Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd19/06/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call the Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question, Neil McEvoy.
First Minister, not so long ago you described it as odd that Wales doesn't have its own—
You need to ask the question on the order paper.
Excuse me; I do apologise. It's not on the order paper. Ah, here you go. Sorry.
Don't blame the order paper, Mr McEvoy. [Laughter.]
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for cricket in Wales? OAQ52353
Via Sport Wales, we have provided £537,000 this year to Cricket Wales to support the development of the game across Wales.
Diolch, and thank you for your patience there. Not so long ago, you described it as odd that Wales doesn't have its own national cricket team. And it seems more odd now that Ireland is a full test member of the International Cricket Council, and Scotland is beating England in one-day internationals. So, where is Wales? I think many people here find it bizarre that a team called England, with no Welsh players, playing under the English flag, three lions on the shirt, can be described as Welsh. Now, Glamorgan, who have had reservations about the Welsh team, are calling for someone to produce a business plan to explore how to have a successful county side and national side. So, will your Government support Glamorgan's suggestion by commissioning a feasibility study into a Welsh national cricket team, or will you let Welsh cricketers and fans continue to be so badly represented by England?
Well, ultimately, it's a matter for Cricket Wales and for Glamorgan Cricket Club, and not for the Government. There is no doubt that there would be a severe financial impact if we were suddenly to compete in our own names. There's a question mark as to whether Glamorgan would survive, whether the stadium would be viable, and, indeed, what would happen in terms of the financial support that Welsh cricket receives. I understand that there will be many who, in their hearts, would like to see a Welsh cricket team, but, of course, there are financial realities here that have to be observed and, for me, I think it's best left to the cricketing authorities.
First Minister, like many sports across Wales, cricket at grass-roots and amateur level is coming under significant pressure, both financially and from a participation perspective. Now, on the weekend, you may have seen that the Welsh Rugby Union announced a pilot that would see junior rugby moved to the summer season. Now, whilst I certainly acknowledge that some of the reasons put forward by the WRU are understandable, can I ask what discussions your Government has had, or will be having over the coming weeks, to ensure that the game of cricket in Wales is not significantly squeezed or harmed by this decision, as it is surely in everyone's interest that all sports in Wales, including cricket and rugby, have their own space to thrive?
It was an issue that was raised with me over the course of the weekend. There is significant overlap already between the sports. There was a time when people would happily play rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer, and the overlap wasn't there; it certainly wasn't there when I was in school, when we played on sloping pitches with a dull ball and one pad—that was the way to learn cricket, if I remember. But the serious point is this: it's important that cricket is able to appeal to young people, as young as possible. The situation has improved. I know, when my son was younger, he could play football at six, rugby at seven, but cricket not until 11. That did change very quickly and he did take part in some cricket. What's important is that cricket continues to appeal to children at the youngest age possible, and, in fairness, that is something that's happening now. So, cricket should be able, to my mind, to hold its own.
One of the most powerful tools, surely, for encouraging youth cricket in Wales would be to have a national cricket team that young people the length and breadth of the country could aspire to and find role models in. You say that this is not a matter for Government. Let's perhaps explore what might be a matter for Government. You have a major events unit, for example, that funds a host of events in order to put Wales on the map, in order to market Wales, in order to bring economic benefit to Wales. Would Welsh Government look at the possibility of even using major events funding to get the ball rolling on a national cricket team for Wales, as, if you like, a permanent major event that could bring real national benefits?
The major events funding is there for one-off events, not for continuous revenue funding. But he is right to say, of course, that it's a good way of showcasing Wales. But we don't just attract events to have Welsh teams in them, if I can put it that way. We've just had the Volvo Ocean Race. There was Welsh participation, but there wasn't a Welsh team. The point was to bring the attention of the world to Cardiff Bay, and to Wales, and to see what we could host. The same with the Champions League—yes, there was Welsh participation, clearly, but there were no Welsh teams in it. So, I think it's hugely important that we are able to showcase ourselves as a nation that can host major events. We've done that incredibly successfully. We are by far the smallest nation, for example, to host the Champions League, and Cardiff is the smallest city to host the Champions League. We've done it, and there's no reason why we can't do it again. It shouldn't just be tied to whether or not there's a Welsh team in the event as to whether we then support that event.
2. What measures will the Welsh Government introduce to prevent animal cruelty in the next 12 months? OAQ52382
The Wales animal health and welfare framework implementation plan—snappily titled—sets out the framework group and Welsh Government priorities for animal health and welfare, and the Cabinet Secretary will be making a statement on companion animal welfare later today.
Thank you very much for the reply, Minister. Since May this year, every abattoir in England is required to have CCTV cameras installed in all areas where live animals are kept. Official vets will have unrestricted access to footage, to reassure consumers that high welfare standards are being enforced. Does the First Minister agree that this is an effective way to prevent animal cruelty, and when will the Welsh Government make CCTV compulsory in our abattoirs in Wales?
Well, there are a number of controls already in place in abattoirs. Official vets are present in every single one of them. The larger abattoirs, which process the majority of animals, have CCTV, and official vets are able to access footage if they suspect welfare standards are not being met. That said, we are determined to improve standards and practices where it's necessary and reasonable to do so, and the £1.1 million food business investment funding package will assist small and medium-sized slaughterhouses to improve their facilities, including the installation of CCTV.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, prostate cancer is a cruel condition, which, if diagnosed early enough, has remarkable success rates—90 per cent plus. Regrettably, obviously, screening in some parts of the UK leaves a lot to be desired. In particular here in Wales, regrettably, the ability to get access to the multiparametric MRI scanner for four health boards is non-existent, and people do end up having to pay considerable sums to have that scan undertaken. In England, for example, where that scan is available, it has a 92 per cent detection rate. With the four health boards, which total 700,000 men within those health boards, unable to attract that type of screening, what commitment can you give, as First Minister and as a Government, to roll out the screening so that, whatever part of Wales you live in, you will have access to that screening, so that, if you do require surgery or intervention, it can be done in a timely manner?
An important question, and one that deserves a detailed answer, if I may, Llywydd. I can say that health boards in Wales are able to offer multiparametric scans, in line with the current guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. That guidance currently recommends the mpMRI for people with a negative biopsy, to determine whether another biopsy is needed, and whether the management of a proven cancer will benefit from staging of the tumour. The what's called 'PROMIS trial' indicated that people with suspected prostate cancer might benefit from having their mpMRI prior to biopsy. NICE is reviewing its guidance and is expected to issue recommendations in the early part of next year. In the meantime, evidence is being considered by the Wales urology board. It's fair to say there are different views among the clinicians about the implications of recent evidence, with some health boards implementing elements of a revised approach. What I can say is that, if NICE recommends pre-biopsy mpMRI for suspected prostate cancer, then we would expect all health boards to amend their care pathways accordingly. In the meantime, health boards will continue to consider the evidence and pathway reforms through the Wales urology board.
I thank you for that detailed answer, First Minister. Regrettably, 10,000 men a year die from prostate cancer—it's the biggest killer of men. And some universality around the screening programme must be a compunction on the Government because, actually, cancer doesn't rely on postcodes—it's universal, it is. On the bowel cancer screening programme that the Welsh Government have, it has been called, at the moment, a very postcode lottery-driven screening programme. In particular, one in four individuals were waiting in excess of eight weeks to have their screening procedure diagnosed, and actually put into practice if intervention was required. Nine hundred people a year die of bowel cancer here in Wales. If, ultimately, we had a better, more robust screening system and a wider screening system that actually took into account 40 years and above, then we could drive those numbers down even further. Given that we know the importance of screening and, in particular, bowel screening, what action is your Government taking to shorten the waiting times that will remove that one in four—25 per cent of people—waiting in excess of eight weeks to get the results that they require, because it cannot be right that, where the condition is treatable, just waiting too long on a waiting list has a detrimental impact on your outcome?
With screening, it's a question of who you target for the screening, because you can't screen everybody. Which elements of the population are particularly susceptible to a particular type of cancer, because it's not physically possible to screen everybody? We want, of course, to see consistency across the health boards. They're able to access the new treatments fund, if that's appropriate for what they wish to take forward. What I can say is that, when we look at our urgent suspected cancer route, for example, the vast majority of people started definitive treatment within the target time of 62 days—88.7 per cent—and 96 per cent of patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer not via the urgent route started definitive treatment within the target time of 31 days, in March 2018. So, the vast majority of people do get the treatment that they should get within the right amount of time. But, of course, we rely on specialists in order to advise us to make sure that we can see how we can improve screening where that's necessary.
Those improvements are desperately needed. As I said, Bowel Cancer UK says it is a national crisis that one in four people are waiting eight weeks or more for that screening process to be undertaken. But what we do know from the weekend's announcement that the UK Government made is that there will be a considerable uplift in the spend available to the Welsh Government to spend on health and social care here in Wales—[Interruption.] These screening—. Well, I can hear the chuntering from the Labour backbenchers, but the reality is that money is coming over to the Welsh Government.
Now, it is perfectly right, under the devolved settlement, that you choose where to spend that money. From these benches, we believe that that money should be spent in the fields of health and social care to make those improvements in prostate, bowel and other treatments available to patients here in Wales. Now, will you commit today to making sure that any money that is made available to the Welsh Government is spent on those key areas, so that we can see the improvements that we desperately need in diagnostic tests, waiting times and staff recruitment, which other parts of the UK that are committed to delivering it in the health and social care budgets will see? We need that commitment, First Minister. Will you make it?
Well, the first thing we have to see is how much money we'll actually get, because there are two important points to make here: first of all, we have been informed that that money, whatever money we get, will be the source of funding to deal with pay increases. So, the lifting of the pay cap will have to be financed through any money that we get via the source that he has mentioned. So, that's the first thing to mention. There's no extra money on top of that. Secondly, of course, it's never the case, is it, that we get a lump sum of money to pay for a particular area, such as health or education? What happens is, of course, as he knows, is that it's delivered via the block grant. What we don't know is that, if we get the increase in health, whether we will then see decreases everywhere else—in local government, in education, in all those areas that are devolved. Now, those, of course, are removed from the figure that he's just mentioned. So, until we know firstly how much money net there will actually be—we know about the £1.2 billion—and until we know, of course, how much money—we've got a fair idea—that the pay deal will cost, we won't know how much money is available to spend. Until those factors are resolved—and nobody is able to do that yet because we don't know what any increases or not in our block grant will be in the autumn—and until we know the definitive net sum of money, it's very difficult to make any commitments at this stage.
The leader of the UKIP group, Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the Prime Minister announced over the weekend that there would be a £20 billion a year birthday present for the NHS in England. As a result of Barnett, Wales is expected to receive £1.2 billion. On Sunday, a Welsh Government spokesman said that a decision on the allocation of funding would be made by your Cabinet in the usual way. So, First Minister, have you made that decision yet, and will you be using any extra moneys we receive for health and social care?
Well, the only commitment that we have made is that we will lift the pay cap—unusually, because normally we don't make those promises before we know how much money is allocated. So, that will have to be paid for from whichever sum of money we get from the UK Government; there's no extra money for it. And as I said in the answer earlier on, it's not going to be £1.2 billion. We don't know whether there'll be cuts elsewhere that will bring that figure down. Until we know what the final figure is, it's very difficult to give any commitments in terms of spending.
Thank you for that answer. My concern here is that mental health issues account for around a quarter of all health problems, yet we're spending as little as over 11 per cent of the entire NHS Wales budget. We have seen a 100 per cent increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health care services. We know that depression affects 22 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women over the age of 65. We've seen a large rise in instances of self-harm, and each year around 300 people in Wales die from suicide—this is about twice the number of people killed in road accidents. We are clearly not doing enough to tackle mental health in Wales. So, First Minister, will you commit to using some of this additional money, whatever it may be, coming to Wales in order to ensure that mental health funding is based upon a robust assessment of healthcare needs?
Yes, and in particular, of course, to look at prevention. That's hugely important. With CAMHS, she is right to say that there was a significant increase in demand for CAMHS and we met that demand by allocating—if I remember—£8 million a year towards CAMHS in order for them to meet the demand that was there. Mental health, as she will know, is a key priority for us in 'Prosperity for All'. We want to make sure that mental health is seen as something that is a priority for all governments in the future, and that will shape any spending decisions that we take if there's any extra money on the table.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. As I've highlighted before, many times, one in four of us will suffer from mental ill health. A friend or a work colleague could be battling depression for years—we wouldn't know about it, because, unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. We all have to be more open about mental health: we wouldn't try to hide a broken leg, but we will try to hide depression. Sadly, as a result of stigma, many people end up taking their own lives. If we recognise the signs and offer non-judgmental support, many lives could be saved. So, First Minister, will you commit your Government to ensuring that as many people as possible are trained as mental health first aiders, and will you look at adding the training to the school curriculum and encourage large employers to have mental health first aiders alongside the normal, required first aiders? Thank you.
I'm not sure that first aid is the way to deal with it. That suggests something that is acute, something that's just arisen. I think it's more long term than that. I take the point that the leader of UKIP is making in terms of how we deal with people who don't exhibit any external signs of depression. I've seen it at close hand, I've got a fair idea of how it operates in people, but it's not always obvious to those who are not familiar with the individual involved, and that is difficult, of course, because the external signs are not there. If you break a leg, it's obvious: the signs are there. That's why I want to make sure that when we look at mental health, we don't just look at it as a service designed to help people when they get into crisis, that we do look at ways in which we can help young people particularly—that's important, we have a counsellor in each secondary school in Wales—but at what more could be done, for example, to look to help people who are not obviously in need of help. They are the people, quite often, of course, that the system needs to identify. How that's done, of course, we will take forward with practitioners, to see how we can create a service where there is more focus on prevention and less on dealing with symptoms when they become obvious.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Does the First Minister agree with the environmental lawyers ClientEarth that the Welsh Government's plans for air quality lack clarity and detail?
