Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

27/06/2018

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

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Education

The first item on our agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and Dawn Bowden has the first question.

The Educational Well-being of Adopted Children

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the educational well-being of adopted children? OAQ52403

Thank you, Dawn. 'Our National Mission' is clear on our commitment to deliver real and lasting improvements in the educational experience and outcomes of our disadvantaged learners. Adopted children can often face challenges and barriers in their education, and improving their well-being, alongside that of all learners, is a key theme running through our educational reforms. 

Thank you for that response, Cabinet Secretary. We've both just attended the launch of the report called 'Bridging the Gap', which deals with the educational well-being of adopted children. And I'm sure that all of us want to play our part in ensuring that every adopted or looked-after child has an equal chance in school. And while I know that budget decisions are for debate in the financial round, can you assure me that the recommendations made in this report regarding staff training and awareness, the creation of environments in schools that are supportive to adopted children, and steps to ensure the collation of outcome data for adopted children, will form part of your considerations in taking this work forward?

Thank you very much, Dawn. It is important that we recognise that resources aren't necessarily the answer to all the issues that are faced by looked-after and adopted children in our education system. But the looked-after children element of the pupil development grant actually stands, for 2018-19, at approximately £4.5 million, and that is available to support the education of adopted children. I'm very keen for myself and my officials to work with representatives of Adoption UK Cymru to look at the asks in the report, especially with regard to the collection of data. I know that there is some frustration that we're not able to easily identify educational outcomes for adopted children because that's not part of our pupil level annual school census data at the moment. Whilst I would not want to be in a position to force parents to reveal or divulge information regarding adoption if that's not something that they feel comfortable with or want to do, I understand the rationale behind wanting to improve the data collection, and I'm very happy to continue to work with officials and those with an interest in this area to look to see how this can be achieved proportionately and sensitively.

As one of those with an interest in this area and who has discussed it previously with the Cabinet Secretary, it's very positive that, in Wales, we have the pupil development grant giving options to free-school-meals children, but also to looked-after children and to those who are adopted. And, of course, in most cases, adoptive parents will want the school to be aware and will want to make sure that the school gets that extra support. How is progress going in terms of those data sharing, and, in particular, has the Cabinet Secretary learnt any lessons from some of the provisions they have for data sharing in this area with social services and adopted children in England?

Well, as I said, Mark, the door is open, and I would very much welcome a continued discussion about how we can improve data collection for adopted children, as long as we don't force parents to divulge information that they may not want to divulge. What's also important is that we continue to look at the education of these children in the round, and that sometimes does mean that we need to work across departments, in local education authorities, specifically with social services, so that there is a greater understanding in how best we can support individual children's needs. The PDG looked-after children element, as I said, this year is worth £4.5 million. That's administered at a regional level, and we continue to work with our regional consortia to ensure that that money, those resources, are deployed to best effect.

I thought what was striking from the event that both Dawn and I, and other Assembly Members, attended this afternoon was that many of the things that they're asking for actually do not require additional resources. It is about changing the mindset in some of our schools to ensure that there is an atmosphere that responds appropriately to children who are adopted. So, for instance, when a child who has experienced trauma, or issues around attachment, the teachers, within themselves, know what is the appropriate way to support that child. And that's about then ongoing professional learning development as well as changes in our initial teacher education provision.

Upskilling and Reskilling

2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support adults to upskill and reskill when in work? OAQ52411

Welsh Government delivers programmes to assist individuals to upskill while in work. We're committed to delivering 100,000 apprenticeships this Assembly term, and we also support employers to upskill their workforce via our Flexible Skills Programme. 

13:35

This morning, with the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, I visited The Number Hub, which is a small business in Taff's Well, and they were talking very much about advances in automation and technological change. What specific actions will the Welsh Government be taking to prepare for the jobs of the future, but particularly focusing on the skills needed in the small firms sector and the kind of jobs that people might want to go into in small and medium-sized enterprises in that sector in the future? What changes are you anticipating, and how will adults and learners be prepared for those jobs?  

Well, I think the great benefit and advantage that small businesses have is that they can move much, much quicker than big businesses. So, that is the advantage they have in a rapidly changing situation. So, I think it's really important that they take advantage of that ability—perhaps the really big companies find it more difficult to turn supertankers around. So, being responsive to those digital innovations, I think, is really important.

What we can do is we can give skills support now already. We've got this Flexible Skills Programme. But I think the other thing that I'm really keen to see develop is this pilot programme that we're going to be developing, where we have individual learning accounts to make sure that we're filling those skills gaps that some of those SMEs may find. I've been speaking to a large company this morning, who were telling me that they are already finding difficulty in recruiting people with digital and automotive skills. And that conversation about how flexible we can be, how fast we can be in reorganising things—. I think our Working Wales programme will give us opportunities from next year to respond much more quickly and tailor things around the individuals, but also will make sure that we have that really close dialogue with people, with SMEs in particular, but also with the large companies in Wales. 

Minister, part-time education allows adults already in employment to attain the higher skill levels necessary to ensure economic growth. However, Welsh Government figures have shown that part-time learner numbers in further education institutions and in local authority adult community learning have declined significantly in Wales. What is the Welsh Government doing to reverse this decline to ensure Wales has the skilled workforce it needs and that everyone can access the training they need to achieve their full potential in their life in Wales? Thank you.

Thank you, Mohammad. I think you're right—I'm afraid to say that there has been a decline in the number of people who have accessed part-time learning. That, of course, was partly as a response to the austerity measures that have been introduced, and we had to prioritise funding and the priority was given to early years education. But I think, with the changing nature of employment—the fact that we are going to see this shift to automation and digital skills—we are going to have to think very carefully about how we reskill people for the future. So, this idea of this individual learning account is about addressing that very issue that you're putting your finger on, and we'll see how that develops. Those individual learning accounts will give people an opportunity, as I say, to reskill in those areas where we know there are skills gaps and there's an opportunity for people to reskill. We'll need to reskill people already in work where we can see that the jobs will be disappearing in future, but also upskill those people who perhaps haven't accessed the workforce before.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd. 

Thank you, Llywydd. I’m sure the Minister will be aware that Carmarthenshire County Council has launched its strategic plan for Welsh in education this week, which is an ambitious plan and one that has been approved by the Welsh Government and it’s put the county on the road to increasing the number of Welsh speakers significantly. Of course, it will provide an opportunity for every pupil to be bilingual by the end of key stage 2, by the time that they leave primary school. Will you confirm to us, therefore, that you, as Minister, and the Welsh Government will give full support to Carmarthenshire council as they start this journey to implement the WESP, because it’s possible it won’t be comfortable at times, but, as they are working to achieve your ambition as a Government in terms of the number of Welsh speakers, would you please confirm that you will give all possible support under all circumstances for this strategy?

13:40

Well, may I say that I am supportive of what Carmarthenshire is doing, of course? Their report and their plans are set out clearly in the WESP that they’ve submitted to the Government and, of course, we support that. I opened a school in Llanelli, in Carmarthenshire, last week, which is a school that is transferring from being a non-Welsh school to being a bilingual school and going along that path. That’s exactly what we want to see, in a relatively deprived area. So, they’re actually taking the steps we wish to see. But it’s not just in Carmarthenshire, of course, we wish to see this happening; we’d like to see that replicated throughout the whole of Wales. There are still six WESPs that have not been approved, but we are actually pushing those counties to go along this path. So, everybody knows our objective, and, in order to attain that aim, everybody will have to move in the same direction. I do think that local government is much more aware now.

I didn’t quite hear an unequivocal confirmation that you will support the council. Maybe you can actually make that clear in answer to my next question, if you wish to do so.

At another extreme, in terms of your ambition in Wales to see growth in Welsh-medium education, many of us were shocked to see that Flintshire County Council last week had considered a possible option—and I’m pleased to say that they didn’t proceed with that ultimately—to scrap free school transport for pupils to Welsh-medium schools. It’s not a statutory requirement and we all know what the financial climate is at the moment, so this is a question that will arise year on year across 22 local authorities in Wales. Ultimately, that could mean that an authority will take that decision. So, my question to you is: rather than waiting for someone to make that possible decision and then trying to grapple with that, what is the Government currently doing, and what work are you doing with your fellow members of Government, to ensure that councils don’t take such steps, because that would not only undermine the provision of Welsh-medium education, but be entirely detrimental to Welsh-medium education in many counties in Wales?

May I say that I’m very pleased that Flintshire council didn’t go through with that proposal? The proposal didn't come from the council, but I’m very pleased that they have dismissed it. Of course, I do think it would have a detrimental effect on the numbers of children attending bilingual schools, if this transport wasn’t available. Of course, I would urge local councils to ensure that they do take this into consideration. It will be something that they will need to consider, and it may be something that we may ask the WESPs to set out clearly, and for those who are aware of what we wish to see in future, to ensure that they are aware that this is a consideration when they are submitting the new WESP for the next session. Of course, people have the right to Welsh-medium education, but we must ensure that it is easy for them to access that education.

Well, yes, and it’s important therefore, in terms of the WESPs, that, if you are talking about creating greater expectation, the regulation surrounding those WESPs reflects that aspiration and I would be very eager to see that happening. We know that Aled Roberts has been looking at this area and continues to work for Government in this area, and your predecessor—. And I’m sure you would wish to commend one of the recommendations that has been made, namely that we need to simplify the process of categorising schools in terms of language, which is something you referred to in the context of your visit to Carmarthenshire last week.

Now, I also read an article by Laura McAllister in the Western Mail over the weekend that discussed not only simplifying, but taking it further so that every primary school in Wales is bilingual and that every child starting secondary school at 11 is able to understand and communicate through the medium of both Welsh and English. That would accord with Plaid Cymru’s policy, but it would also reflect the recommendations made by Professor Sioned Davies’s report back in 2013—and I have raised this with you previously—namely that every child should learn the Welsh language as part of an educational continuum. So, can you give us an update on any progress that’s been made on that front by the Government? You’ve talked in the past about introducing some of this as part of the reforms happening around the curriculum, but I truly feel that we shouldn’t have to wait until the middle of the next decade until we see some of this being delivered, and that we should be doing more, as Carmarthenshire is currently doing, in beginning that journey now. So, can you tell us what progress the Government has made in that area?

13:45

I am most eager to ensure that we don’t wait until the new curriculum is introduced, because I don’t wish to lose another generation of children who won’t have the opportunity to receive a good education in Welsh as a second language. And so we must improve on the status quo, because you can have 13 years of Welsh lessons and come out at the other end speaking very little Welsh. So, we need to look at that, and that is why, last Friday, we held a symposium in Swansea by bringing experts together. We asked for a report from Swansea University and the University of Reading. They presented their ideas on how we can improve the methods of teaching a second language and what is the best practice throughout the world. Lots of people from all over Wales came together—those who are training through the medium of Welsh—and they were very pleased because this progressed Professor Sioned Davies’s report. She attended the meeting, and what she was saying was, 'Now there is evidence behind what I was recommending years ago'. 

So, today, I have requested a follow-up to know exactly what will now happen as a result of that symposium. We know exactly what needs to be done. We do know that we need to improve the teaching of Welsh as a second language. One of our greatest problems, of course, is to ensure that we have sufficient good Welsh teachers and tutors. So, although you would wish to see Laura McAllister’s ideas coming to fruition, the fact is we don’t have a sufficient number of teachers, and so we need to take this incrementally and ensure that we have a sufficient number of Welsh teachers and tutors. We are making a substantial effort in that regard, and we’re giving additional funding of £5,000 to people who are training through the medium of Welsh. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, what action are you taking to improve public satisfaction in Welsh schools?

Darren, I'm sure that you are aware of 'Education in Wales: Our national mission', a mission that is to raise standards, close the attainment gap and ensure that we have an education system in Wales that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence. That's why we've embarked on this radical programme of education reform in this nation.

