Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd04/07/2018
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and the first question is from Lynne Neagle.
1. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact of Brexit on the automotive industry? OAQ52464
Can I thank the Member for her keen interest in this particular subject, and assure her that we're in regular dialogue with both the Welsh Automotive Forum and the national sector bodies on the potential impact of Brexit? Based upon these discussions, and based on daily interaction with Welsh automotive companies, my officials continue to assess the potential scenarios.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I'm very proud that I've got hundreds of constituents employed in highly skilled, well-paid and unionised jobs in manufacturing in the automotive sector in Torfaen. I'm sure that, like me, you'll have seen numerous warnings from experts that Brexit, especially Brexit where we leave the customs union and single market, poses a very severe threat to automotive manufacturing in particular. Can I ask you—you mentioned assessments—to provide some detail on the assessments that you've made of a likely risk to the automotive sector, and what steps your Government is taking urgently to try and mitigate those risks, given what we know about just how competitive automotive manufacturing is and how dependent it is on just-in-time manufacturing principles? Thank you.
Can I thank Lynne Neagle again for making an important point about just-in-time delivering? This is something that the outgoing Confederation of British Industry director recently talked of in the context of Brexit. And the Member is absolutely right—there are hundreds of her constituents employed in the automotive sector in Torfaen, and there are 19,000 people across Wales employed in this crucial sector, and crucial because it contributes over £3.5 billion worth of revenue to the economy. Across the UK, there are more than 800,000 people employed in the automotive industry. Very recently, the likes of BMW and other major employers have been talking about their concerns over Brexit. Now, we've been working with Cardiff Business School, as well as with the Welsh automotive forum, and with sector bodies across the UK, to assess the likely impact of Brexit scenarios on the automotive industry. There are some factors that we could mitigate, but many are out of our control, and that's why it gives us very grave concern that the UK Government, and the Cabinet particularly, have not reached an agreed position on a customs union.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll remember our exchanges in this Chamber over the concerns of the 1,000 or so jobs that could be lost if new opportunities aren't found for the Ford factory in Bridgend, in my region. And in our cross-party meeting with the Ford staff, at that time, Brexit wasn't their main concern, although I suspect it may be more of a concern now; it was, rather, their relationship with the American market. And of course, with President Trump's announcement on tariffs, you can see why this is now an immediate worry. As Welsh Government has invested heavily in offices around the world now, I wonder whether you can explain what those offices have been able to do in the meantime in order to expand opportunities for Ford across the globe. Thank you.
Well, we're in active discussions with other employers concerning utilising the Ford site in Bridgend and in terms of growing the automotive sector in Wales. Of course, Brexit, and the uncertainties concerning Brexit, are an inhibiting factor in terms of being able to attract investment. However, through our new offices not just in north America, but across Europe, we are discussing with major automotive companies the potential to see investment come to Wales. There is also, of course, the other challenge that we've discussed at that group, which concerns the need to transition to a decarbonised economy, and in particular ensure that as many UK-based automotive manufacturers move towards hybrid and electric power trends, and ensure that they see the challenge of producing diesel-only engines in terms of the likely impact that the targets that the UK Government has set out will have on their employers. So, there are three main challenges that we need to overcome: one, the known and as yet unknown consequences of Brexit; two, the American market of course, and developing the supply chain within the UK to take advantage of any possible opportunities presented by Brexit; and then three, ensuring that manufacturers embrace the decarbonisation agenda and the move towards ultra-low emissions vehicles.
I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that no sensible person wants to see tariffs on imports and exports of cars between Britain and the EU. In the unhappy event that the European Commission continues to block proposals for a free trade deal, it would be the EU that would come off worst because they export £3.9 billion-worth of cars to us; we export only £1.3 billion to them, and half the cars that are exported to Britain from the EU are from Germany alone. Has he seen that Rupert Stadler, the chairman of Audi, has said that there will be no winners if a trade deal wasn't struck between the EU and the UK, and it would cost jobs in Germany as well as Britain, and that Lutz Meschke from Porsche cars says failure to strike a deal would put German jobs at risk? And, of course, as a result of the Trump tariff plans, there would be massive problems created for the European car manufacturers, and that's because the EU imposes a 10 per cent tariff on cars imported from the US, whereas the US imposes only a 2.5 per cent tariff at the moment. So, it's the EU's protectionism and their own negotiating intransigence that produces these potential problems.
Look, nobody wins in the scenario that we have no agreed deal, based on the negotiations that have taken place. I think one area in which the Member is absolutely right in his assessment is in saying that this shouldn't just be a debate about who is going to be the worst loser and ensuring that the UK is not the worst loser. In order to ensure that we all benefit to the maximum, and that we all lose the least, we have to have a very pragmatic approach to negotiations, and that pragmatic approach means that the Prime Minister has to drop those red lines that she's embraced over many months and adopt a position that serves the purpose of sustaining employment. And that means continued participation in a customs union and free and unfettered access to the single market. We've been consistent now for some time in our position, and I would hope that, eventually, the UK Government and its Cabinet will adopt that position too.
2. How will investment in rail and metro services benefit the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency? OAQ5245
Local people will be better connected and will be able to take advantage of job, health and leisure opportunities. The metro will deliver four trains per hour to each of the Heads of the Valleys communities north of Cardiff Queen Street, from 2022 for Merthyr, and from 2023 for Rhymney.
Thank you for that information, which sets out the clear benefits as we deliver the 2016 manifesto commitment in this regard. In the recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, entitled 'Effective housing for people on low incomes in the Welsh Valleys', there was a recommendation—it was recommendation 3 in fact—to improve access to employment. And the report states that employment-related initiatives can only be effective if they lead to decent, sustainable employment, and, in certain parts of Valleys, which I believe must include places like the upper Rhymney valley, that will require significant economic renewal. Now, given that there are only limited opportunities to directly intervene for the economic well-being of these communities, it seems to me that when the Welsh Government holds the levers of economic power, as with investment in the rail franchise and metro, we must make sure that our more isolated communities, like the upper Rhymney valley, are the direct beneficiaries of these projects. Can I therefore ask you, Cabinet Secretary, what you will do to ensure that this happens?
Well, I'd agree entirely with the Member that transport has a crucial role to play in regeneration and growing the economy not just in established centres of wealth, but also in more deprived areas. And Rhymney will see investment in a new bay platform, will see investment in track stabling and charging points and enhanced light maintenance. And this will support the more and bigger trains that will be coming down the line, and it's also in addition to the four services an hour from 2023. But I'm pleased to be able to tell the Member that light maintenance of the rolling stock will be undertaken at the Rhymney stabling facilities, providing, as she rightly identifies, the opportunity for employment in the future.
Residents in the upper Valleys have often told me that one of the greatest barriers to travelling to Cardiff to seek work is not the frequency of service or necessarily the speed, but the cost. So, from that perspective, can I really welcome the agreement between Welsh Government and the new franchise holder to reduce the fares from the upper Valleys, and can I ask the Cabinet Secretary will that apply in reverse for people travelling from Cardiff up to Merthyr for work or otherwise, and will it also apply to people coming from the upper Valleys to Newport?
Yes, the aim with flatlining is to make sure that those who are accessing opportunities or coming from those communities at the Heads of the Valleys pay less, making sure that we bring a degree of equality of opportunity in terms of access and job opportunities. It's worth saying that one of the major barriers facing people who are not in work is the cost and availability of transport, and I identified one particular statistic that is of great concern to me and that is that 20 per cent of young people in the north-east of Wales are unable to get to their job interviews because they can't afford or access public transport. That is not acceptable in the twenty-first century, and I think the concessionary schemes and the flatlining agreement that we've reached with the operator and development partner are crucial in ensuring that everybody has access to employment opportunities.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you very much. Before I start, I will explain that these are questions to you, not the Minister for heritage or the Minister for the Welsh language.
I'd like to start by congratulating all of those businesses that have a healthy and constructive attitude towards the Welsh language, not only because they support the language and our culture but because they see a value in using the language in their businesses. But, of course, there are exceptions. So, given the insulting comments made by one company, which I won't name, about the language over the last few days, do you believe that we can always rely on goodwill among private companies to respect and use the Welsh language?
I don't think we can necessarily rely on goodwill alone; I think what it requires is goodwill, a degree of co-operation with Welsh Government, but also a recognition that if you are to be successful in business, particularly in the retail sector—and the company that the Member has not named is part of the retail sector—you need to engage with the community upon which you, basically, survive. If you're alienating a significant proportion of that community, you should not expect their custom. And so, it makes not just good business sense to adopt and embrace the Welsh language, but I think it also makes good commercial sense, because you can add value to your product and your services by using something that is unique, and the language is absolutely unique to Wales.
That's entirely right. Also, in highlighting those businesses that are already working positively, it strikes me that those businesses themselves should be used to encourage other businesses to be more positive towards the language, particularly bearing in mind the major contribution that the private sector can make in terms of reaching the target of a million Welsh speakers. Why, therefore, might I ask, was there no appeal for businesses to extend their support and use of the Welsh language as one of the core calls to action of your economic strategy, particularly where companies have been in receipt of Government funds?
Of course, with the economic contract, that's designed to drive inclusive growth and then the calls to action is a new lens through which we'll be supporting businesses, intended to drive down the productivity gap between ourselves and many European countries. Within the economic contract, which is, I repeat, designed to drive inclusive growth, there is a certain point in the criteria to promote fair work, and fair work means that we have to ensure that people have access to good-quality jobs and that they're able to utilise their skills, and that includes, of course, being able to speak in the tongue that people choose to speak. I think the economic contract, in driving inclusive growth, won't just be of benefit in terms of reducing the gap in inequality in terms of wealth and well-being, but it will also be of assistance in making sure that we reduce the gap between those people who are working or living in Welsh-speaking communities, often in more rural and deprived areas, and those more successful economies in intensely urban areas.
I think you're right—there is reference in the economic strategy to using economic development to grow and develop the language, but there's no reference there to how the language itself can boost economic growth. I chaired a recent meeting of Wales International, the cross-party group, and we looked at a report from the British Council on soft power and how to make the most of our soft power. It made a number of recommendations, and interesting ones. One thing that really strengthened Scotland's soft power abroad was the fact that it had had a referendum on independence recently—and I trust we'll have one in Wales before too long as well—but it was about boosting that nation's identity. And another thing that it said as a recommendation was that we should highlight those things that make us stand out from the rest of the UK, and there's an obvious one, which is the Welsh language. Isn't there, therefore, much more that Government can do to use the language and the fact that it makes us stand out and be different as a tool for growing our economy in Wales?
I'd agree entirely, and I think the example of the Euros is perfect in demonstrating how the attention of an entire continent—actually, the entire world—can focus on a small country and focus in on what its unique attributes are. In the case of the Euros, the Welsh language was being spoken very far and wide, and giving us that added value. But I'm delighted to be able to say that we will be looking at a specific project in Wales that will examine the potential of the Welsh language in driving economic development. That will be the Arfor project, which has been proposed by Adam Price, and which will be taken forward by this Government.
Conservatives' spokesperson, Suzy Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Weinidog, thank you for visiting Neath abbey and the ironworks very recently with Jeremy Miles and me. I have to say the friends were delighted that you took the trouble to come and see them, so that they could show you the hard work that they've been doing, promoting and looking after that site, even though they don't own it. Obviously, it's owned by the local authority.
Tourism is one of the strands of the Valleys taskforce work, and I know that you agree with me and the friends that these sites, along with other culturally-significant sites in the Neath and Dulais valleys, have huge tourism potential. So, how can the Welsh Government help us to capitalise on the growth in wealth coming from the city deal, and promote Neath tourism as a coherent offer? And have you considered further a Resilience-style programme to help support community groups, like the friends of the ironworks, to manage and even assume full responsibility for some of our important cultural sites?
I really enjoyed my visit to the abbey and to the ironworks—
Yes, Mynachlog Nedd in Welsh. I had better respond to Suzy in Welsh.
I very much enjoyed my visit. It was wonderful to see the quality of the work already done on the abbey, in bringing the building back to a safe state—not all of it, but parts of it, certainly. Of course, we didn't see the most excellent works because they haven't yet been completed, but I am sure that it is being done to the highest possible standard.
The way that Cadw works is that we collaborate as an organisation. It continues to be part of the Welsh Government, but it is independently managed within Government. Before too very long, there will be a further advertisement to appoint a chair and board for Cadw, and then I hope that that board will be able to continue with the work of collaborating with communities who have already demonstrated their care for their own heritage. There's been a very good example recently, where we took possession of a castle in Caergwrle and Hope from the community council, and negotiations are ongoing for the volunteers who looked after the area surrounding the castle to continue to do that whilst the professionals working for Cadw, as contractors, can look after the monuments.
