Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

10/07/2018

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

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Llyr Gruffydd. 

The Impact of Brexit on Further and Higher Education

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of Brexit on further and higher education? OAQ52519

We addressed the implications of Brexit for post-compulsory education in our White Paper 'Securing Wales' Future' and identified priorities for negotiations. We continue to press for these priorities in discussions with UK Government officials.

Last week, in answer to the Plaid Cymru leader here in the Assembly, you told us that you and your Government had no plans for the Welsh NHS if there was to be, as is, of course, increasingly likely now, a 'no deal' Brexit. In fact, your exact words were

'There is no planning for a "no deal" Brexit. It's more like people running around in circles screaming. There are no plans at all for it.'

Now, I'm not sure that's the kind of leadership that the people of Wales expected from somebody who stood on a promise of standing up for Wales, but if you have no plan for the NHS, could you tell us whether that's also the case for Welsh universities and Welsh colleges in the face of a 'no deal' Brexit, and, if it is, when exactly would you expect the HE and FE sector to start running around in circles screaming?

The Member is being mischievous. He knows full well that I was referring to the UK Government and not the Welsh Government—as he knows, but there's the mischief. But he asked a question: what is the situation in terms of what we've done? Well, we have the European advisory group, bringing together business leaders, representatives from universities, trade unions, agriculture, public services, politicians and the third sector. We have a higher education Brexit working group, with senior representatives from the HE and FE sectors. They are providing us with advice on the implications of Brexit for the higher education sector. We have the Council for Economic Renewal Brexit sub-group, with senior business leaders and organisations, chaired by the economy Secretary. We have the environment and rural affairs Brexit round-table stakeholder group, set up after the referendum. That is a forum for engagement and collaboration between the Welsh Government and the food, fisheries, farming, forestry and environment sectors. And you mentioned health. Well, we continue to work with key health and care stakeholders through the main representative bodies, and we're also working directly with specific groups, such as Public Health Wales, the Royal College of Nursing and NHS medical directors, in order for us to understand from them what their challenges are. 

Will the First Minister and his party get behind a deal with the EU on education or anything else? At Chequers, the Prime Minister went a long way towards the sort of Brexit that Labour claims to want. [Interruption.] But instead of welcoming that, they say they'll vote down any deal based on it to try and get a general election instead. Since that approach may lead to our leaving the EU without a deal, will you as First Minister now support the UK Government in accelerating preparations for such an outcome?

Well, Boris Johnson and David Davis stood behind the Prime Minister with a knife and we all saw what they did. I mean, really, this is not the strongest ground for his party to lead on, given the incredible divisions that exist within the Conservative Party. Now, in terms of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, she's trying, I hope, to steer the UK towards a soft Brexit. In that, I will support that general principle. But we need to see more detail. We don't know yet what will be in the trade White Paper; it hasn't been shared with us in its entirety. We don't know that the detail will be. We don't know what the view of the EU will be, but what is absolutely clear is this: that the Conservative Party is absolutely divided. The resignation of two senior Cabinet Secretaries in the space of one day hasn't happened since 1979, I understand. And that shows the depth of the division that exists in Whitehall. It's time really for the Conservative Party to get a grip and show some leadership for this country. 

First Minister, the UK has three universities in the global top 10. The rest of the EU has none; they're not even in the top 30. Has the First Minister made any assessment of the impact on EU students, Government and non-governmental agencies and organisations, such as the European Space Agency, were they to lose access to our world-leading academics in educational institutions?

I don't think it works for anybody. The first thing that academics will tell you is they rely absolutely entirely on the ability to work in different universities around the world. And if the UK is seen as self-contained, that will be to the UK's detriment, and if it's seen as unwelcoming, that will be to the UK's detriment. It's absolutely essential that co-operation continues in the future, with schemes such as Erasmus and Horizon 2020 being able to deliver to their fullest extent. 

Improve the Welfare of Companion Animals

2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to improve the welfare of companion animals in Cynon Valley? OAQ52482

13:35

The Wales animal health and welfare framework implementation plan sets out our priorities for animal health and welfare, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary set out plans to maintain and improve companion animal welfare in Wales in her oral statement on 21 June.

Thank you, First Minister. Tomorrow, with my colleague Eluned Morgan, I am co-sponsoring an event to raise awareness of how Lucy's law could improve animal welfare by ensuring people only get puppies from rescue centres or reputable breeders, and I'd encourage all AMs to come along. Tackling puppy farming is crucial, and many of my constituents have suffered the heartbreak of paying hundreds of pounds for a poorly pup that was bred in unacceptable conditions. During her statement on animal welfare, the Cabinet Secretary said that getting a puppy from the right source is the first fundamental step towards being a responsible owner. So, how is the Welsh Government promoting this, and when can we expect an update on discussions on introducing a ban on third-party sales?

Well, the updated welfare code for dogs will be laid before the Assembly before the summer recess. It will remind owners of their responsibilities when looking after and sourcing their dog or puppy. Regarding the specific issue of third-party sales, I know the Cabinet Secretary is attending the Lucy's law event on Wednesday, and I'm sure this will help to inform those discussions with her. I will ask for a written statement to be published, to update Members on developments as they progress.

I do feel privileged today to be sitting next to the rescuer of the hedgehog fancier club here, Darren Millar. Anyone who's followed his Twitter feed would see the rescue mission he launched last week. But I would ask you, First Minister—. The Welsh Government commission many services in the public sector, obviously—bus services and the regulation of taxis. It is important that when people with companion dogs, in particular, seek to use those services, there is an understanding among the operators what their obligations are, and they are not turned away from use of those services. How confident are you that the regulations, and in particular the services you commission, do have the safeguards in place so that people who do need guide dogs, and other companion animals, are able to access those public services?