You'll be aware that the national survey for Wales was published last week, and it showed a significant deterioration in satisfaction levels amongst the public in our secondary schools in particular. So, it's quite clear that the public are rapidly losing confidence in your ability to deliver against the national mission that you have set. And it shouldn't come as a surprise, because we all know that last year we had our worst GCSE results in a decade, the last set of international tests that we participated in put us in the bottom half of the world rankings, and we're at the bottom of the UK league table in those PISA scores as well. And the number of Welsh students, of course, attending the UK's top universities has also plummeted by 10 per cent over the past three years. So, I'm sure that you would agree with me, Cabinet Secretary, that whatever you're doing at the moment simply isn't working and isn't building the confidence that you say you're trying to build. Why is it that Welsh learners are being left behind, and what on earth are you going to do about it?

Well, Darren, of course, when one in four parents expresses less than perfect satisfaction with their children's secondary education, then I want to see that figure improve. I want all parents in Wales to feel that their secondary schools are doing a good job by their pupils. That's why we are reforming our GCSEs; that's why we are reforming the way in which we train our teachers; that's why, in September, we will launch a national approach to professional learning for existing teachers; that's why we're investing record amounts of money in the pupil development grant to ensure that our poorest learners get what they need in our schools; that's why we have created the national leadership academy; and that's why, this summer, we will see the full first cohort of the Seren network taking their A-levels and going on to those top universities. We are embarked upon a radical set of education reforms, one that I am confident—and, more importantly, I believe the profession, and, I believe, the public can have confidence in—will deliver the step change in Welsh education that I agree that we need.

13:50

It's clearly a set of reforms that the public don't have confidence in, which is why satisfaction rates are plummeting under your watch as Cabinet Secretary. I noticed, Cabinet Secretary, that you didn't mention funding in your response, because we all know that school budgets are under significant pressure. Now, according to the NASWUT—they have said that the funding gap per pupil, per year, between England and Wales now stands at £678 per pupil. This is in spite of the fact that for every £1 spent on a school in England, the Welsh Government receives £1.20 to spend on schools here. Estyn, your own inspectorate, has warned you that funding is jeopardising schools' ability to deliver the new curriculum once it's going to be introduced. Now, do you accept that there's a lack of investment, that you need to do better in terms of getting money into the front line in our schools, and what are you going to do to make sure that schools have the resources to deliver the first-class education that our children deserve? 

Well, of course, Darren, I absolutely accept that there are funding pressures within the education system, because I have the unenviable task of having to make those tough choices, but I'm afraid this is what a Tory austerity agenda looks like. You cannot say on the one hand that you want austerity and on the other hand say you want further investment in our public services, when your colleagues in London are doing exactly the opposite. Presiding Officer, let me explain: over the term of this Assembly, we will invest £100 million to raise school standards. We will invest £2.4 billion in band B of our twenty-first century schools programme. We will invest, only this year, over £90 million in the pupil development grant, affecting the life chances of our most disadvantaged students. But I'm afraid I'm not going to be lectured by a Conservative politician whose mantra in another place is to cut public expenditure and not to invest.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, I realise that you'll be reluctant to speak about a specific case, so I'm just using this as an illustration. I have a constituent who was told by the local council that her 11-year-old daughter would be expected to get on a school bus, then change onto a connecting public bus. to go to school some 15 to 20 miles away. It's probably not an uncommon story across Wales. A while ago, as well, I took a trip on public transport with a group of young people travelling from their high school back to their home. Although it was a great joy to meet with very sensible and bright young people, it was concerning, because an 11-year-old could have been asked to do that journey on their own. It involved coming into contact with busy roads and complete strangers, and decent and honest though the vast majority of fellow passengers will be on public transport, we do have a duty to safeguard children and young people, and I'm sure you'll agree with me there. So, what checks do you require local authorities and schools to undertake before subcontracting school transport, or deciding that children must travel on public transport to school?

Firstly, can I say that a great many children travel to school on public transport and they do that successfully and safely every day? School transport actually comes under the portfolio of my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for the economy, and the rules regarding school transport are set out in the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008, which was passed by the Assembly a number of years ago. Under that legislation, parents have the right to ask their local authority for a safe routes assessment to be carried out by the local authority to assure them that the routes that local authorities are asking young people to travel on are properly risk assessed and are properly looked at in terms of learner safety. I would say to your constituent, via yourself, that they need to pursue that first option with their local education authority to carry out a safe routes to school analysis and to have that open for discussion.

13:55

Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I totally empathise with the principle that provision should be decided locally and that, given the geography in Wales, planning transport routes can be a challenge, but there's a distinct lack of consistency and it's all a bit of a hodgepodge. Depending on what school you go to, you might travel by school bus or public transport. You might travel in a completely different way from your neighbour who is attending a school maybe just down the road. Now, I know what you said about the transport Secretary having primary responsibility for this, but at the end of the day you are Cabinet Secretary for Education, so you surely have an interest in how that school transport is provided. I also understand that there are financial pressures on local authorities and also on you as Cabinet Secretary. So, have you considered and have you spoken to the Cabinet Secretary for transport with a view to conducting a review of the way school transport is delivered and whether it could be simplified, provision pooled across schools and perhaps county boundaries, to deliver a more effective service for children and people while saving money that could be diverted onto other things?

Well, I have to say, with regard to compulsory school education, all local authorities have to abide by the learner travel Measure, which states very clearly who is and who is not entitled to free school transport. It also sets out that expectation with regards to access to Welsh-medium education. It also says that any route undertaken by a child, especially if that route is a walking route, has to be subject to a safe routes to school assessment. Now, for the Member to suggest that local authorities are not working across boundary or looking at innovative solutions to deliver school transport—that simply isn't the case. I know from my own constituency that some of my constituents travel out of county for their education because that nearest suitable school happens to be one across a border, and the county facilitates that. If the Member has specific concerns, she really does need, in the first instance, to take it up with the local education authority and the local county council.

Well, actually, Cabinet Secretary, my question was about whether you personally, as Cabinet Secretary for Education, have considered reviewing the way transport is arranged, at a high level, but I'll go on to my final question.

Parents are reporting to me that cuts in local authority funding are resulting in children and young people with disabilities who were previously taken to school by taxi being asked to travel to school on the school bus. Now, that's a really good thing for the child or young person, and it's better for the environment and it's cheaper as well, but if they're prone to aggressive behaviour or challenging behaviour, it's not really fair on the other children not to ensure that an appropriate adult is on hand on the bus to provide support to that child or young person. So, what resources are you going to be putting in place to ensure that children and young people with additional learning needs and other disabilities, and those around them, are safe and supported while travelling to and from school? And please don't give me a lecture about the Measure again.

The Member does raise an important point. Where a child with additional learning needs is able to travel safely with their peers on school transport, then that is something to be considered, but we also need to consider the entire safety of the cohort on school transport. That's why we have behaviour codes that parents and children have to sign up to if they're travelling on school transport. With regard to additional learning needs, again, it will be an important part of the development of a child's individual development plan that their transport needs and transport requirements are duly considered alongside their educational requirements. But I have to say, Presiding Officer, that whilst we have legislation in this regard via our new ALN Bill, it really is a matter for individual local authorities to make provision for their learners. It is impossible, from the centre, to make individual transport decisions for individual children.

Deprived Pupils' Attainment Levels

3. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to improve attainment levels amongst the most deprived pupils in South Wales West? OAQ52407

Thank you, Caroline. We continue to invest unprecedented amounts of funding through the pupil development grant: £187 million over the next two years will support schools across Wales to improve the outcomes for our disadvantaged learners, and this includes more than £25 million in the South Wales West region alone.

Thank you for that answer. Cabinet Secretary, in Neath Port Talbot, the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals who attain level 2 or above fell last year, and fell quite significantly. The numbers are at their lowest since 2011. Cabinet Secretary, in light of this, and given recent comments about the effectiveness of the pupil deprivation grant, do you believe your policies are working for pupils in my region?

14:00

Well, firstly, can I correct the Member? It's no longer called the pupil deprivation grant, it is now called the pupil development grant. The Member is correct to say that after a number of years where we have seen an increase in the level 2 plus attainment level at GCSE for our children on free school meals and our looked-after children, unfortunately that cohort of children coped less well last summer with the introduction of the new GCSE specifications. We have conducted work internally to better understand why that cohort of children proved to be less resilient, especially as we see this year the introduction of yet new Welsh GCSE specs, for instance in science. 

I absolutely am committed, for the period of this Government, to continuing to fund the pupil development grant. In the independent evaluation that was undertaken of that grant, schools reported that they found it invaluable, and my job is to ensure that not only are those resources available to schools, but that individual schools that are in receipt of this resource spend it most effectively on interventions that we know work.

I was reading up, before the question today, and there was an Ipsos MORI and Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods report into the pupil development grant, and they were saying that while the pupil development grant had provided many positives, it was difficult to see whether it was solely as a result of the pupil development grant as to whether progress had been made, and that some of the changes had come before the pupil development grant had been implemented. Now, I know this is the key factor in trying to change the outlook of people who are from deprived backgrounds and so can you tell us what more analysis you've made since that particular report in 2017 to ensure that you know full well that it is the pupil development grant and the funding entwined with that that is delivering on those attainment levels, as opposed to something else that may be coming through from another place in terms of themes in the educational workforce planning?

Well, Bethan, this is an issue of social justice for me. No child's educational outcomes should be dictated to because of the circumstances of their birth or of their family's ability to support their education. That's why I make no apologies, as I said, for spending over £90 million this year on the education of those learners.

Now, what we know is that schools find this resource invaluable, that two thirds of schools are using the resource effectively to make a difference to those most vulnerable learners, but I want all schools to make effective use of this resource, and that's why we have, via our regional consortia, newly employed specific advisers to work with schools to ensure that this money that is being made available to individual schools is used to best effect. What we also know is that we need to intervene as soon as possible in a child's education, and that's why we have doubled the amount of PDG going into our youngest pupils' education, because if we can ensure that there is no attainment gap at the age of 11, that gives us a better chance of ensuring that children go on to obtain very good GCSE results. But I'm always keen to look to how we can develop and spread best practice, and that includes consideration of a Wales-specific Sutton Trust toolkit. At the moment, that is the gold standard against which schools are asked to judge decisions they're making about expenditure. I believe it's now time to look at developing a specific Welsh toolkit that recognises the specific cultural circumstances of the Welsh education system.

Digital Skills

4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on teaching digital skills in schools in North Wales? OAQ52416

Thank you. Schools from across Wales are now embracing digital learning ahead of our new exciting curriculum.  I was delighted to see schools from north Wales contribute to our recent national digital learning event, and these schools are supporting others to realise our national mission to make all of our learners digitally competent.

Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I read recently that in China they are pushing the boundaries with regard to coding skills, and even children of preschool age are learning the basics, often using online apps and lessons. It is now just about one year since your statement on 'Cracking the code' that you would be encouraging coding clubs across Wales. Cabinet Secretary, one year on, how many coding clubs are there, how many children have benefited, and how are you evaluating any effectiveness?

14:05

Thank you. As you said, Mandy, last year we announced investment of over £1 million in developing code clubs across Wales, and we have seen an increase in that. I will write to the Member with the exact figures for participants if we are able to get them.FootnoteLink Only last week at the national digital learning event I was able to meet children from the length and breadth of Wales who are using code to develop educational resources, apps, and in some cases those apps are very close to being commercialised, and actually being taken to market.

In the Member's own region, I'd like to highlight the good practice at St Christopher's School in Wrexham. It's one of our largest special schools in Wales, and they have a very successful coding club that many of their children are participating in, recognising that these skills are applicable to all of our children, regardless of their additional learning needs, and we will continue to support that good practice across the nation.

