happened there, because that sounds very strange indeed.

In terms of the first one, I think, if you highlight the specific circumstances in which you understand staff have been withdrawn, I'm sure the Minister will look into the very specific circumstances. She's about to make a statement this afternoon on the environment more generally, which I'm sure will afford you the opportunity to ask the question directly.

Leader of the house, during the Easter recess, it was my pleasure to welcome the Minister for children, Huw Irranca-Davies to the Oaklands play area in Cilfynydd to see how Rhondda Cynon Taf council have worked with local residents to make the play area inclusive for those with additional needs, and also to discuss what steps the Welsh Government could take to promote inclusive play following on from my legislative proposal earlier this year. Will there be a chance for the Welsh Government to update AMs on measures to improve inclusive play during this Assembly term?

Yes, I know the Minister was delighted to visit the Oaklands play area in Cilfynydd during half term, and to have the opportunity to see the difference that investment in accessible play facilities can make to children and young people. There were a number of follow-up actions agreed on the back of the debate on your legislative proposal earlier in the year, and I know that the Minister for children will be happy, in due course, to update AMs on all of the measures being taken forward to improve inclusive play during this Assembly term.

Leader of the Chamber, I would like a Government statement on the First Minister offering his support for the bombing in Syria. It seems that international chemical weapons inspectors are going to investigate in Douma tomorrow to report on what has happened there, but personnel, possibly from Wales, have already been sent to bomb Syria before the investigation has taken place, and the First Minister of Wales supported it.

In Westminster, your Labour colleagues are talking about a war powers Act to democratically limit military action, possibly. So, what's the policy in Wales? Is it that the First Minister just says what he likes on behalf of the Government? I've spoken before about your very selective approach to what you will speak on in terms of foreign policy. You've had little to say, if anything, about the Kurds—nothing, in fact—and nothing to say on behalf of the Yemeni community in Wales. So, what I'd like, really, is some clarity from your Government. So, can you please make a statement on the First Minister's actions in supporting the military action in Syria as First Minister?

The Member will be very well aware that international foreign policy is not devolved to Wales. The First Minister answered questions about his phone call with the Prime Minister earlier on in First Minister's questions, and I don't have anything to add to that.

I think, leader of the house, Wales has been regarded as a world leader in promoting equality and human rights. We now have the opportunity to progress further by commencing the 2010 Equality Act's socioeconomic duty, with the power devolved on 1 April. So, will you join me in congratulating Harriet Harman, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, who got this power on the statute book, alongside the gender pay gap provisions of the Act? The socioeconomic duty would require public bodies to make decisions on the way they tackle inequalities of outcomes caused by socioeconomic disadvantage. Will the Welsh Government now consider commencing this duty? 

Can I also ask, leader of the house, if we could have an update? We're awaiting the outcome of the environment Minister's consideration of the environmental impact assessment relating to the biomass incinerator. I'm aware that the company has commented on the request for an EIA. In the interests of transparency, I would like to ask for their response to be published and a decision date from the Minister to be given. Thank you.

14:50

Thank you for both of those. I'm obviously extremely happy to join you in acknowledging the contribution of Harriet Harman to the important legislation—we were all delighted when they managed to get it on the statute books—as well as in recognising the substantial part that socioeconomic inequality plays in exacerbating other forms of inequality. Indeed, the juxtaposition of those two sorts of inequality are very instrumental in some of the difficulties that people with protected characteristics experience across the UK.

We do have an opportunity now, as you identified, to look again at whether we should enact a socioeconomic duty in Wales. This is one of the issues we'll be considering in the context of the rapid review of gender equality that I've been talking about earlier in this session. We've also got the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which is very relevant in this context, including the goal of a more equal Wales, and we want to carefully consider how the two play together and what additional duties or important responsibilities are necessary, if any, on Welsh public bodies and how those two things play together. We know that Scotland has recently taken the decision to enact their socioeconomic duty as the 'fairer Scotland duty', and we want to look more carefully at the backbone to their decision and the likely implications, just to inform our thinking of where we are in Wales. But it's very much an active part of the consideration at the moment of the rapid review that we're doing.

In terms of the Barry biomass plant, before we release a letter sent in by third parties, we are required to consult them, and I understand that this is now completed, so the letter can be released later today. The Welsh Government's currently considering the representations. We don't intend to set a deadline for a final decision on the environmental impact assessment, as a decision will require careful and full consideration of all of the issues to withstand legal challenges.

Stereo—I think we're picking up Radio Wales over there, aren't we, Simon? [Laughter.]

Two things, if I may, Presiding Officer. First of all, earlier, Darren Millar asked the leader of the house about the problem with the withdrawal of camouflage services for those suffering from skin conditions. I thought it was a good opportunity to advertise the cross-party group on skin, which is taking place next Tuesday, to which all are welcome, and which should be a good opportunity to raise that issue. I know, in the past, we've raised issues like that and then communicated with the Minister as well, who's always very helpful.

Secondly, I asked before the Easter recess if we could have a statement on the trunk road programme and where we were with proposed improvements right across Wales. I think you said then that that would be with us before the summer recess, from my memory, so I just want to make another plea for that statement not to fall into the abyss beyond the summer recess. Over the Easter recess, I was called to two issues—to one problem with flooding on the A4042 between Abergavenny and Pontypool. A major piece of infrastructure, which is going to become more important with the development of the critical care centre in Cwmbran—rightly important that ambulances and emergency vehicles are able to traverse that piece of road. Secondly, another issue I raised with you and the Cabinet Secretary in the past is that of the A40 between Abergavenny and Raglan—a degrading, old concrete road surface. Up until now—I know a lot of funding is going into the Heads of the Valleys road, so maybe the eye has been off the ball with these two pieces of road that I mentioned hitherto, but they are equally important pieces of road infrastructure, so I'd be grateful if you could keep the pressure up on your colleague to make sure that we do have that statement on improvements to the trunk road network in Wales before the summer.