Well, of course, all operators are required to operate within the boundaries of the law, particularly the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I would expect every operator to ensure that, where somebody needs the assistance of a guide dog, for example, they're able to access bus services, train services, and any other service. That is what the law would expect them to do, and that's what I think decent standards would expect them to do as well.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the UKIP group, Caroline Jones.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the UK Government is in turmoil and apparently determined to make such a complete hash of Brexit that we have no choice but to remain in the European Union, despite the wishes of UK voters. David Cameron abandoned the UK, unwilling to carry out the democratic wishes of the electorate. Theresa May has bungled every negotiation with the EU, and senior Tory Ministers are more interested in looking at their leadership chances than the fate of our country. And this has now all reached a crescendo, with a plan for Brexit that doesn't deliver Brexit. The Chequers proposals mean that we continue to be subject to EU laws, unable to alter or influence them, and we would be unable to conduct independent trade policies, hampering our ability to negotiate trade deals outside the EU. This would leave us subject to EU and European Court of Justice rules and we would be forced to take rules that benefit our continental competitors. This is not what I voted for and not what the majority of UK voters voted for. Out means out. First Minister, do you support the position taken by the Chequers agreement, or do you agree with me that it's such a shambolic deal that it's back to the drawing board?

I don't agree with either. I think what we need is a sensible solution that sees us staying in the customs union, with full and unfettered access to the single market. And, above all else, she is right—the UK Government is in turmoil. That's why we need a Labour Government in Whitehall.

First Minister, unfortunately, the Labour Party position is confusing. The Labour MP for Aberavon strongly believes Labour should commit wholeheartedly to a Brexit model that would see the UK continue to make financial contributions to the EU and accept many of its laws. The Labour leader in Westminster clearly isn't sure what he wants—one day, it is we need to remain in the single market and the customs union, and the next it's to obtain a tariff-free trade relationship with Europe and that we develop a customs union to go alongside that. The shadow Cabinet has more resignations than appointments, and the shadow Brexit Secretary is now calling for a second Brexit referendum, seemingly influenced by key members of the Unite union. First Minister, what is your party's position on Brexit? Is it the position that you outlined with the leader of Plaid Cymru? Is that what it is? Or, is your stance the Labour Party's stance, please?

13:40

Back again, is it? No answer. Okay. [Interruption.] Sorry?

The former—what we agreed with Plaid Cymru.

With Plaid Cymru. Thank you. Sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Thank you, First Minister.

I note that your Government has today outlined proposals for farm subsidies should we ever leave the EU, and I welcome the proposals, which, according to the RSPB, signal a new way of working. The common agricultural policy has pitted conservationists and farmers against one another in the battle for land, so this will end this approach. According to your Cabinet Secretary, Brexit presents a unique opportunity to put in place bespoke Welsh policy that delivers for our economy, society and natural environment, and I agree wholeheartedly with this statement.

So, First Minister, we are clearly not going to be able to influence the Brexit negotiations with the UK Government, which will simply ignore our views, but we can seek to capitalise on the opportunities presented by our exit from the EU: so, bespoke agriculture and conservation policies, bespoke fisheries policies and bespoke trade policies. So, First Minister, do you agree that it's now time to focus on the opportunities ahead of us and open to us, rather than playing up the risks? After all, we were supposed to be in a deep recession by now. Instead, business investment is booming, which should go some way to giving positive vibes to potential investors. So, how will you encourage investment into Wales, please?

Well, first of all, it is quite clear that many businesses are concerned about the prospect of a hard Brexit. We've heard Airbus say it, we've heard JLR say it, and heard others say it. For them, a hard Brexit doesn't work. It is right to say that we have an opportunity to shape farming policy as we would want, subject, of course, to there being a commonly agreed framework—which is important—across the whole of the UK. And money. The reality is that we have no guarantees on the money. Two hundred and sixty million pounds a year goes into farming subsidies in Wales. We can't find that money. I can say that now. It's impossible. It has to be set aside, to my mind, in a separate pot by the UK Government, and distributed as it is now until there's agreement to change things. That's hugely important. But, none of this means anything without a market.

The reality is that 90 per cent of our food and drink exports go to the single market. Geography dictates that. A lot of what we produce—if we look at fish, for example—is perishable. It's just easier to sell it in the European market than it is to take it halfway across the world to another market. So, the reality is, yes, we can look at producing a better deal for our farmers in Wales, as long as the money is there from Westminster. But, none of this means anything unless they can sell their produce. Unless they can get fish and perishable products, for example, across through Dover and into the French ports as quickly as possible, they can't sell anything, which is why it's hugely important that we avoid a hard Brexit.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, it's on the record that you said that everyone was running around screaming, when I asked you last week what your plan is for a 'no deal' Brexit. Westminster is in chaos, and leaving the EU without a deal now looks more likely than ever. So, will you now commit to developing a 'no deal' plan to protect Welsh jobs, wages, and the opportunities of future generations?

I think I just answered that question. There is no mitigation against no deal. It would not be right to say that. The reality is that, if we have a 'no deal' Brexit, we will lose jobs, and we will lose investment. There is no question about that, which is why I have fought tooth and nail against a 'no deal' Brexit. That does not mean, of course, that we are not doing anything in terms of preparing for Brexit. She'll have heard me say earlier on what we have been doing. We also have put in place, of course, the EU transition fund—£50 million that helps businesses, public services and other organisations to plan for and prepare for the impact of Brexit. So, yes, we have a number of groups where we are talking to stakeholders. We also have money on the table. But surely nobody can pretend that a 'no deal' Brexit can be fully mitigated, because it can't.