So, we very much appreciate the support that we receive from volunteers. I will ensure, in any plans developed for cleaning and adapting, particularly the ironworks, which have such great historical significance in terms of building steamboats and so on in Wales, that that work will continue, and that the volunteers will continue to co-operate.
Well, thank you very much for that. Actually, I'm really pleased with the answer because, when we have so many individuals in our communities who really want to buy into the places in which they live, and help keep them strong and sustainable, we shouldn't overlook the opportunities for doing that.
Last weekend was, of course, Armed Forces Day, and I know that many of us here will have been paying our respects to serving and former armed forces personnel in our own ways. The Welsh Conservatives pledged to create a multi-site national military museum for Wales, building on, and including, existing museums. This would be an opportunity not just to show our veterans and serving personnel how much they mean to us, and to celebrate their achievements, but to examine wider questions about conflict and the changing nature of warfare, and the work of the forces in peacekeeping and non-military work as well. Last year, the UK Government committed £2 million to support a museum of military medicine in Wales. A museum of football is on the table here in Wales. What's your view on a national military museum for Wales?
I've not considered this question because I am still awaiting a report on one further proposal, which is a contemporary art gallery, and I will consider that when I receive the report. There are, of course, a number of elements of our military traditions that are already commemorated. Various parts of the armed forces do have small museums of their own. There is a museum, as you will know, within Cardiff castle—the Firing Line. I used to be connected to that museum before I took this role, so I'm very happy to look at the possibilities, but that would have to be a partnership with the armed forces themselves, if we were to receive artefacts or historical evidence for any exhibitions of that kind or any museum of that kind. I haven't seen the proposal by the Welsh Conservatives, but I would welcome a meeting to discuss this if you so wish.
Thank you very much for that offer. I can recommend the manifesto of the Welsh Conservatives for a good read one night. [Interruption.] Oh, dear. Earlier this month, the Cabinet Secretary tweeted that he was,
'Delighted to announce that one of the latest UK productions to be commissioned by @NetflixUK is currently being filmed in Wales thanks to @WelshGovernment support.'
That is excellent news, I welcome that. However, with our ongoing inquiry into Welsh Government support for the media and the fact that the media investment budget is in suspension at the moment, can you confirm that we're talking financial support here? And if so, which fund or loan programme does that support come from?
We are currently looking at our investment programme. We are looking particularly at how we can merge the development of Creative Wales, which is a Government commitment—a commitment made by Welsh Labour. The discussions that I've had to date are that we would anticipate that, when we do establish Creative Wales as an organisation—and I will say more about this at committee, because I do intend to give evidence on this issue—then we will bring together the investment funds with the work of Creative Wales, so the current panels that decide on support for the media and film could become part of that organisation. I think that would be the rational way to move ahead, but no decision on that has been made as of yet.
UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd. Does the Cabinet Secretary think that the failure to reduce the number of local authorities in Wales will make it more difficult to implement your economic strategy, as outlined in your document 'Prosperity for All'?
Not necessarily, because the economic action plan places a particular focus on regional working and now that we have the chief regional officers in place and we have strong regional working through the development of growth and city deals, I'm confident that we'll be able to further strengthen regional economies with their own distinct identities in years to come.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but does he not think that the multilayered approach to economic delivery has the very real potential of becoming a bureaucratic nightmare, and that the plethora of local government exacerbates this potential?
I would say that we need to resolve certain pressing issues concerning local authority activities, including planning, for example. It's also essential that we have a simplified and more transparent process to support businesses—that's why Welsh Government is consolidating a number of funds into the economy futures fund. But, in the months to come, as we further implement the economic action plan, with a particular focus on the regional part of the plan, I'm keen to look at where we can consolidate as much as possible the activities that local government does in tandem and collaboration with Welsh Government, in order to further drive down the amount of bureaucracy and administration that many businesses complain of, and to make sure that we utilise our collective resources to best effect.
Again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, but if we look at the organisations now charged with delivering the strong regional-based economy—city deals, Valleys initiative, the remaining enterprise zones, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and, of course, local authorities—surely, there is considerable blurring of demarcation between all these bodies. Is the Cabinet Secretary confident that they will be able to operate in a co-operative and cost-effective manner and do you have the evidence that this co-operation is in fact being implemented?
I think in terms of the regional plans that are being put together, those plans will need to lead to a framework for regional working that drives out the sometimes burdensome complexities with too many organisations and bodies doing essentially what the other body is doing, but in a different way or with a different branding exercise. What businesses tell us they want is one point of contact for all support from Government or local government, and that in terms of economic development we focus on those factors that can drive up productivity, we focus on making sure we've got people equipped with the right skills to fill vacancies, and that we go on investing in the right infrastructure. These are all components of the economic action plan and I'm confident that in maintaining the course that we have now set economic development on in Wales, we will lead to greater levels of prosperity—not just wealth, but greater levels of well-being as well.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the application of the minimum wage in Wales? OAQ52459
The minimum wage is set by the UK Government and applies to all employers in Wales. We strongly support measures that increase household income and actively encourage businesses to consider paying the living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. It's perhaps timely to welcome the appointment of Linda Dickens as the chair of the Welsh Government's fair work commission, because when it comes to the issue of the minimum wage and workers' rights generally, we can see that the ball game is beginning to change at UK Government level, where the hard line Brexiteers are now beginning to talk about the opportunities of deregulation—that is, removing workers' rights, standards and terms and conditions. So, the steps being taken by Welsh Government at this stage, I think, are very welcome.
My colleague Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff Central, raised last year the fact that there had been no prosecutions in Wales in 2016 for minimum wage breaches. I've just seen the announcement in respect of the 10 prosecutions that have taken place subsequently. Cabinet Secretary, it seems very clear that there is no will within the UK Government and no resource or commitment to dealing with the impact of the gig economy and the lack of worker rights. All of us as Assembly Members will know of companies and issues that arise where there are breaches of health and safety, terms and conditions, and where the minimum wage is clearly not being paid or is being abused through complex payment systems.
Do you not agree with me that, firstly, the fair work commission in Wales, establishing that as the ethos of employment within Wales is something that is very much desired? Secondly, isn't it about time that the issue of the minimum wage or certainly its enforcement should be devolved to a Government that's prepared to stand up for it?
The Member makes many, many important points and I'd suggest that anybody who talks with great enthusiasm about the opportunities of deregulation should first just take a quick look at what's happened with bus services and then assess whether opportunities of deregulation are something that are always attractive and beneficial to the wider population.
Can I thank the Member for welcoming the appointment of the chair of the fair work commission and say that, whilst enforcement of the statutory living wage is pitifully under-resourced and the minimum wage is pitifully under-resourced in the UK, this is something that our fair work board has recognised? So, as we transition from a fair work board to the fair work commission, it's been decided that enforcement and how we can make sure this happens in Wales will be an early part of the commission's consideration. The commission should be reporting back with early recommendations in the spring of next year and I would hope, given that it is going to be a priority area of concern, that enforcement of this important process will be part of the report, with recommendations next spring.
Cabinet Secretary, you'll know the Low Pay Commission is visiting Anglesey today and tomorrow to get the views of people affected by the minimum wage. Do you agree with me it's essential that all people are involved, from businesses, workers and trade unions—indeed, anyone with an interest in this important public policy area—to ensure that they deliver evidence so that next year's minimum wage is set at an appropriate level?
I'd agree that participation is crucial. The vast majority of businesses are incredibly responsible businesses and it's just a small minority that can be ruthless and exploit workers. In terms of ensuring that we get the best rates that can be paid, of course there are many concerns that need to be factored into it. They can't be factored into the setting of the wage rate unless participation by employers takes place, and for that reason I would certainly agree with the Member that participation is required.
Michelle Brown. Michelle Brown?
Question 4, Hefin David.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on ancillary services for Transport for Wales? OAQ52460
Yes. Presently, Transport for Wales’s remit covers the implementation of the next rail service and the south Wales metro. TfW are establishing a plan to review the scope of services at key milestones throughout the contract. Where elements satisfy economic and deliverability tests, they will be delivered by Transport for Wales.
I listened with interest to the Cabinet Secretary's answer to Dawn Bowden with regard to the depot at Rhymney, and I have to say what he's offered is not enough. I think more can be done for that economically deserving area, with particular regard—. He's mentioned stabling and light maintenance. I'd like to ask him how many jobs will that create, and what further can be done in the Rhymney area.
First of all, I'd say that the provision of four trains per hour is hugely, hugely beneficial to the community, and I'd also say that, whilst I know you've been a champion of establishing a depot there, the Taffs Well option was more deliverable. The alternative would have cost in the order of an additional £144 million. But we're keen to ensure that the metro is used to redevelop communities, particularly where transport hubs and where stations are going to be upgraded, and it's worth remembering that all of the stations are going to be upgraded as a consequence of the agreement we've reached with KeolisAmey. It's a startling fact that, in the last 15 years, approximately £600,000 has been spent on stations, whereas, in the next 15 years, we'll see something in the order of £194 million spent on stations. We've also had agreement that many of those stations will be utilised to support business development and business growth, particularly those stations where there is existing space and office availability, but where it's not fully utilised.
I can't give exact details in terms of the number of jobs that will be created as a consequence of the light maintenance that will be taking place, but I can give the Member assurance that we will look at exploiting every opportunity of the incredible sums of money that we are spending in the Valley to ensure that the Rhymney area gets as many new jobs attracted to the community as possible.
Cabinet Secretary, Transport for Wales is at present seeking specialist civil contractors for the framework of rail works, which include ancillary works to stations, interchanges, car parks, roads and paths and other general construction work associated with rail enhancement. However, in 2014, your predecessor announced that Newport was to get £4 million for a new footbridge crossing the railway station, improvement to the new bus station and for bus stops in the city. I'm advised that this funding was never received and the work was not even undertaken. Could the Cabinet Secretary confirm this and advise the reason why these improvements did not proceed, in spite of being announced publicly in Wales? Thank you.
Thank you. Can I assure the Member that I'll look into this? It may require consultation with Network Rail. I'll need to look at the detail of the investment that was announced, and check against that what actually has been delivered. If there is a case of promises not being met, I'll then need to assess why it was that investment was not channelled into the station as the Member outlines.
5. What discussions has the Cabinet Secretary had with the Leader of the House regarding the economic impact of digital connectivity? OAQ52457
I regularly discuss the importance of digital connectivity throughout Wales with the leader of the house, and we share the same view of its enormous importance to economic growth and sustainability throughout the country.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that reply and I'm particularly pleased that you are working with the leader of the house on this issue and opportunity, in fact, because, in addition to the community and household benefits of broadband and full fibre and digital connectivity, there are clear economic benefits as well. Statistics clearly show that the country will receive £20 for every £1 investment in broadband, and this is a great return on infrastructure investment. Would the Cabinet Secretary agree with me that we need to do all we can to invest in digital full fibre connectivity, and support the idea of a gigabit hub in and around the Flintshire/Wrexham area like I've previously suggested to the leader of the house?
Well, I'm delighted that in the summer the next phase of Superfast Cymru will be announced by the leader of the house. The Member is absolutely right to identify the economic benefits of digital connectivity. Indeed, the strong performance of the digital sector has helped to create or safeguard around about 11,000 high-value jobs in the last eight years as a consequence of Welsh Government support, and the sector's performance in the last year is particularly startling, for almost 30 per cent of foreign direct investment projects recorded for Wales came through the digital sector. So, it's a major, major contributor to the wealth of the nation. With regard particularly to north Wales, well, I'm very pleased to say that the six local authorities across north Wales are collaborating to develop a strategy to enhance digital connectivity right across the region. I know that the leaders of the growth deal bid will be very keen to explore every opportunity to exploit the latest digital technology and infrastructure.
When you announced your digital innovation review, Cabinet Secretary, you said that you wanted to develop the potential of our regions so that they would support better jobs closer to home, and this is something that I would agree with you on. You've also been very supportive, like me, of a mid Wales growth deal. Now, in order to ensure that mid Wales is plugged into the wider midlands economy, improvements in high-speed broadband and mobile connectivity should be part of any mid Wales growth deal. I wonder: would you agree with me on that view?
Can I ask what steps are you taking in association with your colleague the leader of the house to ensure that the digital divide between mid Wales and other parts of Wales does not widen further, which is, sadly, the case at the moment?
Well, I'm confident that, with the next phase of Superfast Cymru, we'll see that gap narrowed. The intention of the second phase, the next phase of the project, is to ensure that those harder-to-reach properties are connected, therefore leading to a narrowing of that gap that the Member has identified.