Yes, on that second one—absolutely, we are expecting to have a statement before the end of the summer term, before we enter the summer recess, on the road trunk network in Wales.

I absolutely take your point on the skin, and I didn't know there was a cross-party group, so it's good to be reminded of that, and the Cabinet Secretary has already undertaken to write back to Darren Millar once he has the details.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I just wanted to add my support for Simon Thomas's call for a statement on the disgraceful scandal of the treatment of the Windrush generation, and I just wanted to add some additional points. It is a reminder of the endemic racism in our society. I don't recall reading of any people from New Zealand or Australia being caught up in the way the immigration rules have been changed, and we have to remind ourselves that the people who have been treated so disgracefully are people who were unable to regularise, formalise, their right to remain, because they didn't have the money to apply for a passport, never mind the money to go back and visit family in the place they originally were born.

There's a particular issue that I'm very concerned about, which is the right to family life. Some people decided to go back to the Caribbean or elsewhere when they retired, and they now find themselves unable to visit their children and grandchildren because of the draconian immigration laws. One of my constituents, who died recently, was unable—they were unable to organise his funeral for a whole month after his death, simply because of the difficulties of people coming from Trinidad. And this applies even more acutely when we are dealing with the Asian community who, in general, wish to bury their loved one within 48 hours. It's just ridiculous that people cannot attend the funerals of their close relatives because of the barriers that are put upon them by the immigration service. So, I wondered if you are able, in this statement, to include some indication of the numbers involved who live in Wales, and what the UK Government might now be prepared to do in the light of the exposure that this scandal has raised on this issue, and hopefully we can have a more humane immigration policy.

14:55

Well, as I said in response to Simon Thomas, we did write expressing our serious concerns about the treatment of people who came from Commonwealth countries. I do think it's worth observing, Llywydd, that it's not just the people who came over on the Empire Windrush, of course; it's the people who came from all Commonwealth countries as a result of a plea from Britain after the war to come and help rebuild the 'mother country', as it was very much then called. Unfortunately, it's not possible to know how many people there are, because no documentation was issued at the time, after the Immigration Act 1971, and a large number of people who didn't travel abroad, for whatever reason, saw no reason to regularise their situation, and why would they? It's only recently, as a result of the hostile environment, which has now been renamed 'the compliance environment' by the UK Government, that people are now being asked to produce paperwork in order to sign leases and to get access to normal, day-to-day, routine things. Unfortunately, we do not know how many of them exist and are affected in Wales.

The Home Secretary, as a result of a very large amount of pressure, including from the Welsh Government, has announced new measures, I'm pleased to say, which do include: a taskforce dedicated to helping those affected; plans to work with departments across the Government to gather evidence on behalf of immigrants—documentation for every year is usually expected, such as bank statements or pay slips, but any of you will know how difficult it is to do that, especially in an electronic age where banks don't keep them past two or three years—a pledge that all cases will be resolved in two weeks, which, I mean, I would that it were so; that all fees for new documentation are waived so that people are not out of pocket, and those normally cost around £229, I'm told; and that a new website is set up with confirmation and a direct contact point. There were a number of other statements made, but we are aware, as well, that some people have actually been deported. We continue to seek assurances from the UK Government that everybody who has been poorly treated as a result of this appalling situation will receive the redress they're entitled to. 

3. Statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care: The Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill

The next item is the statement by the Minister for Children and Social Care on the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill, and I call on the Minister to make a statement. Huw Irranca-Davies.

Thank you, Llywydd, for the opportunity to make a statement about the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill, which was introduced to the National Assembly yesterday. The Bill, although technical in nature, will make it possible for the Welsh Government to put in place a national application and eligibility checking system to support the childcare offer in Wales.

Suzy Davies took the Chair.

The childcare offer was a key commitment in the Welsh Labour manifesto 'Together for Wales', and we are committed to providing 30 hours a week of Government-funded early education and childcare to working parents of three and four-year-olds in Wales for up to 48 weeks per year. The childcare element is aimed at working parents, which means that we need to establish a means by which parents can apply for the offer and be told whether or not they are eligible, and we are keen to ensure that this process is quick and easy. 

In September, we began delivering our childcare offer in seven early implementer local authority areas. This early testing phase is proving invaluable. We are learning from the delivery on the ground. It's helping us to fine-tune the offer before it's rolled out more widely. Early implementation has highlighted some of the issues and the potential challenges relating to the longer term administration of the offer. So, at the moment, local authorities undertake eligibility checks on a largely manual basis. We know that they find this burdensome, and it's resource-intensive, but I would like to thank them for their commitment and for their feedback to date.

But as we move ahead, it simply does not make sense to continue with such a burdensome approach, nor does it make sense for parents to have to provide their local authority with hard-copy evidence of their employment status and monthly earnings and so on. So, as we move towards the full roll-out of the childcare offer from 2020, we want to establish one national approach for processing applications and for making eligibility checks. This Bill will enable us to do just that.

The Bill provides Welsh Ministers with the power to provide funding for childcare for eligible working parents of three and four-year-old children and to make regulations about the arrangements for administering and operating such a fund. It also enables Welsh Ministers to access the information needed to confirm eligibility. It makes provision for Welsh Ministers to require parents to provide information that is relevant to their application, and to permit certain UK Government departments to provide information that is relevant to making that decision about a person’s eligibility. This is sensitive information, and it's only appropriate that the Bill also makes provision to apply a criminal offence in respect of the unlawful disclosure of such information.

The Bill makes it possible also for financial penalties to be imposed in certain circumstances. So, for example, if a person knowingly provides false or misleading information to support their claim for funding. However, applicants will also be able to ask for any decisions in respect of penalties or of eligibility to be reviewed and, ultimately, they will be able to appeal decisions to the first-tier tribunal.