13:45

First Minister, I think we can all agree that the Westminster Government is making a right mess of Brexit, and the position is so weak. Last week, Plaid Cymru—. Sorry, it wasn't Plaid Cymru that consented to Westminster's flagship Brexit Bill, was it? And it wasn't Plaid Cymru that abstained on the votes that could have kept us in the single market. And it wasn't Plaid Cymru that voted to trigger article 50 without a plan. First Minister, that was the Labour Party that did all those things—no input, and not even sight of Westminster's Brexit paper. Now, is this what the finance Secretary meant when he said that his deal with the Conservatives marked, and I quote, a 'significant step' towards 'equitable' inter-governmental working, or, in hindsight, was your Government wrong to consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will help to further the chaos that we're already seeing in Westminster?

In terms of what she said about this being an important step to inter-governmental co-operation, I believe that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said the same thing. So, yes, it is an important step, but obviously there are different positions taken by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. The reality is I can't answer for what happens in Westminster; I'm the First Minister of Wales. And she will know, working with her party, we have developed what I think are the most thought-through and sensible policies of anywhere in the UK. We have worked through policies, working with her party, that provide for, yes, the delivery of the referendum result, but also a soft Brexit, a sensible trade policy, sensible relationships with the EU, full unfettered access to the single market—all these things we've shared together. We are continuing to press the UK Government. It seems, we hope, that they are listening to an extent, given that the Chequers agreement goes much further towards where we think the UK should be than has previously been the case.

How can you expect the UK Government to listen to what we jointly want when you can't even get your own party to accept that position? Your MPs vote against the joint agreed position that your party and my party have agreed in this Assembly. 

First Minister, we face uncertainty here like we've never faced it before. With just weeks of negotiating time left, and Westminster in more chaos than ever, why do you refuse to accept reality? A 'no deal' Brexit is looming over us, and I don't think that your Government is doing anywhere near enough to protect this nation. Now, as a democrat, I believe that people should have a say on the final deal, so, First Minister, now that we know that it looks like either a bad deal or a 'no deal', will you now back a people's vote so that we can have a chance to reject the extreme Brexit that you and I know will cause so much damage to the people and the economy of this country?

Well, my view has always been that any deal should be ratified by the Parliaments—plural—of the UK. If that doesn't happen, the matter would either have to be settled through an election or indeed, possibly, by a referendum on the deal itself. Because, if there's no other way of resolving it, then the people who voted in 2016 have a perfect right to decide what kind of deal they want to approve from 2018 onwards. It seems right that that should happen. But it seems to me that the first port of call is for the Parliaments of the UK to examine any deal and decide whether that deal should be supported or not. If there is then, for example, a general election if that deal is rejected, and that produces an inconclusive result, well, how else can it be resolved other than by a referendum on the deal? I think that becomes inevitable at that stage.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, what is the Welsh Government doing to support children and young people with learning disabilities?

We have done a great deal, as he will know—for example, the fact that we've helped local authorities in terms of providing services for care for children; the fact, for example, that we've put so much money into child and adolescent mental health services, where so many young people have had benefit from the £8 million extra we've given to CAMHS; and, of course, we have the children's commissioner there, who is able to advise us in terms of what more we might need to do.

Well, First Minister, you'll be aware of the very worrying report published by the Children's Commissioner for Wales that showed that, on a number of counts, the Welsh Government is failing to deliver the support needed for children and young people with learning disabilities. The report showed that 83 per cent of parents surveyed said they were worried their children were socially isolated, and many highlighted concerns about bullying. First Minister, in light of this damning report, can you tell us what immediate action the Welsh Government will now take to address the concerns highlighted by the children's commissioner and support children and young people with learning disabilities?

13:50

Well, it's hugely important with a report like this that there is a proper response given by Government, and that response will be given, of course, and consideration given to what the children's commissioner has actually said.

First Minister, the Welsh Government has already committed to upholding the rights of children and young people across Wales, and yet we have seen a number of recent reports in recent months where the Welsh Government is failing children and young people. Of course, one way the Welsh Government could better support children and young people and uphold their rights is by supporting my proposed autism Bill, which has indeed the backing of independent bodies such as the National Autistic Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is supported by many in this Chamber. First Minister, will you now therefore commit to supporting the autism Bill, which will actually send a clear message to children and young people across Wales that the Welsh Government will do all that it can to support them? 

We will do all that we can to support parents and, indeed, young people with autism. That does not necessarily mean that it has to be done via a Bill. It's hugely important that resources are made available and we have done that in terms of support. It's also hugely important that we are able to work with organisations to deliver the best package for young people with autism. So, while I'm convinced that a Bill would do it, it's hugely important that we look to see what further resource can be identified in order to help those people who live with the condition every day. 

Outdoor Leisure Activities

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government facilitates outdoor leisure activities in Wales? OAQ52509

We work closely with a number of partners, including Sport Wales and Natural Resources Wales, to provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in a range of outdoor leisure activities. It is important that we make use of our natural landscape to encourage people to become more active.

I thank the First Minister for that response. A constituent who is a keen off-road cyclist has written to me from Kidwelly to complain that a large area of land near Merthyr Tydfil that is owned by Natural Resources Wales has been leased to a private company and trades under the name of BikePark Wales, as a result of which there's been a restriction on public access to that land. And I looked at BikePark Wales's website this morning, which says:

'Any rider caught tresspassing on the trails without a valid pass will be fined on the spot, this will be enforced by our marshalls.'

A rather dictatorial attitude to take in these circumstances. Can the First Minister tell me what's the policy on public access to Welsh Government owned land for the purpose of cycling and walking, and how this new policy of privatisation might affect the active Wales initiative by banning local people from free and unrestricted access?