And I would support the Member's call for the growth deal in mid Wales to dovetail with interventions and deals across the border. It's absolutely essential that a good degree of collaboration and co-operation takes place on a cross-border basis. I'm certainly encouraging that. I know that Lord Bourne as well has stated that this should take place, and I'm pleased to be able to tell the Member today that it's my intention to meet with him, subject to his diary availability, on 24 July to meet with a number of businesses in mid Wales to discuss how it is that we can promote economic development in places like Newtown and Welshpool, utilising not just the built infrastructure such as roads and rail networks but also digital infrastructure.
Cabinet Secretary, the Swansea Bay city deal is built around and dependent upon digital connectivity. In the initial business case for the city deal, a new terabit capacity transatlantic cable between New York and Oxwich Bay was proposed but never made it into the final deal. The new link would have put Swansea Bay region at the heart of a digital superhighway, not just delivering higher speeds and greater capacity but also, more importantly, lower latency. So, Cabinet Secretary, what happened to the new transatlantic cable?
Well, I always thought that the vision outlined by Sir Terry Matthews was absolutely compelling, and it's a vision that has been used to shape the Swansea Bay city deal. Now, it's for local authority leaders to construct a city deal that is based upon the existing strengths but also the future opportunities of the region. I know that the Swansea Bay city region leaders are determined to make best use of the levers available to them through the deal, and I am encouraging them to continue to reflect on that vision that was outlined by Sir Terry Matthews and to make sure that the interventions and investments that are made in the region get the maximum value for the people they're designed to serve.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to promote ethical engagement in sports? OAQ52449
Thank you very much for that question. The Member will know that Sport Wales acts on our behalf as the Government-sponsored body in the whole field of sport. To that end, it hosted an ethics and integrity conference last year, highlighting the importance of recognising the values of fair play in sport and for all sports organisations and individuals to uphold the highest forms of integrity.
I'm very pleased to hear that response, Minister, but I met with Sports Chaplaincy Wales just last week. They've got 50 volunteer chaplains working with sports clubs across the country, including some of our premier clubs—Cardiff, Swansea City football club, Ospreys, the Scarlets and the Cardiff Blues among them. They do a tremendous amount of work delivering around £0.5 million-worth of volunteer hours in terms of pastoral care, promoting ethical engagement in sports in the clubs in which they work, dealing with things like drug and alcohol misuse and, indeed, helping people through individual problems. I wonder if you could tell us what engagement the Welsh Government may have had with sports chaplaincy services and whether, if there hasn't been any engagement, you might be prepared to meet with them with me in order to discuss how they can support the Government's ambition to have ethical sportspeople in Wales in the future.
Yes, I would be delighted to co-operate with chaplains in this field. Some of these sports chaplains are indeed known to me and I admire their work very much. I'm thinking particularly of the chaplaincy work going on in Swansea. So, yes, I would be very happy to join in that meeting because it is important to encourage the voluntary activity of faith communities, and that includes all faith communities, clearly, and there may be room for more humanist chaplaincies as well in this area, but I won't go into that this afternoon.
One of the issues that I'm concerned about, which is a huge ethical issue, is the increasing conjoining of the gambling industry with sport. There's research done by Goldsmiths college in London that shows that gambling logos are on televised matches most of the time. This is deliberately trying to inject into the minds of children that gambling is a part of being a sports fan, and it seems to me that this is wholly reprehensible. Now, the Football Association in England has announced an end to all sponsorship deals with betting companies, but, unfortunately, rugby has yet to kick out gambling from the game. So, what do you think the Welsh Government can do to tackle betting sponsorship in sport, which is making it endemic in the way that big tobacco was in the past?
I accept, certainly, the points that you make, and you will remember that the First Minister did respond last week to a question from our mutual friend here, Mick Antoniw, about the cross-government group that's been established to develop a strategic approach to reducing gambling-related harm across Wales, and I think it is essential that we should look again at the recommendations from the chief medical officer's annual report, which called for co-ordinated action and identified new activity that might be required both at the Wales and the UK level. And, since I've been asked specifically about the relationship between both football and more particularly rugby with betting, I will certainly raise these issues with the governing bodies of sports where there appears to be a promotion of gambling activity alongside the sporting activity, because that is not the role of sport governing bodies. I understand that sport governing bodies benefit from income in different ways, and that is a commercial matter for them, but, where the health of the population is damaged by promoting activity related to sport, then we, the Government, should intervene.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on how the Welsh Government's policies are growing the economy? OAQ52439
Yes. The economic action plan sets out the actions we're taking to grow the economy and improve the business environment right across Wales.
Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. The performance of the enterprise zones in creating jobs and boosting the economy and regeneration in Wales has been mixed. So much so, that the Assembly's economic committee said that the lack of available evidence has made it challenging to fully analyse their contribution to the Welsh economy.
Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to setting clear and realistic targets for enterprise zones, along with annual reports containing detailed data on their performance, in the interests of transparency so that their contribution to the Welsh economy can be properly scrutinised and monitored?
Can I thank the Member for his question and say that, yes, there is a varying degree of success across the enterprise zones in Wales? That's in no small part due to the fact that each of the enterprise zones are at varying stages of development. Some are far more advanced and some have a higher intensity of business activity already established in them, which then can act as a magnet to draw in fresh investment. There is reform of the advisory network taking place and the architecture that advises us, including on enterprise zone activity, is being reformed; we've consolidated it. In the future, the activity that takes place within enterprise zones will have to comply also with the economic contract and the principles that are contained within the economic action plan. But I think it is important that we provide data in the most transparent way possible. I take on board the recommendations that the committee presented, and it's my hope in the future that we will be able to demonstrate a commitment to transparency in the delivery of data, and in the establishment of any targets for particular enterprise zones. However, I would also urge the Member to examine, in a broader way, the infrastructure that is being invested in enterprise zones to enable the sort of growth that established enterprise zones have enjoyed in recent years take place at speed.
Central to future economic growth, of course, will be our trading relations with the rest of the world. As part of its preparations to separate from the European Union, the UK Government has established 14 trade working groups that involve 21 third countries to lay groundwork for future independent trade deals upon leaving the European customs union. The Cabinet Secretary wrote to the external affairs committee in May, stating that the Welsh Government are not being invited to participate, or not been consulted on the work of such working groups, but the same committee has received correspondence from the Department for International Trade since then, saying that a forward work programme has been established with the devolved administrations. I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary can confirm that that has indeed happened, and could explain to the Assembly the extent of Welsh Government involvement in those trade working groups.
I'm not sure whether the letter that was received concerning the forward work programme and the involvement of the devolved administrations actually identified the degree to which the devolved administrations were actually part and parcel of the process of deciding on the particular piece of work that will be taken forward. I'd happily write to Members to clarify exactly what engagement has taken place between Welsh Government and UK Government on this matter, and, indeed, what engagement has taken place between the devolved administrations as well.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on cycling infrastructure in the Swansea bay city region? OAQ52444
Active travel, as set out in the national strategy, is a cornerstone of our approach to the integrated transport solution for the Swansea area.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response? There are a lot of good and well-used cycle tracks in the Swansea bay city region, including a large amount that are in the constituency of Julie James, coming along from Mayals towards county hall. But often, there are gaps, and these gaps are from where people live to the main cycle track, which stops a lot of people using it. I've got people living on an estate near me that has a brilliant cycle track—route 44 or route 45—but they've got to go down a lane that is narrow, that has got a 60 mph speed limit, and consequently people don't use their bikes because they don't want to do that mile, or half a mile, journey. What plans has the Welsh Government got to fill the gaps in the network? Because until it's safe to go the whole distance, very many people won't do it at all.
I'm pleased to be able to tell the Member that we've announced an extra £60 million to support active travel across Wales. I think it's important to recognise the role that consultation has in developing integrated network maps and in ensuring that the existing route maps are up to scratch and reflect the infrastructure that's in place at present—and that the integrated network maps are able to identify any gaps in the provision of cycleways and footpaths so that, through consultation, people can be confident that their communities are fully recognised, and that all of the infrastructure within those communities is identified. And then, based on those maps, and based on the submissions from local authorities, either strategic programmes or local active travel schemes, or potentially both, can be funded from Welsh Government support funds. I think it's absolutely essential that local authorities identify deliverable but ambitious strategic routes and strategic opportunities, but also don't take their eyes off those local schemes, which can be an individual scheme or a package of improvements to identify those gaps and address those gaps, so that people are able to cycle or walk to work, to leisure opportunities and to friends and family.
There's much frustration due to local authorities not investing in active travel infrastructure, and frustration is particularly high when new developments fail to take the active travel principles on board. Within my area, a recent planning application for a coffee drive-through in Birchgrove, Swansea failed to provide any active travel infrastructure for pedestrians or cyclists. I know the clue is in the title. [Laughter.] So, how can we truly expect people to become active if we are not prepared to put in essential infrastructure? Do you agree that we need to see a significant strengthening of the planning legislation here in Wales if we are truly to make strides in this area?
I wouldn't wish to encourage either pedestrians or cyclists to go through drive-throughs at any fast food restaurant or cafe. However, I think it is important that provision is established at any leisure facility for bikes to be safely stored and locked and for people to be able to access them by foot on safe pedestrian footways. I think the design guidance for active travel routes plays an important role in this regard, but I think, also, we do need to take a look at planning guidance and planning rules and I think this is something that my colleague Lesley Griffiths has taken a very keen interest in in recent times. But I'd also add that there is now no excuse for not investing in active travel schemes, given that we have increased substantially the amount of resource available to local authorities to carry through those schemes.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
The next item, therefore, is questions to the Counsel General. The first question is from Simon Thomas.
1. What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Welsh Government regarding legislating against problem gambling? OAQ52463
A cross-Government group of officials is tasked with developing a strategic approach to reducing gambling-related harm. The group is currently considering the recommendations in the chief medical officer’s annual report, and will co-ordinate action and identify new activity required, including any calls for further steps required at UK level.
I thank the Counsel General for that response. It's clear that many of us are concerned about the terminals in gambling shops and welcome the fact that the UK Government intends to limit the bet to £2 per wager on those terminals, but are disappointed that it will be at least two years before that is delivered. There are legislative tools in the hands of the Welsh Government, including using planning legislation. In the absence of action from the UK Government, would it be within the competence of this Parliament, and therefore the Government here, to use planning regulations to restrict the use of these terminals and to use our own legislation to restrict them?
Thank you for that supplementary question. As a Government, we work across portfolio to ensure that we can tackle this problem, which is a health problem and is very widespread. The chief medical officer is leading on much of that work. As, perhaps, the Member will know, a consultation is taking place as regards changes to the planning system, which will propose a change in the categorisation of betting shops from category A2, which means that you would have to have a planning application in order to change the use of that kind of building. If that proceeds, that will provide an opportunity for local government to tackle this on some level. Problems occur when the buildings reduce the number that come into our towns and villages. So, if that change is made, it will enable local authorities to design LDPs with this problem in mind. As regards the broader competence on gambling, as the Member will know, the Government and the Assembly have very restricted competence, which is limited to the numbers of these terminals rather than the maximum amount of the wager that you can have. There will be a two-year period of time before these changes come into force. The Government welcomes the fact that the change will actually limit the total that can be placed on a bet, but there are no plans to use the Government's limited powers in the interim.
2. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the Welsh Government's powers to advance children’s rights? OAQ52458
I thank the Member for the question and for her commitment and her work in this area generally. Members will know that the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 requires Ministers to have due regard to the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child when exercising their functions. This requirement rightly continues to influence the Government’s policies, legislation and decisions.
Thank you. I recently attended the children, young people and democracy event here in the Senedd, where I was shown what seemed to me to be a really innovative Street Law project that is designed to give children a good understanding of the law and their rights. It was actually highlighted when Hillary Clinton visited Wales recently. Given our commitment to children's rights and given that information is power, what more can the Welsh Government do to ensure that our children and young people do have sufficient understanding to uphold their rights?
This is a really vital issue. I think, as I've said before, legislating for rights is important, but unless you know how to find your rights and how to enforce your rights, they will always have a limited impact. In terms of the accessibility of the law to children and young people, there are particular challenges and particular strategies that we need to use in order to ensure that young people and children have the full effect of the rights that we legislate for on their behalf. The Welsh Government has a number of strategies for raising awareness, actually, amongst children and young people of their rights. I, too, was at the event in the Senedd, and I thought it was really illuminating—the range of organisations there working to increase advocacy on behalf of children and young people, but actually, more importantly, participation by them in the democratic process. I thought the Street Law initiative, which is based in Swansea University, is a really good example of that.
I was at the same event that she was at when the Llywydd was interviewing Hillary Clinton, and I thought it was marked how former Secretary Clinton was emphatic about the progress that Wales is making in this area and the emphasis that Wales is placing on this important issue. I'd commend to her as well a paper issued by the Children's Legal Centre in Wales, which is the first research paper they've issued, which is about this very issue of public legal education for children and young people in Wales. There are some very interesting ideas about what can be done on a Government level, but across Wales, to enhance public legal education, in particular in the context of children and young people.