We have explored other ways of setting up this process, and these are set out in the documents that support the Bill, which were published yesterday. Our preferred option is to take the power to make arrangements about how the funding for the offer is to be administered, and that's what the Bill does.

The current intention is to engage Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to operate the system on behalf of Welsh Ministers, thereby integrating with the system already operating for the English offer. I believe this is the best option. I’m sure Members will agree that, given current budget constraints and the ongoing period of austerity imposed by the UK Government, it simply does not make sense to reinvent new solutions where ones already exist.

This Bill will give us one common approach across Wales. There will be no postcode lottery when applying for childcare in Wales. Everyone’s application will be dealt with in the same way, and subject to the same criteria and rules. We also consider this approach to be less risky from the perspective of fraud and data security.

The Bill requires the consent of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and other appropriate UK Government Ministers. I'd like to thank the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, for providing her consent to the relevant provisions in the Bill. I'd also like to thank the Secretary of State for Wales and his office for their support over recent months in developing this Bill and in seeking the consent of the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The regulation-making powers, which the Bill confers on Welsh Ministers, provide for the operational details to be prescribed in subordinate legislation. The regulations will go into detail about who is eligible for funding under the scheme, and how they may go about applying for the funding. All the subordinate legislation, bar the commencement Order, will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

So, it is my pleasure to introduce this Bill for the attention of Assembly Members. I very much look forward to working with the Assembly, and with Assembly committees, over the next few months, as it is my belief that this Bill is an important milestone in delivering one of our manifesto’s key commitments.

15:00

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Can I thank you for your statement and for the briefing that you afforded me earlier on, with you and your senior officials? I think this is an important piece of legislation that needs to be taken through the Assembly in order that we can hang upon this framework the financial arrangements that will need to be in place for the new childcare offer. And you will be aware, of course, that the new childcare offer is also fulfilling one of our manifesto commitments, and manifesto commitments from some of the other political parties who are also represented in this Chamber, in that we all wanted to extend the eligibility for free childcare to those who are in the workplace, in order to maximise the opportunities for people to get back into work and also provide child development opportunities and early education opportunities for those children. I think it's absolutely right that you're seeking to fulfil that ambition.

Now, notwithstanding that, of course, there are some concerns that the eligibility criteria for access to free childcare is restrictive in a way that means that there's not a universal offer that's being made. The children's commissioner and others have voiced their concerns that those young people who are from poorer backgrounds tend to be around 10 months behind their peers in terms of development at age three, and many of those, of course, if their parents are not in work, will simply not have access to what is a high-quality childcare offer that you and I want our young people to have the opportunity to interface with. So, I do wonder, Minister, whether you will as a Government consider the eligibility criteria as we go forward with this Bill, as it moves forward into Committee Stage, so that there's an opportunity not just to discuss the development of the financial framework that sits behind the childcare offer, but also to look more widely at the eligibility criteria that was on the face of the Bill, if you like, in order to perhaps widen it. 

Other concerns have been raised about the involvement of family members who may well be registered and licensed child minders or nursery owners, and their ability to offer childcare that is paid for via the new childcare scheme. Again, I think that this Bill presents an opportunity to address the concerns that have been raised in relation to that. I can see that there's some reference to parents who might be child minders on the face of the Bill, and the exclusion of those specifically, but what about aunties, uncles, grandparents and any other members of the extended family, who may well be registered and licensed, delivering high-quality childcare and early education? They also, I think, ought to have the opportunity to participate in this scheme and to be funded to participate in the scheme.

Concerns have also been raised about capacity within the sector to deliver the childcare offer, and I wonder whether you can tell us where you're at as a Government in terms of pushing the capacity up in those pilot areas. You'll know that there have been some independent reports that have suggested that the capacity that is currently available in Wales is about two hours 40 minutes- worth if it was exploited in full across the whole of the country and this offer were completely taken up per week. That's clearly a long way from the ambition of all young people who are eligible getting the full 30 hours, so I wonder what work you're doing with the National Day Nurseries Association and others in order to ramp that capacity up, and what your experience is in those pilot areas in respect of that.

In addition, the Public Policy Institute for Wales raised some serious concerns about the costing of the free childcare offer, in their report some time ago. They reckoned it could cost up to £228 million to deliver it across the whole of Wales. I appreciate that not all of the detail in terms of the whole roll-out is within the explanatory memorandum in respect of this Bill, because it forms a small part of what you're doing, but clearly it is a concern, and I know that the Welsh Government has stuck to its guns in terms of this £100 million price tag. But perhaps you can tell us, given the continuing experience in the pilot areas again, whether you still feel that £100 million is going to be sufficient to be able to deliver against your ambition.

Just finally, if I can just say in respect of the involvement of HMRC to deliver this, I think it's eminently sensible. It's very clear from the explanatory memorandum and the financial attachments that any other option is blown out of the water in terms of the attraction, in terms of the cost-effectiveness of partnering with HMRC. You're quite right: they've already got an infrastructure that is in place over the border in England, and to expand that to incorporate a Welsh scheme seems to be absolutely eminently sensible. I'm very pleased that the UK Government have engaged positively, via the Wales Office and via the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in order to give the appropriate consents and support to facilitate this Bill. So, I'm very pleased to see that and I look forward to hearing your response.

15:10

Darren, thank you very much indeed. Several points there, but can I just begin by welcoming your broad support for this? As you rightly say, versions of childcare, early education offers, appeared in most manifestos of some sort, with variations on a theme, differently cut and spliced. But it is good that we are now at this point where, with the support of this house around this Bill, we can move to a position where we can see a full roll-out by 2020 of a national Welsh childcare scheme that involves those elements as well—not simply of childcare, but also of that educated, pedagogic influence as well. So, thank you for the support.