Well, I'm not aware of the area of land he's talking about, but, certainly, I cannot see any legal way in which people can have money extorted from them simply because they're standing on a piece of land. I can't see any way where that can be enforced in any lawful way. But, if the Member writes to me with more details, I will, of course, be pleased to look at this in more detail.

First Minister, at the same time that Santander's sponsored community bike scheme has finally come to life—I'm really pleased about that—and there are more and more cycle tracks becoming apparent in Swansea, the local authority plan to dig up much-loved and well-used tennis courts in Mumbles and replace them with a temporary car park. At least the Swansea council did listen to residents' complaints about this and have withdrawn their plans for now. At a time when we're trying to get people out of their cars and we have the active travel agenda, as we've just heard, and we want people visiting Wales and some of our most important tourism spots, I think this was a bit of a strange and muddled plan from Swansea council. So, do you agree that, at a time when the city region is bringing councils together to think big picture about the regeneration of the area, they should be looking at active travel in exactly the same way and avoiding short-sighted decisions like this, which actually reduce the opportunities for people to take part in activity?

Well, that will be a matter for Swansea council, but we do expect, of course, local authorities to comply with the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 and to look for opportunities to ensure more people are able to cycle and cycle safely. I'm not familiar with the particular planning issue that the Member talks about, but I can assure her that it's the view of the Government that we want to see more opportunities arise for cycling and walking in the future.

And tennis. I beg your pardon.

Eligibility to Vote

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on eligibility to vote in Welsh elections? OAQ52479

Yes. To be eligible to vote in Welsh elections you need to be registered and 18 years of age or over on polling day. I do intend, however, to support the bid to extend the franchise to include 16 and 17-year-olds.  

Thank you, First Minister. I've been contacted by a former constituent who's written to me to say that he feels disenfranchised at not being able to vote in Welsh elections. He was born in Wales and raised locally and has extensive family in mid Wales. He moved from mid Wales to Shropshire, where his job took him, and then went to work abroad. Contacting the election office in Powys, they've advised him that, as an overseas resident, he can only register to vote where he last lived. So, as a Welsh national, he is able to vote in a UK general election, but he can't vote in a Welsh general election. So, this does seem to me to be an anomaly. Can I ask if you are aware of this issue? If you are, has the Welsh Government made and could the Welsh Government make representation to the Electoral Commission?

13:55

I think that's very difficult. There are two ways in which you can establish someone's right to vote. One is residence, obviously; the other is citizenship. We don't have Welsh citizenship. There are some in the Chamber, I know, who would seek to promote that, but, in the absence of Welsh citizenship, residence is the only way of doing it. The question then is: how far back do you go? What if someone lives in Wales for a week or two? Does that mean they're eligible? I think there are lots of difficulties there that would need to be resolved in order for a change in the law to be workable.

First Minister, would you agree with the expert panel on Assembly electoral reform that a reduction in the minimum voting age to 16 would be a powerful way to raise political awareness and participation among young people?

Yes, I would. I have to say, we have seen one electoral event in the UK, namely the Scottish referendum, where 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote. That precedent having been established, I fail to see why that can't operate in the future for all of them—for elections and referenda. It seemed to work very well in Scotland; the turnout seemed to be very good amongst those who were 16 and 17 years old, showing that they were engaged, one side or the other, in the issues in 2014. That's why I'm supportive of lowering the voting age to 16.

Green-belt Developments

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on green-belt developments in South Wales Central? OAQ52496

Yes. The local planning authorities within the South Wales Central region haven't designated green belts in their respective local development plans.

Yes, thanks for that answer. We've had recent press reports that the leader of Cardiff council, Huw Thomas, wants to merge with the Vale of Glamorgan Council, principally so Cardiff can build more houses on land in the Vale. We've already had housing developments infringing on the green belt and we're losing prime agricultural land due to this. Do you agree, First Minister, that Cardiff council's bid to turn the Vale into a building site is not the way forward?

I'm sure he hasn't said that. I find it difficult that the Vale of Glamorgan Council would acquiesce to a merger along those lines. I don't think that Councillor Huw Thomas has approached the Vale of Glamorgan and said, 'Merge with us so that we can build on your land.' It strikes me that's not the best example of diplomacy in those circumstances.

There is a duty on all local authorities to maintain an LDP, of course, and it's good to see now that progress is being made in terms of the development of a strategid development plan as well to better manage the undoubted demand there is for housing.

First Minister, access to green spaces is really important today. Ninety-six per cent of Copenhageners live within a 15-minute walk of a sizeable green or blue area, and work is indeed under way to even improve those access rates. The city has biodiversity volunteers who play a vital role in nurturing the city's green areas and the city has planted more than 3,600 trees, many of them adopted by local people and companies or institutions. Do you agree with me that access to really pleasant green areas can be inside the city as well as just surrounding it?

Absolutely. We're looking at the idea of green corridors to see how they can be developed in the future. We know that Cardiff, for example, is reasonably well blessed with parks, and the last thing we would want to see, for example, as the city grows, is to see developments without access to green spaces, without access to cycle paths, without access to a rural environment. That's hugely important in terms of well-being, for example. We know that the way people perceive their environment has a direct effect on their health and well-being and that means it's hugely important not just to plan on the basis of, 'Let's build houses over there', but more, 'Let's create communities that are sustainable, which are easy to travel in and out of, and have access to green areas.'

First Minister, in 2012, you denied announcing to the South Wales Echo that the green fields around Cardiff would not be built on as part of Labour's so-called local development plan. Your Labour colleagues stood in the green fields, and I quote, for the record, 'Labour does not want to build in Waterhall fields or on any green spaces.'