Question 5 [OAQ52421] was withdrawn. Therefore, question 6, Russell George.

Education in Powys

6. How is the Welsh Government supporting education in Powys? OAQ52399

The Welsh Government, regional consortia and local authorities are collectively supporting schools in Powys to improve educational standards, in line with our priorities set out in 'Our National Mission'.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your answer. NASUWT have condemned the pupil funding gap, which currently stands at nearly £700 per pupil compared to maintained schools in England. Can I ask what you're doing to address the funding gap, which, according to the union, is having the effect of, and I quote here, 

'the narrowing of the curriculum in some schools and the loss of talented teachers and support staff to redundancy'?

As I said earlier, we are investing £100 million over the course of this Assembly term in raising school standards. We are investing over £2 billion with regard to school buildings, as well as a large number of initiatives aimed at addressing specific needs within the curriculum. But I have to say, Presiding Officer, that it's only a few weeks ago that the Conservative members of Powys County Council voted against an option that could have seen extra resources going to Powys schools. Maybe he should have a word with his council colleagues.

Jenny Rathbone isn't here to ask question 7 [OAQ52412]. Question 8 [OAQ52425] was withdrawn. Therefore, question 9, Paul Davies.

Learners with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

9. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government support for learners with autistic spectrum disorder? OAQ52390

I will indeed, Paul. I remain fully committed to meeting the needs of all of our learners, including those with autism. Our ambitious additional learning needs reforms will completely overhaul the existing system for supporting learners and will put in place an integrated, collaborative process of assessment, planning and monitoring of support that is delivered.

Cabinet Secretary, I've received representations from constituents who are concerned that learners with autism spectrum disorder are at a disadvantage when taking the GCSE English exam due to their impaired social communication and social interaction, which of course means sitting the same test as their neurotypical peers, and makes it much more difficult for them. In light of this unfairness, can you tell us what discussions have actually taken place with examination providers regarding the GCSE English exam, and whether there is scope for learners with ASD to sit a different type of examination for this subject, so that these learners are not at a disadvantage in the future?

Paul, I'm sorry to hear that some of your constituents feel that the English language GCSE paper that was set this year was not appropriate for their children's needs. I am aware that a number of the questions on that paper, for instance, referred to explaining what a 'selfie' was, explaining what 'going viral' was, and the whole issue around social media. Of course, there may be some children who are more familiar and enthusiastic about those activities than perhaps other children.

There is an expectation on our examination boards to ensure that our examinations are fair to all learners. I give you a commitment that I will raise this specific instance around the English GCSE paper with Qualifications Wales, because, of course, qualifications are set independently of Welsh Government, but, clearly, we want there to be a fair playing field for all children who are entered for examinations.

14:10
The Allocation of Resources to Schools

10. How does the Welsh Government allocate resources to schools in Wales? OAQ52408

The Welsh Government does not fund schools directly. Local authorities are responsible for the funding of schools in their counties.

Thank you. As you're aware, the service pupil premium is available in England to support service children in education, and the Royal British Legion is calling for schools in Wales to have a similar fund for approximately 2,500 children who currently attend schools in Wales. It's very positive that the Welsh Government announced £200,000 funding to support armed services children for schools to bid into for this year, but there's concern about what might follow. So, how do you therefore respond to the call from the legion and the wider armed forces community in Wales for a service pupil premium, as in England, so that all schools receive the funding for every service child?

Mark, I'm very glad that schools have been able to apply for additional resources that the Welsh Government has made available this year to support the educational needs of armed forces children following the cuts made to that funding by the department of defence under your Government in London.

Let me be clear: we continue to look to see whether there is evidence to suggests that those children who are the children of our armed forces personnel are at an educational disadvantage, in the same way that we know, for instance, that our poorer children are, that our looked-after children are, and that children who have experienced adoption often are. And we will continue to look, within the confines of the resources available, at how we can continue to support, as we are already doing this year, those children. I am grateful to the armed forces community for the service they give our nation, and I do not want that service to have a detrimental effect on their children's education, and we will do what we can to ensure that that does not happen.

School Attendance Figures

11. Cabinet Secretary, will you make a statement on the consideration given to absence due to disability when compiling school attendance figures? OAQ52396

Thank you, Mick. We already consider absence due to disability when compiling our statistics on absenteeism from school. For both primary and secondary schools, we collect a range of statistics on absenteeism by pupil characteristic, which includes data related to special educational needs.   

Thank you for that answer, and, of course, I think, we all understand that schools feel how important it is to have their attendance figures as high as possible and how important good attendance is within schools and for the education of children. What I've had raised with me by a number of families, though, is that those children who have significant disabilities that will require them to have regular absences from school for treatment and so on—the system seems to be developing whereby, in order to encourage attendance, there are systems of rewards of attendance given out at school to encourage, and there are various systems like that around Wales. But, of course, the response that I'm getting back from some of the families, and this goes beyond just my own constituency, is that you have these children saying, 'Well, why can't I ever win a certificate? Why can't I get an award? Somehow, I'm failing within that.' And it seems to me that this is something that is worth looking at. I don't think there's anything malicious within this, but I think there's a genuine problem that has being emerging that needs to be looked at to ensure that a child who has a disability and may not be able to attend fully should be getting a certificate because they are attending to the maximum of their capacity, and we need to ensure that that sort of approach, I think, gets resolved.

Mick, thank you so much for raising this, and I completely agree with you that in the drive to encourage overall attendance, children with a disability should not feel penalised or discouraged or inadequate in any way. I do recognise that rewards can incentivise other pupils to attend, but it cannot be beyond the wit of individual schools to be able to understand that for some children periods of absence, either because of ill health or because of the necessity of attending a multitude of appointments, in facilities that are often a long way from school, which means they can't even go to school for half a day or part of a session—they should not be penalised in that way.

Our statutory guidance 'Supporting learners with healthcare needs' also emphasises that point, that it is inappropriate to penalise children for absenteeism as a result of their disability. I will look to see what communication methods we have with our teaching profession and our schools and LEAs to reinforce the message in that guidance that those practices that are in danger of discriminating against children because of their disability are not appropriate or acceptable. Indeed, we need to find different ways in which we can recognise the achievements that those children are making in their schools, sometimes very much against the odds.

14:15
2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services

The next item, therefore, is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services. Question 1 [OAQ52426] is withdrawn. Question 2, Caroline Jones.

Local Health Boards' Budget Deficit

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the progress being made in reducing the budget deficits of local health boards? OAQ52409

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

Thank you for the question. I have been absolutely clear that overspending by health boards is unacceptable. The Welsh Government is providing targeted intervention support to those boards in deficit to develop sustainable financial plans. With this support, both Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board and Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board both achieved an improved financial position in 2017 compared to the previous year. I have also announced £27 million of additional recurrent funding to Hywel Dda as a consequence of the zero-based review to place the board on a fair funding basis going forward. And, of course, I've issued the next 18-month special measures improvement framework for Betsi Cadwaladr, setting out my very clear expectations for improvement. 

Cabinet Secretary, my local health board, ABMU, has a deficit of over £3 million a month. In order to address this deficit, the health board are proposing to reduce the number of hospital beds that are available. Cabinet Secretary, given that bed occupancy rates in my region are nearly 90 per cent, do you consider the proposal to reduce the number of available beds to be safe?

Thank you for the question. I think it's been positive that ABM had a better financial outturn than the previous year and I want to be positive about their prospects for further improvement, until they get to a position that is generally acceptable when they do live within their means, and indeed they provide an acceptable level of performance right across the whole of their responsibility. 

The current beds consultation should not be driven by financial measures. My understanding is that they're trying to set out a case for changing where care is provided because alternative services are available. That is not driven by money; that is actually driven by where do you provide the right care at the right time and in the right place. I would not support the removing of beds from our system simply as a financial measure. The change in bed capacity and where it is is a different issue. As I say, there is an ongoing consultation. Today is the last day, and if anyone has not taken part in the consultation, I would urge them to make their views clear.

Why has Welsh Government, together with health boards, not done more to reign in the huge amount of spending on agency staff? Couldn't he have better control of these deficits if that was done?

In fact, last year, I issued measures to have a cap on agency staff and that made a real difference in the last quarter of the last year. The challenge now is to not just see the fruits of a full year of that, but to take wider action as well, which is why the ongoing conversation is that we need to come to an end point about changing the use of both agency and bank staff. Because I think there is more opportunity about the way in which the bank is used rather than agency staff, and the way that the quality of care is provided, as well as the financial measures.

So, I am looking for further progress. We've actually managed to take out, largely, some of the higher end agencies as well, but this will continue to be an issue about the financial sustainability of our system. It also means that, in some parts of our healthcare system, we'll need to change the way that care is delivered, because it's actually difficult to recruit people to some of the ways of delivering care that we currently have. So, there is a range of different measures to take, but it will of course be an area that I expect further scrutiny on here, and indeed the director general has regular scrutiny in the Public Accounts Committee on this issue as well.

Reducing Levels of Smoking

3. What further steps will the Welsh Government take to reduce levels of smoking? OAQ52406

Thank you for the question. Our tobacco control delivery plan, published in September last year, outlines the actions we are taking to further reduce smoking levels in Wales. For instance, I recently launched a consultation on regulations to prohibit smoking on hospital grounds, school grounds, local authority playgrounds, and the outdoor areas of registered childcare settings.

Cabinet Secretary, the Welsh Government smoking ban has helped reduce smoking, but it remains the leading cause of serious illness and avoidable early deaths in Wales, responsible, according to Action on Smoking and Health, for around 5,500 deaths every year, and the Welsh Government's target of reducing smoking prevalence to 16 per cent by 2020 will not be achieved on current projections. I welcome the provisions of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 to enable further restrictions, as you've mentioned, and indeed the ability that that legislation gives to designate additional places as smoke-free, which I believe, for example, might include outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants, and town and city centres. Do you agree that extending restrictions in that way will further protect our people from passive smoking, help de-normalise smoking and encourage smokers to quit? 

14:20

Thank you for the question. I recognise that there may be evidence about further progress we could make by taking further action on smoking because, as you say, it is the leading cause of avoidable harm, and we need to do more to help people to quit, because the final point you made is just that. How do we help people to quit? By making sure that appropriate services are in place and, indeed, the way in which that service is provided. So, I expect that we'll see more being delivered within the community pharmacy as well, as part of what the future is likely to look like. And it will continue to be a topic of a regular conversation, because whenever we have a public health discussion and whenever we have a conversation about a major killer, we talk about the same things: smoking, alcohol, diet and exercise.

So, the regulations that I've already announced we're consulting on, we'll go forward with those and listen to the public about what else they want to see. The complaints I have from some people that don't want us to take action on making smoking more difficult are ones that I recognise, but not ones that will take this Government off course. And I will, of course, listen to the evidence about the possibility of future action to help achieve our main aim of de-normalising smoking here in Wales.     

Cabinet Secretary, Public Health England recently published its evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. The review states that vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and that switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys considerable health benefits over continued smoking. It goes on to say that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree with Public Health England that vaping should be widely encouraged as a way to help people quit smoking in Wales?  

Thank you for the question. We ran through this in the first version of the public health Bill that was not passed before the last Assembly election. At that time, there was real concern about the use of e-cigarettes, and it still remains, about the fact that they're often targeted at younger people, not as an alternative to smoking, and that we also can't be clear about what's in them because we don't regulate the make-up of e-cigarettes. So, I think it's honest to say that Public Health England have recognised that there is less risk from e-cigarettes than smoking. That is not the same as saying there is no risk. For different people, there will be different methods that help them to quit smoking, and that is what I would like to see. We will, of course, listen to the developing evidence base about all products within that that help people to give up smoking.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

We now turn to spokespeople's questions, and the first this afternoon is from Angela Burns. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Good afternoon, Cabinet Secretary. Will you please outline what procedures are in place for hospital patients to administer their own routine medications? 