Well, we are looking at air quality and how to improve it. I'm not going to agree with a firm of lawyers, obviously, that are not Welsh Government lawyers, but there is a challenge, of course, to improve air quality in the future.
Air pollution is responsible for 2,000 deaths per year in this country. It's a public health crisis, and it's your Labour Government's environmental legacy. That's why Plaid Cymru this week has launched a campaign, clean air week, and my colleague Simon Thomas yesterday launched a comprehensive report on hydrogen's role in the decarbonisation of transport. Now, I would urge the First Minister to read this expert-led, in-depth report and to take heed of its recommendations.
First Minister, this crisis warrants urgent action. Given that a road in Caerphilly is the most polluted outside of London, will you support our calls for a clean air Act for Wales that would phase out the sale of diesel and petrol-only vehicles by 2030?
I think that's too early; I don't think the technology's ready. I do look forward to a time when electric cars become the norm. I don't think the technology's there now in terms of the range, but I think it will become available very, very quickly.
If I remember rightly, 2040 is the target the UK Government has set, is, I think, probably pessimistic, but such is the development of the technology in this field, I think we will get to a position where it will become a realistic option. As somebody who has been driving a hybrid car, the battery in my car only gives me a range of 28 miles. Now, that's the problem. We need to make sure that the technology is right to move ahead, in the way that she has described—she's right.
In the meantime, what do we do? We can't do nothing. Well, firstly, we need to make sure that we remove areas where traffic is idling with engines on—that affects air quality—and, of course, to see more modal shift, and that means, of course, moving ahead with the improvements we're going to see in our rail infrastructure, to make it more comfortable for people to travel by train, in air-conditioned trains that are more frequent, and also, of course, moving forward with the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 to make sure that where we see new developments—at cycle paths, for example—they're an integral part of those developments, so that people feel they don't have to travel by car.
So, there are two things: first of all, creating that modal shift, and, secondly, of course, looking to encourage ways to ensure that battery cars have a much longer range in the future, and that it's much easier to charge them, as well, than it is at the moment. I think that's when we can get the real change.
I take it, then, from your answer, that you disagree with Labour-led Cardiff council that has called for a ban on polluting vehicles by 2030? Why is Labour so unable to be consistent on any single policy area? The lack of urgency, willingness and the lack of being able to do things differently is costing people's lives. You can laugh and mutter—it is costing people's lives.
Now, you have already lost a case against ClientEarth and you face further legal repercussions if solutions aren't found quickly. Let me once again emphasise the scale of the problem here. Air in Cardiff and Port Talbot is more polluted than air in Birmingham and Manchester, despite the huge differences in population. This is the environment that your Government is creating for future generations. First Minister, as a very first step, you could ensure that the planned automotive park in Ebbw Vale focuses on the development of hydrogen and electric vehicles, putting Wales at the forefront of the clean transport revolution. Will you at least do that?
I wonder if she or others on the Plaid benches drive a hybrid car or an electric car? Silence. Well, practise what you preach—that's what I would say.
Try doing it in Aberystwyth. When you put in the infrastructure, we will do it.
Well, Simon Thomas—[Inaudible.] [Interruption.]
Allow the First Minister to respond, please.
Simon Thomas is right. He is right to say, 'Try doing it for Aberystwyth.' He's quite right, I don't dispute that all, which is why the technology isn't ready yet. But it does need to be moved forward. Of course, I notice that nobody even drives a hybrid—it's something I've been doing for three years.
Anyway, look, the point is this, isn't it: how do we create clean air? That's an important point. Port Talbot has a steelworks in it, and that means, inevitably, that the air quality there may not be as good as it would be in places where that industrial operation isn't there. But we need it to be there, and, in fairness, Tata have made a great deal of effort and taken many strides in reducing their emissions over the years, and that has had an effect on Port Talbot. Port Talbot also has a traffic problem that is not easy to resolve, which will need to be looked at in the future. Cardiff—well, yes, I think it's right to say that it's probably easier to drive an electric car in Cardiff if people are commuting a short distance, and that's something to encourage and the infrastructure is being—[Interruption.] Well, she makes the point about the ministerial fleet when nobody in her own party is driving that kind of car, given the long distances. [Interruption.] Yes, but I am not the one, am I—? [Interruption.] I am not the one saying that we should move to battery-operated cars as quickly as possible. They are.
Cardiff city council is.
Practise what you preach.
The second thing is, of course—and in the short term—that the way to do this is to encourage more people out of their cars, and also, of course, to ensure that people are able to use the public transport network as conveniently as possible. We are doing that, despite the criticism that Plaid Cymru launched at the rail franchise—the only people who criticised it. We will make sure that the whole of Wales has the best rail structure in Britain. We've shown the way for the rest of Britain. It's no longer any good for people who use the Valleys lines services to travel on ancient trains with no air conditioning and an unreliable service. That's going to change. People will have the trains that they deserve and people will be able to access the cycle routes that they deserve. People will see, as we've taken powers now over buses, an integrated bus and train and light rail network. That is what we offer the people of Wales—a real vision to plug that gap until such time as the technology is available and the range is available for battery-powered cars.
3. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's economic priorities for Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months? OAQ52340
The 'Prosperity for All' national strategy and the economic action plan set out the actions we are taking to improve the economy and business environment across the whole of Wales.
First Minister, I met with a relatively new business in my constituency recently called Composites Cymru, which produces carbon-fibre components for vehicles. The business is now looking to expand in order to produce other products too. I’m sure that you would agree with me that it’s important that we do everything that we can to support a business like this, by securing access to funding so that the business can grow and so that the local economy can benefit from that growth. So, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to ensure that small businesses, particularly small businesses in rural areas, can access financial support, so that they can grow and develop for the future and improve the local economy?
Well, of course, we are committed to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and small businesses, and we’ve invested £86 million up until 2020 to ensure that small businesses and SMEs receive the information that is needed by them, and receive guidelines and also receive business support through the Business Wales programme. It’s a pleasure to see that there’s been an increase of 10.6 per cent in businesses in Pembrokeshire since 2011, and, of course, the investment that has been made in the broadband system has made a huge difference in ensuring that businesses can remain in more rural areas and that they do not feel that they have to establish themselves in less rural areas.
4. How will the south Wales metro improve access to public transport in the Cynon Valley? OAQ52384
Aberdare and the wider Cynon Valley will benefit from an increase to four services per hour in 2022. More immediately, the Sunday service trial that's currently operational will be made permanent from December 2018.
Thank you, First Minister. I welcome those comments on the rail aspect of the metro, but I think it's important to note that, from its inception, the metro project has been promoted as an integrated transport solution. The geography of the Valleys means that it's often our most impoverished communities that can be furthest away from the train links on the valley floor. So, for them to benefit from better access to the jobs market, it is crucial that they're served by strong bus links that feed into those train services. So, First Minister, what reassurances can the Welsh Government give that those bus links remain at the heart of the metro vision?
Well, Members will know the frustration that many of us feel when constituents come to us and say, 'Is there anything you can do about this bus route that's been cut?' And the answer is, 'Well, it's nothing to do with Government. It's all from the private sector, apart from subsidised routes.' Well, that has to come to an end, because, in most parts of Wales, there's effectively a private monopoly on bus services. They can do as they see fit in terms of which routes they run. Now that we have responsibility and control over the bus services in Wales, there's the opportunity to create that integrated bus, light rail and train system that we've wanted to see for a long times in Wales. She's right to say that there are many cross-Valleys routes, for example, that are not being served by rail, but are important in terms of what they deliver through bus services. Now we can start looking, from phases 2 and 3 and beyond, at a properly integrated public transport system for the whole of Wales, and these are exciting times.
First Minister, we're already seeing, from the population statistics for Rhondda Cynon Taf and Aberdare, being very important, that there's an increase in population of people who are between 30 and 40, as some people are relocating to those areas to purchased family-sized housing. This is leading to a larger and more diverse social mix, which itself regenerates areas like Aberdare. But an essential part of this, to rebuild on this trend, is to ensure that the metro provides excellent transport, because a lot of younger people do not want their lives ruled by the car and facing congestion points.
They don't; you're quite right. They are more enlightened, I suppose, than many of the generations older than them. We are looking, of course—the Member for Llanelli has offered his strong support for that, I'm glad he considers he is a part of the younger generation, but I'll not comment on that. We are looking, of course, at a system of half-price travel for young people, as well, to make it easier for them to access the network that we will have in place, but the Member is quite right to point out that we have to make sure, as we encourage people out of their cars, that we have a rail system that is good enough to attract them onto the trains. For too long, they've had to put up with uncomfortable trains with condensation running down the windows, with indifferent punctuality. Those days must change, and they will change as a result of the new franchise.
First Minister, the improvements to the service in Cynon valley will obviously come through to Pontypridd, but are probably unlikely to go as far as providing benefits to Pontyclun, where you have a population from Pencoed to the surrounding area of around 100,000. The main benefit that, probably, people in Pontyclun will see is that there will be more trains going through Pontyclun, but not necessarily stopping in Pontyclun. At the moment, there is one train an hour, two at peak times, normally of two carriages, and there is incredible frustration in terms of people actually even being able to access the service at all, because of the congestion. I wonder if this is something Welsh Government would have a look at to ensure that, in this growing area, this vitally important area, a part of my constituency, there will be very specific improvements to the rail service, to the frequency of trains, the quality of trains and the number of carriages to enable them to deliver people, whether it be from Pencoed through Pontyclun to Cardiff or vice versa.
My daughter travels to Cardiff on a Monday and a Tuesday. She is somebody who lobbies me constantly on this issue. She sees the overcrowding on the trains. She gets on at Bridgend, but, of course, with the stops at Pencoed and Llanharan, then at Pontyclun, she sees the overcrowding that takes place there with a two-carriage train in the early morning. Bear in mind, of course, that the last franchise was let on the basis that there would be no increase in the passenger numbers at all. That was unfathomable thinking at the time. That is not what we've done this time around. So, it does mean looking at more frequent services to serve his constituents. It'll mean, in time, as well, of course, looking at the old coke works line up to Beddau to see whether that can be used—probably light rail—to link back into the mainline to provide a service for people at the stations from western Talbot Green, I suppose, onwards and upwards up to Beddau.
5. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to reduce reoffending rates? OAQ52336
The Welsh Government and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service in Wales have worked together to develop a joint framework to support positive change for those at risk of offending in Wales.
Virtually every piece of research that has looked at the size of prisons has shown that smaller prisons have better outcomes for prisoners and communities as compared to large prisons, and superprisons, particularly. So, if you are serious about reducing the levels of reoffending, then would you commit, if and when these issues are devolved, to plough a new furrow in Wales and to move away from this model and ensure that we don’t see more superprisons being developed here in Wales?
Yes, we will. I think we must reconsider both the justice and the courts systems in Wales, and especially, of course, the prisons and the institutions for young offenders. So, this is something that we’re considering at present, because if we’re going to see the devolution of the justice system, then we must have a policy. But there's no point having a policy once devolution takes place; you have to have one beforehand, and this is something that we, as Government, have foreseen and I know that this is something that the Minister is considering and developing at present.
First Minister, I'm sure you would agree with me, key to low reoffending rates is training prior to release. I recently opened a very successful jobs fair at Prescoed open prison in my constituency—it was hosted partially by Careers Wales—where ex-offenders had the opportunity to meet with employers, both local and from further afield, to see how they could best apply valuable skills that they picked up whilst in prison. I thought that this was a very worthwhile scheme. Prescoed has an excellent record of rehabilitation. Can you tell us—whilst I appreciate that prisons aren't devolved—what the Welsh Government is doing to support organisations like Careers Wales, so that ex-offenders, whilst they are in prison, do get that valuable opportunity to retrain so that upon release they can reintegrate with society and give society back those skills that they picked up in prison?
Well, youth offending teams have played a significant role in reducing reoffending amongst young people. They've looked to support prevention, early intervention and diversion. As someone with significant experience in representing young people at the sharp end in the courts, what I would find is, yes, they can quite often get released from a young offenders' institution, having had training, but they fall back into the same peer group and into the same habits. So, yes, training is hugely important—I very much welcome what's been done at Prescoed—but also, of course, those teams will know that it's hugely important to move people away from a peer group that might have got them into trouble in the first place, and often away from drugs as well, because the rate of reoffending with people who have abused drugs is enormously high. So, I think it's a holistic approach that's needed, but what he's described as happening in his own constituency is a hugely important part of that approach.
6. How does the Welsh Government assist health boards in the planning of healthcare in Mid and West Wales? OAQ52383
The 'NHS Wales Planning Framework 2018/21' sets out the principles that health boards should follow when developing their integrated medium-term plans. We have also set out our vision for the future of health and social care services in the long-term plan, 'A Healthier Wales', which was launched last week.
I thank the First Minister for that reply. As he knows, a significant part of Mid and West Wales is within the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area. As of the end of March, there were 5,714 patients that were waiting more than nine months for treatment in hospital. Under Betsi's current plans, many orthopaedic patients will still be waiting more than a year for treatment, and 4,200, generally, will wait more than nine months to be treated, whereas in Powys, that nine-month wait has actually been eliminated. Betsi also says that there's a systemic deficit of 13,500 patient pathways on the basis of patient demand, so that must mean that they are not being funded properly to provide a suitably comprehensive system of healthcare for the people of that region. Is it acceptable to the Welsh Government that, under Betsi's plans, this is a health board that is actually planning to fail?