Those fields are now being built on, and the beautiful countryside around Danescourt will also be built on unless we can stop it. People in Cardiff were misled. Do you now accept that those green fields are being built on, and that it's happening because Labour gave these massive housing corporations the permission to do it?

14:00

His position has always been quite curious. I don't think I've ever announced anything to the Echo at any point in time. Secondly, I am not, nor have I ever been, the leader of Cardiff city council, and in 2012 I was not the planning Minister, so I could not anyway give any kind of permission for development in Cardiff or anywhere else in Wales. That's self-evident. But it is important that local authorities, of course, are able to manage the demand. The reality is that lots of people want to live in Cardiff. It's hugely important that the city is able to manage that demand, but also, of course, to work with authorities around Cardiff in order to manage them so that people can live elsewhere as well. The idea that a local authority should only plan for people who live and work in their own area is clearly ridiculous, because that's not the way it works in terms of the economy and nor should it work in terms of the planning system, which is why strategic development plans are important.

Asthma Sufferers

6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve services for asthma sufferers? OAQ52484

An updated respiratory health delivery plan for Wales was published in January. It sets out the approach to tackling respiratory disease over the next 12 months. Investment in respiratory care in Wales has increased from £338 million in 2009-10 to £432 million in 2016-17.

Thank you very much for the reply, First Minister. The provision of a basic level of asthma care, as set out in the clinical guidelines, contributes to keeping sufferers out of hospital and, ultimately, to saving lives. According to Asthma UK, Wales is the worst place in the United Kingdom to be an asthma sufferer, with just over a quarter of people receiving every element of basic care, compared to over a third in England, and nearly half in Northern Ireland. What action will your Government take to improve services for asthma sufferers so that more people in Wales receive every element of basic care?

The national respiratory implementation group does obviously recognise the significance of asthma as an illness. It has put in place a national work stream and appointed a lead clinician for Wales to co-ordinate health board activity. It's hugely important that patients receive a comprehensive asthma review; that is a priority for us. We are also looking to develop all-Wales prescribing guidelines, paediatric asthma guidance and the establishment of a difficult asthma group for the management of more complex cases. There's also a broader focus on the national review into asthma deaths and measurement of standards through the national asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases audit programme.

Children with Epilepsy

7. What support does the Welsh Government provide for children with epilepsy? OAQ52488

The neurological conditions delivery plan for Wales sets out our expectations for the future delivery of safe, sustainable and high-quality care for people who have neurological conditions. That includes, of course, supporting children and young people with neurological conditions such as epilepsy.

Last week, I hosted and chaired the Epilepsy Wales annual Epilepsy Aware event in the Assembly, and we heard that people with complex epilepsy were not able to access treatment, including the keto diet, although recommended as a first-line treatment by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. This included children with epilepsy after unsuccessfully trying two first-line drugs, which is also recommended by NICE—children who have a GLUT1 diagnosis. How do you therefore respond to their call for provision within Wales of the necessary treatments and levels of care as outlined in the NICE guidelines, a ketogenic team, and accepting the offer from the Daisy Garland foundation to fund a dietician in Wales for a year with immediate effect, alongside similar proposals in a list of ideas that would, finally, if delivered in Wales, meet the needs of these people and, as they say, impact positively on the finances of the NHS?

The Member is quite correct to say that, currently, services for patients in south Wales who require access to support for a ketogenic diet are provided in Bristol. That is correct. The service can be accessed through an individual patient funding request. I can say to the Member that officials do know of discussions between Cardiff and Vale university health board and the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee about the possibility of those services now being provided more locally. So, those issues are ongoing as far as south Wales is concerned, and I look forward to a positive outcome of those discussions to see whether we can actually provide the service closer to south Wales at this moment in time than is presently the case.

14:05

First Minister, I appreciate the treatments that we have talked about, but one of the big problems is actually taking a child who has a severe seizure to the hospital in the first place. I've got constituents who have phoned for ambulances and, in fact, family who lived over half an hour away got there before the ambulance got there. A lone parent cannot take a child to the hospital with their child having a seizure in the back of the car; it's dangerous. They need the response from the ambulance quickly because the child sometimes stops breathing as a consequence of this. Will you ask your health Secretary to look at the discussions with the ambulance service to ensure that, for these children, they can get responses quickly so a parent doesn't have to see a child suffer whilst they're waiting for an ambulance?

The Member will be aware, of course, of the assessment system to determine the clinical priority of a patient. The type of response sent to a child who has experienced a seizure will depend on the information provided by the person who's dialled 999, but I can say in response to his particular concern that the chief ambulance services commissioner is currently overseeing a review of the amber category, which will make recommendations for improvement in the autumn, and it'll be important that this issue that he has raised is part of the examination that's taking place at the moment.

First Minister, whilst Mark Isherwood and I might not see eye to eye on many political issues, we have worked closely together on the question of medicinal cannabis with the MS Society. So, I wonder whether I can ask whether an assessment has been undertaken of how many children in Wales have severe epilepsy but could also benefit from the availability of cannabis oil like Billy Caldwell. And will you also see that preparations are made to ensure that the NHS in Wales is prepared to meet the demand for medicinal cannabis and prepared to prescribe it to patients if and when restrictions are relaxed by the UK Government?