Are you talking about routine medication within a hospital setting? 

I'm not sure I understand the question, because for hospital patients and medication, there is medication that they receive when actually in a hospital, and if they have a secondary-care-led medication need, how they actually administer that themselves. It will depend, of course, on the condition and the medication. 

Let me clarify it slightly for you, Cabinet Secretary, as you seem to be struggling slightly there. I notice, for example, that the Member for Cynon Valley recently tabled some written questions seeking information around the procedures in place surrounding hospital patients self-administering their medication. It appeared that she received some fairly stock answers to it.

Now, let's have a look at the example of people with Parkinson's. They may enter hospital for reasons that may or may not be related to Parkinson's, and find that the hospital's drug round does not coincide with their own medication regime. However, as you will know, in Parkinson's, a minor change in medication timing can have major negative effects on symptom management and general recovery. The uneven release of dopamine can result in a person suddenly—in Parkinson's—not being able to move, get out of bed, or walk down a corridor, and it can also lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and bowel obstruction. Parkinson's UK have launched a campaign entitled Get It On Time to ensure that drugs such as levodopa, which are prescribed to treat Parkinson's, are administered at regular times of the day—a campaign that's been successfully introduced in Canada. What advice would your department be able to give health boards about implementing such a scheme in Welsh hospitals, because this is proving to be a problem where a person's tried and tested drug regime does not fit in with the drug prescription regime of a hospital when they're in a hospital setting?

14:25

Well, look, this is an issue that I'm aware of, the Get It On Time campaign. It's not a condition-specific campaign for one only because, actually, there are a range of other conditions—epilepsy, for example. My younger brother has epilepsy and I know on some of his hospital stays in the English system the non-administration of that has actually led to him having a seizure that would have otherwise been controlled by his medication regime outside of a hospital setting. So, I do recognise the challenges that exist in a range of conditions about having a regular medication regime that continues and is not interrupted by a hospital stay, whether that is for the main condition that those medications are provided for or for an alternative. And there's something here about our improvement programme in pharmacy management and in medication management in any event, both about the administration of medicines in hospitals, but also about not having an unnecessary gap when somebody is actually discharged from hospital as well, so they promptly have any medication that they then require to go back into their own homes. So, I recognise the campaign. There's work being led by the chief pharmacist with health boards and chief pharmacists in each of the health boards because I do recognise the challenge that does exist.

Well, I'm pleased to hear you say that, and, of course, the parliamentary review really recommended—well, had two key thrusts. The first was that we want the general public to begin to take more responsibility for their own health and to manage themselves in a more appropriate way, and the second thrust was that we want people to go into hospital less often, and when they're there to get out of there far more quickly, and we do have situations where people with conditions such as Parkinson's may end up staying in hospital through no fault of their own but because those regimes don't tie together.

I've witnessed first hand from my time in hospital that, actually, hospital staff can get really bowed under with all sorts of other pressures and, so, the drugs trolley doesn't quite make it down the corridor and so on and so forth. So, I really would like to ask you again to have a good look at this because we can't say on the one hand, 'Take more responsibility'—. Some people have had conditions such as Parkinson's—and, as you say, it's not the only one—for years and years and years, and they know what they need and they know when they need it. I appreciate that if you're in hospital for something entirely different there may be contraindications and so on—one always has to be really careful—but I think we can rely on the general public when they have something like this, when they will know only too well what suits them, because of course, as you will know, every individual with conditions such as Parkinson's will have a different reaction to it, will have a different set of meds, and will certainly have a different timescale. So, will you please undertake to look at this really clearly, so that we can say to people, 'We are asking you to take responsibility, we do trust you'? Above all, it's to keep them better in hospital, so that, hopefully, they can get out better from whatever reason they've gone in there.

I recognise entirely the point about people taking more responsibility for their own healthcare, but I actually think that the bigger gain to be made on that is how people take their medication in the community and how we enable that to happen. Within a hospital setting, it really is about how the health service make sure that is enabled properly. Some people don't have their own medication, it's often taken away at the point of entry. You need to make sure that their medication is provided on a regular basis so it can be—

—so it can be administered, and that is a challenge for us. There's also something about how we shift some of the work.

So, part of our challenge in the hospital pharmacy service is actually that some of that work need not necessarily take place there, and that'll provide them with a greater length of time to do what they really do need to do, and only they can do for hospital-based patients. So, the link between the hospital pharmacy service and community pharmacy really does matter and I think there's more gain to be made from community pharmacies taking on additional duties in the future to make it easier for people to get out and to support people in administering successfully their own medication regimes, as well as providing more time for their hospital-based colleagues to do their job properly, in addition with other staff in a hospital system. 

14:30

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, we have discussed previously the case of my constituent, Paul Davies, the Paralympian who was facing the real prospect of missing Tokyo 2020 due to a lack of social care. Minister, with your help, I'm pleased to say that Paul Davies now has the support he needs in order to train for the Tokyo Paralympics. So, Minister, will you join me in wishing Paul Davies every success in his endeavours and in hoping that he can bring back a gold medal for Wales?

Absolutely. And I think everybody here would join you, Caroline, in wishing Paul the very, very best. In some ways, I can say he is a local boy, a local man, in my neck of the woods, slightly out of my constituency. But we're delighted that the local authority and the local health board have come together, very much, I have to say, based on the idea that we say regularly here within the Assembly—that the Cabinet Secretary and I say—that it should be focused on the outcomes of the individual, not simply on care, but on independent living. And that independent living includes the ability to pursue activities and hobbies and interests—it's more than simply care. But I'm delighted that with the highlighting of the issue, Caroline, that you and others brought to it—I think you overstate my role in this entirely, I have to say, but I'm delighted that, on the ground, locally, they've managed to find a solution that will enable him to go forward and compete. I understand from my officials that they've been able to appoint two personal assistants now, which will mean that he can pursue, and, we all hope, fulfil, his dreams and ambitions.

Yes. Thank you, Minister. We were able to get a very satisfactory outcome in Paul's case. But what about those who don't have their Assembly Member fighting their corner? Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that every single disabled person in Wales is able to pursue their goals, their dreams, unhindered by their disability?

Entirely. And, Caroline, if I can reiterate my earlier comments, which would be that the statutory framework in Wales is very different from across the border in England; it is very much—with the support of Members here, who took the legislation through—based on a person-centred approach, where that person should co-determine their package of support for independent living. It's not to be done to them, but it's to be done with them. It should be based on the outcomes for that individual to improve their quality of life and their ability—as we all take for granted—to do what we want and to socialise and to engage in wider society. There is also, of course, the statutory right to advocacy, either informal advocacy, or, failing that, a more formal type of advocacy, and so on and so forth. I think the challenge that local authorities and health boards and others face is the financial constraints they operate in. But that shouldn't stop them focusing on that approach of working with the individual, with their needs, to determine how they can best support independent living and a quality of life that we all take for granted, and so should they.

Thank you once again for that answer, Minister. Our future Paralympians are relying upon their carers—paid and unpaid—to support them while they concentrate upon winning the medals. But who supports the carers? Minister, sadly, we know that two thirds of unpaid carers have not been offered or requested a needs assessment, and three quarters of those same carers say they do not get any support from their GP. So, what is the Government doing to ensure that carers' needs are assessed? Thank you.

Thank you for that question. Colleagues may be interested to know that we convened the first formal meeting of the ministerial advisory group on carers today. I met them in the centre of Cardiff. All the relevant stakeholders, from a wide range of organisations, are there. And, in a similar way to the work that's been taken forward by our colleague here, David Melding, on the ministerial action group for looked-after children, which has provided such good results and work streams that have led to positive outcomes, we are very hopeful that the ministerial advisory group on carers will do the same. It is supported as well by an ancillary group, which is actually to represent the wider voice of carers. We can't fit everybody around that top table, but we have statutory providers, we have carers' organisations, older people's organisations, younger people's organisations. They can't all fit around the table—it's a very focused, targeted group—but, outside of that, there's an ancillary group that also gives those people who want to contribute their voices as carers into it as well—. And that will focus on issues such as how we support them—how we support carers with life beyond caring, so they're not defined entirely as carers and nothing else, because many carers want to work, to engage wider in society and so on. It is based on the identification of carers and the work we're doing with GP surgeries, with pharmacies, in schools with the schools toolkit, and it is also focused on the additional support, including flexible respite support, that we can give for carers going forward. This is a journey that we're on, not an end product, because we have to keep on improving the outcomes. But the £8.1 billion value of carers—the massive army of carers that are out there—it's not just their monetary value but it's also measured in compassion and the love that they provide, and I hope this ministerial advisory group will give me the direction of travel we need in Government and here in this Assembly to improve the lives of carers. 

14:35

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Now, Cabinet Secretary, I met this morning with a group concerned with Barrett's oesophagus, which is a condition that, left untreated, can lead to cancer. But it's possible to use a treatment called radio frequency ablation to treat this, before it leads to cancer. In fact, it is clinically proven and its cost benefits are very, very clear. But Wales doesn't have this service, so patients have to go to England. Now, costs for providing treatment in England, paid for by the Welsh NHS, have increased dramatically in the past year—increased by something like 150 per cent. So, the lack of access to this technology in Wales is costing the NHS here more and more. Can you tell me what the barrier is to preventing that service being provided in Wales? And can you report back to me and the Assembly on work being done to introduce RFA treatment in Wales as quickly as possible? 

Yes, I'm happy to respond on this. I've actually had direct correspondence from one of my constituents on this matter, as indeed from a wider interest group, and, coincidentally, this Saturday, in Margam, I had the pleasure of meeting people from the Bangladeshi Gastroenterology Association. I also met the president of the British Gastroenterology Association, who said he was imminently due to write to me on this very issue. Because I do recognise that there is a NICE recommended treatment available that we currently commission over our border, in particular in south Wales. We do now think that we could and should be able to provide the service here in Wales. Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board are leading work on that to provide that service. I'll be happy to provide an update to Members in the future on where that is to be clearer about the timescales for doing so, but I do expect us to make that treatment properly available, as the evidence suggests, and to make it available here in Wales, as opposed to continuing to have to commission a service across our border. 

Yes, that's positive. I look forward to that update.

Turning to another issue linked to the slow pace of the introduction of new technologies, the use of multiparametric MRI in the diagnosis of prostate cancer, you will be aware—very aware—that the clinical consensus is that this is a game changer, a real game changer, in the diagnosis of prostate cancer. But only two health boards in Wales are providing mpMRI to a high enough standard to avoid the need for biopsy. The result is that many men have chosen—have been forced, in effect—to pay upwards of £900 for private mpMRI scans.

Now, when asked about this before, you said that you were waiting for updated guidelines from NICE, but they won't be published until April next year, and at the same time England and Scotland have introduced this generally. Now, why is it in cases where I suspect you know really that the conclusions of NICE will be to propose pressing forward with this, and where other NHS services in the UK are using new technologies—why is it that you're content for Welsh patients to wait until the judgment and then wait for the implementation period?  

Well, I don't share his summary of the position. In particular, the very clear advice I've had is that this service is not available consistently in England. I'm not aware of the position in Scotland, but this is not available in every part of the NHS in England, and we don't yet have a clinical consensus. There are a number of advocates who do say that it is a game changer; that is not yet the clinical consensus view. That can either come from NICE guidance or it could come from the Welsh urology board, who are now examining the issue. If the Welsh urology board give us advice, that would then draw on the basis for a clinical consensus and we could have a service that is then planned and delivered across the country, as opposed to the current pathfinders in two of the health boards, which, of course, are adding to our evidence base. So, I want to see the issue resolved so we do understand if there is clinical consensus. Then, as I've said on a regular number of occasions, if the evidence and the advice changes, I would expect our healthcare system to act on the very best available evidence and advice to us.