To come to one of the main themes of your points there, this is not the universal offer. In fact, there are those who have lobbied for a far more universal offer, not least among those—and I've discussed this with her—is the children's commissioner, but there are others as well. But this isn't that offer; this is very much the offer that has come directly from the manifesto, specifically focused at working parents as described within the Bill and within the parameters that will flow within the regulations. So, I wouldn't attempt at any point during this, including as it progresses with the will of Assembly Members into committee, to pretend this is anything other than what it is. To try and develop something that is a more universal offer will be for another day, and there will be plenty of opportunities to explore that, I am sure. But this actually is quite a focused technical Bill that will allow us to deliver the offer as it's currently framed. However, it does have some flexibility within it, which is quite interesting as we progress into committee, not to do the universal offer, but to look at some of those constituent groups out there in the child minding, childcare sorority and fraternity who are interested in being a part of this. But I think one thing we have to be crystal clear on is that this is not meant in any way to be some form of alternative subsidy into families who are looking after their own children—this is for registered and licensed child minders and childcare facilities, registered and licensed. So, we are having many others say, 'Well, can we not also benefit?' The focus for this is not purely on simply the child minding; this is on the wider benefits for those children within it and how this integrates. And this is part of the pilot—how this integrates also with things like the foundation years offer and so on. So, we can explore this in committee.

You mentioned the issues of capacity and the costings. We're still confident, but part of the piloting, by the way, is in order to actually help us refine where we think we're going with the costings, based on elements of take-up, et cetera, et cetera. So, we are refining that, but we still have full confidence that the costings we initially put forward are within the scope of what we can deliver by 2020 for the full roll-out. And similarly, in terms of capacity, it's quite fascinating that within the different types of childcare, child minding capacity, we are discovering that it's quite different geographically. There are—particularly looking to my right here—within parts of the south Wales Valleys many who are licensed child minders who are looking after their own grandchildren plus two or three or four others. Now that's quite interesting. But part of the piloting of this and the way we are phasing the roll-out is in order to make sure that we are also doing that work alongside it of building the capacity. And we are doing a lot of work with the sectors, the different parts of the sector, to build the capacity, to identify the gaps where there might be gaps in provision, so that by the time we get to 2019-20, we are ready to roll this provision out entirely.

HMRC—thank you for the welcome for the fact that we've chosen that option. We did consider other options. We did look at whether we should provide this, as we currently are, through local authorities. I think I've made clear why, both from cost and the burden of that, it's not the right way to do it, and also data protection, sharing of information, et cetera, et cetera. We did also consider a stand-alone entity to do this, a made-in-Wales new entity. Why would we do it when it's more cost-effective and there's one already there that is doing this? They have had some minor glitches, by the way, in the England model, but one good thing is we're confident, by the time we come to roll out, we'll have overcome those glitches. It could be that in future it could be the Welsh Revenue Authority—the Bill as structured allows those opportunities to be looked at in the future if we need to—but, as currently set, we're keen to progress with the HMRC model and I thank the various Secretaries of State who are helping us facilitate this.

15:15

May I thank the Minister for his statement? He’s right, it is a technical Bill, but I look forward to getting to grips with the Bill as the Children, Young People and Education Committee scrutinises it over the next few weeks and months.

Now, I want to start with a note of concern, perhaps, because you will know that Plaid Cymru supports the principle of expanding the provision of childcare in Wales. Plaid Cymru wants to extend it to all children of three to four years of age, not restrict it to children from working families only. It became clear from the evidence that you provided to the committee a few months ago that the Government is approaching this from the parental perspective and the economic perspective, perhaps, more than the perspective of children, whilst we, as a party, believe that children should be the central focus of this policy, and improving the life chances or the educational chances of those children specifically. Therefore, we agree with the children’s commissioner and the reports that have been published by Save the Children and others. We share their concern that excluding children from non-working households from this programme is going to risk expanding that gap between the most disadvantaged and perhaps their less disadvantaged peers, rather than narrowing that gap. We want to equalise the life chances of children. I’m sure you will refer to some of the other programmes available to support disadvantaged children, such as Flying Start, but we also know that many of those children live outwith those areas. So, there is still going to be a gap in provision, and that’s going to be an important gap that we feel should be a priority in tackling this issue.

So, the Welsh Government's focus is primarily, I believe, on the working parent, but I have to say a lot of the evidence suggests that maybe the impact of this kind of programme is limited in their respect, because I'm sure you'll be aware the Public Policy Institute for Wales's report, commissioned by the First Minister two years ago to look at the childcare policy options for Wales, concluded that, and I quote:

'The impact on work participation and work hours for mothers in families with a child of target age is extremely small.'

They conclude that it's unlikely

'to achieve either objective to any notable, possibly even discernible, degree.'

So, I'm just looking for reassurance that you are convinced that £100 million-plus investment from the Government will generate that necessary return in terms of the impact on working families, because the PPIW report suggests that maybe that isn't necessarily the case to the extent that we'd be hoping it would be.

In the paper that you've presented to the Children, Young People and Education Committee—and no doubt we'll go over some of this territory again tomorrow morning when you're joining us in committee—you referred to an OECD report from last year, which talks of benefits for women in the labour market, but of course the focus of that report was on children aged between nought and three years old, not three and four years old, as this policy does, of course. That report references provision in Québec, where an analysis of the policy there has found that it clearly favours upper income families. So, I think you can hear what I'm saying, and I'd be interested just to hear your response to that.