The health Secretary updated Members last week on the progress made in some areas. He was also clear about the significant challenges that do remain, and the support that will be in place for the next phase of work. It's right to say that some services have been de-escalated. Maternity services, of course, in a very difficult place at one point, were de-escalated as a special measures concern in February, and that demonstrates what can be achieved with focused action and support, and that is the model that we plan to use in ensuring that there is further de-escalation in the months to come.
Of course, we do know a little bit better now what is happening in Betsi Cadwaladr, and what support the Welsh Government is offering that health board, simply because we have raised it here so many times that we've finally managed to get an answer. I wonder, now, First Minister, if you might be able to enlighten us as to the types of levels of support that the Welsh Government is offering the Hywel Dda health board, which, as you know, is in a form of special intervention. They've already been in it for over two years. We don't want to see their situation deteriorate or continue for as long as the Betsi Cadwaladr health board situation has. Surely the objective is that you go in, you give them the support, they put themselves right, and then they come back out of special measures. That's the way we should be running our health boards. So, perhaps you can just give us an overview of what you're doing for Hywel Dda health board, because I've found it exceptionally difficult to try to get some real, clear, crystal-clear answers on this matter from the Cabinet Secretary for health.
Well, I can say that in 2015-16 and 2016-17, we did provide Hywel Dda with additional non-recurrent funding of £14.4 million as short-term structural support in recognition of the financial challenges facing the board. On 23 May, the health Secretary announced the findings of a review that partially confirmed the view that Hywel Dda faces a unique set of healthcare challenges that have contributed to the consistent deficits incurred by the board and its predecessor organisations as well. As a result, £27 million of additional recurrent funding has been released to the health board during this financial year. That will place the health board on a sounder funding basis going forward, and of course it will help the board to develop and transform services in the future.
I don't know, First Minister, if you've had a chance to see the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales's report on the distressing case of Ellie and Chris James of Haverfordwest, whose son died in Glangwili hospital. There were a host of failings described in that ombudsman's report, compounded by the decision to describe their son's death as 'stillborn', despite the fact that he had signs of life after being born, and that in itself was as a result of several failings, including, for example, failing to monitor the heartbeat. This happened in Glangwili, with a young mother being taken from Withybush to Glangwili. A failure to escalate—something we were told wouldn't be happening when the services were taken from Withybush to Glangwili, of course. I hope you'll join with me in extending deepest sympathies to the family and the circumstances that they have suffered. But, in particular, I'd be interested to know what specific steps you're taking in line with the ombudsman's conclusions that the health board should implement the recommendations of this report now, and whether you're taking any further direct action to ensure that, there, we have the highest standards of neonatal care in our health board area.
Nobody could fail to be moved by what these parents have gone through. Of course I join him in expressing my enormous sympathy for what has happened to them—of course. All of us, I'm sure, in this Chamber will more than empathise with the situation that they find themselves in, of course.
Well, what should be done as a result? First of all, the ombudsman's report was clear in its findings that the care provided was unacceptable—by more than one hospital, but unacceptable. The health board has accepted the report's recommendations in full. They have sent their action plan to us. Officials will now monitor the actions taken by the health board to ensure that the recommendations within the report are implemented. There has already been a great deal of learning and improvement in practice as a result of what is, of course, a very sad case, and we will ensure that that continues. As part of the learning process, I can say that we expect all NHS organisations to reflect on this case to identify any learning to improve patient care within their own respective organisations as well. So, yes, Hywel Dda will take action. That action will be monitored by us.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government policy in relation to the criteria for the awarding of grants to companies? OAQ52385
Yes, the financial support we provide to businesses plays a vital role in helping them to start, to sustain and grow, and of course to enable them to deliver wider economic benefit. But businesses receiving such support must satisfy grant terms and conditions, and any breaches may result in the recovery of that grant.
Thank you for that answer. You will know that Celtic Wealth Management had a grant from your Government for financial services, but instead decided to use that money to rip off steelworkers in the Port Talbot area, and other people with defined pension benefits. This effectively amounts to cold calling and is something that is unethical. I'm wondering why it's taken you seven months to even comment on this in any way, shape or form, and why you are not taking decisive action as a Government to root out the problem in relation to this particular firm. If you go on their website, there is now no longer any information on it. There are 44 steelworkers in my area taking class action against Celtic Wealth Management and other bodies that are involved. If you are going to be delivering grants, why were you not able to check what they were doing before you gave them that grant, and what are you now doing to ensure that this particular company does not receive further money from this Government?
Well, the subsequent practice by a business does not mean they were engaged in that practice when the grant was received, but she's right to say that, in 2014, Celtic Wealth Management did receive an offer of financial support. If there has been a legal mis-selling, that will be a breach of our conditions, and we will take action to recover any money that we have given them. Now, the first thing that has to happen is, there has to be an investigation, to my mind, by the Financial Conduct Authority and by the other regulators. They're responsible ultimately for enforcing the laws governing financial services, but we will continue to examine the situation. As I say quite clearly, if there is a breach of the conditions of the financial support that we have provided, we will take action to recover that money.
In your interim annual report on grants management 2016-17, it states that the Permanent Secretary was to chair the improving efficiency board with the aim
'to reduce bureaucracy by identifying administrative work which is of low value, or which could be undertaken less frequently or in a different way or not at all.'
The work started in May last year and was to complete in 2018 by being taken on at pace. Has that work now been completed? Have there been any financial savings for your Government? And, if there have been, are they more or less than you expected? And are you anticipating more applications for grants now that there's more money available to meet them?
Well, there's less money, because we get less money from the UK Conservative Government. So, it's not as if there is a sudden windfall of money that we can draw on in order to help businesses. But we continually look to improve our offer to businesses in terms of grant funding, particularly through removing duplication, because the temptation sometimes is to create a number of different grant schemes in order that different applications are able to fit properly. Now, that can lead to a proliferation of grant schemes in time, and the work that's ongoing is looking at slimming down, potentially, the number of grants that are available and simplifying the way in which they're applied for.
First Minister, there are now 143 accredited employers paying the real living wage in Wales across the public, private and third sectors, helping to address the pay and gender inequalities in the workplace. With the Welsh public sector spending approximately £6 billion annually through procurement, will you update the Assembly on the adoption of the code of practice on ethical employment in supply chains, which commits companies to sign up to consider paying the real living wage?
Well, I can say that 86 organisations have already signed up to the code, which commits public, private and third sector organisations to a set of actions that tackle illegal and unfair employment practices. The four supporting guides that make up the code contain tools and advice to help put those commitments into practice. They include, for example, tackling unfair employment practices and false self-employment, tackling modern slavery and human rights abuses, implementing the living wage through procurement, and blacklisting. All organisations that receive funding from Welsh Government either directly or via grants or contracts are expected to sign up to the code.
And, finally, question 8. Lee Waters.
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to make sleep medication for children and young people with neurodevelopmental conditions more easily available? OAQ52380
Currently there are no medicines containing melatonin licensed in the UK for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in children and young people. We are guided by the recommendations of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group.
Thank you, First Minister. Families with children with neurodevelopmental conditions often report that getting a child to sleep is one of the most stressful and difficult times of the day. One constituent came to see me recently. They couldn't settle their son until four in the morning, causing chaos in the house and stress for the whole family. When children do get to see a specialist, they're often prescribed melatonin as a way of settling them until they get into a routine, but that's not currently licensed for children, and GPs won't prescribe it. Given that, in the Hywel Dda health board, there's still a waiting list of some 18 months to see a specialist—though this is improving—this does cause great stress for families who are unable to get help from primary care and unable to get to see a specialist consultant. We must do better in offering them something, First Minister, to help them and their families deal with this very difficult condition. Would he look to see what is practicable within the constraints, and, even better, try and remove some of the constraints?
The difficulty is that it's not licensed for use at the moment. Now, medicines licensing is not devolved. Once a medicine is licensed, the use of it then is governed by NICE and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, but, of course, for GPs, GPs are governed—I know Dai Lloyd is over there—as I understand it, by rules that tell them what they cannot prescribe, not what they can prescribe. So, it is possible for a GP to prescribe melatonin; it's a matter for individual prescribers. There's no restriction on GPs doing that, but, of course, any GP is going to ask the question, 'Well, is this something I should be doing? Is it something that I regard as clinically safe?' That's inevitable, and they do take clinical responsibility for the medicines that they prescribe. The British Medical Association does say to GPs that they should not prescribe beyond their own knowledge or capability—sensible advice—and I can imagine GPs being nervous about prescribing what appears to be a medicine unlicensed for use in children.
The next step has to be to look at evidence to make sure that it is licensed for use in children, and then of course to move on from there. What I can say, however, is, in the meantime, we have established a new service to assess, diagnose and provide ongoing support for children and young people with neurodevelopmental conditions, and we are investing £2 million a year to do so.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item, therefore, is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house to make the statement. Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. The statement 'The Best Start in Life: Making Early Years Count', has been withdrawn from today's agenda. Timings for other items have been adjusted accordingly. Business for the next three weeks is shown on the business statement and announcement, found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Leader of the house, could we have a statement either from the First Minister, or a letter from the Permanent Secretary, outlining the way the operational protocol was put in place for the QC-led inquiry? There have been various reports in the media that I would suggest cause grave areas of concern and do need explaining. I do draw the leader of the house's attention to some of the comments that refer to:
'Mr Bowen can only go as far as the permanent secretary will allow'
'The permanent secretary, acting on behalf of the First Minister'.
Also, the advice that was given to civil service employees last week on the intranet, obviously, that's available to employees, in the Permanent Secretary's name and also the head of human resources and director of governance, also causes grave concern, I would suggest. I'd be most grateful if—and I'll be guided by you on this, who the appropriate person would be to address this, whether it's the Permanent Secretary herself, via a letter to Assembly Members, who could clarify some of these areas so that we can have confidence, or the First Minister via a statement. I do hope that the leader of the house will facilitate such response that can close off some of these areas of concern that have been highlighted recently.
I'm more than happy to discuss with the Permanent Secretary the best way of making sure that Assembly Members are fully informed as to where we are with the inquiry and what the protocol entails.
Last week, leader of the house, I asked you whether we'd be likely to discuss a legislative consent motion arising from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and you assured us that was highly unlikely. Since then, however, the Lords have voted in favour of requiring the Secretary of State to pass primary legislation within a period of six months following Royal Assent of the Bill—that's the EU withdrawal Bill—to place on public authorities a duty to apply EU environmental principles after Brexit and setting up an independent body with a purpose of ensuring compliance.
Now, those requirements and duties are precisely what was suggested in our amendments to our still extant continuity Act—long title available. You told us at the time not to press, though we did press, the amendments, but they were rejected by the Government on the basis that you'd take the first legislative opportunity to do that yourself. But here we have the Lords—. Because public authorities are not defined as England only. This is the problem, it just says 'public authorities', so it could easily be seen, in the context of an EU withdrawal Bill that is England and Wales in terms of legislative application, as applying here in Wales. So, we have the Lords suggesting that this should happen, we have the promise from Welsh Government of doing another thing, and it strikes me that this is, in fact, something that this place should assent to, except, of course, we can't, because it's all bound up in agreements. If things are ping-ponged and then the Lords and the Government agree, it doesn't get back to the House of Commons, doesn't get debated again, and, in effect, having been assented to in the Lords, this is now part of the Bill, and us passing an LCM is symbolic—or not passing it, as the case may be, is symbolic. But I would nevertheless be interested to know whether the Government intends, in the interest of procedure but also of visible transparency, to present an LCM to the Assembly so that we can have our say on this debate.
Plaid Cymru is particularly interested because we tried to make the amendments, but I think other Members here are also interested in some aspects of this. It just draws to attention this crazy way of trying to legislate for devolved Governments and devolved Parliaments when you're actually caught up with the most archaic way possible that Westminster performs its legislative duties in ping-ponging back and fore without the ability for anyone, really, to have a proper say in things that really impinge on our powers. So, I would appreciate a statement on that now.
And, if I can turn to one other matter that's happened this week, which I think is of great relevance to the Assembly, the Assembly itself voted on a backbench debate, I think it was, to support the legalisation of medical cannabis and the availability of that. We were ahead of the debate in doing that, and recent events, of course, and a very particular family—but other epileptic children, I know, are affected by this, and there's been some very limited prescribing of medical cannabis. The curious thing is that the UK leads the world in the production, development and exporting of medicinal cannabis, and we can't legislate to have it available for patients ourselves. Cannabis can be a dangerous drug, and this is a separate argument to whether we should decriminalise cannabis or not for the purposes of drug control, but a powerful drug—all powerful drugs—have medicinal effects, and if we can allow opiates to be used on a prescription and led by a GP, then why on earth can't we allow cannabis or cannabinoids to be used in a similar way?
Now, the UK Government has said that it will set up an expert commission to do this, but this is an area that is devolved in terms of prescription policy and in terms of payment. So, can we have a statement from the health Cabinet Secretary in particular saying how Wales now can be part of this debate? It's one thing to have an expert panel in London—we want to be part of that, we want to know how it applies in our communities, and, since we have voted as an Assembly, I assumed there would be a lot of support for that to happen.