14:40

All the evidence I've seen suggests that we already know what we need to know—that this is a potentially life-saving procedure. 

Now, the recent parliamentary review emphasised the role that new technologies can play in providing treatment closer to home, with the emphasis on preventative health through earlier diagnosis. Both of those examples that I've given today are cases where our NHS, I believe, should be far more proactive in adopting new technology to achieve these ends. Waiting for NICE, which has a lengthy workload and can't possibly remain up to date with everything, is going to become a bigger problem over time. So, will you look, therefore, at reassessing the approach your Government is taking to the earliest possible introduction of technology to ensure that treatment in Wales can remain or be at the cutting edge, and that patients in Wales get the very best treatment possible?

We've actually got Health Technology Wales to do just that, Deputy Presiding Officer, in the same way we have the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group to allow us to have faster access to, actually, properly appraising new medicines as well. So, we do have a process that is available to us on new technology as opposed to new medicine. And, with respect, the clinical consensus that we could get on the mpMRI could be delivered in the here and now by the Welsh urology board if they provided that advice to us. If they provided that clinical consensus, we'd have a different place to act.

It's fine for politicians to be persuaded about what they think is right, but, actually, I think to run this significant public service we do need to have proper clinical consensus on the appropriate way forward. We have means to do that already, but I'm always interested if we can improve the way in which we make those choices, because part of my regular frustration—and it is borne out by the parliamentary review and the plan we have—is that changing the way our healthcare system delivers and improves is far too slow. So, that is why the twin aims are to have pace and scale in the change and transformation that we all recognise needs to take place.

Health Services in Montgomeryshire

4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on health services in Montgomeryshire? OAQ52401

Thank you for the question. Health services in Montgomeryshire are provided by a dedicated team of staff who are committed to providing high-quality care to and for their local population as close to home as possible.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I agree that they are dedicated staff working within Montgomeryshire. Major changes in neighbouring health boards in Shropshire and in Hywel Dda Local Health Board will all result in some services moving further away from the people of Montgomeryshire. I know you visited Welshpool recently, and I know that, as I understand it, you're due to visit Llanidloes soon. Can I ask what steps you're taking to address this by providing community-based health services to serve the people of my constituency?

Yes, I think that Powys Teaching Local Health Board have been particularly forward looking, not just in their partnership with the council, but the way in which they are looking to develop facilities to provide as much care within the county as possible, as well as, of course, commissioning care from other providers within Wales and on the English side of the border.

I recognise that the Future Fit consultation is a matter of some concern, both here and indeed in England, and so I'd encourage residents of Montgomeryshire, and indeed Brecon and Radnorshire, to get involved in the consultation that is taking place. Powys health board have a range of public events to try and promote the consultation and encourage people to take part. I actually think that Powys have been a good partner with other health boards in making clear that the needs of Powys patients are understood, and they will need to consider and reconsider where the evidence is about the best place for Powys residents to receive healthcare—whether that is local healthcare or indeed hospital-based care. But I really do think that Powys have a good story to tell about providing a wide range of community services, wanting to provide as much care within the community as possible, and, in many respects, the rest of Wales needs to look at Powys and understand how it could be more like Powys in delivering local healthcare.

A Gender Identity Service for Wales

5. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the development of a gender identity service for Wales? OAQ52424

Thank you for the question. I feel strongly that transgender people should be able to have their healthcare needs met as close to home as possible. I remain committed to improving transgender care in Wales, both through primary and secondary care. In addition to the improvements that I outlined in my written statement recently, I can confirm that the senior clinician for the Wales gender identity team is now in post.

It is entirely unacceptable that there have been delays of 12 months before introducing this new service, and this creates problems in terms of inconsistency in information provided to people who require this service, with some being told that there is no service available, whilst, in reality, the clinic in London continues to be available to people from Wales until the new service is up and running. Can you explain why there has been this delay, and will you ensure that accurate information is shared with people who ask for gender identity services in this transitional period?

14:45

Yes. This is a real issue of concern to people across Wales, and I am deeply frustrated at the time that it has taken us to date. I would want to see a much swifter rate of progress for the future. Some of that has been about recruiting the right staff in the right place, but frankly, the frustrations, I feel, don't compare to people who have had their healthcare interrupted. That is the point of this. I am significantly unhappy that some people have had their current ways of accessing healthcare within Wales interrupted. There is absolutely no reason for any of the announcements that I have made to be used as a reason to make health services more difficult to access. The improvements that I expect in primary care are frankly no more than any of us expect for ourselves—to have normal primary healthcare needs provided within our local community.

We are reaching a point where we have an answer to provide that local healthcare need on a consistent basis. Nobody should stop treating patients at this point in time in the way they currently access care, and, indeed, the specialist care, we expect more of that to be delivered in Wales in the future, and the senior clinician in the Wales gender team should be able to help make progress on that already. So, I'm unhappy with our lack of progress. I continue to meet people from the transgender community and have correspondence from them and, indeed, our healthcare service will continue to meet with stakeholders and the most important people of course—transgender people themselves.

Cabinet Secretary, the development of the gender identity service for Wales will make it much easier for transgender people to access services and support locally, without the need to travel further afield. Can you say a little bit more about your commitment to setting up a network of GPs with a particular specialism in gender identity to ensure local access? You've touched on this with Siân Gwenllian. It's clearly an important area. Can you say a little bit more about how you would see that operating in practice?

Yes. We've already agreed funding for somebody to be hosted by Cardiff and Vale health board to respond to the immediate prescribing needs, because that's often the real crunch point, where some GPs don't feel confident in prescribing after a hospital-led service has actually started a course of treatment. We should eventually reach a point where we have a wider network, but the first point will be to ensure that an employed GP, directly employed by the health board, is available to fill the gap that we recognise that currently exists as we want to develop that wider service, because, as I say, this is a regular healthcare need that we should be able to meet within local healthcare, and it is not a point of credit to our service that we have not been able to do so to date.

Defibrillators

6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on funding for defibrillators? OAQ52422

The Welsh Government is working in partnership with the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, health boards and charities to proactively promote and install public-access defibrillators in buildings across Wales.

There have been a number of developments in my constituency recently whereby defibrillators have been introduced, which have been welcomed in communities across the isle, of course, because they provide safeguards in cases of cardiac ill health, and there are efforts, of course, to introduce further such machines. The latest is an application for one to be provided as part of the introduction of the new park run in Anglesey for young people, in the hope of ensuring the best safety facilities possible for runners. It’s very often charities that contribute towards funding these defibrillators, but can you as a Government seek new ways of providing financial assistance as this is something that is driven by communities and deserves Government support? 

Thank you for the question. Funnily enough, I was recently in a place within my own constituency where somebody who had been motivated by their own experience of the health service had gone out and raised money to provide defibrillators—one in the new Eastern High school recently opened in Trowbridge, and the other, recently, in Llanrumney's Phoenix Boxing Club. And so, there are a range of people who are deeply committed to doing this, and equally, within the charitable sector, there's a wide range of charities that are committed to making more defibrillators available and making sure that they're publicly available, and it's the partnership with WAST that helps to make sure those public-access defibrillators are available and for use.

So, the challenge always is about how many, and where and when, and also where the role of Government is in terms of making those available. The UK Government recently announced a fund of money. We haven't seen a consequential for that, but we need to think again about how we make sure that we do continue to see more defibrillators used and, indeed, how that links to the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan to make sure that this relatively easy-to-use life-saving equipment is not just available but is actually used to help save people's lives.

14:50

Cabinet Secretary, can I also welcome your answer and the work that's been done by so many communities who have actually taken up this issue and established defibrillators in those communities, who have raised the funds, who have supported the training, and so on, for them to operate? In my constituency, in just one area in Tonyrefail, we have 20 defibrillators that have now been set up by communities. They're on lamp posts, they're in shops, there's one outside a curry house, and I'm assured that's because it needed to have the electricity connection there. But it shows what communities can do, and it shows the strength of some of our communities.

I suppose the issue that would be a little bit of a concern is, of course, that that's fine where you've got the community taking that on board, but what we wouldn't want to see is gaps in and around the country where some have defibrillators and some shouldn't. Maybe what we should be doing is actually trying to get a broader picture of what the state is with regard to the spread of defibrillators and look at ways in which we can encourage the spread of further defibrillators in those areas that haven't yet managed to achieve that.

Yes, and I recognise the point that he makes about Tonyrefail with a group of community fundraisers, and the work in particular of the two Welsh-based charities, being Cariad and Welsh Hearts, but also the British Heart Foundation too are obviously interested in seeing more publicly accessible defibrillators made available.

And that's why the partnership with WAST matters, to understand where they are, so they're actually available when someone needs one, but also understand if there are parts of Wales where there is a gap in provision and, equally, about how public buildings, so that we can invest from the public purse in making sure that there are defibrillators available too.

I should make a point here because, in recent discussions around defibrillators, I've been pretty appalled at the number of defibrillators that are vandalised and taken away. And there is something about supporting the work of people who not just raise funds to have them, and then to see them maintained as well, as indeed I think Cariad and Welsh Hearts do, but actually to make clear that it really is wholly unacceptable for life-saving equipment to be removed and vandalised, as sadly happens far too often.

Children's Social Services

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the provision of children's social services? OAQ52393

Our priority for children’s services in Wales is to help families stay together where possible, avoiding the need for care. So, programmes such as Flying Start and family support services provide those families with early help, emotional and practical support so that all children in Wales can enjoy the same chances in life.

Can I thank the Minister for his response? I would like to stress the importance of children's social services and that the cost and need of children's services has increased substantially over the last 40 years, and certainly over the last 20 years. Also, social services is not, as quite often is thought of in here, shorthand for elderly social care.

What support does the Welsh Government provide to local authorities' children's social services across Wales?

I'm glad to report, Mike, that our local authority funding towards children's and families' services spend has increased, in fact, over the five-year period from 2012-13 to 2016-17 by 24 per cent. It's gone up from £467 million to £577 million, but, of course, that is alongside the investment that we are putting into things like Flying Start, and other aspects of funding as well.

And I thank you, Mike, for the recent visit that we made together to St Teilo's community Cwtch as well. It was great to see a community coming together in an area of some disadvantage as well, but putting together an array of provision for families and for children that ticked a lot of boxes in one go. And, of course, the other aspect in terms of Swansea is their significant progress, with support of Welsh Government, but actually on their own initiative, around the number of looked-after children that has decreased now, from 585 to 480 over the last four years. They've had an improvement programme in place, and it's really showing dividends, and we might be able to learn lesson from what Swansea is doing with reducing safely the number of children coming into care by actually thinking cleverly and creatively on the ground. If one local authority can do it, then many others could be able to do it as well.

14:55
Sleep Medicine Services

9. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on sleep medicine services? OAQ52398

Thank you for the question. The Welsh Government recognises the importance of sleep medicine, and our approach is set out in the respiratory health delivery plan for Wales. That plan was updated and republished in January this year. It includes a national work stream for improving sleep medicine.

Thank you for the answer, and I very much welcome the work that has been done on something that has not been, perhaps, recognised as being as important as it is. I know there have been previous questions, I think from Llyr Gruffydd and others, around this particular subject. I've had a number of representations to me, because although sleep apnoea and narcolepsy are particularly recognised, those represent only two out of 70 of the various sleep disorders that can have very significant effects on people's ability to work but also to live ordinary lives. One of the representations I've had is that Wales is the only country without a designated facility for the diagnosis and management of complex sleep disorders and that the level of service is a bit of a postcode lottery around Wales in terms of the way in which the services operate. I wonder if that's something that the Cabinet Secretary could look at in more detail and address, and I know that he will also have had particular medical representations on this issue as well.