The second point I'd like to make is that Plaid Cymru support for this policy, as was reflected in the compact agreement and as has been already touched upon previously, was predicated on the belief, at least, or the hope, that this was the start of a journey that would take us to a point where there is universal provision. Now, you were very reluctant to commit to that or to suggest that you had that kind of ambition in committee a few months ago. I was just wondering whether you'd had an opportunity to consider where we would potentially go next, because certainly we've seen it as a first step towards the introduction of a universal service. If the Government doesn't intend to show that same ambition then we'd certainly be very, very disappointed to say the least. And it isn't just us that needs clarity on that; I think the sector would benefit from knowing that that's where we're heading ultimately as well.

Now, yes, it's a technical Bill and there is little detail on the face of the Bill, I have to say, and some very important detail as well is being left to regulation in terms of what would a qualifying child be, circumstances in which a person is or isn't to be regarded as another person's partner, circumstances in which a person is or isn't to be treated as carrying out paid work, and I'm just wondering: has this been tabled a bit too early? Do we not know the answers to some of these questions? Because we know that Arad Research is carrying out an evaluation. Should we not wait for that to be published in the autumn? And whilst I welcome the fact that any regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, of course we all know, with an affirmative procedure, it's a take it or leave it process; we cannot amend. So, I have some concerns that, whilst appreciating it's a technical Bill, maybe the level of—. I would have expected maybe a bit more detail, so I'm just wondering why now and why not maybe in a few months' time, when you'll be better positioned to present some more detail. 

The explanatory memorandum states that, because of the technical nature of the Bill, and its limited appeal to the wider public, you didn't feel it appropriate to undertake an open consultation, but it would be good to hear what elements of consultation have happened, not just in terms of parents but particularly in terms of children as well. I would welcome your comments on that. 

And the £100,000 upper limit for eligibility—what's the rationale for that? I haven't got an issue with that; it just sounds a little bit like a figure that's been plucked out of the air. I'm sure it isn't. Maybe you could explain to us why it's been pitched at that level. 

Finally, your statement talks of eligibility checks and the associated bureaucracy that comes with that, making it, I quote, 'a burdensome approach'. Well, of course, a universal approach would do away with a lot of that but, as I say, we look forward to scrutinising the Bill and, clearly, we'll be coming back to some of these issues over the next weeks and months. 

15:20

Llyr, thank you very much. Can I address the more fundamental question you put first of all, whilst welcoming again your broad support, and the question you raised of, 'Where next on the journey?' That's always the question we should be asking as policymakers and policy influencers. But, again, I simply do not want to overstep the mark or over-promise in terms of this particular Bill. It's a manifesto commitment, it's a very well-targeted commitment, we're absolutely convinced that it will have not only a material advantage, both economically and in terms of freeing up opportunities particularly for the most disadvantaged families, for the lowest income families, but it also has the impact—the Bill as it currently is if this Assembly passes it—on that wider foundational sector. We've talked so much about this within this Assembly, and we've talked about various foundational sectors. Well, what is more extensive across every street and every community within the country except for childcare, registered licensed childcare in all its variety? So, if we get this right and we step up the capacity, it's not only the impact on those parents and families, and some of the lowest income families in the communities we represent, but it's also the wider economic impact, I think, that's actually through stepping up the capacity issues. 

But you do ask, 'Where do we go next on the journey?' It's the right question to ask. I'm not going to give you a direct answer in the process of this Bill, I'm afraid, but I think it is the right debate that we now need to be in. But we do operate within constraints as well. The most obvious one is where we currently are with the funding regime we are in. I think there are persuasive cases being made from both within this Assembly, but also externally, for a more universal offer. But we will have to crunch through the policy implications of that. We will have to crunch through the financial implications of that as well but, for now, what we have in front of us is a very clearly defined targeted offer that is focusing on working parents. And it will have, as a step on that journey, a significant impact on many of our constituents.

There will be, by the way, I'm sure, plenty of opportunities outside of the scope of this Bill to test the wider discussions, not least in committee and here on the floor of Plenary at other opportunities as well. But this is very precise in terms of what this quite technical Bill is seeking to do. 

You asked, 'Why a framework Bill?', and this is, indeed, a framework Bill that is taking the powers—. Now, I've taken large framework Bills through Parliament before, where I've had to explain to committee members as I've taken it through, 'Don't you worry now. I will send you, within a fortnight, by the time we get to our next committee session—'. And Julie will be aware of this, being in Parliament—'In a fortnight, Julie, don't worry, I'll have written the guidance for you, I'll have written the regs in draft so you can see them'. We're not in the same situation here. We're actually piloting in seven early implementer authorities what we're planning to do. We're learning as we go. So, the guidance is out there. The eligibility criteria are out there. The HMRC—even though it's had some minor glitches, it's working in England. So, all of the aspects we're talking about we can touch and feel. It's very different from saying, 'Trust me. Further down the line I'll tell you what kind of things we'll do, what sort of information we'll be looking for from parents, who'll be eligible'. It's already described, so it's a slightly different approach to taking a framework Bill through. I'm not promising, 'Trust me; we'll get to it'. I'm saying, 'Look at what we're doing'.

We are evolving within those seven early implementer areas as well, and that's part of the reason for the flexibility. We need this framework in place. We need to get on with the discussions at both a ministerial and also a Whitehall and departmental level with HMRC and others to start really putting this in place for the 2019-20 roll out. But, meanwhile, we're also learning from those early implementers and part of the flexibility here is that Welsh Ministers—even though we're asking HMRC to do part of the operation for us, it's for Welsh Ministers to come back and say to the Assembly, 'We've learnt something new about some of the criteria, some of the eligibility, who we'd like to be involved as childcare providers. We're coming back with an affirmative motion to say, "We'd like to adjust this. Do you agree?" and so on'. 

So, it is slightly different. But let me also contrast here the—. We haven't, for example, followed the current English example of placing functions on HMRC to manage the application and eligibility checking process for their scheme. It's something we considered, but the model we've opted for—and this is what makes it different in this respect—it gives Welsh Ministers the functions in respect of administering the offer. Consequently, it gives the Welsh Government flexibility not only to chose its delivery agent but also to come back to this house and say, 'We think we can improve it. What do you think?'