Yes, well, two very important points. On the second point, the last, because it's fresh in my mind, yes, it was very interesting, wasn't it, the swiftness that that agenda moved forward in the light of one particular case, although, actually, I'm pretty sure all of us could highlight other cases—perhaps not quite as stark, given what happened—but it certainly underlined it. And Simon Thomas is right—we all broadly took that view. I will discuss with the Cabinet Secretary where we are and make sure that he updates Members in the most appropriate way, but I know it's a matter of great interest to a large number of us. It's always interesting, isn't it, how one single case can suddenly grab the headlines and move a whole agenda forward in that way.
Anyway, that leads me on to the chaotic way of governing that you mentioned earlier, and I couldn't agree more. The LCM issue is a live issue. We discussed it in Business Committee this morning, Llywydd, as you know. Our current position is that it was made very clear on the floor of the House of Lords, and has been made very clear to the Government, that there is no intention of legislating on behalf of anyone other than England and English public authorities, but I completely agree that the wording is less than optimal, shall we say, and the ping pong is also less than optimal.
I just wanted to be very clear that it was on the basis that we have that assurance that we are not going ahead with an LCM, and not on any other basis. I think we'd also like to make it very clear—and I know the Llywydd feels this as well—that we would have wanted to take an LCM to state our view should it have been the case that we were not assured that it was out of scope that they were going to do it for Wales. So, the principle is a very important part of it here. But we are assured of that—we've been assured of it as a Government and, in fact, it was said as part of the debate. But I actually welcome the opportunity to say now our position is that the LCM is not required because we have been assured that they are not intending to legislate on behalf of Wales. In all other circumstances, we would have wanted to allow this Parliament to make its point of view known so that, by the time the Bill was ultimately passed, Members who were voting on that Bill would be very clear what our view was, even if it wasn't in time to affect a particular section of the Bill. And I know the Llywydd agrees with that.
So, just to be very clear on that point—. But I agree with you that this is not, obviously, a very good way of dealing with what is the single most important thing that's happened probably in our generation; I couldn't agree more. But just to be clear on the environmental thing, the statement that I gave holds. We will bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity and, of course, should they legislate in that regard for Wales then that itself would need an LCM, just to be clear, so there would be another opportunity. But the principle is right, and we agree with Simon Thomas. Other than for the assurances, we would want to make that point very clear as between Parliaments, but we have been given those assurances, and on that basis we do not think an LCM is necessary.
There are two issues I wanted to raise, and the first one was the issue of progress on eliminating hepatitis C. I think 12 months ago we had a very good cross-party debate about the aim of eliminating hepatitis C in Wales by 2030, and the Government responded with a series of actions. I wondered if it would be possible to have a statement outlining the progress that's been made in the different health boards on delivering those actions. That was the first one. And the second one was, on the weekend, the UK Government designated 22 June Windrush Day, and I wondered if the Government itself had any plans to mark that day.
On that second one, I'm delighted to say that I'm hosting a Windrush celebration in the millennium centre on the twenty-second, and I'd be very glad to see a large number of Assembly Members there. Anyone who can get there will be very welcome indeed. It's a very important thing to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation—the entire generation, not just the people who came on the Windrush itself, of course—to the culture and development of Wales. They've had a very, very significant role in the culture and development of Wales as a nation, and they certainly deserve to be celebrated for that.
In terms of hepatitis C, a patient notification exercise is currently being finalised in order to reach out to patients who were diagnosed with hepatitis C at a time when the treatment wasn't available. A national specification for testing in community pharmacies is being developed at the moment, and targets for our substance misuse services are being developed in order to increase testing in those services. We're currently engaged in negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry to agree a new funding deal for hepatitis C treatments, and we're also engaged with counterparts in England to consider the details and potential benefits for Wales before any final decision is made. I'm sure the health Secretary will update us as soon as those negotiations are complete. The Member has been very assiduous in advancing this for her patients, and I'm sure the health Secretary will keep her informed in particular.
Cabinet Secretary, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on Welsh Government policy towards setting up fix rooms for drug addicts in Wales? In November 2016, I raised this issue in the business statement following the news that a pilot project was being set up in Glasgow. The business Secretary at the time said that it was clearly a very important issue and she was sure a statement would be forthcoming. Now, the chief executive of the charity The Wallich earlier this month said that fix rooms for drug addicts would bring so many benefits that it would be ridiculous not to have them now. Could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary and Welsh Government on this very important issue? I want to know why there's been silence for so long please.
The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that we did publish a response, but he's also indicated to me that he'll recirculate it to make sure Members are kept in that loop.
Leader of the house, you may be aware that the Welsh Government last week confirmed that over £36 million of public money has been spent on developing a business park at Felindre in Swansea, yet despite being in public ownership for 20 years, Felindre business park remains empty. You may also be aware of other parcels of land in South Wales West that have been labelled as future business parks but remain empty—land in Glynneath, for example, just off the A465, owned by the Welsh Government but not even included within Neath Port Talbot's local development plan, or the infamous piece of land at Baglan, which has been empty for so long that the Ministry of Justice thought that it could be used for another purpose. It seems that there's a major issue in terms of how the Welsh Government is going about investing in these areas, how it goes about targeting sectors and attracting companies to these sites, and how it ultimately is failing to develop jobs in these areas. Now, with the Valleys taskforce looking to deliver even more land for business or industrial use, we are looking at the potential of south Wales being flooded with available industrial land, yet severely lacking in terms of ideas on how to fill them. So, would the Welsh Government therefore commit to bringing forward a statement on how it plans to develop jobs on land that it owns in Wales, and how it plans to move from a position whereby sites are empty to a position whereby sites are actually providing quality employment for local people?
Well, I don't entirely agree with everything the Member said there, but it's a very important point, what the Welsh Government does with Welsh Government-owned land. We have developed a whole set of data points to be able to identify public-owned land, not just Welsh Government-owned land, because sometimes it's important to assemble sites in that way. And we have been working, as part of the Valleys taskforce, very much on a project to make sure that we can do just that. The Cabinet Secretary for public services, who's in charge of the Valleys taskforce, will be updating Members on the Valleys taskforce, which will include the issue of Welsh Government-owned land and what we can do in order to maximise its benefits, as part of his update on the Valleys taskforce shortly.
Cabinet Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary for health, well-being and sport actually issued a written statement outlining the decision to change the boundaries for Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and Cwm Taf health boards. This has some important consequences for my constituents and Neath Port Talbot Hospital, which is serviced by clinicians from the Bridgend area, and also, many departments are linked and managed by the Bridgend side. Now, we haven't had an opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary on this, and that very important question on the details of finance. For example, how is the deficit going to be allocated, how is the servicing and the funding for the different parts going to be worked out? So, all those service agreements. Now, I appreciate that there are elements to be discussed. Would it be possible to have an oral statement from the Cabinet Secretary, so we can explore the opportunities as to who's going to fund this? Because I attended a carers event in Neath Port Talbot Hospital last week, and they're fighting for £10,000 just to get some caring services going, and yet we may be talking of larger sums than this just to do this management. Can we have that oral statement so that we can explore the details of this proposal to ensure that, actually, it will, in the long term, continue to deliver for the people in my constituency?
Llywydd, I'd just like to point out that, obviously, that covers my own constituency as well, so Members should be aware of that. The Government announced on 14 June that, from April next year, Cwm Taf university health board will be responsible for healthcare services in the Bridgend county borough council area, as Dai Rees has just said. Those are currently provided by ABMU, and all the Assembly Members in the ABMU health board area, I know, have just received a communication from the chief executive there about some of the arrangements. The Cabinet Secretary has indicated to me that he's happy to meet with interested Assembly Members to discuss some of the issues and to tease out some of the specific details. I know a number of Assembly Members have indicated a wish for that to happen, and so we'll arrange for that meeting to go forward as soon as possible.
I call for two statements. Firstly, to add my voice to the voice of Simon Thomas earlier regarding the provision of medicinal cannabis on prescription. We heard of the case—it was well publicised—of Billy and Charlotte Caldwell. You may recall that, in January, I led a debate in the Assembly, as chair of the cross-party group on neurological conditions, highlighting that this wasn't about one person, it was about multiple people, with multiple conditions, who were already being forced to access cannabis illegally, rather than having individually distillated prescriptions to meet their particular needs. After that debate, I hosted Billy and his mother Charlotte in this Assembly, and they told us their story. We heard that Billy used to suffer up to 100 seizures a day until he began treatment with cannabis oil, following successful treatment in Los Angeles by a children's epilepsy specialist, and he became virtually seizure free. On return from Los Angeles, Charlotte told us, he became the first person to be prescribed medicinal cannabis on the UK NHS. Charlotte has been campaigning for medicinal cannabis from the NHS, recognising the desperation felt by many families fighting to be afforded the same access that she fought so hard for. And she was adamant, and remains adamant, that this is a separate issue entirely, and must not become confused with debates over recreational use, or broader drug legalisation—a valid debate, many people may feel, but not relevant to this debate. She contacted me again in May, after her doctor was summoned to a meeting with Home Office officials, and told to desist writing his prescriptions. After that, I wrote to the Home Secretary, urging him and his officials to urgently contact her to find a resolution and a way forward. We heard that the UK Government has now set out plans for an expert clinical panel to look at individual cases, and I know, in January, I was calling on the Welsh Government to put in place preparations within the Welsh NHS for potential prescription here. Adding to Simon Thomas's comments, I would be grateful for a detailed statement acknowledging the issue and detailing how the Welsh Government proposes to address this, in alignment with the UK, but also in the devolved context, and hopefully add its voice of support, a voice that sadly wasn't fulsome when I led the debate in January.
Secondly, I want to add my voice to calls by Andrew R.T. Davies earlier, in questions to the First Minister, regarding prostate cancer diagnosis in Wales, and for a statement accordingly, on this date when Prostate Cancer UK has produced figures following research they've carried out across the UK that don't put Wales in a particularly good light. More than 2,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Wales; about 600 will die in Wales each year. I had a letter from the Cabinet Secretary only last week, to a constituent, again saying he can't see any reason why a patient in north Wales with suspected prostate cancer should have to pay privately for an mpMRI scan if they've been found to have a negative biopsy. I've repeatedly told him—and I have numerous constituents who come to me who have gone to the community health council stating they have had to pay and still haven't had justice. The figures referred to by Prostate Cancer UK were from a freedom of information request to health bodies across the UK asking them about the use of the scans before biopsy. They found that whereas across the UK only 13 per cent of health bodies were not providing it, the figure in Wales was 50 per cent, and they said, 18 months after the promised trial first proved that the mpMRI scans before a biopsy could radically boost detection of prostate cancer, in their words, that
'Wales is lagging behind other parts of the UK in terms of making this breakthrough diagnostic available, putting Welsh men at a disadvantage.'
Well, let's put some action behind the rhetoric about Wales leading the way and Wales wanting to show the rest of the UK how things should be done. This shouldn't be happening. We need action pre biopsy, we need action pro biopsy and we need these men's voices to be heard at last.
Thank you, Mark Isherwood, for both of those points. As you said yourself, they have already been aired today. The First Minister gave a very long response to Andrew R.T. Davies—well deserved on such an important topic—and I've already indicated to Simon Thomas what the position on medical cannabis is. I'm sure that we'll take that forward as soon as possible.
I'm sure the leader of the house has seen the upsetting images of desperate people slumped over park benches and in shop doorways following the use of various substances. It's not good for anyone, but it's particularly bad for children to witness, I would argue. Now, in the light of recent stories of high numbers of deaths from drug overdoses in some of our former industrial towns, as well as incidents elsewhere, where the problem of county lines drug dealing networks has been highlighted, I'd be grateful if we could receive a statement from the Government addressing the following points: first of all, the extent that local authorities and health services are able to cope with this issue, particularly given that the county lines networks are exploiting vulnerable people often homeless people; secondly, whether the Government supports the north Wales police and crime commissioner Arfon Jones's call for safer injecting rooms to be piloted—international examples show that these rooms save lives; thirdly, the extent that this Government is working with the non-devolved criminal justice system to address this growing problem; and, fourthly, whether the Government shares my view that we need to move away from seeing drug problems as criminal justice matters and instead moving towards public health, as they view them in Portugal. I'd also be grateful to know if the Government shares my concerns and lack of confidence in Westminster's ability to debate these matters in a rational way.
On that last one—starting, again, as I always do, backwards, for some reason—I completely agree with you. Of course, the criminal justice system often makes the situation worse, not better. In my own constituency, it's obvious that particularly young people who are caught up in this need assistance and not punishment. That's very much part of the debate about the role of the criminal justice system in this. We're very much wanting to catch the county lines perpetrators and not the people who are caught up in the substance misuse. I couldn't agree with her more. I also agree with the safer injection rooms. There's a very good project in Swansea, actually, that has done this. The Swansea drugs project has done very good pilots on that and the outcome is plain to see for everyone.
Substance misuse is a real issue. I myself have just been talking to the multi-agency safeguarding hub here in Cardiff about the best way to approach some of the multi-agency issues. This is really complex. It crosses across devolved and non-devolved things but it also crosses across a whole range of other issues. I think I've said this before, Llywydd, in this Chamber, but the MASH here in Cardiff is well worth a visit if you haven't visited it to see what their multi-agency approach to this is, because it's very obvious that you need an approach to stop the organised crime part of it, you need a public health approach for the substance misuse and you need a social response to some of the social issues that allow people to fall into this situation. It's a hugely complicated picture and we do have a large number of multi-agency responses already.