It's difficult to provide a figure because it depends on the individual, of course, but she does ask an important question. This is tied up, as she will know, in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which is not devolved, either in Wales or in Scotland. So, there are issues there that surround the ability of practitioners to prescribe drugs that are caught up in that Act. We know that cannabis derivatives can play a role in treating some medical conditions. That's why Sativex, of course, is available in Wales. I can say that, on 18 June, the Home Office Minister Nick Hurd, assuming he is still the Home Office Minister, announced plans to establish an expert clinicians panel, led by the UK chief medical officer, to advise Ministers on any applications to prescribe cannabis-based medicines. That panel will consider the merits of each individual case and make a clinical assessment of an exceptional and unmet clinical need. Now, what is not clear to us at the moment is how that will affect us in terms of prescribing. However, the chief pharmaceutical officer, Andrew Evans, is a non-voting member of the panel. So, even though we're talking about a devolved area, because the misuse of drugs isn't a devolved area, we need to make sure that restrictions are removed from London in order for us to be able to prescribe here in Wales. But I do hope that there is a proper examination of the possibilities of cannabis oil and what it might deliver for the welfare of some patients.

Heritage Projects

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to support heritage projects on Ynys Môn? OAQ52516

The Government funds an array of heritage projects on Ynys Mȏn. These range from community projects involving a number of local volunteers such as those at Newborough and Bryn Celli Ddu, through to major-scale investments such as improving visitor services at Beaumaris castle.

Thank you very much. We, like every other constituency, are very proud of our heritage, and there are a number of exciting plans afoot at the moment to reopen Marquess of Anglesey's Column in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll and to reopen the Amlwch train line. There are a number of proposals already in operation to celebrate our industrial and transport heritage—I'm thinking about the Copper Kingdom in Amlwch and the Breakwater park in Holyhead. But another important proposal, and one that needs the help of the Welsh Government, is to open the museum telling the story of the bridges in Menai Bridge. Now, there was a blow to that particular programme recently when the trust heard that they wouldn't qualify for funding for the Building for the Future programme. I hope that you as First Minister would agree with me that this is a very good time to look at investing in such a museum, given the steps that have been taken towards dualling the Britannia bridge, and I would be grateful for some support from you as First Minister, and that you, in collaboration with the Minister for heritage, can look at every possible alternative means of investing in this project, which would be a crown on the recent development of Menai Bridge.

14:10

Of course, we always, when the money is available, wish to invest in important heritage projects, One example, of course, is Llys Rhosyr and the fact that we want people to visit there and understand the heritage and history of the area. But any kind of bid would have to be submitted to the Government to see in which way we could support that bid.

Of course, Ynys Môn/Anglesey is an incredible place and its history goes back a long way. How do you think we can incorporate into the promotion of that island the period when it was the Rome of the juridic world, the fact that it was on the Roman imperial trading route even before Rome conquered this island, its wonderful Arthurian links and its links to the legends of Avalon and Avallach, the fact that it was occupied by the Vikings—half of it was occupied by the Vikings for two centuries, having a massive impact on local culture and dislocation at the time—and much more, aligned to the history we hear much more about as well?

If the Member was taken by surprise by that question, he did a sterling job, I must say, of selling Anglesey as a result of what he has said. It's hugely important for us to ensure that people visit all parts of Wales to understand the rich history that we have. I know, for example, if we talk about Llys Rhosyr, which I mentioned earlier on, that the Minister is preparing—or Cadw, rather, is preparing a leaflet at the request of the Minister on the castles and the sites of the lords and princes of Wales, and that will include Llys Rhosyr as well. It's part of our history that I think has been neglected, actually, over the years, because we know that Welsh history was not well taught in schools for many, many years and in some ways, as a nation, we're not well aware of our own history. So, all that we can do to encourage not just our own people but others as well to understand more of our medieval history, I think, is something to be welcomed.

Lynne Neagle is not here to ask question 9 [OAQ52517], so question 10—Andrew R.T. Davies.

Transport Infrastructure Projects

10. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government funding of transport infrastructure projects across Wales? OAQ52512

Yes. The national transport finance plan, last updated in 2017, sets out an ambitious programme of road, rail, bus and active travel improvements.

Thank you, First Minister. One of the schemes that the Welsh Government, via the Vale of Glamorgan Council, is promoting is the new road from the Miskin junction, as it's known, in the Vale of Glamorgan to Sycamore Cross. Can the First Minister confirm that if this project is to go ahead it will require Welsh Government funded money to be made available for its construction and that that money is within the budget as currently laid out?

Well, where we are at the moment is that we allocated a £60,000 grant to the council in 2017 to undertake an appraisal for the provision of those improvements. We commissioned Peter Brett Associates to assess the case for change for addressing connectivity issues for strategic employment sites in the Vale. Things are at a very, very early stage at the moment. I understand the council itself has extended the consultation until 17 July. So, any comments, of course, should be directed to the council, but inevitably, if it was to move ahead, it would be a large project, and it's difficult to see how the Vale of Glamorgan could finance such a project itself.

Maternity Services

11. Will the First Minister make a statement on maternity services for patients in north Wales? OAQ52494

Yes. Betsi Cadwaladr university health board offers women from the north a full range of maternity services from birth at home or in hospital, including both midwifery and obstetric-led care and specialist facilities, and these services have been supported by the Welsh Government's £18 million investment in the sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre, which became operational last month.

I'm very grateful for the fact that that service is available to people in my own constituency. The First Minister will be aware, however, that some people from north Wales avail themselves of maternity services in Chester at the Countess of Chester Hospital. There's been a recent scandal there with a nurse who has been arrested on suspicion of taking the lives of eight babies. Some parents in north Wales who have lost children are obviously very concerned about that news and want to have the deaths of their children investigated. What support is the Welsh Government putting in place for parents from north Wales who have lost children and are very concerned about the nature in which they were lost and whether there is an implication for them as a result of this ongoing investigation?

Well, as the Member will understand, this is an ongoing police investigation. There's not a great deal I can say about it. What I can say is that should any Welsh residents have been involved in what has happened there, we would expect the health board to provide support to the families affected and to seek the appropriate assurances from the NHS trust concerned regarding any Welsh residents currently under their care.