You referred, Counsel General, to the UNCRC and the protection that has under the children's rights Measure. I don't think it's just Government that looks at children's rights when it's developing its legislation, but I think it's fair to say that we as an Assembly consider that very strongly as well, when we decide to pass those laws. The operation of those laws lies in the hands of many of our public services, and I wonder what your view is on whether public services—whether that's local authorities or hospitals, health boards and so forth—should also pay due regard to the way that they implement those laws. Do we need statute for that to happen, or does your obligation to have due regard pass down to local authorities, for example, when they're doing that? It's a particular issue when it comes to the decisions about closing schools, and there's one in my area at the moment that I'm thinking of particularly. Thank you.
I thank you for that question. I didn't mean to suggest that the Assembly wasn't also engaged in that work. Obviously it is, and it has passed legislation to that very end, so I'm obviously very happy to acknowledge that. She will know of the report that my friend the Minister for children and social services, as he was at the time, launched in March, which indicated where we are in terms of compliance with the Measure generally and included some very useful analysis of the next steps that we need to take in order to ensure that the children's rights agenda is embedded much more broadly across the Welsh public sphere. I'm sure he will be giving that attention in the coming weeks and months.
I'm sure you will be aware of questions that have been asked by the children and young people committee and by the children's commissioner on the Government's budgeting process, where we more and more receive integrated impact assessments, rather than, for example, specific impact assessments on the rights of children. So, can I ask you as a Government to look at that again, and for you, as Counsel General, to confirm for yourself that you are meeting the legislative requirements both domestically and internationally by not holding specific impact assessments in relation to the rights of children, to ensure, for example, that we won't see decisions such as the abolition of the school uniform grant, as we saw recently, without there having been a thorough assessment?
May I thank the Member for that supplementary question? As I said to Suzy Davies, the Government has carried out an analysis of what we will need to do following the Bill, to ensure that we will actually attain the aim. I will take into consideration the comments that he has just made.
3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the application of EU laws in Wales that are passed during any Brexit transition period? OAQ52451
I thank the Member for that question. If EU law continues to apply in the UK during transition, as Part 4 of the current draft withdrawal agreement envisages, EU legal obligations will need to be implemented domestically during that period.
Thank you for that answer, Counsel General, because it is important that, if we do get an agreement, there will be a transition period, and as part of that we'll be expected to abide by EU laws. But the EU withdrawal Bill only transposes EU laws as of the final date, which is 29 March. So, it is therefore a year for clarifying that, during the period of 29 March 2019 until the end of the transition period, any EU laws that are passed in Brussels will need to be transposed into UK or Welsh laws here in the Assembly, under our control.
Well, just to be clear, the Welsh Government has supported throughout the efforts to secure a transitional period, and we very much welcome the agreement at the end of March European Council that there will be a transition period to 31 December 2020, subject to a final withdrawal agreement. We don't know, unfortunately, what approach the UK Government will take towards implementing EU laws during a transition period. We expect there to be a high degree of similarity between the practice now and during that transition to include a role in particular for Welsh Ministers, to make sure that EU law is implemented in devolved areas. Obviously, in order to ensure that single market participation and membership of the customs union in the short term is maintained, the acquis of European Union law, we'll need to be bound by those provisions. As I say, we don't know yet how that mechanism is proposed by the UK Government. As he will know, we are anticipating a withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. It's our understanding that that will need to put mechanisms in place to deliver the UK's commitment, in terms of the transition period. We haven't yet had details of what that will contain. Obviously, we'll need to make a full assessment of that, and how it relates to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as it's now been passed, when we have full sight of that.
4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the UK Government on ensuring that the rights of EEA citizens are protected following Brexit? OAQ52450
The Welsh Government has been clear that UK withdrawal from the EU should in no way lead to a dilution in rights protections. In terms of rights to move and reside, Wales welcomes and values individuals from around the world, and will continue to do so.
Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. Last week, I was in Brussels, and I met with the Norwegian ambassador to the EU, and it was quite clear that there are some serious concerns in the EEA countries regarding this. Because there's a lot of talk about EU citizens' rights, and whilst we appreciate the EEA and the EU are so closely linked, there was no tight connection to ensure, in any withdrawal agreement, that those rights would be also applied to EEA citizens. Now, people may say there may not be many Icelandic citizens or Liechtenstein citizens in the UK, but there are over 20,000 Norwegian citizens in the UK, and some will be in Wales. So, it's important that we address this issue. So, will you therefore take up this matter with your counterparts in the UK Government to ensure that the rights of EEA citizens are not forgotten in the discussions that are going ahead on EU citizens?
The Member makes a very important point. In fact, as his question acknowledges, it's not about the individual numbers involved, because the impact of this on an individual life, or an individual's plans, can be very, very significant. So, it's absolutely vital that we make sure that EEA citizens have the same protection as EU citizens will have under the deal as we currently understand it. We've paid careful attention to the drafts of the withdrawal agreement. Obviously, we are pleased to see, during the transition period, the proposals that that contains to ensure no change to citizens' rights.
We are carefully reviewing at the moment the statement of intent that the Home Office published on 21 June, which sets out their proposals for a settlement scheme, which would allow EU citizens to begin to take steps to confirm their status in advance of exit from the EU. That scheme is also intended to be open to EEA and Swiss nationals, as well as EU citizens, and we should analyse that with that in mind.
I should just remind the Assembly that the Welsh Government's position in relation to these issues is as set out in the 'Brexit and Fair Movement
of People' paper in September 2017, which sets out our belief that our future relationship with Europe should include a differentiated and preferential approach to immigration for EEA and Swiss nationals as well.
5. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the Welsh Government's legal powers to support a new model for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon? OAQ52446
I thank Mike Hedges for that question. I should say that whilst not in my constituency, constituents in Neath would stand to benefit from any development of this sort, so I will declare an interest insofar as that goes.
The Welsh Government stands ready to consider how it could use its powers to support alternative delivery models that may emerge from the marine energy summit and from the ongoing discussions with regional leaders, referred to in the statement of the Cabinet Secretary on 26 June.
Can I thank you for that response? There has been unanimity amongst those of us who represent the whole of that south-west Wales region, perhaps starting with my colleague and neighbour with the other half of it David Rees, but also the regional Members across party who have given their fullest support. So, this is not a party political comment as such. But a new model for the lagoon is being discussed, not based on the contract for difference, with the UK Government. So, the new model would not involve Westminster's reserved powers. Does the Welsh Government then have additional flexibility to support this method of funding the lagoon?
I thank the Member for that supplementary question. He's right to say, obviously, that there's strong cross-party support in this Assembly and across Wales for the lagoon, which is why it's so disappointing that the UK Government took the decision that it did. As he rightly suggests in his question, the involvement of the UK Government was partly driven by the need for a contract for difference, which obviously is not devolved to Wales, and we don't have competence in the Assembly to set up a comparable regime to the contract for difference regime.
I'm aware, as he is, of the discussions that have been happening, and the press coverage in particular, of an alternative model, which might involve a mechanism other than a contract for difference method for delivery. Obviously, if that were the case, the powers of the Welsh Government would be different from a model where contract for difference is necessary. And subject to a large number of questions around resourcing, and broader questions, Welsh Ministers obviously do have broad, general executive powers to facilitate job creation and economic development, including by way of loans and guarantees and grants and so forth. In fact, those powers were actually the basis of the offer that the First Minister made to support the current proposal for the tidal lagoon. Those would need to be looked at in the context of a particular proposal if that comes forward, a concrete proposal, and obviously, again, in the context of state aid rules. Clearly, we'd need to either establish that there was no state aid or that the aid was compatible with the framework in the legislation. As I say, there isn't, at this point in time, a concrete proposal to evaluate, but he should rest assured that the Government will look at all its powers and consider them in that context if that proposal comes forward.
As the Counsel General will know, the issue of the tidal lagoon is still very much a live issue, and, clearly, there are a number of possible options being mooted at the moment in terms of how we can possibly salvage this situation. Now, Plaid Cymru has long argued that we should establish a national energy company for Wales, with Wales's natural resources being used to deliver a sustainable and affordable energy supply. Clearly, the national model is one option. There are alternatives. One such suggestion is a local delivery model, led possibly by the city and county of Swansea, but there are also other regional options too. So, given the range of possible delivery options, which need to be explored, to what extent are you supporting the Welsh Government in discussing the legal and the linked financial issues with local government, public bodies and other stakeholders in Wales, and when can we expect the Welsh Government to bring forward a statement on this matter?
I thank the Member for his question and for reminding us of his support for a national energy not-for-profit, I believe, company. As I just said to Mike Hedges, there are clearly, as one knows from what one sees in the press and what discussions are going on, people who are looking creatively at what alternatives might be available to confirm the opportunity that exists in Wales—across Wales, in fact—to use our tidal capacity to generate renewable energy. As I have just said, from my personal point of view, my role will be to advise on the legal powers the Welsh Government have, but, obviously, those conversations, as you will have gleaned from my earlier response—I'm pursuing those discussions.
6. What discussions has the Counsel General held with other law officers regarding the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018? OAQ52465
I have not discussed this with other law officers since the Attorney-General withdrew the reference of the Bill, as it then was, to the Supreme Court, and the Bill was given Royal Assent.
Thank you for that. In laying the question, of course, Counsel General, I didn't know that you were to make a statement yesterday, where I had an opportunity to ask the supplementary of you yesterday rather than today. However, events overnight just underline, I think, how sensitive the nature of the fact that the inter-governmental agreement is leading to a position where the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act 2018 is to be withdrawn. I refer to the White Paper on fisheries published by the UK Government this morning. Again, there is no reflection in that paper of the discussions that we had just yesterday in this Chamber on fisheries in Wales. The importance of the inter-governmental agreement having to reflect the kind of trade deal that will be made ultimately is crucially important to the decision as to whether we retain legislation here, and the right to legislate fully here, or share—as the inter-governmental agreement does—with the Government in Westminster.
Yesterday, in answering the question I was going to ask today, you said that you were going to retain that inter-governmental arrangement under a spotlight to see how it operates. But, when will you assess whether this agreement is working effectively, and will you do that before the consultation period and the period to decide whether to repeal this Act comes to an end?
The inter-governmental agreement is one that is clear on what needs to happen as regards the obligations on the parties to that inter-governmental agreement. As I said yesterday, we need to have assurance on the amendments to the Act that has received Royal Assent in Westminster. That means that more powers will be coming to this place, following that agreement. I'm happy once again to take this opportunity to assure the Member that the Welsh Government has every intention of ensuring that this Government and the Westminster Government adhere closely to the heads of agreement in our agreement. Thank you.
Thank you, Counsel General.
The next item is the topical questions. The first question to be asked is to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and that first question is from David Rees.
3. What analysis has the Welsh Government undertaken of the impact on the steel industry in Wales of the merger between TATA steel and ThyssenKrupp AG announced last week? 195
We broadly welcome the announcement to create 50:50 joint venture to combine their European steel businesses and we continue to engage with the company and the trade unions to consider the detail of the announcement.
I thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. The announcement has undoubtedly lifted a cloud that has been hanging over the steelworks in the town for over two years now and offers hope of a secure future for the steel making in Port Talbot and other plants across Wales, because let's not forget that, actually, Port Talbot feeds those other plants as well. It's been welcomed by steelworkers, as you pointed out, who are actually meeting today to discuss it, as well as trade unions, politicians and the community across the town.
We are aware that the dark skies can come back—that's the problem. This proposal is actually focusing on the medium term and not the long term, because it talks about no compulsory redundancies before 2026 and the work to be done on the blast furnace to keep it operational until about 2026. So, there's still a longer term position. The ThyssenKrupp chief executive officer has often said that he's focusing on European operations and we are possibly not in his mind when it comes to that.
So, will this agreement impact upon the investment that has already been committed by the Welsh Government, because you've already made the commitment to the power plant—phase 1 has gone through. The funding has not yet been released for phase 2. I know there has been an issue of conditionality. Where are we on that? So, again, there's security coming through from the Welsh Government on that process, on that side of it. Have you had discussions with Tata on this matter as to what investment they're talking about in their merger and where that will go? Will it be simply in maintenance and repair, or will it actually be in new technologies and investment in new plant to actually take it to the next level of productivity, such as the capital line for new coke ovens that need to be undertaken? And have you had discussions with the Secretary of State for BEIS, because there is still a steel sector deal that has not yet been agreed, and it seems, at the moment, the UK Government is failing to do its bit, and if we want long-term sustainability, you also have to have discussions with them? So, how is it all pulling together now, based upon this merger plan?