I will discuss with Cabinet colleagues—. Some of that is in my portfolio and some of it is in others. I will discuss with Cabinet colleagues in terms of bringing forward some statement on how we're co-ordinating that across the Government, because it is a very important point.
Can I ask for a further update on the Welsh Government action to support people working for Virgin Media in Swansea? Has the Welsh Government taskforce been allowed access to talk to staff and provide details of potential other employers?
Can I ask a second question? As the Cabinet Secretary's well aware, living in the same area, there's been huge success with the development of Llandarcy, SA1, Swansea Vale and Baglan energy park within the former west Glamorgan area. Is it not true that it is beneficial to try and develop one area at a time rather than having them competing against each other, and isn't Felindre next on the list?
Yes, well, on that point, absolutely. It's important to have a strategy, as I said, across the public realm, to make sure that you do optimise the use of that and that you don't have competing priorities. What we don't want to do is have a race over competing investment in a particular area. It's also important, as I said, to combine the public realm so that you can do land combinations or building and land combinations, or road network and land combinations. So, the Member is quite right to point that out.
In terms of Virgin, we have been assured as a Government that employees will have access to time off and support to apply for other jobs, where that's appropriate, to keep their skills and talents in the area. The Cabinet Secretary assures me that we've had good co-operation from Virgin. I will make sure to have a conversation with him to make sure that the pressure is kept up so that we do make sure that the vast majority of those staff have their very highly developed skills retained for the benefit of Wales's economy.
I wonder whether I could ask for one or possibly two statements as this covers two portfolio areas, please. I hope you'll join me in congratulating Glasgow, which has just become the first city in the UK to make emergency life-saving skills compulsory on the secondary school curriculum there, something their director of public health has been applauded for leading the way on there.
As it's also the anniversary of the Cabinet Secretary's statement on the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan for Wales, I wonder whether we could have an update on that, covering these four points specifically: the first is the role of co-responders, who were mentioned in the statement a year ago. I'm still waiting for a letter from the ambulance trust promised to me by the Cabinet Secretary to explain why more recent rumours were circulating that the role of co-responders was going to be diminished rather than included. Could we also hear an update on the number of schools that are now taking up emergency life-saving skills voluntarily; the place and progression of emergency life-saving skills on the curriculum that's currently in development—I appreciate that that is not the Cabinet Secretary for health; and also whether there's been a big upsurge in the registration of defibrillators, given that more and more organisations are themselves deciding to provide them? Thank you.
I wasn't aware of Glasgow, but I'm obviously happy to congratulate them on that. That's quite a complex area. I'll chase up why you haven't had a response to the letter that you were promised, but I will discuss with a range of Cabinet colleagues the best way to update the Chamber, Llywydd, because that's quite a complicated cross-Government piece.
Firstly, I'd just like to take the opportunity to welcome Ysgol Bryn Deva to the gallery upstairs. It's actually my primary school, so it's really great to see them here today.
I'd just like to move on, leader of the house, to this weekend, and this weekend is, as many of you know, is the Great Get Together, a day inspired by the late Jo Cox MP. I'll be holding my own events in the constituency in Alyn and Deeside, and I trust that all Members from across the Chamber will be supporting them in their own communities as well, with that truly great event. Leader of the house, this Saturday is International Women in Engineering Day. As a former engineer, I am keen to see all of our future generations, including women, enter the industry of engineering and manufacturing. A survey in 2017 indicated that 11 per cent of the UK engineering workforce is female. Now, that's up 2 per cent since 2015, but the UK as a whole still has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals within Europe.
I know that the Welsh Government is working extremely hard on this matter, but would the leader of the house join me in paying tribute to those women within the engineering workforce currently and those thinking about going into the engineering workforce and agree with me that we need to do more to change perceptions and encourage young people, both male and female, to consider engineering as a viable and rewarding career in the future?
Absolutely. Well, in good tradition of doing everything backwards in the order I'm asked in, that's very much a matter after my own heart and very much a soap box of mine. I do chair the Welsh Government's women in STEM—although it should be 'STEMC' because it should have computer science on the end—board, and we are working very hard to make sure that we can get good role models out into schools to make sure that all our young people, actually, not just women, take up engineering. We could certainly do across the board with more engineers, but particularly more women engineers. I have discussed with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, as part of the economic action plan, what we can do to reward companies that particularly target getting more women into STEM, and rewarding the STEM careers as well. So, I'm delighted that Jack Sargeant has highlighted that issue, because it's a very important issue and, I know, dear to his heart as well.
I'm always delighted to welcome schools to our gallery, Llywydd. I think they were here earlier. I think they've probably gone off for a tour now. They were sitting just opposite me, and I certainly noticed them. There may be some still there. There was certainly a whole school up there earlier. I'm always delighted to welcome them.
They're still here.
And it's also great to be able to highlight that it's the Jo Cox Great Get Together weekend, and I do hope, Llywydd, that a large number of communities across Wales will take that opportunity to get together and to see that we do indeed have more in common than that which divides us.
They're behind you, Minister. [Laughter.]
Oh, there we are. Good.
Leader of the Chamber, a couple of week ago, I asked the First Minister some questions about the new Wales and borders rail franchise, but he seemed to completely miss the point of my question. I asked specifically whether the rail infrastructure itself on the core Valleys lines was being handed over to a private company. I asked whether the Welsh Government had agreement from Network Rail to hand over the infrastructure to private companies. I asked whether the staff in Network Rail would be handed over to a private company also. Now, I don't want to talk about the trains or be told that you have some deal with the trade unions. I was asking for passengers who want to know whether rail safety is being privatised by this Government in Wales, because that went very badly last time, with the Hatfield disaster. So, the public really do need a statement on this.
Rail safety was very much a priority of the Cabinet Secretary in looking at the rail franchise, and he has included it in a number of his statements, and there are many opportunities for you to question him on it. But I will, Llywydd, make sure that the issue of rail safety is highlighted the next time rail is discussed in the Chamber.
Leader of the house, in February, Welsh Ministers stated they were considering making a screening direction to Biomass UK No.2 Limited, developing the Barry incinerator, under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Wales) Regulations 2017, citing that the characteristics of the development fall within the EIA regulations. I'm curious what the delay is in progressing the screening. Can the leader of the house find out from the environment Minister whether she would disclose any correspondence with the developer on this matter since February?
Secondly, can I have a statement following the National Audit Office report, which concluded that the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money on its early implementation of universal credit? Last week, two disabled men won their cases, having lost £175 as a result of universal credit—a week, that is. This is of great concern, of course, because universal credit is now being rolled out in Wales.
Yes. On that last point, I think we're all very deeply concerned about the fundamental flaws of universal credit, and we're very disappointed that the UK Government is persisting with the roll-out, given the National Audit Office's really quite scathing report about the effects that it has. Llywydd, many Members in this Chamber have highlighted the issues with universal credit and the hardship that many of their constituents have, none more assiduously than Jane Hutt. We're very concerned that the high cost of administering universal credit outweighs any of its perceived benefits, and we're all aware of the number of people who are really pushed towards food banks and so on, with the delays in the payment and the various things that people have highlighted around the assessment process and so on. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration has already written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ask for her views on how alternative payment arrangements can be offered to claimants on the basis of a much more informed choice to help those who are most vulnerable. We know that the situation is very concerning indeed, and Rebecca Evans—the Minister who has responsibility for that—is keeping a very close eye on it and has already written on a number of occasions. I will investigate with her whether it's worth writing again in the light of this.
In terms of the Barry biomass, I'm aware that residents of Barry have been waiting a long time for the decision in respect of the environmental impact assessment. We're currently looking at the environmental information produced by parties including the developer and the Docks Incinerator Action Group to inform a way forward. I'm afraid I don't have an exact timescale, but we are anticipating a decision within the next few weeks. And I most certainly will ask the Minister to write to you with regard to any correspondence with the developer that she's had.
We're out of time on the statement, but two very succinct, quick questions, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Llywydd. Leader of the house, this lunch time I was pleased to host the Agricultural Law Association event in the Senedd, attended by my colleague David Melding and a number of other AMs. The subject was the devolution of taxation and the impact of primarily stamp duty—land transaction tax—on rural communities in Wales and the agricultural community. I wonder if we could have an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance on the roll-out of tax devolution. It strikes me that many people still aren't really aware of the mechanics of that devolution. We're currently seeing issues with the LTT, but, obviously, next year we have the devolution of partial income tax as well to Wales. So, I wonder if we can have an update on what communication has happened between Welsh Government and people across Wales to make sure that these changes are fully understood and appreciated.
Yes. Actually, we're very pleased with the way that the tax arrangements were implemented—the historic tax arrangements for Wales—because it was all done digitally. It was a very complex project and, actually, there were no problems at all, which is always very pleasing, Llywydd.
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance is always very anxious to have occasions on which he can wax eloquent about tax. I will certainly discuss with him when his next statement updating the Chamber will be.
Equally succinct, hopefully, Jenny Rathbone.
At lunch time, the cross-party group on gambling and the cross-party group on children and young people combined to hear very important and rather disturbing evidence from Professor Samantha Thomas, based on the research she's done in Australia on the way the gambling industry is targeting children and young people. And lest we think that this is a problem confined to Australia, she visited two schools yesterday here, in the Vale of Glamorgan and Pontypridd, where the young people were able to identify who all the gambling companies are, the colour of their logo, and the jingles and the jokes they use in their advertising. And this is the way in which the gambling industry is targeting children and young people. In Australia, they've now banned advertising before the 8.30 p.m. watershed. I wondered if we could have a statement from the relevant Welsh Minister as to what our policy is going to be to protect children and young people from becoming gambling addicts.
Yes, I share the Member's concern about this, and we discussed it quite recently in the Chamber. The Cabinet Secretary for health and I wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority, and we've had quite a comprehensive response. Llywydd, I'll investigate what the best way of sharing that with Members is and make sure that it's shared as soon as possible as it reiterates a number of the issues that Jenny Rathbone's just raised.
Thank you to the leader of the house.
Before we progress, can I just apologise to the Chamber for the musical accompaniment this afternoon? We think we've identified the source—it's wind related. I'm hoping that it will cease soon. [Interruption.] No jokes. I shouldn't have even mentioned that.
We'll move on, therefore, to the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on the autistic spectrum disorder strategic action plan. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make his statement—Vaughan Gething.
Diolch, Llywydd. The Welsh Government re-affirmed our commitment to improve the lives of autistic people in November 2016 when we published the new autistic spectrum disorder action plan, backed by £13 million of investment in new services. Today, we published the first annual report on the delivery of the action plan. I am pleased to reflect the achievements of all those involved in responding to the challenges we have set. The real progress made this year reflects on our vision for delivery. Innovation and collaboration have helped to establish a strong basis for future success.
The most significant achievement this year has been to establish a national integrated autism service, creating consistent support for people with autism. It has been a time of great energy as new ways of working are established between agencies working in partnership in what is a complex environment. There is great pride in the achievement that the integrated autism service is open in Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf, Gwent and Powys. It will be launched next week in north Wales and will open later in this financial year in Western Bay and west Wales. I am very pleased to see that we are receiving very positive feedback. This includes participants reporting that this is the first time that they have felt listened to.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
The progress we are making would not be possible without the support of the ASD national development team that is hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association. It published its annual report today also, and I understand that a statement highlighting that has gone around to Members from the WLGA. The team is working with regions to develop the integrated service and to promote engagement and good practice across Wales. The team has a long-established role in raising awareness of autism, publishing a wide range of resources and information, which is freely available on their ASDinfoWales website.
Just two of the team’s notable achievements over the last year include the extension of the Learning with Autism programme. In addition to the primary school scheme, the secondary school and early years schemes have been launched and are being rolled out. Eighty schools have now completed the primary school programme, with nearly 13,000 children becoming autism superheroes. The Can You See Me? campaign is also being delivered, aimed at improving awareness of autism in local communities. The campaign film and resources are being rolled out in partnership with local parents, carers and businesses across Wales. Successes so far include awards achieved by Merthyr Tydfil shopping centre and McArthurGlen Bridgend shopping outlet, and training has been provided to Swansea City Association Football Club.
Although we are making good progress, we know that there is still much more to do. We continue to look carefully at the issues that autistic people say matter most to them to inform future action. Waiting times for assessment is a priority for many, and since 2015, we have invested an additional £2 million a year in children’s neurodevelopmental services, introducing a new 26-week waiting time standard from referral to first-assessment appointment, which we are now piloting. We want to make further progress, and this year, we are looking at good practice in some areas that is already achieving results in reducing waiting times, with the aim of replicating that success and good practice across Wales.
I understand that for parents of autistic children, the most pressing issue is often to ensure that their child is receiving the right educational support to help them achieve their full potential. Earlier this year, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 was passed. That will pave the way for the transformation of support for children with additional needs up to the age of 25, creating a unified legal framework that will put learners and their parents at the centre of how to plan and meet their needs. The reforms will also focus on skills development in the workforce to deliver effective support for learners, and there will be easier access to specialist support, information and advice. The new system will be rolled out in a phased approach from September 2020.
Over this Assembly term, we want to focus all our efforts on delivering the ASD strategic action plan, embedding the new integrated service, and delivering on all our other commitments. I have considered carefully the calls for autism legislation and the proposals contained in the draft Assembly Member-led Autism (Wales) Bill. It is clear that we are all focused on ensuring that we invest in autism services in the longer term. The difference between us is in how we seek to achieve those aims.