So, it does give us some flexibility. It also gives us the flexibility, as I mentioned before, to come back and say, 'Well, there might be a way to, in future terms, look at the Welsh Revenue Authority as a possible deliverer' and so on. It gives that flexibility and we can come back to the house without looking for a legislative slot of primary legislation to do it.

So, I hope that explains. I know it's always a difficult challenge to say how much you put on the face of the Bill and how much should be framework powers, but we think we've got it right in this one because we're already piloting it, the HMRC system is up and running; we know what this looks like.  

15:25

We're almost halfway through this debate and I've got a number of speakers who would like to contribute. I'd be very grateful if both questions and answers could be kept as succinct as possible. Michelle Brown. 

Thank you, and thank you for your statement, Minister. I'd also like to thank the Minister for the courtesy that he's shown in meeting with me in advance of this statement. His communication of the broad principles in favour of the childcare funding Bill were very clear and comprehensive and I understand the reasoning behind using HMRC and it does appear to me to be quite sensible. HMRC are already in possession of the relevant data so it does seems a logical choice. I'd also like to compliment the Minister on his implementation of the early testing phase of the childcare offer. His approach on gathering essential data and fine tuning the offer shows that he's approached the programme with strategic thought. A discussion of the administration of the offer by HMRC and outline of these finer details were also very helpful. However, it's on these finer details and the administration arrangements that I and my party have questions and concerns.

I note that there was an opposition day debate in the House of Commons on 26 October 2016, brought by the Minister's Labour Party colleague Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, which raised a number of concerns about HMRC's work on tax credits contracted out to a company called Concentrix. It noted that the company had not met performance standards fully set out in its contract with HMRC. It also emphasised the human factor, including the suffering of women and single mothers who erroneously had tax credits withdrawn by the company, acting on behalf of HMRC. The debate achieved the broad consensus of representatives from all parties in the House of Commons, the consensus being that the contractor's performance was not up to standard and it had caused real human suffering. No-one in this place would want to see these problems replicated in the administration of childcare funding in Wales, so to that end I want to conclude by asking the Minister two things. Firstly, will there be an opportunity for both the Assembly as a whole and the appropriate committees to scrutinise the procurement costs and the procurement terms of the programme from HMRC? And, secondly, will there be an opportunity for the Assembly as a whole to assent or not assent to the HMRC using an external contractor to administer the programme? Thank you.  

15:30

Thank you, Michelle, and, again, thank you for the broad welcome there. On the HMRC issues, we are aware—everybody's aware because they've been made quite public—of some of the early implementation problems there have been, both in terms of the tax credits, but also their offer, their parallel offer, in England. However, they are overcoming those, and we've been in discussion with them while we've been discussing at a high level the principle of utilising HMRC as our provider. And we have confidence that, actually, the glitches that they've had will not only be overcome, but that they'll have the machine working smoothly, particularly by the time that we are looking for roll-out, which is 2019-20, and we'll be able to actually watch what is going on in our engagement with them, which is intensive at an official level, to make sure that that is happening.

I will indeed make sure that there is opportunity to come back and report on how discussions with HMRC are going, how the contract is shaping up, because what this Bill will enable us to do is to engage at more than high level, but actually in the detail of the contractual discussions with HMRC. And I will make sure that there are opportunities both for committees but also for Assembly Members generally to find out what is going on with those and to input into them as well. 

In terms of external contractors, I'm not convinced that we are in a position, as Welsh Government, as far as I understand, to insist that they make no use of any external contractors. So, for example, if part of the offer are things such as a digital platform, are we going to object if a digital platform is designed by an external contractor and so on? I think, Michelle, you're referring to more fundamental aspects of the delivery of it, but digital gateway to it is part of it as well and things can go wrong with that. I'll take that away and consider it and look at it, but I suspect that most Government agencies use some form of external contracting. What we need to make sure is that the glitches that they've experienced early on are not repeated, and that we have confidence, not only in HMRC taking on the overall contract from Welsh Government, for which we will be paying, but also that any organisations they subcontract to also have our confidence in delivering this very effectively. But thank you for those points. 

I welcome the Minister's statement today. I think we're really looking forward to this being implemented. Cardiff is certainly waiting for it to come to them and I'm frequently asked about when we are going to have it. 

I know we will. So, it's good that we're doing this, which, as the Minister said, is a specifically targeted offer to working parents. And I'd just like to say how pleased I am that it is covering the school holidays, because I think, as any parent here will know, for a working parent, the school holidays are a nightmare. And so having this to actually cover the school holidays I think is very good, and I think it makes it a generous offer.

I just wanted to make some points about the administration. I think it's absolutely sensible to use HMRC, and I certainly support that going ahead, but I am concerned about how flexible HMRC can be. Thinking of parents who change jobs frequently, just about manage, and sometimes have to have more than one job in order to manage the households, and thinking about that sort of family, I would like the Minister to tell us how we would be able to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. And the other issue, of course, is parents who are in self-employment, where the income could be different every week, virtually. So, I wondered if this had been covered in thinking about how HMRC would actually administer the scheme. 

Julie, thank you, and 'yes' to the last question in terms of self-employment when it comes to the detailed design of this, and, of course, the England programme as well. The self-employment aspect has been taken on board. In terms of flexibility within the system, I'm pleased to tell you, Julie, that one of the advantages of using the HMRC system, both for English and Welsh language speakers, is the simplicity of the application, because part of using the HMRC system in concert with information sharing between Government departments, means that, in effect, we're not asking them to bring us their current or monthly pay sheets, find all the complex paraphernalia you need to make the application, and decide whether you're eligible—it'll be done for them. It's working effectively already. But, secondly, there's a helpline that runs alongside that, so people who have difficulty with that—there's a helpline to assist them as well. And the helpline as well will make sure, and the commissioning will also—. HMRC actually have quite a good record in terms of bilingual gateways as well, but we'll make sure that within this specifically as well for an answer in English—.