14:15
2. Business Statement and Announcement

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

Diolch, Llywydd. There's one change to today's agenda. Later this afternoon I will be making a statement on the review of gender equality, otherwise business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Cabinet Secretary, may I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on the Centre for Cities's report that says that the struggling city centres should end their dependency on retail by replacing shops with offices and housing? According to this report, offices in successful city centres like Bristol and Manchester made up two thirds of the commercial space available, and retail made 18 per cent of that. In Newport city centre, 54 per cent of commercial space was in retail, and 28 per cent of the shops are vacant. Also, the number of people living in Cardiff city centre, an increase of 88 per cent between 2002 and 2015. In Swansea city centre, 63 per cent over the same period. In Newport, an increase of only 20 per cent, Minister.

Could we have a statement from the Welsh Government on the findings of this report, and on how we can breathe life back into cities and towns such as Newport, please?

Yes, a very interesting report, and a lot of work has been done on the changing nature of city centres. The Cabinet Secretary has made a number of contributions to that debate, and we've been working very hard with partners on the city deals in order to take account of what the Member is outlining, which is the fundamental change in the way that people shop, the effect of, obviously, internet shopping on retail space, and what needs to be done to make those vibrant places that people want to go to for something other than a retail experience. The Member has pointed out the findings of the report very much. I know the Cabinet Secretary's very well aware of them.

First of all, leader of the house, can I say that I'm a bit surprised that we haven't had an oral statement on the consultation on land-use management and the future of common agricultural policy payments, which is going to be hugely important over the summer? I understand it's a long consultation, but it will feature strongly in the summer shows. I think an oral statement would have been suitable for such a consultation, and I no doubt will return to this tomorrow when the Cabinet Secretary is due to answer questions. But I think it deserves a particular session in this Chamber, to look at and examine that consultation.

Can I ask for two further possible statements? First of all, does the Welsh Government intend to make a statement on water over the next week or so? We're not in a position of drought yet in Wales—just to be sure that we're very clear about this—however, we do have a situation where we're starting to look at a situation that might arise with drought. Two months in a row of way-below-average rainfall is one of the triggers for drought—we're getting on for that. We're much better prepared than the summer of 1976, which I think we both can remember, but it's certainly true that there is some concern now about water use in Wales—a potential water shortage—and, of course, we'll be on a break over the summer, so if the Welsh Government does intend to support any kind of water-use restrictions, or needs to do that, because we may well have rain, but if it's not of sufficient quantity, we could still be in August with some problems—. So, will the Welsh Government make a statement, and in particular, will the Welsh Government make a statement on the use of the new joint powers in the Wales Act 2017 with the UK Government around water resources in Wales? I'm perfectly happy that our water is shared throughout the United Kingdom; I think it's right and proper that a common resource is shared. But I also think it's right and proper that the right price is paid for the use of resources. I think it would be very difficult politically if we saw any drought restrictions in Wales and water was flowing, shall we say, through English factories and towns without there being a quid pro quo in some of that. We just need to understand where the new powers under the Wales Act will be used by the Welsh Government to have discussions with the UK Government about the joint management, and appropriate management, of water resources in Wales.

The other situation I'd like to request a statement on specifically, or perhaps a letter from the Cabinet Secretary would be appropriate, is the situation of dentistry in Wales, and in particular dentistry at a consultant-led level. I have a constituent who's happy for me to name him, Mr Boff, who has been waiting for two and a half years for restorative dentistry, having lost all his teeth. He can't get that done by a restorative dentist in Betsi Cadwaladr, because they've never been able to retain a restorative dentist, but they're not willing, either, to pay for him to get it done where their previous restorative dentist has gone, which is in the west midlands. So, they're not prepared to pay for him to go there, but they don't have a dentist who can do it in the health board area, and they sent back £1 million to the Welsh Government for dentistry last year, because they couldn't spend the money. In the meantime, my constituent has actually been warned by his general practitioner that he now faces malnutrition because he literally does not have the teeth to eat properly.

This is something that could be solved so easily if health boards had a way of utilising the resources that they've been given by Welsh Government to spend outside their area, to make sure that our constituents do get the healthcare that they need. Now, the last time—I could read this out; I've got a very long list of interactions on this, and a lot of people have been involved—but the last time, most recently, a couple of weeks ago, a response from the Cabinet Secretary did show a little bit of urgency and a realisation that the health board can't continue sending holding letters to me—several weeks ago—on this matter, and that Mr Boff does need his full treatment. I would appreciate some response before the recess on what's being done to restore this service, which must be affecting other constituents, because Betsi has not had a restorative dentist for at least a year now, and is not able to provide a very essential service.

14:20

Llywydd, in time-honoured fashion, going in reverse order, I'll make sure that the Cabinet Secretary is aware of the issue, and finds out for the Member where he is on the response to his constituent's concerns.

In terms of water, we have not yet got to the point that some of us remember from the long, hot summer of 1976. I have to say, many of my Cabinet colleagues, of course, were not born in that time, but, sadly, I was. But we are keeping—forgive the pun—a weather eye on it and I'm sure that the Minister will bring forward a statement if we get to the point where that's necessary. I don't want to jinx the lovely weather, Llywydd, as I've an important family wedding, for which I very much hope it will last until, just after recess.

In terms of land management, obviously we are out to consultation, and the Cabinet Secretary, once we've had the consultation, will be coming back and giving us an outline of that consultation. The Member himself pointed out that there are a number of events over the summer where it will be discussed in some detail, and the time to bring a statement forward will be when we have the results of the consultation.