I do understand that the prospect of autism legislation that is specific is attractive to many. It's clear that the intention of the draft legislation, as we have seen it, is to underpin existing duties and expectations on public bodies to provide services and support for autistic people. Public bodies are, of course, already required to provide needs-based services for people who require care and support—autistic people and their carers already have the same entitlement to access to services, just as every other citizen in Wales.
We are already delivering some much-needed improvements in autism services. I don't believe that costly and resource-intensive legislation will bring additional benefits for autistic people beyond the practical commitments to improve services that we are already completely committed to. In my view, it would be better to invest time and money in ensuring that we deliver on our firm commitments and to ensure that there is a focus on continuous improvement as the new services that we are putting in place become established.
To further support service improvement, I intend to highlight the needs of autistic people and the requirement to meet those needs across statutory services by introducing a code of practice on the delivery of autism services. This is already being developed in partnership with autistic people. It will provide clarity on the support that people with autism can expect to receive and provide guidance on how services can adapt their practice to meet the individual needs of people with autism. We will be consulting on our plans later this year, and I encourage everyone to engage with that consultation to make sure we focus on the issues that really matter. We will also update our delivery plan and reflect the feedback we receive on service delivery.
The calls for improvement in autism services are not falling on deaf ears. We are taking action to achieve the improved outcomes that everyone wants to see. We are raising awareness of autism across services, improving access to assessment and diagnosis and putting in place additional specialist support in every region of Wales. We will continue to listen, and I will keep an open mind on the potential need for autism-specific legislation in the future, if it becomes clear through evaluation that the improvements that we all want to see can only be delivered by taking this route.
Thank you for your statement. I have to say the vast amount of autism-related casework my office is handling and the personal stories from outside of north Wales we're receiving indicate that huge sums of money continue to be spent getting it, sadly, very, very and sometimes tragically wrong. How do you respond to concerns raised with me that one of the four integrated autism service, or IAS, areas where the service has been launched are now saying they just want to become a diagnostic service and lose their support worker function? Another area is already making representations that, despite already receiving an extra £150,000 to £170,000 annually from local authorities and health boards on top of their IAS funding, they can't cope with the level of referrals they're receiving, and these are medical, not social referrals, not focused on prevention and intervention. Concern has been expressed to me that the majority of people accessing current non-IAS services will disappear or present in crisis. There is a concern about the lack of numbers being picked up by the IAS and the lack of services from IAS to pick up the slack from third sector bodies that, progressively, are losing local support, despite being supported sometimes by hundreds of local members of the autism community.
You referred to the 26-week waiting time standard from referral to first-assessment appointment. What measures have the Welsh Government put in place to take action when health boards aren't meeting that target? Is the waiting-time data being updated quarterly, and if not, what action is the Welsh Government taking?
How many autistic people have benefited from employment as a result of the Getting Ahead 2 programme? Did the Welsh Government achieve accreditation in the 'positive about working with autism' charter last year, and how is it maintaining its accreditation this year and beyond?
How many people have accessed the integrated service in each of the four health boards where the service was launched, which professionals have received awareness training, and what are the priority areas, as we look forward, on that? Of course, in addition to awareness training, which is often led by non-autistic people who are professionals in the medical or caring professions, which have a medical focus, what action are you taking or will you take to address the massive deficit in autism acceptance and equality training led by trainers who are autistic people or members of the autism community, focused on autistic and non-autistic people working together to overcome the disabling barriers in society?
Has the advisory group agreed a work plan? Will the Welsh Government publish that work plan if it has? How is the Welsh Government responding to the recommendations contained in the interim independent evaluation of its autism strategy and integrated autism service, which found weaknesses and inconsistencies in both assessment and diagnostic services for adults with autism and in support services for adults and children with autism? It said
'Success requires a co-productive approach involving staff, service users and carers in the design, implementation and evaluation of the IAS.'
But there are concerns about the top-down approach, which they said had 'stifled this'.
With the service being launched in north Wales on 27 June, as you said, what action will you be taking when you learn of stories that I raised last week, such as those of the judicial review proceedings settled recently, prior to a full hearing, when Flintshire council agreed to provide a formal apology and make a damages award after failing to assess and meet the needs of an autistic young person with additional needs, and to take full account of her parent carers' needs? That's just one case. I have I don't know how many similar cases—primarily but not exclusively in Flintshire—at the moment. How would you respond to the Flintshire parent who e-mailed me yesterday regarding the response to her Flintshire CAMHS complaint, which said, 'Your daughter doesn't have an ongoing anxiety condition', and was simply an apology for poor communication, but they'd been forced to a private psychiatrist because of lack of care, who has diagnosed the daughter with severe PTSD, depression and anxiety? She says, 'We're now glad we're getting treatment and a recommendation for home tutoring, thanks to our private psychiatrist, but my daughter should have received this when she asked Flintshire CAMHS for help six months ago.'
I've nearly finished, but a key issue is the genderised issue. I've raised this many times, but I'm still almost daily receiving casework where girls clearly requiring autism diagnoses are being told they couldn't possibly have a diagnosis. A letter, for instance, from the health board here:
'It's difficult to marry the description of difficulties given by some families with the information from teaching staff who report no or minimal issues in the school environment. This is not indicative of children with ASD',
when a wealth of national and international research and evidence directly contradicts that, in relation to the masking and coping strategies that many children, and particularly girls, adopt.
You say that calls for autism legislation—
No, I'm sorry. [Interruption.] Well, you've had several questions and you're well into six minutes, nearly, so if you can say it within the next 30 seconds, you can get your last question in.
How can you possibly say that unless you bring in statutory duties to provide the support from statutory services that these people and countless others need, that you're going to be able to meet their needs with this service? Until and without enforcement of your existing legislation, such as the social services and well-being Act, how can you possibly tell how well you're doing currently?
Minister, and you don't have to answer all that set of questions, or we'll be here till tomorrow.
Regrettably, I recognise your point, Deputy Presiding Officer. I won't be able to answer the more than a dozen different points put, with respect to the Member and others who wish to respond. But, to be fair, a number of those, the points raised, are individual ones, and there are some more general ones. If the Member wants to write to me with the detail that he has set out, then I'll happily ensure that the appropriate person responds to him. And, of course, I will also be at the cross-party group tomorrow to answer questions and have a conversation with people there.
I think there are a couple of points that I'd make in response to what the Member said. Thinking about his final point about the need for legislation or otherwise, actually, part of the answer is what you were saying about the enforcement of existing duties that are already set out, and the challenge in making those rights real. Part of what we are seeking to do in investing in the integrated service is to make that real. It's also what the code of practice is aimed at trying to highlight and to try and make real for families. So, this isn't a way of trying to say that we think that you are wrong and the examples you are raising are not true. I recognise that, for lots of families, this is a real and significant challenge for children and adults with autism too. This is about how we actually make sure they really do get to achieve their potential. I have some personal insight into this as well, from my own family, so I do understand that this is not an easy challenge that should be glibly dismissed or glossed over. That's why, even in these most difficult financial times, we've invested £13 million into the service. It's why we should all take some pride in the roll-out of the integrated service, and the feedback that we're talking about is direct feedback from families themselves about the difference that the service has already made, and that is a real difference—it is not simply something concocted or a work of fiction to try and get through a challenge here.
Our challenge, though, of course, is not just about understanding what has been successful when the service has been rolled out, but to understand how we try and adapt and apply that learning to the areas where the service has not yet been rolled out. It is also, in accepting that there really is positive feedback to the integrated service, to recognise that it isn't perfect—no human service ever is—but to understand how, in those examples where the service has not met the needs of those individuals and their families, we learn from that to inform improvement, because that is the point: there will not be a standstill time. I will have more to say on waiting times after the pilot has been completed, and I will of course make sure that that is publicly available. My hope is that they become official statistics, in which case, they'll be readily available on a month-to-month basis for all Members to scrutinise. But, no doubt, we'll continue to discuss these general themes, not just today but for a significant period of time to come, in particular as I expect that the Member will be producing his Bill before we go into summer recess.
I'll try and keep my comments brief. I think that I have about four questions here. In terms of the statistics that are gathered, a target has been set of 26 weeks in terms of waiting for the first assessment—and the data is being gathered. When are we going to have this data being published, because I think that any data that's available has to be published?
In terms of passing the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill, the concerns about the lack of resources to support that Bill have been very evident. Could the Cabinet Secretary explain which resources the Government intends to provide to support local authorities in implementing that Bill?
There is a piece of legislation that's starting its journey through the Assembly. The statement has rejected the idea of legislating, and cost is one of the main arguments against that legislation. Will the Cabinet Secretary accept that the legislation itself won't cost anything? That is, the cost will stem from any financial implications stemming from the content of the legislation that will mainly deal with embedding the right to services in law. If you intend to meet those objectives by improving services, there will be no real additional cost, but at least having legal guarantees—and this is where legislation is useful—will give some certainty to a minority group that their services won't be the first to go every time local authorities face financial challenges.
I think that's the third one; so the fourth one is that the statement doesn't mention employment. Just 16 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time employed work, and only 32 per cent are in any kind of employment. Could the Cabinet Secretary provide more details about how you intend to reverse this situation, because years of partnerships and encouragement aren't working, obviously?
Thank you for the questions. On your final point, there's a recognition that we seek to achieve a cultural change. This isn't simply about families with people with autism, but actually about the support they receive in the workplace and the attitudes of different employers. Within the report published today, you see direct examples of people who have been helped by the service to remain in employment if they are in employment, or to seek employment as well. The challenge is how we don't set up a service to fail, but how this is part of wanting to change our national conversation and trying to change the amount of practical support that is available to businesses and to their employees. But I recognise that there is a significant road to travel here, just as there are in a number of other areas, but that is part of the commitment that was set out in the integrated service.
I'll deal with your point about waiting times now. The 26-week target: there will be more information available internally, within the Government, this autumn as we look again at the roll-out of the waiting time standards. We need to be certain, before we roll out the target and we start publishing information, that it is robust and reliable. All of us have had experience in the past of trying to roll out waiting time standards with them not been available, and then—where they've not been ready in the robust way that they should be, rather—that then causes a lack of confidence in what the figures are. I'm not trying to hide the figures; I’m not trying to make sure that they only come out when they look good for me. I'm really interested in making sure that they're actually genuinely reliable, because I expect there will be a variation in learning between different parts of Wales. But I want to make sure that they are robust, that they can be relied upon, and that they help to drive some improvement in measures that actually matter and have real impact on families.
On your point about the cost to legislation, there is always a cost to legislation, not just a cost to this place in the mechanics of running, but there's a challenge here in terms of the cost and in terms of the time and resource that is available to practitioners, to the policy team here centrally, and what that then means in terms of diverting that attention to go into a legislative process as opposed to being focused on improvement. Legislation won't produce more money. We will still have the sum of money that we have available to the Government, and we'll still have to make choices about that, together with our partners in other services. I'm most interested in understanding for the people delivering the service and taking part in it the difference it's made, and what our real prospects are for delivering the sort of improvement that, as I say, each of us in this room would want to see.
Your point about statutory services—we already have statutory requirements for ourselves, the health service, local government and partners to achieve and to deliver on. We need to make sure those are made real, and that's part of the reason why I'm moving forward with the code of practice, because I do recognise that there will be people who will understand and who will tell their own story about what has happened, and about where their needs have not been met in the way in which we envisaged the legislation would do. I think we have to get that legislation right and make those rights real, and that would, could and should make a real difference to those families as well.
Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary, and for providing an advance copy of the 'Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategic Action Plan: Annual report 2017/18'. I'm pleased that the Welsh Government are investing in services and that progress is being made. However, the evaluation of the integrated autism service and the autistic spectrum disorder strategic action plan interim reports, by Dr Holtom and Dr Lloyd Jones from People and Work, make it clear that there has been a failure to drive systemic change that has helped create a postcode lottery of support for adults on the autism spectrum.
This is not news to any of us who have been campaigning for an autism Act. The Welsh Government might have good intentions, but people living on the spectrum are not seeing delivery on the ground. Despite the roll-out of the integrated autism service, many parts of Wales still have no clear pathways to diagnosis. The interim report highlighted the fact that, although funding has not been an issue when it comes to establishing the new integrated service, the regional partnership boards had little capacity for developing the service.
The fact that the first integrated autism service was established appears to be down to the hard work and dedication of the national ASD lead, but as the interim report highlights, this is a lot of strain to place one person under. Success or failure shouldn't rest upon the actions of a single individual. Cabinet Secretary, what actions are you taking to ensure that future roll-out plans are not reliant on a single individual, no matter how talented?
I recognise that one of the key achievements of the strategic action plan was the introduction of the 26-week waiting-time target for neurodevelopmental assessment. Cabinet Secretary, can you confirm that this target is being met by all health boards? If not, do you have a timescale in place for when you expect all health boards to meet their targets?
Finally, Cabinet Secretary, while I remain unconvinced that Wales does not need an autism Act, I am prepared to work with you in order to deliver improved services for people in Wales on the autism spectrum, and hopefully in 12 months' time you will have convinced me that legislation was indeed unnecessary. I look forward to seeing what progress can be made in the coming year. Diolch.
Thank you for the comments. I think I've dealt with the challenges and the points about waiting times already. I recognise what you say about your current view on legislation, but being open to the possibility that if we may be able to make sufficient improvement, the prospect of more legislation may not be something you would support. I think there is a challenge here about the practical purpose of the legislation that Paul Davies is minded to introduce. I would say it's about a shared objective, about improving services, about making sure there is greater certainty for families about the support that they can expect, and to make sure that the needs of people with autism are properly met.