But the results are of course built into this appeals procedure as well, so that, because there will be situations where individuals don't quite fit within the criteria and the eligibility criteria, they also will be able to go through an appeals procedure on the basis of their application being turned down. So, there will be support there, but, again, the great thing about this is we have the—the fact that the England-based HMRC system is now up and running, we can learn from that. We can learn about some of these issues of flexibility, and get it absolutely right when we take ours forward. And just to confirm, because I know people do raise it with me about Cardiff, the reason we're in the seven areas that we currently are in is we're trying different things in different areas. It will come to Cardiff, and when it comes to Cardiff, it will be the bee's knees—it will be the right thing.

15:35

I'm glad to hear this will be the bee's knees by the time it comes to Cardiff. And I'd like to thank the Minister particularly for his clarity that this childcare element is aimed at working parents, and there are trade-offs, and there are some who won't benefit, and he's taken that approach, and we will see how it works, in line with his party's manifesto. I'd also say that, because it's 48 weeks a year, some of the other studies—be they on Quebec, or elsewhere—may not be so relevant for what the impact will be on the extent to which parents will work. And I hope he does succeed in seeing significantly higher numbers, and, if so, that should feed through to the resources available to Welsh Government, once the Welsh rates of income tax are devolved next year.

Could I, though, question the approach being taken to take powers to Welsh Ministers in order to use HMRC as an agent? There seems to be consensus across the Chamber—or at least so far—in terms of using HMRC, and HMRC has tried-and-tested processes for how it keeps information secure. And they include very clear protocols on the access, or otherwise, of UK Ministers to information on individual taxpayers. Yet, the Minister says that he wants legislation that enables Welsh Ministers to access the information needed to confirm eligibility. Why? HMRC works in this area by seeing whether an applicant is eligible, and if so, issuing a code to that applicant to allow them to access the childcare for which they're eligible. If HMRC is going to be the Welsh Government's agent, as he says, why does he need to have Welsh Ministers able to access taxpayers' information in this way?

Could he also clarify some of the linkages he's making between the English—or what he describes as the English, but I believe may in certain contexts be a UK system—and what is proposed in Wales? He refers to minor glitches in the England model. I actually think it's been major glitches in a UK-wide operation of tax-free childcare, which parents are eligible for in Wales, on exactly the same basis that they are in England, and it's that one that's had the big problem. The interaction has come because there are three types of free childcare in England: for two-year-olds on the basis of eligibility of certain benefits, including tax credits, where the income is below £16,190 a year; there's then the universal offer, which is for the 15 hours; and then there's the 30 hours for three and four-year-olds, which has been the major problem, and the major problem has been because of the linkage with the UK-wide system HMRC operates for the tax-free childcare. In order to get that 30 hours rather than the 15 hours they were getting before, eligible parents from England have had to set up a childcare account, which would enable them to access the UK-wide benefit, and has been the gateway for receiving those extra hours for the three-year-olds. And it's that area that there's been this very major problem with. Will the Minister confirm that what Welsh Government is proposing to do is to make the whole of the Welsh system dependent on that gateway? 

Can he also clarify why it is necessary to set up an account for UK-wide tax-free childcare to access a free childcare offer for the 48 hours? That's the model HMRC has chosen to date, but it's the one that's been leading to the problems. He is hopefully correct that these problems will iron out, but I would draw to his attention that the whole system is being made dependent on that and alert him to some of the risks contingent on it.

15:40

Mark, thank you very much. Probably one of my failings is due to my upbringing: I'm overly polite about what I describe as minor glitches or teething problems, but we are confident—and we have been in discussions with HMRC, both in terms of their tax offer, but also in terms of the childcare offer—that these problems are being ironed out, and will indeed be totally ironed out by the time we come to our use of their mechanisms for delivering our childcare offer. We are aware of these issues with the childcare service in recent months, both in relation to tax-free childcare and the England offer. Now, HMRC are addressing these. We're confident that these troubles will have been resolved by the time we come to use this system. We will also, by the way, have this advantage in that we can learn the lessons of these initial problems from HMRC in how we design and how we commission, and there is an important part here in how we commission our offer through HMRC, and also the issues that they've had with the HMRC and the Department for Education as well, to avoid the problems that they've had. So, we will put in place appropriate governance arrangements to oversee the development and the implementation of this approach and the digital solutions inherent in this.  

In terms of the legislative basis, this Bill provides the legislative basis for Welsh Ministers to make the arrangements for the administration of the childcare offer. Whilst we're proposing we engage with HMRC in the short to medium term, in that design and the commissioning, it could well be, and I'm pleased that we have put the flexibility within the Bill to provide the Welsh Government with the flexibility to change the delivery agent in the future, if we so wish. It's as a delivery agent acting on behalf of Welsh Ministers—as a delivery agent acting on behalf Welsh Ministers—that HMRC will be subject to the scheme that we commission with them, and also the Welsh language service standards that we will make sure are within there, and we will work closely with them to ensure compliance. We are marking the glad situation that with the early problems that they've had, both in the tax aspects and the free childcare offers in England, they've experienced them early and they are now overcoming them, and when we roll ours out we're confident that we won't experience the same problems. 

I realise that I've been remiss in not responding to a specific point in the question as well to do with formal consultation. 

There is one more speaker, but if you want to do that now.  