Well, can I thank David Rees for his questions? I'd agree that the announcement does indeed offer hope for all of the plants across Wales and the UK. I think it's worth reflecting on where we were just two years ago, when skies were indeed very dark, and it was as a consequence of the hard work that the Welsh Government carried out, to a great extent, that we've reached the point that we're at today, where all those involved in the agreement can recognise the strength of the Welsh steel-making family. In terms of ensuring that dark skies don't return, we need to guarantee the competitiveness of Welsh steel making, as well as ensure that it is efficient and it is productive. Now, we are obviously carrying through our support. Our support, in many respects, will be dependent on binding conditions being agreed by Tata. However, it's essential that the UK Government steps up to the mark and addresses the concerns of the sector, particularly in regard to uncompetitive energy prices, but also the need for a sector deal. These were issues that were discussed very recently at the UK steel council. They were issues that I raised regularly with Ministers within BEIS, and that we raised through officials with their counterparts in BEIS, and indeed other departments. It's an interest that my colleague Lesley Griffiths has, considering the decarbonisation agenda and the need to ensure that we drive down emissions. We are able to support businesses in the steel sector in reducing carbon emissions, in making sure that there are power savings, in making sure that employees are fully and properly skilled, and our support will continue into the future. But if we are to get the efficient, competitive, productive steel-making operation that we wish to see for the long term in Wales and the UK, it will require decisive intervention by the UK Government.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, and I associate myself with the questions, actually, that were asked to you by David Rees. I think there will still be some residual concerns, going back to what we were talking about 18 months or so ago about the relationship with ThyssenKrupp and Tata, and the date that David mentioned, I think, is something that's firmly printed in our minds now. With that in mind, have you had any indication at all of the timeline for any potential investment in this plant? Obviously, the blast furnace is of huge importance there, and it's great to get the promises, but until somebody signs a cheque, it's a bit difficult to rely on those promises.
With the steel sector deal, obviously I agree that we need to know about this now, and I don't suppose that the Trump announcement has helped enormously. Energy costs—and I think you did refer to it briefly—were a big issue when we were talking about this some months ago. Have you had any, shall we say, promising mood music that that's less of an issue now, and what steps have been taken to try and resolve those?
And then, finally, Tata has of course made huge commitments in terms of Swansea bay university, and a relationship with the steel innovation centre under the city deal. I wonder if you've had any news on whether this merged partnership would also be prepared to commit in the way that Tata's done to date. You said that you were considering the announcement, and perhaps you could raise that in any questions that you have when you're speaking to Tata and ThyssenKrupp.
Indeed. Can I thank Suzy Davies for her questions? She makes a very important point about the collaboration that's taken place in Swansea bay between higher education and the steel making of the region, and also some of the spin-off companies and the supply chain companies as well. It's my understanding that that collaboration will be maintained. However, we will be seeking to engage with the company and the trade unions to seek further information about the detail of the announcement, to ensure that that collaboration continues into the future, and to ensure that we secure iron and steel making in Wales for the long term.
Now, I think it's worth saying, in terms of the time frame, the joint venture is subject to regulatory examination by the authorities that include the European Commission and, until closing, both joint-venture companies are going to continue to operate as separate companies and as competitors, but, during that period, we expect to be able to take forward our discussions over the support that the Welsh Government can give to Tata insofar as the Welsh-based operations are concerned, but I would welcome the announcement of an extension of the employment pact to 2026, with a commitment to seek to avoid compulsory redundancies as a result of the joint venture.
In terms of the other commitments, Tata has committed to invest in a life extension of Port Talbot's blast furnace 5, which will proceed this year. I think, in general, this is a very, very positive announcement for steel making and all of the associated steel sites across Wales. However, we remain committed to ensuring that the long-term future of steel businesses in Wales can be guaranteed.
I think the joint venture, on the face of it, seems like a positive step forward at the moment, but there are key questions to ask to ensure that we move forward with scrutiny and caution. Our first duty, of course, is to the workforce—the highly skilled workforce—that we have in Port Talbot. As I mentioned yesterday in questions to the leader of the house, Brexit is going to loom large in the prospects of the joint venture, and although the outlook right now, in the medium term, seems secure, our exit date from the EU is approaching, and this could, in fact, impact upon the joint venture. Last week, Heinrich Hiesinger—I'm not sure if I said that right—chief executive officer of Thyssenkrupp said, regarding the effects of Brexit on the JV, and I quote:
'We hope that whatever the outcome, there will be a free market.'
Of course, we can't guarantee that there will be a free market, with the Conservatives and your party needing to answer questions still on this on a UK Government level, and seeming to be blocking a free market or obfuscating it. So, I think we need answers on that.
I'd like the Welsh Government to outline what case they will make to the UK Government also regarding state aid and other industries, because Wales could be in a different environment in the future, with the UK Government redesigning those rules post Brexit under powers returning from the EU, and I believe there should be a more clear position on that at this date.
So, as I've said, over all, I would want to bring some security to the sector in Port Talbot. I know it's up until 2026, but I think that that is a medium-term goal and that we should all be keeping our eyes on that, and to reiterate that the investment in Port Talbot is key now, and I hope that the money going forward on the other phases of the agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour in that regard will be able to go ahead smoothly because I do know that there were some teething problems to more funding getting their way. If we could avoid that so that the steelworks can be utilised and developed for the future, then that would be beneficial to everybody in this room and in our communities across Wales.
Can I thank the Member for her questions, and begin by saying that my party here, and in the UK as a whole, couldn't have demonstrated a greater commitment to sustaining steel making in the UK? We've been absolutely determined to influence the UK Government, and to influence the company in terms of long-term investment, and the work that we've invested in this area, I think, has paid dividends, and the announcement demonstrates it.
With the exception of the funding—and the Member rightly points to the support that the Welsh Government has been able to offer to Tata—I can say that, with the exception of funding for skills support, Tata won't be able to draw down funding against these offers until we have agreed the detail of overarching, legally binding conditions, and I would expect all Members to support that. We need to make sure that those conditions apply for several years, and that they are, indeed, legally binding.
Now, in terms of Brexit, we'll continue to work closely and constructively with Tata in terms of planning for the challenges and the opportunities presented by Brexit, but, to date, the Welsh Labour Government has offered £8 million towards an £18 million investment in the power plant at Port Talbot, and we continue to discuss the potential for further investments to increase efficiencies in this area, and I think it's worth reflecting on the important point that the Member makes concerning state aid rules. Well, until the UK has exited the European Union, of course, Welsh Ministers remain bound to comply fully with EU state aid rules, and any support provided to the steel sector must be given in accordance with EU state aid rules. However, post Brexit, whether and to what extent Welsh Ministers would continue to be bound by the EU state aid rules will depend on the terms of the withdrawal agreement that the UK negotiates with the EU. But it's absolutely essential that, during the course of the negotiations that are continuing, the UK Government recognises the importance of steel making to the UK.
Thank you to the Cabinet Secretary. The next question will be answered by the Minister for the Welsh language, and the question's from Dawn Bowden.
4. What is the Welsh Government's response to comments made by the owner of Trago Mills that Welsh language signage is visual clutter? 194
Well, can I just say that I was really disappointed to read Bruce Robertson's comments over the weekend, and I wrote a letter to him on Monday expressing my disappointment? And I must say that I think his comments are misinformed, and I think they are out of step with public opinion in Wales. I am happy to share that letter with Assembly Members.
Thank you for that response, Minister. You'll be aware that the bilingual signage was actually only one aspect of the comments that were reported last week, but I want to deal specifically with the language issue because it is a fact that Merthyr Tydfil has one of the lowest levels of identified Welsh speakers in Wales. I want to see that change and I've been supportive of Welsh language services and learning opportunities that are provided in Merthyr, most notably at Canolfan Soar that you visited with me only recently.
Despite the relatively low level of Welsh speakers, I've received representations from a number of constituents who were offended by the reported comments. And I understand that anger, because whether people speak Welsh or not, many value the language and know how important it is to normalise its use in everyday situations and activities, and, as a Welsh learner myself, I can vouch for the value of that. And, indeed, I see nurturing and developing the use of the Welsh language and fostering more positive attitudes towards it as an important responsibility for all of us.
Trago Mills is an important new business in my constituency and it's providing many valuable jobs, and I want to develop good working relations with them. So, would you agree with me that a more enlightened business practice that might in fact draw more people to support the business, rather than drive them to protest against it, which we're going to be seeing this weekend, would be for them to recognise the status of both languages and to embrace that fact?
It's important that we should all support the language and that includes Trago Mills.
Well done, and thank you very much, Dawn, not only for bringing this case before the Senedd today, but also for your commitment to the Welsh language.
I'd just like to thank you for your enthusiasm for the language, because we need to get to a million speakers and you're on that list, so thank you very much. I think you're absolutely right—I think that people underestimate the value of Welsh language education. We know that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that, actually, it helps broaden education in its wider sense, and there's evidence across the globe that bilingualism is a positive development. I think, also, it should be noted that there is increasing demand in places like Merthyr, and I'm very pleased to see that and I'd like to thank you for your support in that.
But I think there's also a commercial reason for him to do this. The fact is that, in the last census, if you look at how many people live within an hour of Trago Mills, there are about 110,000 people who speak Welsh, and 86 per cent of the people of Wales are enthusiastic and supportive about the Welsh language. So, it doesn't make any commercial sense not to be in the same place as those people, and so I do hope that the chair of Trago Mills will rethink his approach to the language.
Minister, the opening of the Trago Mills store in Merthyr Tydfil in April, with the creation of 350 jobs, was warmly welcomed, with the leader of the council calling it,
'a fantastic addition to Merthyr Tydfil's shopping offer and also because it's another landmark in the overall regeneration of the county borough.'
It is disappointing, therefore, to read these comments that have caused considerable outrage and could damage the profitability of this store. As you said, Minister, earlier, and I agree with it, it's important that business leaders understand that we are increasingly a bilingual country and that it's commercially beneficial for businesses to be respectful of each of the languages. You know, Minister, I can't speak Welsh, but I think it's great to have bilingual ability for every individual, especially if you live in a country and you speak the local language. It's not only interaction between trade and commercial benefit, but also political, social, economic and cultural. It is getting together. Language is the one that gets us together, and togetherness is the best virtue of all. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr, Mohammad, and you're welcome to join me in being one of those million as well. I know you speak several other languages, so it should be fairly easy for you to pick up. So, there you go, you're on my list as well. Diolch yn fawr.
I think it is important that we underline the importance of this company. There are a lot of jobs here in an area that needs jobs, so I actually wouldn't support those calls for people to be suspending their use of the shopping centre. I think that it's important that we do support businesses that are in Wales, but I do think that what we need to do is to encourage them and to make sure that they understand that they are investing in a bilingual country where there is this great support now for the Welsh language. Diolch yn fawr.
It is entirely appropriate that you criticise Trago Mills for their insulting comments on the Welsh language, but we must bear in mind that what this is in reality is the latest example of a broader problem, and concrete evidence that to believe that we can get fair play for the Welsh language in the private sector without legislation, and by relying on good will, is simply foolish. You're very happy to criticise the record of companies such as Sports Direct, GWR and now Trago Mills on the Welsh language, but are far less willing to take action.
In the autumn, this cross-party Assembly agreed that action is required to extend Welsh language standards to the private sector. How, therefore, do you intend to deliver the will of this Assembly given this further proof that we need to place a fundamental duty in law so that large businesses respect the Welsh language?
I don't accept that it is folly to expect companies to use the language. The fact is that many companies do. If you look at Aldi and Lidl, I believe that they have an excellent record, and we need to appreciate that. I do think that it's important that we appreciate that it's not possible with the Measure that we have now to do something in this field. You are aware that I have very much more interest in promoting the Welsh language as a priority, and that is why we're bringing business Welsh into the picture, to ensure that when people want to be committed to the Welsh language they have the right to ask for support. That is what the Welsh Government should be doing—assisting and supporting where possible to deliver on our expectation that they will put those signs up in the future.
Thank you, Minister. The next question is to be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services. The question is from Siân Gwenllian.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on local government reorganisation plans following his comments in the WLGA conference on 29 June 2018? 197
Presiding Officer, Members will be aware from our order papers that I'll be making a statement on this matter on 17 July.
Some months ago, we learnt through a personal blog that the Government had made another u-turn on the reorganisation of local government, dropping Mark Drakeford's proposals for regional collaboration. Last Friday, I and everyone else who wasn't at the WLGA conference at Llandudno, learnt through Twitter that you had once again changed your mind by announcing that you were going to scrap the reorganisation map. Twice, therefore, important statements such as these that impact on the way in which public services are run for the future have been announced without you informing Assembly Members through written statements in a formal way. Twice you have shown a total disrespect and undermined the credibility of the Government and the role of this Assembly as the legislative body for Wales. Usually, and according to Welsh Government guidance on making good decisions, Ministers are expected to publish their response to consultations held, and to do so in a timely manner. Usually, that does happen in the Assembly in a formal oral statement with a report attached. So, given that just three weeks ago the consultation period ended, can you confirm that you were responding directly to the consultation in your comments at the WLGA conference? And do you think it's appropriate for a Minister to make policy statements of national significance in this manner?