That is why the integrated service that operates in four regions is important to us, because if you think about the practical services we will need to deliver, the experiences of those families in those areas interacting with the service, their awareness of the service, and equally the front-line staff that we will need to deliver that service—to be fair, you made points about staff as well, and in particular not relying on a single individual to deliver the whole service, and I recognise that a service wholly reliant on an individual is not a sustainable model to roll out across the country. We can, though, say that the integrated service is seeing a welcome increase in autism expertise as more clinicians are being recruited. The model that we've provided is actually more attractive to staff who want to come in to work in a way that is joined up with other health and care professionals. Crucially, we're seeing families respond to that and recognising that they are having their needs listened to and met. As I said earlier, that will not always be perfect, but it is a real improvement that we are delivering.
You mentioned the interim evaluation report. Again, it honestly reflects that there were differing visions and priorities at the start, but those are largely resolved, and each region where the service is rolled out is proud of their achievements and recognise they've made a real difference. That's the point. We want a service that won't just be something that a politician can stand up and celebrate and wave around an annual report, but a service that people would recognise—the people who work in that service, the people who interact with that service and take part in the services that are provided would recognise—as making a real difference, the difference that all of us wish to see for these families.
Thank you very much for your report. It's very heartwarming to know that there's good work going on with our schools to ensure that they are as inclusive as possible. Where possible, we need to be including young people with autism into mainstream schools, but where it's not possible we obviously need to ensure that we have excellent services for those with the greatest disabilities. So, I think that's definitely to be welcomed.
I just wanted to ask you about the services available for adults on the autistic spectrum. One of the voluntary organisations that works with people with autism is Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru, which is based in the city centre of Cardiff in my constituency. They mainly support people with Asperger's. They've had hundreds of referrals, mainly from Cardiff and the Vale, but also from other south-east Wales local authorities. I think, whilst assessment is important, support services are also important. One of the examples that was given in the ASD development team's annual report was support to ensure that employers and employees, where the employee has autism, understand the needs of each other. There was a case study there that was very good that was done by Cardiff and the Vale and I'm sure there's a lot more work needed to be done there.
But, I think my main question really is: how integrated is the national integrated autism service in relation to prudent healthcare and operating both with people who have autism as well as the voluntary organisations who support them? What role does the voluntary sector play in delivering the autism strategic action plan? How does the autistic spectrum development team decide which voluntary groups they work with and which ones they fund? Because Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru doesn't receive any funding at all, even though they're obviously supporting hundreds of people.
You raise an interesting point. I think the real examples in the national ASD development team report will see a range of different age ranges in there, from children to teenagers to adults and older adults as well. It's about how they've been helped at various different points through their life stage, and actually lots of people go through life without having a diagnosis and the potential support that can mean. Lots of people manage to cope, but it's about what coping looks like that's actually still allowing someone to achieve their potential. There's a challenge there about having a diagnosis that they will find difficult later in life as well. The challenge about how integrated the service is, though, is still about understanding the needs of the population and understanding how those needs are met.
I'm sure there will be a variety of third sector groups that will be providing services and support and, as ever, there is a challenge about how those services are run, funded and then signposted between different people. Lots of people in the third sector don't look for money, they look for acknowledgement of what they do and that they're part of being the answer. I couldn't comment on the particular organisation referred to and the fact they aren't funded through the service. If you want to have a specific conversation about that, I'd be happy to do so, but I don't want to get into a more general point, because what I don't want is that there's somehow—sometimes, when you announce money around a service, it's as if people want to bid into that service as opposed to how do we make the whole service work to meet the needs of the population. That's what I'm most interested in. If you think the particular group that you referred to could be part of that answer, then I'm happy to have a conversation with you about that.
As the Cabinet Secretary has said today, he is, of course, aware of my intention to bring forward primary legislation to help improve the lives of people living with autism in Wales, and I'm very disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary in his statement today is currently ruling out the need for primary legislation. I would urge him to reconsider his position, because it's clear from the two consultations I've held that there is overwhelming support for a Bill, and I hope, therefore, that he and the Welsh Government will reconsider their position and engage through the legislative process and help deliver an autism Bill that this institution and the autism community can be proud of.
Now, I accept that the Welsh Government has made some progress in some areas, although I think it's clear that the Welsh Government's introduction of a code confirms the fact that the current strategy clearly isn't meeting the needs of the autism community. The autism community has overwhelmingly made it clear that they favour legislation, given their responses to my consultation. Therefore, does the Cabinet Secretary at the very least agree that the views of service users in Wales must be at the heart of any direction of travel for autism services in the future?
The Cabinet Secretary has today made it clear that he intends to introduce a code, and, of course, the problem with introducing a code is that it can always be revoked and it cannot be changed or amended by this Parliament once it is presented to this place. However, my proposed autism Bill will enable Members to amend the legislation through the legislative process, and an Act will ensure a level of permanence to the delivery of services, as well as giving autism a statutory identity. And so perhaps the Cabinet Secretary can tell us how he believes a code will address these concerns and how a code will deliver the improvements in services that the autism community wants to see.
And, finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, given that the Government does not believe in currently introducing legislation, can he confirm that the Government will therefore be giving its backbenchers a free vote when my Bill travels through the legislative process, given that some of his colleagues have been supportive of placing services on a statutory footing?
On the final point, any legislation that comes through this place, the Government won't, at this early stage, be negotiating or outlining how we'll look to work with members of our own group, with members who support the Government. We'd need to see the detail of any legislation and to take a view on it, Paul, and it's important that we do that. I don't think people would agree with the fiction that there's somehow not a view on it, and I'm being honest about this. We've had an honest disagreement about the right way forward to improve the lives of people with autism, and we can continue to disagree, but I don't want to set out that level of disagreement or the nature of it in a way that isn't honest. I don't want to try to say something here that you and I know that I wouldn't really agree to do and support.
Part of our challenge is that, the legislation in England, I can't see any real evidence that it's led to a significant and sustainable improvement in services. And so I'm looking for whether legislation will really deliver and deliver the sort of improvements you and I both want to see, and be a better way to do that than the path we've set out with the resources we have already made available. I think lots of people have a lack of faith that politicians will deliver on their promises and sometimes that leads to people saying, 'Change the law and that will make sure that services happen.' Actually, it still requires a variety of different decisions to be made, and that includes the budget choices we made, and it includes the work we've already done with different partners to deliver the four integrated services that are making a real and positive difference to families in those four parts of the country, and that we are committed to rolling out.
And, in terms of a code and the point and the purpose, well, you know as well as I, because we've had these conversations in the past, that the code is about trying to make sure that we deliver on the responsibilities that actually exist already within statute, to make sure that they're real rather than illusory or simply talked about and pointed to in a piece of legislation but not made real for people. And I know from my previous life—I'm a lawyer in recovery as opposed to a lawyer who's been dragged back into it, looking at my poor, misfortunate colleague Jeremy Miles. I used to be a lawyer, and so I'm well aware that, in dealing with the law, the rights that people have are only real if you can enforce them. And what does that mean? And it's always better to help to give people advice so they can actually deal with their rights and responsibilities in a way that doesn't require the involvement of lawyers. There's a challenge there about making sure that it's a real way of working, and the culture change that we talk about—that's what we're trying to deliver and make sure that that leads to an improvement in service.
And on your point about whether people should be at the centre of our direction of travel, yes, that's absolutely right—you see that in a range of different areas across the Government, a range of different activities. That's why, in my initial statement, I made it clear that people with autism are part of helping us to draft the code that we're looking to. So, we'll continue to involve people with autism, we'll continue to listen to them, their real lived experience, to make sure that the shared objectives we have are being delivered upon. That's the aim and objective of this Government, and that will continue to guide us in our approach to services and any future debate about legislation.
There have been so many good questions raised today, some good points made. I want to focus on two things, really. Generally, this Government makes policies sound good—the lovely buzz words—but the reality at the sharp end and the front line is somewhat different. I wanted to focus firstly on integrated autism services and referrals. Because, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, there have been none; in Powys, there have been none; in Cardiff, 10; and, in Gwent, 130. So, the first thing is: how do you explain the disparity in that, and what can be done to improve matters? Secondly, the autism-aware businesses, which sounds really good on paper—it sounds good listening to it in the Chamber, but I wondered if you'd outline to everybody in the Chamber, and the public, exactly what you have to do to become an autism-aware business.
There's training and support provided to businesses to become autism aware. I'll happily send a note from the annual report about those businesses that have done it, the ones that I've mentioned in my statement, and the sort of training that they've undertaken to become autism-aware businesses. And, again, it will depend on the nature of the business, about those people and what they're doing in their interaction. So, I'll happily send a note on—
Will you give way?
No. There's no giving way on a statement.
I'll happily send a note—[Interruption.]
No, there's no giving way on a statement.
I'll happily send a note on what that looks like, rather than getting into a row on an important issue across the Chamber. And I don't quite recognise the figures that you've quoted on the activity of the integrated autism services. In the report that's been published today you can see the nature and the range of different activity that's undertaken by each of those integrated services. And so, in each area, you'll find people coming in to the service, being supported, and achieving different outcomes. I am a little puzzled about the figures that he's provided. If he wants to write to me, setting out where he's got those from, I'll happily respond to him and make sure that there is a level of priority about that too.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the statement by the leader of the house, 'Refugee Week—Wales, a Nation of Sanctuary'. And I call on the leader of the house, Julie James.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. This week is Refugee Week, a celebration of the contribution that refugees make to our society, and an event to encourage better understanding between communities. This year is the twentieth anniversary of its launch, and Refugee Week organisers are asking people to take part by doing one simple act to support refugees. This can be as simple as having a conversation with a neighbour who is seeking sanctuary, or learning a few words of the language from a refugee’s country of origin. All of us here in this Chamber could do one very important, simple thing, and that is to show our support for refugees and asylum seekers in Wales by embracing the concept of Wales as a nation of sanctuary.
I hope that some of you were able to hear from the wonderful Oasis World Choir before Plenary today. The choir is comprised of refugees and asylum seekers from across the globe, and they have come here today as part of Refugee Week. Some of them were in the gallery earlier—I think they're probably not anymore. But I am sure that Members will want to join me in welcoming them here to the Senedd.
The Welsh Government’s 'Nation of Sanctuary—Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan' has been developed in response to the recommendations made by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee report, '"I used to be someone": Refugees and asylum seekers in Wales'. The plan is currently out for consultation. It has been co-produced by the Welsh Government, refugee support organisations, public sector organisations, and, most importantly, asylum seekers and refugees themselves. We are fully committed to doing everything we can in Wales to support people seeking sanctuary to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential.
Wales is a welcoming nation. It is immediately apparent from talking with people seeking sanctuary and those who support them that most refugees who come to Wales are extremely grateful for the support they receive here. We can be proud of that fact. Nevertheless, we still have much to do to ensure refugees and asylum seekers can integrate effectively and rebuild their lives. As a Government, we are committed to equality of opportunity and upholding human rights. We believe in the fair treatment of every person, especially those who are most marginalised and have most difficulty accessing the help they need to meet their basic needs.
The Welsh Government firmly believes that the integration of refugees and asylum seekers should begin on day one of their arrival. This approach is essential in ensuring the best possible outcomes for individuals and communities. We know there is strong public support for recent arrivals to learn English or Welsh—or both, bearing in mind that many refugees have excellent language skills—and we want to support them to do this. Supporting volunteering schemes for asylum seekers and refugees would contribute to Welsh society whilst also supporting language acquisition, improving mental health and increasing the employability of individuals. We are aiming for a holistic approach, where the actions in the plan complement each other to achieve overall positive change for refugees and asylum seekers.
It is important to emphasise that integration of people seeking sanctuary is not all about one-sided giving. Refugees bring a wealth of experience and a range of skills and abilities to Wales. The NHS in Wales has benefited from the Welsh Government-funded Wales asylum-seeking and refugee doctors group. This is delivered by the Wales Deanery and Displaced People in Action, supporting refugee doctors to have their existing medical qualifications recognised and find employment in the NHS. This scheme is estimated to have saved taxpayers at least £25 million over the last 15 years, empowered refugees to utilise their skills to give back to Wales, and saved countless lives too.
Some of the issues raised by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry in 2017 can only be resolved by the Home Office. It is no secret that we are often frustrated by the UK Government's decisions in relation to asylum and migration matters, but we have to accept that these matters are not devolved to Wales. Nevertheless, we have advocated for increasing financial support for asylum seekers awaiting decisions, additional money for local authorities who support asylum seekers in their area and improved asylum accommodation standards, amongst other issues. Unfortunately, to say the least, the UK Government does not appear to have incorporated our recommendations in the design of their forthcoming asylum accommodation contracts or significantly increased financial support in the asylum system. We will do what we can to mitigate the negative effects of UK Government policies on community integration in Wales and will seek to work constructively with the Home Office to identify and raise concerns where they arise.
Our nation of sanctuary plan focuses on proposals within the devolved areas that the Welsh Government can influence. The plan outlines the breadth of work that we are undertaking to ensure that the inequalities experienced by refugees and asylum seekers are reduced, their access to opportunities increased, and that relations between these communities and wider society are improved.
We have prioritised the key issues that refugees and asylum seekers talked to us about during preparatory work for this consultation. This includes ensuring individuals can access information and advice to help them orientate themselves to new surroundings, supporting opportunities to learn the language and to find employment, findings ways to avoid destitution, and improving access to health services.