Indeed, I've received correspondence on this issue directly, and it is part of what the respiratory health improvement group are looking at, because, as you point out, sleeping disorders do exist, and the most common ones we talk about are narcolepsy and sleep apnoea. There are others, and they do have a real impact on people's ability to live their everyday lives. So, we're looking at more of the services that are, for example, currently delivered in the centre at Nevill Hall in Aneurin Bevan, and we'll see about the spread of that service and access to that service from other parts of Wales, and to understand what more we need to do to reduce some of the variations that I recognise exist too. So, that is absolutely part of the work programme that is within the respiratory health group, and so I do expect, over the next year, to be able to describe for you not just what is being planned, but what is being done about that too.FootnoteLink

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board

10. What additional support is the Welsh Government providing to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board? OAQ52404

Thank you for the question. My officials continue to work closely with the health board to provide the necessary support and challenge as they work towards ensuring their services meet the needs of their local population. 

Thank you for that answer. Now, it was in September 2016 that ABMU health board was put under Welsh Government targeted intervention. The reason for this was due to significant concerns that existed at that time around unscheduled care, cancer and planned care, amongst others, as you well know. Despite nearly two years of Welsh Government focus, it is clear that many services have not just failed to improve, but have actually gone backwards: accident and emergency performance, care for certain cancer patients, and planned care performance against the 26-week target have all slipped backwards. Now, this clearly raises questions in terms of what support the Welsh Government is providing ABMU health board, and I believe we need that scrutiny. Will you commit, therefore, to bringing forward a Government statement here in the Chamber so that we can discuss in more depth the support that is being provided and the challenges that are being faced?

Well, I won't commit to providing a statement; what I will commit to is that I'm happy to make sure that Members are informed not just of the support available, but of the progress, or otherwise, of ABM health board, because you're right that there have been challenges around unscheduled care and cancer performance in particular. I'm pleased there's been an improvement trajectory within this year in terms of unscheduled care, with more to go to have a sustained position on cancer care as well. So, I'm more than happy to come back on the areas of improvement, but also, from the first question asked today, to note that there has been an improvement in their financial position. I expect that to recover, and I certainly expect on unscheduled care, as well, that we'll be in a position to announce an improvement target from the one they started this year with and, indeed, improved performance. But there is a range of areas where ABM have a significant and positive story to tell as well, just as in every other part of the health service.

3. Topical Questions
4. 90-second Statements

Therefore, we move to item 4, which is the 90-second statement. Mike Hedges.

Diolch, Dirprwy Llywydd. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 came into effect on 1 July 1948. I would like to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of this groundbreaking legislation. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act is regarded as the statutory foundation of physical planning in post-war Britain. The Act established the planning provision required for land development. Ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land. To control this, the Act reorganised the planning system from 1,400 planning authorities to 145, formed from county and borough councils, and required them all to prepare a comprehensive development plan. They were also given powers to control outdoor advertising, and to preserve woodland or buildings of architectural or historic interest, the latter the beginning of the modern listed building system that we know today. Whilst the postbag of all Members of the Assembly and Parliament, and of councillors, is full of objections and support for planning applications, it is the 1947 Act that was the start of providing planning as we currently know it—another piece of important progressive legislation by the 1945-51 Labour Government.

15:00
Motion to suspend Standing Orders to allow the next item of business to be considered

The next item on our agenda this afternoon is the motion to suspend Standing Orders, and I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion.

Motion NDM6754 Elin Jones

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Orders 33.6 and 33.8:

Suspends Standing Order 12.20(i), 12.22(i) and that part of Standing Order 11.16 that requires the weekly announcement under Standing Order 11.11 to constitute the timetable for business in Plenary for the following week, to allow NNDM6753 to be considered in Plenary on Wednesday, 27 June 2018.

Motion moved.

Okay, fine. Sorry; it's just written down. So, the proposal is to suspend the Standing Orders. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, we will have a vote on this. The vote must take place now, unless three Members—[Interruption.] Ring the bell? Three Members? Three Members show me they want the bell ringing. Thank you. Ring the bell, please.

The bell was rung was rung to call Members to the Chamber.

15:05

We are going to move to a vote. The vote is to suspend the Standing Orders. Therefore, I will call for a vote. Open the vote. Close the vote. For the motion 35, four abstentions, nine against. Therefore, the motion is agreed.

Motion to suspend Standing Orders: For: 35, Against: 9, Abstain: 4

Motion has been agreed

5. Debate on NNDM6753: The Secretary of State for Wales

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Julie James, and amendment 2 in the name of Paul Davies. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.

Therefore, we now move to item 5, which is a debate on no named day motion 6753: the Secretary of State for Wales. I call on Simon Thomas to move the motion.

Motion NNDM6753 Rhun ap Iorwerth

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. No longer has confidence in the Secretary of State for Wales to deliver major infrastructure projects, following the decision of the Westminster government not to support the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.

2. Has no confidence in the post of the Secretary of State for Wales and believes it should be abolished and replaced with a properly constituted UK council of Ministers with shared and equal decision-making powers.

Motion moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I, first of all, thank the Assembly for allowing us to debate this no named day motion now? I think, in light of the events over the last week and the decision making of the Westminster Government, it is appropriate that we debate this motion. I understand not everyone will support the content of the motion, and there are amendments before us, but I think it is vital that we allow ourselves to debate the motion of no confidence in the Secretary of State.

When I tabled the motion, of course, I didn't think we'd be having two no confidence motions on the same day as regards the Conservative Party, but it seems that that is what has transpired. But we're here to judge one man's responsibility, and one man's responsibility to deliver on manifesto commitments, and that's what I want to judge the Secretary of State on—a commitment in 2015 to do two major pieces of infrastructure investment in Wales, worth over £2 billion of investment: to electrify the railway between Swansea and Cardiff and to support the tidal lagoon. More than that, there was a commitment in the manifesto that the Secretary of State for Wales stood on and was elected on to finish the job on electrification and to support the tidal lagoon.

Since that 2015 manifesto, yes, circumstances have changed, many of them created by the Conservative Government itself, of course, in calling the referendum on leaving the European Union, but neither of those major investments have been made, calling into question not only the good words of the Secretary of State himself but, I think, politics more widely—all of us who stand for election on manifestos. I've seen some of the response this week from my constituents around this, who now feel that they are not being listened to and that manifesto commitments and promises can be broken willy-nilly, not by oppositions, not by small parties, not by others, but by parties who have been in Government for several years.

That failure to deliver really has left us in a very invidious position in this Assembly, because we wanted these projects to deliver for us, the Welsh Government wanted to work with these projects, the Welsh Government was prepared to co-invest in these projects, and the Welsh Government had plans in place to benefit Wales as a whole when these projects went ahead, both in terms of rail electrification and the tidal lagoon. As a result of a decision made by the Westminster Government for which, yes, to a certain extent, in terms of this debate today, the Secretary of State for Wales is the figurehead—he may not have personally taken some of these decisions, in the sense that I understand it was actually the Prime Minister who decided to cancel rail electrification to Swansea—but he is our most direct voice in Westminster. He is supposedly Wales's voice in the Cabinet, the advocate for Wales in the Cabinet, and the person for whom this should be a matter of personal commitment and personal responsibility to deliver.

If there are two commitments in your manifesto for election for which you are then the Cabinet Secretary responsible, and you don't deliver on them, then do you carry on? Do you stand down? Do you say, 'I'm sorry, I failed to get it through'? Do you resign as a sign that you are unhappy with your own Government's performance? We have had resignations this week from members of the Government, for lesser reasons than this, actually—on principle to vote against a planning decision on Heathrow, not even as far advanced as rail electrification and the tidal lagoon. The fact that the Secretary of State has not seen fit to act in the spirit of what Wales wanted, and show his dissatisfaction with the decision making of his own Government—which, to be fair, some Members opposite have done over the last day or so—I think means that we should move a motion of no confidence in him here today.

Now, of course we are not responsible for the Secretary of State for Wales, he is not answerable to us, and he doesn't even come to the Assembly anymore to give his annual speech. [Interruption.] Just in a second, of course. We rightly got rid of that rather anachronistic approach, but he is our single voice in Westminster, and we are the voice of the people of Wales, so it is completely appropriate politically—maybe not constitutionally, but politically I think it's completely appropriate—that we debate the motion and pass it here today.

15:10

I was going to say that he also refuses to come to committees to give evidence.

He does indeed, and most recently to the committee on which Mike Hedges serves with myself, the Finance Committee.

I am not going to list the failures of one individual here. There are many, and I could list—[Interruption.] I haven't got the time in the next hour. I'm concentrating on the two big commitments that he failed to deliver, which were in the manifesto and which he personally should take responsibility for. The others, which may come out in emerging debate, are things, I think, for a debate. They don't bring us to a situation where we would want to pass a motion or make a motion of no confidence in the Secretary of State, but these two decisions do.

Let's just look in particular at the Swansea bay tidal lagoon decision, the most recent one. In rejecting this, we haven't just rejected one lagoon project. What's been rejected is the entire proposition of tidal range technology. It's been rejected on the basis of their own commissioned independent report by a previous energy Minister on the potential for tidal range energy, which wasn't just about the Swansea lagoon—though it came to a particular conclusion on the Swansea lagoon—but was in fact a report on the whole tidal range energy around the British isles. In the words of the chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power, the decision to ditch the lagoon is a

'vote of no interest in Wales, no confidence in British manufacturing, and no care for the planet'.

I think, given that, no confidence in the Secretary of State is the least response that this Assembly can make. Our faces were actually rubbed into the dirt by the way this announcement was made, and the wounds were rubbed in with salt. On the day that the tidal lagoon was scrapped, a £14 billion extra runway at Heathrow was approved, and on the day the tidal lagoon was scrapped, the Secretary of State saw fit to use his own social media outlet, the Twitter account of the Wales Office, to tweet a series of infantile memes regarding the pathetic job creation of the tidal lagoon, and how it wouldn't do this and it wouldn't do that, on the basis of sums and figures that most people think don't add up. They were in complete contradiction; for example, a tweet from the Secretary of State says it would only have created 28 long-term jobs, and there's a commitment in the 2015 manifesto that says:

'This project will create thousands of jobs and attract millions of pounds worth of investment into Wales.'

[Interruption.]—I'll leave that to one side. Three years apart—which is the lie? Which is the lie—the tweet yesterday from the Secretary of State or the commitment in a manifesto signed up to by not just one individual, but the whole of the Conservative Party?

Charles Hendry has picked up on this and made a very important point in his own response to this decision. He said:

'just as gas plants and wind farms only create a small number of long-term jobs. The issue here was can we start a new global industry from the UK? Swansea would just be the start.'

Swansea would just be the start. What the Secretary for State has robbed us of is not one project, but the start of a whole new technology, the start of a new beginning for Swansea and for Wales, the start of a new export market, the start of a new manufacturing base, the start of new hope for Tata Steel, the start of new hope for skills and training in south Wales. That's what he's robbed us of, and that's why we should not give any indication to him that we have any confidence in his decision making going forward.

The lagoon has huge public support—76 per cent of the British public support wave and tidal energy, compared, as it happens, to only 38 per cent who support nuclear energy. Yet nuclear doesn't only just get the subsidy contract for difference—the lagoon was asking for the same as Hinkley, of course—but it also gets co-investment from the UK Government, something that the Welsh Government, to be fair, had offered the lagoon, and was rejected by the UK Government. And, of course, tidal lagoons do have a very different and longer operational life and cost less in the long term, as Hendry concluded in his independent report. Put in this context, the cost of a pathfinder project, such as Swansea bay, financed thought the contract for difference approach, which is 30p a year on every bill, is expected to average 30p per household, as I just said. This seems to me to be an extremely modest amount to pay for a new technology that delivers those benefits and which has a clear potential to start a significant new industry. Moving ahead with a pathfinder lagoon is, I believe, a 'no regrets' policy.