Presiding Officer, I repeat that I'll be making a full statement on this matter on 17 July, where I will be responding to the consultation and responding to other matters as well. However, the Member seems to believe that Ministers should be silent in terms of a national debate and not participate in national conversations outside of this Chamber. I'm sorry, if that is her case, then I disagree with her. I think it's absolutely right and proper that Ministers participate actively in the national debate around many issues that are the responsibility of this place, and others, and I will continue to do so. But I will always make substantive policy statement to this place, and to this place first. However, there is a national debate taking place around the future of our public services, and I will also participate in that debate.
Thank you to Siân Gwenllian for bringing this question here today as a topical question. I was present at the WLGA conference, and I was there very close to the stage—I don't think I could have sat any closer, frankly—when the Cabinet Secretary came on stage to less than warm applause from a roomful of nearly 200 delegates. I have to say, after his speech, the applause was warmer; the difference being that he had announced in a split second that he was scrapping the map—the map that he told us when we met with him, if you remember, wasn't going to be a map.
Cabinet Secretary, I have scrutinised you alongside Siân Gwenllian, and even members of your own backbench, on your third set—when I say 'your', your Welsh Government's third set of proposals, so let's just run through this. In 20 years of devolution, we've had no less than 10 Cabinet Secretaries for local government. You are No. 5. These are the third set of proposals for local government reform. Now, as part of the WLGA conference, I was actually very privileged, alongside Rhun ap Iorwerth, to take part in a panel with Professor Gerald Holtham also about health and social care, and the integration of it, and making that a reality. One thing became abundantly clear, namely that good housing or bad housing affects our health. Education affects our health, and social care. Housing—. Sorry, education—I thought I'd written these down earlier. With local government, we have social care. Those are five fundamental services and policy areas that need to be integrated with local government.
You do need to come to your question now.
Now, I've asked time and time again, when you decide to go off on one bringing forward a Cabinet Green Paper, what consultation have you taken with your other Cabinet colleagues? One thing that was fundamentally agreed to in that room was that you cannot bring local government reform forward on its own; you do need to integrate health, education, social care and housing. So, Cabinet Secretary, Williams identified this in his report, 62 recommendations of which this Welsh Government has only ever gone forward with four, all relating to local government. Will you at some stage when you make your statement please look at it in a joined-up manner, and bring those other policy areas into line? If you do that, you will have the support of these benches. Thank you.
Well, that would be lovely, wouldn't it? [Laughter.] I'm grateful to the Conservative spokesperson for the 20 years of history she's managed to weave into this topical question. I will be making a statement on these matters in two weeks' time, and I will address the matters that she's raised in her question.
The next question is to be answered by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services once again. The question is from Vikki Howells.
2. Will the Welsh Government make a statement on the recent spate of grass fires affecting communities across Wales? 196
Presiding Officer, I think Members across the whole Chamber will wish to join me in thanking all those firefighters from across Wales who have worked extraordinarily hard over the past weeks. Their commitment, their expertise, their skills have been tested in some very difficult circumstances. I have made a written statement on this matter already today and I think that Members across the whole Chamber will wish to take time to consider that and ensure that we do pass on our thanks to the firefighters who have been involved in fighting these grass fires over the last few weeks.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Further to your written statement today, I'd just like to stress the fact that my constituency, like many across Wales, has been scarred by a series of devastating fires over the past few days. Incidents have included a forestry fire near Llwydcoed, described as hundreds of metres wide, the Maerdy mountain fire and the Hirwaun ironworks.
Firstly, Cabinet Secretary, I join with you in paying tribute to the bravery and endurance of our firefighters who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe, but secondly, with the suggestion that many of these fires may have been started deliberately, how is the Welsh Government working to prioritise measures to counter this dangerous and potentially fatal activity?
Presiding Officer, I did visit firefighters on the duty watch in Tonypandy earlier today, and I spoke to them about the work they were doing across Wales and also to those firefighters from the south Wales area who had attended the fire on Saddleworth moor. I visited the station alongside Andrew Morgan, the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and we did discuss some of the wild fires that have affected the Member's constituency. I spoke to the firefighters who had worked up at Llwydcoed and around the site at Bryn Pica who had been working extraordinarily hard to keep that under control. I think we all owe these people a great debt of gratitude.
Presiding Officer, we do work with the fire service, the police and other partners to tackle deliberate grass fires at source. This means preventing them from happening in the first place by deterring those who may be thinking about getting involved. This encompasses a wide range of programmes, from general awareness raising to anti-arson patrols in high-risk areas, and tailored interventions with those who have offended or are at risk of doing so. The most intensive of these that we have long supported has a reoffending rate of under 5 per cent.
Cabinet Secretary, I do commend the written statement you made earlier today for concentrating on the prevention of fires and the work of the fire service and the other emergency services to raise awareness in schools and also just around the community about the dangers of starting fires. I think that's a really, really important part of their work, and we are seeing a lower incidence it seems now in terms of these fires. But also the public need to be aware that you can inadvertently start a fire by, for example, holding in a clumsy fashion a barbecue. You leave the area and it will be hours and hours later when a change in wind direction or whatever flares up and then you've got another grass fire. So, this is really, really important that we get this public education right, and I commend the efforts so far of the fire service.
I join the Member in commending those efforts as well. At the same time as investing in the education and public awareness that the Member for South Wales Central has referred to, it is also useful to point out that the fire service itself has invested heavily in specialist equipment and training to take on these fires. The firefighters I spoke to this morning have been working together with Natural Resources Wales, bringing significant resource to bear on the fires across Wales, from the south Wales Valleys to north Wales to Ceredigion. At the same time, we have invested in altering firefighting vehicles, lightweight protective gear for working in upland areas, and drones, which safely and quickly provide vital intelligence to inform firefighting decisions.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.
The next item is 90-second statements, and the first statement is from David Rees.
Diolch, Llywydd. During the week in which we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of our national health service, we also lost one of its pioneers in primary care. Julian Tudor Hart was born in 1927 in London, the son of politically active doctors. His early life growing up in a home steeped in radical politics, which was regularly used as a transit centre for refugees fleeing fascist oppression in Europe, shaped his values and beliefs—values and beliefs that he never moved away from throughout his life.
Julian followed his father's career path and studied medicine at Cambridge before moving on to London. After graduating, he took up posts in hospitals and urban general practice before working at the Archie Cochrane-led Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, where he met his wife and research partner, Mary. Now, this background in epidemiology taught him to study how his patients' lifestyles caused their ill health, and he worked with them to improve this.
In 1961, he moved to the coal mining community of Glyncorrwg in the Afan valley and set up practice, where he stayed for 30 years until he retired. Julian turned Glyncorrwg into an international name associated with innovative general practice. He was a man of theory and action. He was a researcher, lecturer, writer of articles, papers and books, with many of his most innovative ideas making their way into everyday practice. His concept of the inverse care law is as relevant now as it was when it was published in The Lancet decades ago—in fact, as far back as 1971. A true visionary, he undertook many research projects in a community setting, which many said could not be done, but was successful because he had faith in the altruism of the citizens of Glyncorrwg and the upper Afan valley, and they trusted and respected him.
He felt passionately that good healthcare was the right of everyone, and that services couldn't be targeted at those most in need unless the national health service was free of market influences and allowed to concentrate solely on patient welfare.
Llywydd, I could go on for another 90 seconds, because his life went well beyond that, even after retirement. Julian Tudor Hart was, and remains, one of the true giants of the national health service.
The contribution made by Meic Stephens, who passed away yesterday at the age of 79, to Welsh literature is priceless. Through his tireless work as an author, poet, director of the arts council, founder of magazines and university tutor he enhanced our appreciation and understanding of the range of our nation’s literature in both languages.
Born in Treforest, he was self-taught, spending periods in Aberystwyth, Bangor and Rennes in Brittany before learning different crafts, as a French teacher in Ebbw Vale and then as a journalist at the Western Mail. Although brought up in a non-Welsh-speaking home, he decided to embrace his Welsh heritage with conviction. He was a nationalist to the core. Indeed, he was responsible for writing the unforgettable slogan, ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’, on that rock near Llanrhystud. This was an important revolutionary act by an affable and thoughtful man. Wales’s debt to Meic Stephens is enormous, and he will forever be remembered as a national literary hero.
Earlier this year, we commemorated the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. More than 5 million mainly working-class men received the vote, and nearly 8.5 million women also became voters. But these women did not receive the franchise on an equal basis. Rather, under that Act, new women voters had to be over 30 years of age. They or their husbands also had to meet stringent property qualifications. Equality in terms of the franchise had to wait another decade. It was on 2 July 1928 that the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act became law. This granted all women aged over 21 the vote, regardless of the property they owned, regardless of their husbands.
Some commentators have referred to the consensus and lack of controversy over this, suggesting, perhaps, that there is an air of historic inevitability. We must not make the mistake of overlooking the transformative nature of the 1928 Act. Politics became more representative. The electorate of Aberdare, for example, swelled by around 7,000, and, finally, women could now vote on an equal basis to men. Neglecting this historic occasion also does a disservice to the campaigners who fought during the intervening period for this principle of equality, campaigners like the Viscountess Rhondda. As the 1928 Act celebrates its ninetieth birthday, we remember what one commentator has called 'this simplest, yet most radical of reforms'.
Thank you, and I would hope that you'd look at the screens now, please. I was thrilled to attend the tenth National Armed Forces Day 2018, held in Llandudno on Saturday along with my colleague Darren Millar AM. Much excitement had already built in witnessing the arrival of the frigate HMS Somerset in Llandudno bay, along with the arrival on the promenade of army tanks to include a Jackal, helicopter and a Typhoon jet. We stood, with other dignitaries, excited for the parade to begin.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Glorious sunshine saw Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May, Fusilier Shenkin IV, the regimental goat, taken from our Great Orme, and 100,000 people lining the North Shore Promenade, providing rapturous applause in support of all those individuals and families who selflessly serve in our armed forces. This year, also marking the RAF centenary, it was particularly special to see the Red Arrows display conclude with the number 100 painted across the sky and followed by the RAF battle of Britain memorial flight.
Llywydd—Deputy—I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in organising and to those taking part in what was such a memorable event. This went some way in particular to acknowledge the brave and courageous commitment by our servicemen, servicewomen and veterans, and simply to say 'thank you'.
Item 5 on the agenda is a debate on the Children, Young People and Education Committee's report on its inquiry into the emotional mental health of children and young people, and I call on the Chair of that committee to move the motion. Lynne Neagle.
Motion NDM6756 Lynne Neagle
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the Children, Young People and Education Committee report on the Emotional and Mental Health of Children and Young People in Wales which was laid in the Table Office on 26 April 2018.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I usually begin by saying I’m pleased to open this debate, but, today, I’m more than pleased; I’m proud and privileged to address this Chamber on the Children, Young People and Education Committee's 'Mind over matter' report.
For me, the emotional and mental health of our children and young people is one of the most important issues, if not the most important issue, for us as an Assembly. Ensuring that our next generation of leaders in this place, and in our nation’s schools, hospitals, farms and factories are resilient, mentally well, and equipped with the tools to tackle the challenges that will inevitably come their way, is a fundamental responsibility for all of us.
It is estimated that one in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem, and nearly three in four young people fear the reaction of friends when they talk about it. Half of all mental health problems begin by the age of 14, and three quarters by a young person’s mid twenties. And that is why we chose to dedicate much of the winter term to this crucial inquiry.
Our predecessor committee in the fourth Assembly undertook a comprehensive review of specialist mental health services for children and young people in Wales. We wanted to revisit that and to hold the Welsh Government to account on its progress. But we wanted to go further. We were also committed to looking at what support could be provided to avoid escalation to specialist services. The costs of emotional and mental ill health—not just to the public purse, but, most importantly, to the children, young people and families involved—are too high for us not to try to stem the flow earlier.
We know that, without support, mental distress can have a severe impact on children’s well-being, their development and their attainment. But evidence also shows that, with appropriate and timely support, children and young people who have encountered emotional and mental health issues can live well and happy lives. This need not, and should not, be an inevitable spiral.
Before we continue, I want us to hear from children and young people themselves. We are committed to giving them a voice in all the committee's work, and this inquiry was no exception. I want to put on record my thanks to all those who spoke with us, but particularly to those children and young people who let us visit them and who spoke so openly and powerfully about issues that, even as adults, we often struggle to articulate.