Thanks. Llyr, my apologies. You asked why there's been no formal consultation. This is slightly unusual from a lot of Bills that come forward, in that we're out there in the field doing the stuff at the moment. So, one: it's a technical Bill, so we didn't feel, on balance, that a consultation on the draft was necessary. Instead, we've discussed the Bill, the approach taken with it, with key stakeholders, including local authorities but also childcare providers, through the early implementer groups, live as we've been doing it. I think every week I've been having updates on how those discussions are going and what they're learning with members of the stakeholder reference groups and also with UK Government departments, and that's still ongoing and will be ongoing all the way to full roll-out. Of course, the offer itself is subject to this programme of early implementation. It's allowing us to test-drive it and to evaluate its delivery. So, as part of that process we're also engaging with a range of parents—extensive numbers of parents, into the hundreds and thousands—childcare providers and other stakeholders on the delivery and operation of the offer. So, in this particular circumstance with this Bill, we didn't feel it was necessary for a consultation again on it. We're out there in the field doing it and hearing it in live time. Thank you. 

Diolch. One of the lessons of this whole situation is we mustn't reinvent the wheel. Just looking at the strategy that you're adopting for delivering this manifesto pledge, which is targeting working parents of three and four-year-olds, we clearly need to prioritise those families who want to work but can't afford to work at the moment, and who will become eligible as soon as they can get the sums to add up—you know, they've got the place and they can accept the work placement. That's the way we need to do it.

I wanted to look at how we are going to possibly tie this in with universal credit, because many of my families are on variable hours, including zero-hours contracts. One of the theoretical benefits of universal credit is that it will have real-time information about what somebody has earned in the last week and therefore how that will impact on the amount of money they're eligible for. So, I can see the benefits of working with the tax and revenue service, but I can also see the benefit of working with Jobcentre Plus, so I think it would be useful to clarify why you aren't thinking along those lines.

I absolutely understand that we can't at the moment afford to do what we all want to do, which is to provide a universal service for all three- and four-year-olds. But it seems that, in the meantime, there's an awful lot we can do using the existing resources. For example, local authorities every five years have to provide a childcare sufficiency assessment, but only every five years. So, in the interim, Cardiff, for example, doesn't know how many households have parents who are working, doesn't know the number of three- and four-year-olds and doesn't know how many three- and four-year-olds are accessing a childcare place. That, for me, illustrates the need for the public services boards to take ownership of this, because by health and education services and social services working together we can pool the information that everybody holds to some extent, and that would enable us to be much more up-to-the-minute on what care is available where.

So, I have a particular focus I want to concentrate on when Cardiff does become an early years implementor, which is how we're going to expand wraparound care based on the number of children who already have nursery places in primary schools, but obviously the room where they're getting that early years place can't be used for the wraparound care because there's another cohort coming in in the afternoon.

Why is not possible for social services to use early years childcare placements for children who they have concerns about? Because we know from the EPI evidence that this is the best way of, if you like, beating the disadvantage that some children get from birth. One of the other issues for me is that we only have one integrated children's centre in the whole of Cardiff, which is obviously in Ely, and which is a centre of excellence for achieving excellent outcomes for all children, whatever their circumstances.

So, those need to be our objectives and it seems to me that, whilst I appreciate that the Government only has the money at the moment for those who have working parents, we also need to use other streams of programmes—Flying Start, Families First, et cetera—to bring around the integrated childcare that we know all children need.

So, one of the key questions for me is: are we going to apply the same criteria to voluntary and private sector providers as we will be doing to public sector providers, as long as they obviously meet the early years education offer, which is the two to two and a half hours early years provision? It seems to me that because primary schools are not in a position to deliver the 30 hours, we have to have other organisations that can deliver the hours but also must be able to deliver the quality. So, I'd be keen to hear what you have to say on that.

15:45

Thank you, Jenny. A couple of things in response: first of all, in terms of getting this offer to the people who most need it because, curiously, even though it's focused on working parents, there's almost a universality to it as well, in that we're saying that all working parents should, but we know that there are some working parents who would benefit from this more, and how do we get the information to them? How do we persuade them that it's easily accessible? Well, alongside the early implementation options, we've also been developing—sorry, everything nowadays is a hashtag, but it's actually a hashtag scheme—#TalkChildcare. So, part of the engagement we've been doing, I was mentioning, with the hundreds of thousands of parents, both within the scheme and in other areas, is to try and make it simple to understand what this offers, and we've heard some interesting things. So, such as, you know, I'm from the south Wales Valleys and south Wales Valleys people do tend to, perhaps, disproportionately rely on relatives. So, when you say, 'We've got an offer here with Government-supported, Government-backed childcare', they say, 'Well, I've got my free childcare already sorted, thank you very much.' And we say, 'No, no, we've got it with bits attached to it and stuff.' But part of that approach is very much to get the message out, whether it's in Crickhowell or Llandrindod, or it's in an urban setting in the centre of Cardiff, getting that message out to those communities.

The related, but slightly separate issue of the wider wraparound services is an interesting one. This shouldn't be separate from the wider stuff that we are doing with the integration of children and youth provision and education, the whole pedagogical aspects as well. We're doing so much of it, and I see good examples on the ground. The challenge for us now in children and early years is how to make those experiences commonplace with more wraparound services. We're seeing good stuff happening; it goes nicely alongside this, curiously enough, because it's all to do with that early years intervention. We need to be doing both in parallel.

But this is very specifically the childcare offer based around working parents, and in answer to that, relating to that wider offer then, well, yes, providers need to be registered and licensed. We need to know that the standards are there. That's what we want to see: that they're able, fit and confident to provide not simply childcare, but to a standard that we know there's child development and there's socialisation, et cetera, et cetera. That's what this is about, but that will include social enterprises, voluntary groups that do that, as well as direct local authority provision, as well as many others. We want to encourage all of those who think they can play a part with us to come on board as we roll this out firmly right across the whole of Wales, and this Bill allows us to put in place the mechanisms to start that happening.

15:50
4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education: Update and next steps for the Pupil Development Grant