If we just accept this decision from Westminster, and from the Secretary for State in particular, if we don't make the Secretary for State regret his decision, then this 'no regrets' policy will become disastrous decision making. We must assert our rights here to send a clear message to Westminster. They sent us a very clear message on Tuesday. They said, 'Go away, forget about investment, forget about your future, forget about this new start. Go away and be quiet.' We must not be quiet in the face of such strong messages from Westminster and we must send back an equally strong message to the Secretary for State, because sometimes you do have to make politics personal, and sometimes you have to realise that those who are trying to be a bridge to realise Welsh ambitions have actually slammed the door on those Welsh ambitions. Only by stating that we have no confidence in him can we reject his mission of supplication and crumbs from the UK table and assert our democratic right to our own resources and our own decisions. 

15:15

Thank you. I have selected the two amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to move formally amendment 1.

Amendment 1—Julie James

Delete all after National Assembly for Wales and replace with:

1. Regrets the UK Government’s failure to invest in major infrastructure projects in Wales, including the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea.

2. Regrets the Secretary of State for Wales’ failure to stand up for Wales and to support the need for greater UK Government investment in major infrastructure projects in Wales.

3. Believes:

a) there must be deeper and more sustained co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved governments;

b) the UK’s inter-governmental machinery must be reformed with a new UK council of Ministers, served by an independent secretariat, to strengthen decision making and collaboration.

Amendment 1 moved.

Diolch. I call on Paul Davies to move amendment 2 tabled in his name. Paul Davies.

Amendment 2—Paul Davies

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Notes the significant achievements of the Secretary of State for Wales including:

a) the agreement with the Welsh Government of a historic fiscal framework;

b) the abolition of the Severn bridge tolls;

c) significant investment in city and regional growth deals across Wales; and

d) the recent announcement of advanced negotiations to develop and construct a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd.

2. Notes the inability of the Welsh Government to deliver progress on major infrastructure projects across Wales, following its rejection of the Circuit of Wales and its continued failure to deliver improvements to the M4, A40 and A55.

3. Believes the post and office of the Secretary of State for Wales is vital in representing Wales's interests at a UK Government level.

Amendment 2 moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I move the amendment tabled in my name.

I'm disappointed that this motion has been tabled today by Plaid Cymru, and I'm sad that they are playing party politics with this particular issue. It won't surprise Members that I'll be focusing my contribution on some of the positive contributions that the Secretary of State for Wales has made for Wales. Of course, that's not to say that Members on this side of the Chamber aren't extremely disappointed with the recent announcement about the tidal lagoon, and my colleagues have made it crystal clear that we share the disappointment and the frustration echoed by other Members in this Chamber. Indeed, as a Member who represents an area where tidal energy developments are making significant progress, I recognise the potential value of the tidal lagoon. However, I appreciate that Government Ministers have a duty to ensure that the figures stack up and deliver value for money for the taxpayer, and it's clear that they felt unable to do that with this project. It's my view that we now need to look at a revised model that makes the project more cost-effective and more attractive to private sector investment. 

However, today's debate isn't tabled to discuss that or the implications of the tidal lagoon for Wales, but rather to discuss the post of the Secretary of State for Wales. Therefore, it's only appropriate that we take the opportunity to be a little bit more objective, and at the very least recognise some of the positive outcomes delivered by the current Secretary of State. [Interruption.] I will in a moment. For example—and I will give you some examples—we know that the Secretary of State played a key role in delivering the fiscal framework with the Welsh Government, a framework that has been universally welcomed in this Chamber. The fiscal framework provides a fair, long-term funding arrangement for Wales, taking account of the new tax powers that have been devolved this year, and very much paves the way for the devolution of Welsh rates of income tax in 2019. 

The Secretary of State has also made it clear that Wales will see an end to tolls on the Severn crossing at the end of the year, and that's also a very welcome development. This announcement will benefit tens of millions of drivers each year, reduce the cost of doing business between Wales and England, and deliver a £100 million boost to the Welsh economy. The removal of that financial barrier sends a clear statement that Wales is open for business and is a symbolic statement that the UK Government and the current Secretary of State are breaking down barriers and supporting the Welsh economy, not putting up barriers. I give way to the Member for Anglesey.

15:20

Thank you for giving way. You talk about what the post of Secretary of State for Wales is. It's quite clear, is it not, that Alun Cairns is Westminster's man in Wales, not Wales's man in Westminster? It is absolutely clear, is it not, that Alun Cairns is reinventing the role of Welsh Secretary as governor-general for Wales? I oppose that in principle, I oppose that as a Welshman, and when it's clear that that governor-general is working against Wales's interest, isn't it incumbent on all of us to vote no confidence in him?

It's absolute rubbish. I've just given you a list of what this Secretary of State for Wales has actually delivered for Wales.

Our amendment also highlights the key work being done on the city and regional growth deals across Wales and the substantial investment that's been received in different parts of Wales. Growth deals for the Cardiff and Swansea regions have been agreed, with plans being drawn up in north Wales—all supported by significant financial backing from the UK Government. The deals provide local people with the opportunities to tackle the challenges to economic growth in the area through developing new, high-value businesses and supporting existing businesses to innovate and develop new products and services, and the Assembly should support those deals and work with local authorities to maximise their potential. For example, I understand that the Swansea bay city region deal will deliver a permanent uplift in its GVA and will generate around 10,000 new jobs over the next 15 years.

The Secretary of State has also worked hard in relation to the development and construction of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd, which will create thousands of jobs in north Wales during construction and deliver the biggest investment in north Wales for a generation. Indeed, Horizon anticipate it will create up to 9,000 jobs at the peak of construction, and with two reactors on site, the plant will also support close to 1,000 jobs during operation. Therefore, it's crucial to recognise that, far from the very bleak picture painted by some in this Chamber, there has been some very good outcomes for Wales delivered by the current Secretary of State for Wales. 

Of course, on this side of the Chamber, we believe that the post and office of the Secretary of State for Wales is vital in representing Wales's interests at a UK Government level. Indeed, as the UK moves closer to leaving the European Union, it's even more important that Wales's voice is heard around the Cabinet table and that the interests of the people of Wales are represented at all Cabinet meetings. 

Therefore, in closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, there are some very welcome outcomes that have been secured by the current Secretary of State for Wales and it's important that Members are objective when considering policy announcements. Therefore, I encourage the Members to support our amendments, see past party politics, and have a real debate about the delivery of infrastructure projects across Wales.

I'm pleased to take part in this important debate. Yesterday, I mentioned in the statement on the tidal lagoon the unbridled fury and anger in Swansea, and a day later that unbridled fury remains unbridled, I have to say, and that's the reason for this debate this afternoon.

Cohorts of engineering graduates in Swansea, dozens of local businesses and small contractors have been hanging on for years for a positive decision on quality high-paid jobs, thousands of them, as in the Conservative manifesto. There were high hopes for this one big innovative enterprise, and there is no way we can belittle the sense of devastation that Swansea and the community I live in feel this week—absolute betrayal and devastation. They are expecting a forceful reply from the National Assembly for Wales. Granted, our hands are largely tied constitutionally. This is the extent of our forceful reply to what has been a terrible, devastating piece of news. Hundreds of people have been in contact with all of us, not just me. There is fury out there—fury, absolute fury—and it's not in any way politically game playing anything at all.

Somebody has to be held to account for this. The Secretary of State for Wales is meant to be fighting our corner. There is precious little evidence of that fight over the months, I'm afraid—precious little. We know the figures. The same strike prices at Hinkley Point. Yes, there would be 30p in addition to electricity bills as a result of the tidal lagoon coming on—30p as opposed to £15 additional due to nuclear industry. But more than that, it's the absolute laying waste of an innovative world-beating industry that would be in Wales—in Swansea to start off with, the pathfinder project, but also Cardiff, Newport, Colwyn Bay. That's the sense of devastation we feel at this devastating decision. [Interruption.] It is betrayal and it is huge, and it has gone, absolutely. That's why we're having this debate. Somebody has to be held responsible, and I have no confidence, we have no confidence in the Secretary of State for Wales. Darren—you can't hear, obviously.  

15:25

You mentioned flood protection and, quite rightly, some Members have been pointing out that I've been supporting projects in north Wales because of the flood protection benefits. The UK Government was quite clear that the dismissal of this particular proposal was a dismissal of this particular proposal. It was not, actually, an anti-tidal energy—full stop, no more tidal energy here in Wales—decision. And in fact, if you spoke to the developers of the potential projects in north Wales, which I have, they will tell you that their project is designed with different technology that can reduce the strike price significantly to make it much more affordable. So, I think that there are clearly different technologies out there and different schemes, which should, quite rightly, be weighed up on their own merits.   

Thank you for that—possibly one of the longest interventions on record. And if UK Government had spoken to the tidal lagoon company in Swansea, they would have found a similar argument, but there was no communication for two years, the chief executive and the chair tell me. So, what are they supposed to do? [Interruption.] Well, absolutely. You cannot defend it. That's why I'm asking you to vote for no confidence in the Secretary of State for Wales.

And obviously, this betrayal is on top of other betrayals. I'm running out of time now, but I'll just concentrate on the non-electrification of the main railroad to, again, Swansea. There's a common denominator here—Swansea. What have we done? What have we done? So, yes, absolutely—two major manifesto promises not happening. We have absolutely no confidence at all in the current Secretary of State. 

Just to finish on the second point of our no confidence motion, we have no confidence in the post of Secretary of State of Wales either. We are in a new climate now post Brexit. We should be for Governments working equally together with a properly constituted UK council of Ministers, with shared and equal decision-making powers. That's the way forward. We don't need some handbag carrier between Cardiff and London any more. It's a colonial vestige—support the motion.

15:30

I have to say I'm very disappointed by one thing in particular, in that I think it was possible to have had a motion today that the whole Assembly could have agreed on, because we are genuinely disappointed by the outcome on the tidal lagoon and I do hope it will be possible for us to revisit things as soon as possible into the medium term. It is incumbent on those who have proposed the scheme to return and look at the figures, because a lot of the detail will now, inevitably, come out, and will be worthy of very intense examination, and that's what we will do on this side of the Assembly.

Can I just speak first of all of the clear overreach that was heavily hinted at, in fairness, in Simon's speech to propose the motion? But we do need to reflect on having respect for the spheres of Government—that's at the heart of a devolved or federal system. What would Plaid Cymru do if Westminster sought to pass a vote of no confidence in the First Minister? I have to say directly—and you'll not be surprised—that I feel this is silly politics. After all, Plaid are ably represented at Westminster—I'll finish this point—and they should have confidence in their colleagues in Westminster to pursue these matters there, where the Secretary of State is, of course, accountable. Now I'll give way.

I'm sure my colleagues are more than capable of doing that in Westminster, but does he not realise that his own Prime Minister consistently uses the Welsh NHS to attack Jeremy Corbyn?

Well, you know, that's the cut and thrust of politics—

You've made the point for us. You've made the point for us.

Well, let me finish my point, thank you, Leanne. Politics needs comparisons. At the heart of devolved Government is the theory that you look at different jurisdictions, and you learn from them. That is definitely legitimate. But what you don't do in the Westminster model—indeed, in any democratic system of government—is get one legislature to vote 'no confidence' in a Minister who's not answerable to that legislature. It's constitutional nonsense, as you well know.