During the course of our inquiry, we collected the experience of young people in a variety of ways. One of them was a video, with young people participating in Newport Mind’s Changing Minds project, which provides peer support for young people who are struggling with their mental health. I know some of them are in the gallery today. I’d like to welcome them here and give everyone a chance to listen to what they have to say.
An audio-visual presentation was shown. The transcription in quotation marks below is a transcription of the oral contributions in the presentation.
Hayden: 'My issues started around year 8, so I was about 13 or 14, and I was always offered a counsellor, but that would never really happen. So, I just sort of dealt with it on my own, and then, one day, it was just enough was enough; I didn’t know where to turn to.'
Tristan: 'It was just a taboo subject to talk about mental health and just how you’re feeling, particularly for men it was, I know.'
Thomas: 'I think if I’d got these issues addressed a lot earlier, it wouldn’t have boiled over to the point—.'
Regan: 'I feel like there should be more access to support within schools and a lot more notice that that support is there, available for people.'
Tristan: 'Trying to help young people is different tools, so it's like exploring different avenues from a young age, like meditation, just yoga, it could be exercise—not just simply, "Oh, you’re not feeling well; go and speak to someone". Life isn’t like that. You’re not going to have someone to talk to all the time, and that doesn’t work for everyone.'
Thomas: 'If the teachers had a little bit of training, just enough to catch bad mental health—it doesn’t matter if you have depression or anxiety, bad mental health is bad mental health. From not having enough sleep to worrying about exams, it all affects us.'
I’m sure that you’d all like to join me in thanking the young people for sharing their views and experiences with us. I hope that gives everyone a taste of some of the things that came up during our inquiry.
So, what did we conclude? We believe that a step change is urgently needed in the support available for the emotional and mental health of children and young people in Wales. What is available has been too limited for too long. We have called our report 'Mind over matter', because we think the time has come to do just that—to put mind over matter; to deliver appropriate, timely, and effective emotional and mental health support for our children and young people, once and for all.
While we recognise that improvements have been made in specialist child and adolescent mental health services in the last two years, it is not enough. More is needed, particularly in relation to primary care services, crisis care, and how we refer our most vulnerable children and young people into support services. Medical diagnosis alone should not be the key that opens the door to support. Being without a diagnosed disorder does not diminish the severity of distress and harm experienced. It should not act as a barrier to getting help with services.
We need to urgently help this so-called 'missing middle'. Our predecessor committee was told in 2014 that too many children and young people entering specialist CAMHS were being referred there incorrectly and ought to be helped in other parts of the system. By 2018, not enough has changed. The pieces of the jigsaw that need to be in place to support children and young people outside the most specialist settings are simply not there. Four years since the last inquiry, this is unacceptable. It must be addressed urgently by the Welsh Government.
As a committee, we believe that something drastic must be done at the preventative end of services. If we continue failing to provide emotional well-being, resilience and early intervention support, children and young people will continue suffering unnecessarily. It also means that the sustainability of more specialist mental health services will continue to be under threat.
So, what needs to happen? We think that a major step change is needed in the priority given to the emotional resilience and well-being of children and young people. We have called on the Government to make this a stated national priority. But words alone will not do. They need to be underpinned by the planning, resource and commitment to deliver real change. We think that ring-fenced resource is needed to make schools hubs of cross-sector and cross-professional support for emotional and mental well-being based in our communities. We also think that those who work with children and young people should be trained in emotional and mental health awareness, to tackle issues of stigma, promote good mental health, and enable signposting to services where necessary.
Reform of the curriculum in Wales offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to embed well-being into our children’s lives, and schools are very well-placed to make a significant contribution to building an emotionally resilient population of young people. But they cannot do it alone. We are certainly not expecting teachers and other school staff to become experts in mental health. Support from other statutory and third sector bodies, most notably health, is crucial. The whole-school approach, where an ethos of good mental health runs through everything, needs to be a cross-sector responsibility and a genuine step change is needed to deliver it.
Our report makes one key recommendation and 27 in support of it. Taken together, we believe that these will deliver the step change that is needed to build a population of emotionally resilient and mentally healthy children and young people in Wales. They are detailed, demanding and ambitious, and I make no apologies for that. Our children and young people deserve our ambition to be high, and our demands to be significant on their behalf.
That is why I regrettably have to say that I and the committee are deeply disappointed with the Welsh Government’s response to our recommendations. Firstly, too many vital points have been rejected. Secondly, while many recommendations are accepted in principle, this is largely on the basis that the Welsh Government perceives that the things we have called for are already in place. Well, I say to the Welsh Government today: we do not agree with you. We do not believe sufficient attention has been given to the robust and comprehensive evidence that we have presented in our report. Finally, the Government’s response does not meet our expectation of, and demand for, a step change in approach. As a committee, we reject this response; it is not good enough. Neither the detailed evidence we’ve outlined, provided by a range of experts with significant experience in the field, nor the recommendations to which we have given considerable and serious thought have met with the acknowledgement, analysis and respect they deserve. The step change we have called for is not visible in this response as it stands. Our ambition is not met with the ambition we expect and demand of our Government. As such, today, I invite the Cabinet Secretaries to reflect again on their response, and to come back to us early in the autumn term with a renewed approach. Our committee will then use our time to explore these important issues with the Cabinet Secretaries in the forensic detail this important topic deserves.
Now, I do not wish to conclude my remarks on a negative note. Our report has been welcomed on a cross-sector, cross-party basis. It has been welcomed as an important step towards the transformative change that our children and young people deserve. It has been welcomed as a key part of the important journey that I and my fellow members of the committee are determined and committed to travel and complete in this Assembly. As our report says, this is a subject that touches us all, and an area in which we all have a responsibility and an ability to make change happen. We are unwilling to allow this vital issue to be handed on in a legacy report yet again to a successor committee in the sixth Assembly, saying, 'More needs to be done.' The time has now come to put mind over matter, and make the step change that is so urgently needed.
Thank you. There are a number of Members who wish to speak in this debate. Therefore, I will be applying the five-minute rule very strictly. So, it's no good looking at me and smiling if you've got another half a page. The answer will be 'no', the button will go off, and I will call the next speaker. I'm sorry to do that, but we have a number of people who want to speak who are not committee members, and I think that is a great testament to the work of the committee, that others want to take part. So, I just ask you all to bear in mind the five-minute rule strictly, and we'll see how we get on. Darren Millar.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Seven point two billion pounds, 6,000 emergency admissions into our hospitals and 300 lives per year; that is the cost of mental health every single year here in Wales. And I'm sure that everybody in this Chamber recognises the severity of needing to get to grips with this problem, and the urgency, given that we've had very little progress to date, to take action to tackle it. We know that around three quarters of all mental illnesses start before a child reaches their eighteenth birthday, and that children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, or those with parents with existing mental health illnesses themselves, are more likely to develop mental health problems of their own. It's very clear from the Children, Young People and Education Committee's work that we need to build more resilience in childhood and adolescence, and to take some urgent action to address the difficulties that many of our young people face when needing to access more specialist care too. Our 'Mind over matter' report sets out the challenges and the details and provides a host of sensible, practical recommendations to address them. It was universally welcomed by stakeholders, but not—or so it seems—by the Welsh Government.
I have to say, I don't think I've seen a single Government response, in the 11 years that I've been a member of this National Assembly, that is so disappointing and complacent. Just seven recommendations have been accepted, nine have been rejected in whole or in part, and of the rest, those that have been described as 'accepted in principle' frankly should have 'rejected' sat beside them, because 'accepted in principle' is not an accurate description of the response that we read on the paper. There's no wonder, therefore, that we've had a chorus of voices from stakeholders who have been in touch with committee members and other Members of this National Assembly prior to the debate this afternoon to express their concerns. The Cabinet Secretaries for health and education have managed to unite not one, not two, but 73 psychologists to sign a single letter calling for all of the recommendations in our report to be implemented in full. The children's commissioner has said that the response that's been received is a missed opportunity, and said that the current system it not adequate or coherent. The NSPCC have said that it won't deliver the step change that's required and they are absolutely right. We need to see that step change, and it's a shame that the only one that some people seem interested in is a step change from one office into the First Minister's office.
I really do feel that the Welsh Government needs to tear its response up and go back to the drawing board and to produce something that is a little bit more respectful, not just to the committee, but to those stakeholders and those individuals who provided the evidence on which our report is based. We're fed up with empty words. We've seen reports that have identified problems before in previous assemblies, and I'm afraid we haven't seen the action coming from the Welsh Government, from successive Ministers, to be able to deal with the challenges. We saw good practice in the evidence that we received—good practice on building mental health resilience in our schools. Schools such as Ysgol Pen y Bryn in my own constituency and their mindfulness programme—a wonderful opportunity that we presented and suggested should be rolled out further in other schools. Yet, your response to our recommendation 3 was complacent, it was inadequate, and it simply suggested more of the same and suggested that you're already doing the things that were necessary. That isn't the case.
You've rejected our recommendation 9 and part of our recommendation 11, which call for simple things like data to be collected and published on a regular basis on mental health waiting times for children and young people seeking assessment and intervention, whether in primary or secondary care. It is shocking—absolutely shocking—that those recommendations have been rejected, and it suggests a complete lack of priority for our children and young people here in Wales. Unless we have that data, we're not going to be able to hold people to account. And it's no wonder that organisations like the Betsi Cadwaladr health board have got in excess of 1,000 young people, more than all of the other health boards in Wales combined, on waiting lists for more than a year, waiting to access assessments and waiting to access treatment for their acute secondary care issues in mental health. It's completely unacceptable. And it's for the sake of those 1,000 individuals in north Wales, and the others around the country, that we need to see the step change that our report refers to.
So, I think we need to stick this particular response in a place where the sun don't shine, the shredder, and come up with something much better in accordance with the wishes of the committee, because that's the only thing on which we're going to see any change.
May I say at the outset that I and my party agree with the main recommendations of the committee? The main recommendation, of course, is that this should become a designated national priority. We've heard reference to previous reports done by committees—one in 2014, for example, which led to some changes in terms of care in this area. But we now need to move to the next level, and the statistics insist upon that. We've heard some already. In 2017, for example, Childline Cymru saw a 20 per cent increase in the number of calls on suicide. In the 12 months to October 2016, there were 19,000 referrals to CAMHS services in Wales, 3,000 more than the previous year. So, emotional well-being and mental health problems among children and young people are growing, and we need an uncompromising emphasis on the preventative side of the care pathway—resilience, emotional well-being and early intervention. We've heard about the missing middle, and if the Government doesn't introduce transformational change, as the committee has recommended, then the services at the top of the spectrum will become entirely unsustainable because we won't be able to cope with the numbers that will require those services.
Schools, of course, can't shoulder this burden alone, and that is why we want to see a whole-systems approach, where children, young people, schools, social care, health and the voluntary sector all work together and collaborate in order to provide the service and support and do so to the best possible standard. But, while the committee's ambition is clear—that we need this transformational action—I have to say that the Government's response, as I said to the First Minister yesterday, is very weak, is complacent and is inadequate. It is disappointing, and I share the disappointment of other Members that so few of the recommendations have been accepted and that so many are accepted in principle and, indeed, that many have been rejected entirely. They've rejected the recommendation that we should map out the availability of staff who don't teach in school but are there to support the emotional health and well-being of pupils. 'Oh, that's the responsibility of local authorities and health boards', according to the Government. But that is buck passing, because this is a national problem. It is the role of Government to look at that national bigger picture and to take it into account. More data available and more information to the public in terms of how health boards spend their funds on mental health services for children—that, again, is rejected, and that tells you something about transparency, I would say, too.
The committee recommended that we need to ensure that everyone who cares for children and young people are given appropriate training in terms of the emotional and mental health of children and young people and can refer people then, or feel confident in referring young people, to other services. How many times did we, as a committee, hear school staff saying that they didn't feel empowered to respond to what they were picking up on in the classroom? Indeed, they are overwhelmed by these cases, and they need assistance, as does the broader workforce. The curriculum, of course, will contribute to this, but, as I say, there is a broader workforce.
There is another point here too, which has emerged more and more. Clearly, Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers share responsibility in this area. That can be a strength at times, but clearly I feel it can also be a weakness because the risk is that nobody drives this issue, and nobody takes ownership and provides that momentum to the effort to tackle these problems. As a result, 'accepting in principle' becomes some sort of default response that, to all intents and purposes, means 'business as usual' and not transformational change. I support the comments made by the Chair and her criticism of the Government. It is a clear failure, in my view, in this case. I suggested yesterday that, if we are serious about sharing responsibilities across Government, then we should be looking to the leader of that Government to be driving this, as the only person, I would have thought, who has sufficient status to ensure that this truly is a national priority.