In developing the actions we have sought to prevent the most harmful problems experienced by refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. These include homelessness, mental health conditions, poor accommodation and the risk of destitution. We have already made some encouraging progress in some of these areas but there is much work still to be done to improve outcomes.
We are continuing to consider improvements that we can make to support those seeking sanctuary, including looking at extending eligibility for education grants and concessionary transport to asylum seekers. These are complex and delicate areas, where a rush to extend eligibility could have unintended consequences for asylum applications. We also need the UK Government to recognise our desire to ensure that all members of Welsh society can integrate, and agree not to undermine this intention by placing Welsh Government funding streams on the list of prohibited public funds in the immigration rules. We are committed to the principle of extending entitlement in the interests of community integration and personal well-being, but we need to work through potential issues carefully to ensure that we make things better for people at risk of destitution and not worse.
Our work continues in respect of our support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. While we were ultimately not asked by the UK Government to welcome as many children to Wales under the Dubs scheme as we planned for, we have been able to provide safety and a fresh start for a small number and we wish them well in their lives here. Together with the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care and with our counterpart Ministers in the Scottish Government, we have lobbied the UK Government regularly on a range of matters about these children. The replies we have received have not been as positive, proactive or as helpful as we would have liked, I'm sorry to say, Deputy Presiding Officer. Nevertheless, we have made progress on the actions recommended by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in relation to these children and we will continue to do so.
As I mentioned, the nation of sanctuary plan is currently out for consultation and the plan will continue to be developed and be amended to reflect the responses and suggestions received when the consultation period closes next Monday, 25 June. The plan comprises actions that we are seeking to take in the remainder of this Assembly term. Therefore, it forms an important part of a long-term aim for Wales to be a true nation of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers.
There is a Refugee Week stand in the Oriel this week, including a new film produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and an opportunity for members of the public to state what simple act they can do to support people seeking sanctuary in Wales. I was very pleased that we were able to do that this lunchtime together, Deputy Presiding Officer. I urge you all to visit the stand and include your own act. I would also like to thank the members of the Oasis World Choir who came here today to sing for us. Let us demonstrate to them how democracy can work to benefit all the residents of a nation, and that Wales, a small nation, punches above its weight when it comes to providing sanctuary. Diolch.
Thanks very much for your statement in Refugee Week. I don't think you're going to find any real disagreement with the information and the sentiments that you've expressed. You say that all of us in the Chamber here should do one simple thing to show our support for refugees and asylum seekers by embracing the concept of Wales as a nation of sanctuary. I'm pleased that I ensured that that was in our 2016 Welsh Conservative manifesto as a commitment and, as you might recall, I sponsored and hosted the Sanctuary in the Senedd event at the back end of 2016 accordingly.
You referred to support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. When we had a statement in November 2016, it was the time that we'd heard that the horrible Jungle camp in Calais was closing down, and that the British and French Governments were registering unaccompanied children who were hoping to join relatives in the UK. I then asked whether the Welsh Government had any indication of whether those figures provided were accurate, or how many of those children had come, or were coming, to Wales. I'm wondering whether you have any more up-to-date information now, 18 months down the road, over whether—and in what volume or what number—those children arrived here, and what particular support they might have received.
You refer to integration of refugees and asylum seekers. Again, you might be aware that early last month I hosted an event in the Assembly called 'Let us integrate through music and art', put on by the North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration, of which I'm honorary president, and Cwmbran-based KIRAN, Knowledge-based Intercommunity Relationship and Awareness Network, born, they say, out of necessity to have an engaged community where members have knowledge of different sociocultural backgrounds. Only two weeks ago, I had a meeting here with the Welsh Refugee Council, the North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration and the charity CAIS, who are working in partnership to break down barriers and increase understanding of each other's cultures. So, in terms of supporting the integration message, how are you engaging with these trailblazing organisations that are doing their own bit and increasingly building a joined-up network themselves to deliver that integration message in practice in our communities, on our streets and in our rural areas too across Wales?
Sadly, as you know, some refugees and asylum seekers become victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and I know I'm slightly going off piste here, but there are a number of charities again working in this area, including Haven of Light in north Wales, who are having a modern slavery forum on 12 October. So, in terms of this agenda, how are you engaging not just with the commissioner but with the other agencies working together, statutory and third sector, regarding the particular refugee and asylum seeker issues applying to this group of victims?
My final question relates to acceptance of refugees. The figures published for refugees resettled in Wales last year show that Merthyr Tydfil and Neath Port Talbot were the only councils that accepted no refugees, in the figures they provided. Carmarthenshire was highest with 51, and Swansea with 33. In north Wales, Denbighshire had 21, but falling to five in Flintshire and only two in Conwy. So, how are you helping local authorities establish this understanding and awareness of the critical mass and the will to ensure, perhaps, a better distribution, so that the lead established in one part of Wales can be replicated elsewhere? Thank you.
Thank you for that series of questions. I don't have the exact number here, so I'll write to the Member about the exact number of children who were under the Dubs scheme. But there were some serious issues around why we weren't able to take as many as we would like and I'll make sure that the Member has a communication about the exact number.
We have worked extremely hard to make sure that we work together with our stakeholders to ensure that we have as integrated a set of responses as possible. We've delivered on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry recommendation to train social workers, for example, in the age assessment of children and young people, and, earlier this year, five sessions were held across Wales and nearly 100 social workers and advocates have been trained. There's a toolkit that accompanied the training, which has been revised and will be published soon, as a result of our engagement with stakeholders as we work very hard to make sure that we have as much as possible a seamless response.
We also work very hard to make sure that we do integrate learning from the modern slavery action plan, and of course Wales has been at the forefront of having the modern slavery co-ordinator, and we have our regional co-ordinators working hard as well to ensure that we have as up-to-date a stakeholder plan as possible. But in the end, migration and asylum policy is not devolved to the Welsh Government. Many of the solutions to many of the difficulties faced by asylum seekers and refugees have to be found by the Home Office. The real issue for us is how to reduce the impact and prevalence of destitution, the non-devolved welfare system and asylum decisions and eligibility for funding, all of which are real driving factors behind those living in this situation.
We're very disappointed at the lack of co-operation on the new accommodation contract, for example. Just very recently, we've been having to lobby the UK Government yet again, along with Scotland, because the UK Government has not wanted us to set up a panel of experts to help inform decisions on the accommodation strategy, Deputy Presiding Officer. So, we are very disappointed with that because we think that saying it's commercially confidential is clearly not the right way forward for that. One of the big issues with integration is ensuring that asylum seekers and refugees are placed in accommodation in the right communities with the right support around them.
The Member did raise why there is patchy take-up in the stats that he quoted, but, of course, they're not the ongoing stats. Neath Port Talbot, for example, has taken a large number of people in the past. And there are issues around the funding as well, because only around 55 per cent of the funding is available and there's a big issue with the Barnett formula and the way that some of the schemes have been put together so that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland don't access some of the funding that is available. So, we have worked very hard to make sure that the UK Government understands that, sometimes, the juxtaposition of several policies has unintended consequences for people in this category.
The aim of creating a nation of sanctuary in Wales is one that Plaid Cymru supports, of course, and supports fully and is campaigning for, but I do think it's important to recognise that there are a number of barriers in trying to deliver that ambition. Many of those barriers emerge from the way in which the public debate on migration has far too often been steered by prejudice, misinformation and incorrect perceptions. Now, any attempt to integrate asylum seekers and refugees must recognise that and try to create a cultural change as well as a political change. So, can you outline what your Government is doing to put right this prejudice and perception?
Today's statement acknowledges that many of the problems facing refugees and asylum seekers come about as a result of issues that emerge from the Home Office. For example, we know that visas have been rejected for over 2,000 doctors in accordance with UK migration policy. Unfortunately, your party has refused to allow the Welsh Government to issue visas based on the needs of the Welsh workforce. Bearing in mind the grave need for doctors in Wales, are you willing to reconsider your position in this area?
Changes to benefits and the introduction of universal credit will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of refugees. The Welsh Refugee Coalition have stated that we need to find ways to mitigate the negative impacts of welfare reform on refugees, as well as monitor that. And you will know—you've heard me saying it on a number of occasions—that devolving elements of the administration of the welfare system would enable us in Wales to mitigate some of these ill effects and create a more humane system. So, can I ask you once again to look carefully at those possibilities and to learn lessons from Scotland? I believe that refugees and asylum seekers would welcome a commitment from your Government today to at least consider this possibility and to bring a full report to this Assembly that would look in detail at the benefits and disbenefits of this. We haven’t had that thorough analysis to date and I think it would be beneficial to have that.
Your statement mentions accommodation for refugees and, at the moment, the Home Office is deciding which private provider will provide accommodation to asylum seekers in Wales over the next 10 years. So, can you outline what the Welsh Government intends to do to ensure that the quality of that accommodation is improved and that the provider itself is held to account for the duration of that contract? We know that homelessness, unfortunately, is a major problem among refugees and asylum seekers, and last week Crisis published its ambition plan to put an end to homelessness in the UK. Part of that project talks about immigrants and the necessary legislative changes required. So, can you commit to look in detail at the Crisis recommendations and lobby for the change that they are calling for in those areas that are non-devolved?
And finally, I want to discuss the scrapping of the MEAG grant to the local authorities—this important grant in terms of educational attainment for ethnic minorities. This is crucially important to ensure that language skills are taught in an appropriate way to children who don’t speak Welsh or English. But the scrapping of this grant is going to make it very difficult for the children of refugees and asylum seekers to learn both languages of our nation. So, my question is: don’t we need to bring back the MEAG? After all, language skills are crucial in order to integrate refugees and asylum seekers fully in our nation of sanctuary, and that, ultimately, is the best way of dealing with prejudice and being welcoming in the true sense of the word.
Thank you for that. There's a range of different issues raised there. Obviously, the whole point of Refugee Week is to combat some of the media representations. I entirely agree with Siân Gwenllian that a large part of the problem has been some of the—I don't know how to describe it—hysteria and hyperbole. Its really very detrimental reporting, and entirely untrue, usually. I think I'm prepared to say that it's completely untrue, in most instances, around perceptions about asylum seekers and refugees. Actually, poll after poll has shown that many members of the public can't tell the difference between the words 'migrant', 'asylum seeker', 'refugee' and so on, which shows in itself some of the hysteria that's been around this situation, and there's a wider debate to be had about the whole issue of migration in that context as well. But anyway, that's the whole point of this week, really, and that's why we're having this statement and it's why we're highlighting it. Because, Deputy Presiding Officer, we really do want to highlight the huge benefits that people who are, after all, fleeing the most appalling circumstances—that the skills and talents that they bring to our society and our culture are to be applauded and recognised. That is entirely the point of this, and I concur with her on that.
As I say, we do have a programme for recognising doctors' qualifications. I chair the faith forum here in Wales on behalf of the First Minister—he chairs it and I co-chair it with him and, often, I'm the chair in practice. We had a very vigorous debate about how we could extend that programme out into other health clinicians, and, actually, all asylum seekers and refugees who have professional qualifications that are required in our country. And anyway, we want to enable people to use their skills to the maximum advantage. I don't agree that we should be trying to take over immigration policy in terms of extending visas, but I do agree that we should be lobbying the UK—we have done very successfully—around not having ridiculous policies about restricting the migration—never mind asylum seekers and refugees—of people with essential skills for our NHS and other areas of our economy. It doesn't make any sense at all.
In terms of the administration of welfare, Deputy Presiding Officer, I fear that you are going to cut me off short if I start going into all of the detailed arguments on that, but it's suffice to say that we are not convinced that we would be able to mitigate some of the worst effects of the welfare system simply by administering it slightly differently. We will be looking in detail at the Crisis report, but we have had a very successful collaboration with the Asylum Rights Programme, delivered by the Welsh Refugee Council in consortia, which includes Tros Gynnal Plant, east Bawso, Asylum Justice, the City of Sanctuary, and Displaced People in Action project. So, we have had a good, co-ordinated piece across Wales, which has seen, we hope, the culmination of this very good plan in response to the committee's report, and I will just remind, Deputy Presiding Officer, everyone in Wales that the consultation finishes next Monday.
Leader of the house, in terms of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee report and the responses Welsh Government has made, I wonder if you could provide further detail and assurance with regard to a few matters.
Firstly, the community cohesion plan: the response from Welsh Government was that that would be published in summer 2017 and would include specific actions in terms of more positive narrative around refugees and asylum seekers who've settled here in Wales. So, given that date of summer 2017 and the fact that it hasn't yet been published, I wonder whether you could tell me when it will be published and what steps the Welsh Government is taking in regard to that need for a more positive narrative here in Wales.
And with regard to the guardianship service, I know that there is currently a consultation on action to explore opinions on establishing such a service, and I wonder again what time frame there is for that work, and at what point the Government will be in a position to clarify whether there will be such a scheme.
On accommodation, leader of the house, there was a lot of concern around the right-to-rent checks, which I know you're very much alive to, and the fact that that could lead to discrimination. We call for an immediate assessment of the impact of the UK Immigration Act, and, indeed, the need for that assessment was accepted, so I wonder whether it has taken place, and if not, when it will take place, and also when the right-to-rent checks are expected to be introduced here in Wales, because we're not yet aware of that.
Just two final matters quickly, Dirprwy Lywydd—
Very quickly, please.
Very quickly. The draft consultation plan doesn't always include time frames for delivery, so I wonder whether the finalised plan will have clear dates for delivery of each action, and whether there will be Welsh Government funding allocated to the commitments made in the draft action plan. Diolch.