Let me move on. Another reason I'm very disappointed in this motion is that Alun Cairns has the unique insight that comes from being a former and long-serving Assembly Member. We greatly value that on this side of the Assembly, and I suspect, behind the scenes, that the Welsh Government do as well, and that's something to be greatly valued. He does have a very proud record of achievement in office, and he's a tireless champion for Wales, as has been outlined. I could go through all the achievements, but they were ably listed by my colleague.

Mick Antoniw rose—

I'm just going to make this one point.

Could I just add this, in a spirit of consensus? The way the UK Government and the Welsh Government co-operate in economic matters, I think, is worthy. And, since 2010, we've seen small and medium-sized enterprises grow by over 18,000 in Wales, and I don't think you can say that's UK Government exclusively, or Welsh Government—it is a partnership. Since 2010, we've seen 117,000 more people in work in Wales and 57,000 fewer unemployed. Again, these are joint achievements, and they are worthy ones. I will give way now, Mick.

Isn't part of the problem that you made very specific promises in your manifesto, they were put out publicly with the specific view of getting people to vote for you, and to win certain constituencies, and so on? Now, I have no problem with that, because that's part of politics. But, doesn't it actually destroy the whole purpose of a manifesto, the credibility of our political system? I mean, what is it—is it the case that when you put those specific promises to the people, in your manifesto, were they just ill-thought-out, were they just opportunist, or was it the case that you just never had any intention whatsoever of delivering on them?

You're quite right that any Government is accountable to the electorate on its platform in a manifesto. I don't think there is any Government that achieves everything it sets out to do, and obviously if you fall below a certain line you can expect a withering response from the electorate. But we are proud of what we are achieving, and we will defend it, and I'm sure the people of Wales, and the UK, will give us fair judgment and see the full range of our successes.

Can I just talk about the post of Secretary of State for Wales, because currently we're having a review of inter-governmental relations? I congratulate the Welsh Government for ensuring that, as part of the arrangements as we exit the EU, we review how we develop shared governance in the UK. It's an essential task—I've said this repeatedly—but we certainly need the Secretary of State's position, at least until more formal shared mechanisms of governance are established and seen to operate. It would be foolish to end the office of Secretary of State until that new constitutional outlook has been achieved.

And I say this directly to Plaid: you would be better advised to get your SNP cousins to back the development of more federal mechanisms to shape inter-governmental relations in the UK, because the truth is, at the moment, the SNP are more keen to rely on bilateral discussions, because they either win them or they condemn the UK Government outright if they don't get their way, even if they don't compromise at all, and they're not interested in the fundamental task that we are interested in, which is to strengthen the UK constitution. I do hope the Labour Members reflect on that point mostly.

15:35

As I expressed yesterday, I'm truly devastated by the short-sighted decision of Theresa May's Government to abandon the tidal lagoon. There is total devastation also in my region among the people who are certainly voicing their opinions, and rightly so, too. Yet again, the Westminster Government have shown their utter contempt for my region, reneging on the promise to deliver electrification to Swansea and now scuppering Swansea's chance to lead the world in innovative renewable energy.

But, I accept, the Secretary of State is a lone voice: one Minister out of 118; one voice out of 21 around the Cabinet table. So, I lay the blame for this terrible decision firmly at the door of Theresa May and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark. The Secretary of State for Wales is a messenger, after all, and in this instance cannot take all the blame for this decision. However, I really feel that Alun Cairns needs to be much stronger in standing up for Wales, standing up for my region.

Following this debate, I want the Secretary of State to be less of a yes-man and do the right thing for my region, for Wales and for the people. So, while I have much sympathy with the Welsh Conservatives' amendment, I do feel that Wales has been let down by the UK Government and we need to ensure greater collaboration between the UK and Welsh Government. The current arrangements don't seem to be working and I will, therefore, be supporting the Welsh Government's amendment. 

So, the tidal lagoon decision was the latest in a long line of poor decisions by the UK Government. Wales needs both Governments working together if it is to prosper. Thank you. 

Railways not electrified, bridges renamed in the name of the colonial prince, the tidal lagoon scrapped: that is what is being delivered by the Secretary of State for Wales. He is Westminster's voice in Wales and not Wales's voice in Westminster. Manifesto promise after manifesto promise has been broken. Announcement after announcement has been reneged upon. And, of course, yes, votes were won on the back of those promises. 

Five billion pounds-worth of taxpayers' money for nuclear, but a fifth of that can't be found for the tidal lagoon; £3.5 billion to fix up the Palace of Westminster, but a third of that can't be found to build the tidal lagoon; a £1 billion bung to the DUP, but the Swansea bay tidal lagoon is too expensive. Monday encapsulated Westminster's disdain for Wales perfectly. On the very day that they approved a £14 billion runway in London, they scrapped the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. It's almost as if they are trying to rub their failure to invest in Wales in our faces. 

Yesterday, the First Minister, laughably, accused us of letting the Tories, and Wales's representative in the Westminster Government, off the hook. Labour will, today, effectively show their support for the Secretary of State for Wales by abstaining on or possibly voting against our motion. I accept that this is a symbolic motion, but how else are we meant to show our strength of feeling? What levers do we have open to us? He refuses, as has already been pointed out, to give evidence to a committee. How on earth can we hold him to account?

What we need now is actions, not abstentions. We need purpose not press releases, and votes not vitriol. When it comes to the crunch today, Labour, once again, show that they are willing to stand up for Westminster to defend these indefensible actions, instead of standing up for Wales. Because of the jobs and the opportunities that could have come with this tidal lagoon, we have to make our case. Plaid Cymru is of the view that the Secretary of State has to go, and so must the very concept of the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. Westminster can never, and will never, work for Wales—this is what this shows us. So, today, we have a chance to send an unequivocal message: we will not accept our country being treated with such contempt.

15:40

I'm disappointed to be here today to speak on this motion of no confidence in the Secretary of State for Wales. He should be Wales's voice in Westminster, but it's clear that he's not that at all. His record is one of absolute, utter failure. With Alun Cairns as Secretary of State, we've seen rail electrification cancelled. In how many countries in the world is it impossible to take an electric train between the two biggest cities? Is there anywhere else in Europe? It's an absolutely shocking state of affairs.

Now we have the Swansea tidal lagoon cancelled. Here was a chance for Wales to be world leaders in renewable energy. The kind of re-industrialisation that Wales desperately needs in the twenty-first century, but Alun Cairns didn't see it that way. He has allowed this Government to scrap that project under his watch. If he had any courage—political courage—then he would have resigned over it, or perhaps he clearly just doesn't care.

If we think of the Severn Bridge, the Secretary of State continues to claim that there is a silent majority who want to see the bridge renamed, when all the polling evidence from the leading companies in the UK shows that a tiny, tiny percentage of people support a name change.

The real question here for me is why Labour is voting against this motion, and just 10 or so Labour AMs are here to debate this motion. They clearly have confidence still in the Secretary of State for Wales. It doesn't surprise me, because I've known for a long time that the Conservatives and Labour are two sides of the same coin—red and blue Tories, working together to keep Wales down.

The people of Wales have lost confidence in the Conservatives with so many projects not delivered and promises broken. But we can have nuclear reactors, nuclear mud and superprisons dumped on us. And this is the Wales that we live in today. The simple truth is that Labour are just as bad as the Conservatives. They wouldn't even admit that they supported the change in the name of the bridge. It took a freedom of information request to discover that. I wonder if, on Monday, we'll see the First Minister bending his knee to the monarchy just like the Conservative Prime Minister before him.

Wales needs to stand on its own two feet and Labour is stopping us doing that. The Conservatives are stopping us doing that. So, it's time for the Welsh people to stand up, because clearly we'll get nothing while we keep being overlooked time and time again, as part of this very unequal, so-called United Kingdom.

15:45

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm very glad that we're having this debate today, and I'm afraid I don't share the constitutional objections that David Melding voiced earlier on. I think that this Assembly is entitled to express a view upon the competence of United Kingdom Ministers where their responsibilities touch directly upon Wales and the interests of its people. That seems to me entirely proper and I'm glad we're having this debate today, although I shall not be supporting the Plaid Cymru motion because, unfortunately, the second part of it is something that I don't agree with.

But I do think that we are certainly entitled, in relation to this iconic issue of the tidal lagoon and, indeed, rail electrification, to take a view upon the competence of the Secretary of State. It is a pretty moth-eaten and threadbare defence of the current Secretary of State that we shouldn't be debating this issue because it smacks of party politics. Well, if we in this institution are not representatives of party politics, what on earth are we here for? But that's not to say that we're making points in this debate purely for specious party political reasons. There is obviously very real anger on this side of the Chamber about the decision on the tidal lagoon, and I feel very sorry for Conservative colleagues, who clearly share that feeling but can't express it in quite the same way. Because the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Cabinet have made the tide go out upon Conservative fortunes in this respect, and left them right up the creek.

To say that Alun Cairns has great achievements to his name in the form of the fiscal framework really is to scrape the bottom of the barrel. If you go across to the Eli Jenkins tonight and, over a pint, ask the denizens at the bar what will Alun Cairns be remembered for, is it the Welsh fiscal framework or the man who torpedoed the tidal lagoon—if you can torpedo a lagoon—then I think the answer is pretty obvious and requires no explanation.

Now—

Thank you very much, Neil. I haven't got enough time to say what he has done. He is a son of Wales and, if it wasn't for him, I can assure you that Tata Steel wouldn't be there in Port Talbot. So, don't forget. You have a very short memory—[Interruption.] You have a very short memory here, and his service to this country will be remembered and he will be there to help this country. And don't forget that this tidal lagoon is not dead yet.

Well, I have great respect for minority opinion, because I'm in a very small minority myself in this house, but I think those who hold that opinion will be in an even smaller minority than the one in which I normally find myself.

But whilst I support the office of Secretary of State for Wales, I don't think I can support the current occupant of it. Of course we must continue to have a Secretary of State for Wales, because Wales is part of the United Kingdom and there are many matters of great importance that are not devolved, and he is Wales's voice in the Cabinet. But the question is: how effective is that voice? That is the key question here, and I think the examples that have been cited in this debate already show that that voice is not, in fact, effective at all.

Now, everybody knows that I am a sceptic on matters of green energy in many respects, but, if we are going to have green energy projects, it seems to me that tidal energy and wave energy offer much better long-term value for money than projects like windfarms, because at least tidal energy is predictable and it isn't subject to the intermittency of solar or wind. And, for the reasons that have been cited about the development of a global new technology that might have further important spin-offs for Wales, there are other reasons why this project should have been supported.

Now, it was indeed coincidental, wasn't it, that this decision was announced on the same day as the investment in Heathrow, for which we've been waiting it seems almost since the dawn of time to be made—that these two announcements should be made together. Because that was, I suppose, a good day to bury bad news for Wales, except that I'm afraid the roar of the jets taking off from Heathrow will not be sufficient to drown the howls of anger that come from Wales at being forgotten, once again, in the Government's priority.

So, I'm afraid to say that the Government has failed Wales in this respect and in many other respects as well. And I'm sorry, because Alun Cairns is a likeable chap, but I'm afraid politics, effective politics, is about more than being likeable. You've got to be able to achieve results. I was a schoolboy when the first Secretary of State for Wales was appointed in the form of Jim Griffiths. He was my Member of Parliament, and, I must say, in the 50-odd years since we've seen some duds holding that office, but I think Alun Cairns will be way down the list on the basis of the historical experience. And, if we look for historical parallels, perhaps the most devastating parliamentary insult ever uttered against a Government Minister was that by Disraeli about Lord John Russell, who said that if a traveller from afar were to be told that such a man were Leader of the House of Commons, he might well begin to understand how the Egyptians worshipped an insect.

15:50

Thank you. Can I now call the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford?

Member
Mark Drakeford AM 15:50:50
Cabinet Secretary for Finance