Briefly, to conclude, I want to talk about one specific scheme that I have come across, which is SAP—the student assistance programme. It's a programme for children and young people between 14 and 19. It is implemented at the moment in schools in Wrexham, where children come together to discuss their feelings and problems, so that they can access the support that they need. They are referred to services where necessary too, and groups of peers come together. They meet on a weekly basis in secondary and primary schools, and this allows them to identify the problems that we are talking about at an early stage. It has been—
Right. Thank you.
Of the key recommendations in this report, the only ones the Government accepts are the ones that either require no action or are not measurable. They accept the recommendation to state the emotional and mental well-being and resilience of our children and young people as a national priority, but when it comes to the recommendations that mean they have to take action, the Government start to fudge and spin their responses with either rejections or only accepting recommendations in principle, which we all know means that nothing meaningful will be done.
I don't know what more this committee can do to get the Government to take the actions needed. The situation is desperate. As Darren has mentioned already, more than 1,000 children and young people are waiting 12 to 18 months for neurodevelopmental assessment in Betsi Cadwaladr, and the committee has recommended that the Government immediately develop a recovery plan. What's the Welsh Government's response? They say they'll write to Betsi Cadwaladr, asking them to set out a recovery plan. First, this problem has been growing for years on Labour's watch, so why have they not asked Betsi to do this previously? If they have, why ask again? Secondly, the current board presided over this disgusting, inhumane backlog and helped create it in the first place, so what makes the Government think that one of the main creators of the problem have any idea how to fix it? The Government talks about establishing baselines for the delivery of neurodevelopmental pathways, but that's pointless when it comes to health boards that are under this Government's watch that routinely, and by increasing margins, miss the existing baselines.
In the week we celebrate 70 years of the NHS, and Labour try to claim they're the sole guardians of Bevan's legacy, it is important to remember he said that people should have access when ill to the best care that medical skill can provide. Well, the Cabinet Secretary for health is nowhere near providing that. The longer the wait, the more mentally ill a sufferer can become. The risk of suicide or self-harm increases, their education will be further damaged and life for their families becomes increasingly difficult.
As a committee, we looked at this in great detail, as a group of AMs from very, very different parties, coming together to try to improve the lives of children and young people, so why does the Cabinet Secretary think it will be okay to reject some of the recommendations and only accept in principle most of the others? At point 4, you say you accept it in principle, but then you actually reject its key recommendation, saying you won't endorse a specific programme the committee are asking you to, even though that project involves the Samaritans, who I think have a much deeper insight into mental health issues than you, Cabinet Secretary.
Point 9 of this Government's response tells Welsh youngsters and their parents all they need to know about what the Labour Government think of their own management of this issue. The Government are refusing the committee's recommendation, a very sensible recommendation, to publish data on waiting times for assessment and interventions for children and young people since the commencement of the provisions of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010. I'm sure that if the data were good news, the Cabinet Secretary would have already announced it. So, I do wonder what positive reason there could be for the Welsh Government to withhold this information from the public.
The situation has become so intolerable that nothing less than a full acceptance and commitment to implement all of the recommendations from the committee is going to be good enough. The Government still has its head in the sand over this problem, and their attitude of 'Make the right noise, but do nothing' is what led to this problem in the first place. The Cabinet Secretary should be bending over backwards to apologise to the young people and families he and his Government have so badly let down and do everything the committee has recommended.
So, finally, my despair at the scale of the problem is topped only my despair that, still, even in the face of a report such as this, they are still trying to spin their way out of it while Welsh children and young people suffer. The Government's response is disgusting, and I will leave my comments there.
I'm a member of the committee, and I think this is one of the most important inquiries that we have actually undertaken. I know the Government does acknowledge that children's emotional and mental health is an issue that crosses so many boundaries between so many different people and so many different organisations—health, schools, youth support organisations, youth clubs, CAMHS—so I welcome the committee's recommendation and the Government's acceptance that it should be a national priority, but I think if you have something as a national priority, you have to go all out to achieve it, and it's in the more detailed recommendations that we don't really have the response that we were hoping for.
I agree very strongly with the committee's view that it should be the business of everyone who comes into contact with children to have their well-being and mental health at the forefront of their minds, because what could be more precious than a child's state of mind? We must aim for a generation of emotionally secure, happy children with a positive mindset, but to do that the Welsh Government does have to take action.
The report recommends that everyone who cares, volunteers or works with children and young people be trained in emotional and mental health awareness so that they can tackle issues of stigma and promote good mental health. Now, the Government accepts this, but only accepts it in principle. It is disappointing to see this described as 'unrealistic'. Surely, most people who work with children receive, as a minimum, some initial training, so why could not this include an element to at least raise awareness of the importance of looking out for children's emotional and mental well-being? I can't see that there's any problem at all in that, and I don't see that that's unrealistic at all. I think it's essential that initial teacher training has this built in, and the training that youth workers have, the training that health staff have, and I really think that that is something that could be incorporated into the training that already takes place with no problem. So, I do not accept that it is unrealistic that that recommendation should be taken forward.
Now, I think when a child's mental health suffers, it does cause a huge amount of stress and upset for their family, their friends, for the school, for everybody who works with them. The ripples from a child's mental health, I think, go so far, and many of us have experienced that issue. Families can do their best to provide for their children emotionally and materially, but problems with your emotional and mental health can happen to every family. So, children's mental health is a great leveller. But I think we do know that there are particularly vulnerable groups, and two of those are looked-after children and adopted children, and I think it's important to signal that out.
Last week, I sponsored an event in which Adoption UK launched its report, called 'Bridging the Gap', about giving adopted children an equal chance in school. Adopted children do need extra support in school, and schools are maybe not sometimes as aware of this as they should be—there is an understanding gap. And it shows that 65 per cent of adopted children did not feel that their teachers fully understood how to support them, and this rose to 74 per cent at secondary school age. So, I think this is very concerning that the feedback from adopted children—who, we know, because of attachment issues they may have had early in life, are more vulnerable to have mental health problems—didn't feel that they could turn to their teachers. I do think that our report has reflected that, really, in most of the aspects that we've dealt with—that children have to seek support and wait for support in a way that the Chair has described that is not acceptable.
I feel it should be the burning mission of this Assembly to ensure that our children do grow up with sound, healthy bodies and minds, and that it should be our burning mission to make this happen. So, I feel that this report does lay it out, but I do think it is up to the Government to ensure that this is their burning mission as well, and that together we can all work together to make our children happy and fulfilled.
Today is 4 July, and in Jefferson's sparkling prose, we are reminded that we are born with inalienable rights, and the most important are
'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness'.
Now, 'the pursuit of happiness' we would define as some form of emotional well-being today, and there's absolutely no doubt that the denial of effective help and diagnosis of emotional and mental health conditions in childhood has a huge impact on the person and their development as adults, and the potential for their happiness and the pursuit of all sorts of goals in life.
I speak from my own experience. It was not something picked up. I have lived with periods of depression and, more particularly, anxiety, throughout my life. A lot of my coping mechanisms have been self-learnt and, more latterly, through effective health interventions. But, you know, it's an incredibly alienating experience, and I remember, even at university, being completely perplexed by some of my symptoms and not having a basic apprehension of what they were. That, I think, is a terrible situation to be in.
I commend this report. I think it is outstanding, as is Lynne Neagle, who has to be one of our greatest backbenchers, and the way you hold your side to account is a masterclass about how people should pursue the national good, and that takes you way beyond partisan politics. You're held in the highest esteem across the Chamber.
Can I just say that I have the privilege of chairing the Government's ministerial advisory group on outcomes for children? We met on Friday, and this report, 'Mind over matter', was one of the agenda items, and it was received with great enthusiasm, particularly amongst the third sector representatives that are crucial to the working of that group. But there was some concern, in particular, about this practice of accepting in principle. Now, I explained, in a fairly neutral way, that this was something that had been the practice in Governments' responses to reports for many years, and that a committee would usually spend a lot of time returning to the items that had been accepted in principle, and examining how deep that was after six months, a year or whatever, whether something had practically been done, or whether it was a way of basically putting something on the shelf. So, I know you will return to this when you come to your in-depth scrutiny post report, and I know the Ministers will be aware of this as well, and they will know the concern and the frustration of some Members here. But I do remind the Cabinet Secretaries that the Permanent Secretary last year said that the Welsh Government would move away from the practice of accepting recommendations in principle and say frankly whether they accept the recommendation as it's framed or not, and then they can give their reasons for that. I do think that's at the heart of real accountability. It is somewhat frustrating to see what happens in this report.
Can I just turn to some of the detail? I think the need to focus now on the preventative end of the pathway is really, really important, otherwise we will see further difficulties with the acute end, and the referral via CAMHS in the inappropriate referrals out of not knowing where else to go, so you make a CAMHS referral. I think some of the practical suggestions—the national approach for schools, including the need for a guidance teacher model, so that lead members of staff have responsibility and enable other teachers to pick up the things—this is basic pedagogy. I find it astonishing that it is referred to as somehow being impractical that, amongst the most highly professional people we have in our country, the teaching staff are not capable of this. They should receive the training and the support to do it. The importance of therapeutic intervention has been very, very key in my own experience, and the active offer of advocacy for children accessing mental health services.
Can I commend, in particular, recommendation 22—the assessment of the emotional and mental health needs of children entering care? That's of particular concern to the ministerial advisory group. And recommendation 23—the Welsh Government to assess the provision of emotional mental health services for looked-after children, and this should be informed by the work of the ministerial advisory group—[Inaudible.]
Yes, indeed, and I'm privileged to take part in this debate. I'm not a member of Lynne Neagle's excellent committee. I commend Lynne Neagle as Chair, in the first instance. I'm the lowly Chair of the health committee in this place, and I don't know if I've mentioned before that I'm a GP as well, in Swansea, for about the last 38 years.
So, from the front-line experience of dealing with the children's mental health service, it is really, really frustrating, I've got to say. We need an absolute step change—more than a step change, an actual revolution in the provision, not just of the mental health service for children and young people but in all the emotional and counselling support services as well, both in the voluntary sector and in the statutory sector as well. We need to increase statutory and non-statutory provision—actually, more people working to help our children and young people. Why is that? Well, over the years—. I used to do the baby clinic years ago, and beautiful babies that would be all happy, smiling, but I see them growing up now—they're now grandparents, as I told you yesterday—but growing up—. Sometimes if you're unlucky to be in a traumatised household, you suffer a horrendous childhood—beautiful babies become brutalised toddlers—and then you become a traumatised teenager, mistrusting everybody in authority, even those trying to help you. You self-harm, you're emotionally damaged, and who can you turn to? So, you try your GP. So, GPs, yes, we're programmed to help people, but unless I can convince secondary care that you've got a describable mental health disorder, they won't take you.
Referrals to CAMHS are bounced back to the GP. That's because the element of a young person's distress is not taken into account at all. There has to be a proper diagnosis—that's the missing middle that this excellent report is going on about. And we have to muddle through with the missing middle, and that's not how we should be doing things in Wales in the twenty-first century. So, I keep seeing people, they are still growing up, my children and my young people, and some of them are horrendously damaged. And yet, I've got to wait for them to be bad enough to access CAMHS. Now that's not the stuff of early intervention.
It's not the stuff of early intervention; that is about reaching a threshold of treatment and that's not what we're about nowadays, since we passed the excellent Mental Health (Wales) Measure under Jonathan Morgan's leadership here in 2010. It's about early intervention, it's about prevention, and we're still not doing it. We have to get those services on the ground. I don't want to keep seeing people in distress with my limited capabilities, with nowhere to refer them to, because they're not bad enough or don't have a mental health diagnosis, to sort them out. We can't cope with young people so distressed because of things that have happened without there being an actual mental health disorder. Yes, some people have a mental health disorder as well, but some young people don't and the distress of the whole situation is just not bad enough for us as a society to do anything about.
It hurts us as GPs, having letters from secondary care saying, 'No, you can't refer this person here because there’s no recognisable mental health disorder.' So, what am I supposed to do then? Yes, back to the schools. I have no locus of control over school-based counselling services, though. I'm looking forward that the full implementation of the recommendations here means that primary care, the voluntary sector and schools will work together—GPs, primary care and teachers together. Because, at the moment, we're bombing back and forth by default, because I can't help them. Hopefully, the teachers can. But we’ve got to empower our teachers as well, let’s be fair.
Let’s be fair here now, because we're muddling through. Parity of physical and mental illness people say—well, if I've got a physically ill child, I pick up the phone, I ring secondary care, and they deal with it. I try getting hold of secondary care for children who are emotionally distressed, and nothing happens. That has to change. Diolch yn fawr.