Leader of the house, I'm particularly concerned to safeguard my constituents in the western part of the Vale of Glamorgan, where there's a long-standing practice of using the services of the Princess of Wales Hospital. Can you provide an update on the proposed health board boundary change in Bridgend?

Secondly, I would be grateful if the leader of the house could confirm that the Welsh Government will respond, as a matter of urgency, to the report from the independent medicines and medical devices safety review, which has concluded that there must be an immediate pause on the use of surgical mesh for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence. You will know that I held a meeting last week of the Welsh mesh survivors group. Does this accord with a statement made by the Cabinet Secretary, Vaughan Gething, on 8 May, where he drew attention to his support for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence new guidance in December last year, stating that transvaginal mesh repair for vaginal wall prolapse should only be used in the context of research? And also, in his statement, he stated his support for the recommendation from the working group that the NHS supports women with pelvic health problems, moving to a focus on prevention and conservative therapies, with surgical intervention as a last resort.

It's a very important issue, and as Jane Hutt correctly said, the Cabinet Secretary has already made some remarks on that. We are advising the NHS to restrict the use of vaginal mesh in Wales, ensuring its use is continued only in those with very specific need and who fully understand the risks. That is in line with the recent recommendations of the report from the review panel, which Jane Hutt just mentioned, and the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has written to medical directors reiterating that advice.

We expect sufficient levels of clinical governance, consent, audit and research are in place in health boards to ensure that all women can be confident that the appropriate safeguards are in place. We have evidence of a significant reduction in the number of vaginal mesh procedures in Wales. So, that largely suggests, Llywydd, that a pause is already in place, driven by a change in clinical decision making during recent years. However, it's our expectation that that will continue to be the case until the requirements for increased safeguards can be met. So, I think the announced immediate curb in England very much reflects the Wales position. So, they're basically following our lead in implementing those safeguards.

In terms of the health board boundaries, I know that the—Llywydd, obviously, my constituency is one of the ones affected, just to remind Members of that—chairs of the health boards have issued a joint statement on this change and invited all elected Members to raise any concerns directly with them. If you haven't received that, I'll make sure you have a copy and that the invitation is extended to you, if that hasn't happened. There's no intention to change front-line health services in the Bridgend local authority area. We are obviously very keen to reduce duplication and bureaucracy, and to encourage simplicity. The proposals for realigning the health board boundaries are intended to offer such opportunities, empowering local government to be strong and capable and make decisions based locally on clear accountabilities and to work effectively with a consistent set of partners, so it realigns the boundaries, as I know Jane Hutt is already aware.

Welsh Government is continuing to work with the health boards and other partners as preparations for the boundary change are developed, and the relevant legislation will be brought forward in due course. Obviously, any further health service change proposals will be the subject of separate public engagement and, where appropriate, consultation in line with usual procedures for the consideration of such boundaries. So, this isn't the harbinger of another set of changes to come.

14:25

I endorse the call for a statement on mesh operations. England hasn't followed Wales. NHS England has announced a stop to NHS operations—full stop. In that context, I would welcome a statement.

Secondly, I'd welcome a statement on the contribution that heritage railways can and can further make to Wales and our local and regional economies. Last week, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas hosted a Worshipful Livery Company of Wales event with the magnificent Ensemble Cymru from Bangor University at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, playing, at which we heard the chair of the Worshipful Company was related to the family who had saved the Snowdonia mountain railway. Last Friday, at the Prince of Wales PRIME Cymru awards in Llandudno, I was speaking to a representative of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highlands Railway. Last Saturday, we saw Channel 4 screening its fifth and final episode of its Great Rail Restorations series, operating its time train on Llangollen Railway, promoting the wonderful railways setting between Llangollen and Carrog, but, of course, now going to Corwen as well, their ability to operate the heritage train, and the efforts of all those involved. For many years, we've heard of the Welsh Government's support for some heritage railways, a celebration of Welsh heritage railways, but we still need a joined-up tourism officer with through ticketing, enabling regional visitors to extend their stays and have the fantastic time we know they can have. Therefore, I call for a statement accordingly.

The Member highlights a really great part of Welsh heritage, and I'm delighted to say that I recently was in Llangollen for their heritage railway event there, and it was really fun to see, and the enthusiasm of all of the crowds that came to greet the train was also great to see. I know the Minister takes it very seriously indeed, and will be considering how we can best join up those services to make sure that we put our best foot forward in the offer that we have. I know the Member is very enthusiastic about those railways, as am I. I'm sad to say I haven't been on the Snowdon railway very recently, but I'm hoping to make good on that over the summer. So, I'll speak with the Minister about the best way to ensure that the Member's concerns are highlighted properly.

In terms of vaginal mesh, as I already said, I haven't really got anything to add, Llywydd, to what I said earlier about the mesh issue. Obviously, we are very acutely aware of the issues that the Member raises.

Leader of the house, you'll be aware of the recent British Council research comparing the soft power of sub-national countries and regions, and examining how they can build their international profile. There was a meeting here involving Rhun ap Iorwerth recently. The research looked at the people, brands, political values, culture and sport of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and seven other broadly comparable regions and countries. In terms of overall results, Scotland come second after Québec, with Wales in sixth place.

Now, clearly, perception and branding are important to our tourism sector in terms of attracting international visitors. Last year, all nations within the UK experienced increases in the volume of international trips, but Scotland and London performed particularly strongly. Whilst the number of trips to Wales also increased, spend in Wales during the same period decreased by 8 per cent, in contrast to spend growth across the rest of the United Kingdom of some 11 per cent. So, despite Welsh Government efforts, it is clear that more can be done to grow Wales's profile and international visitor numbers, and therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister for tourism were to bring forward a statement on the work that is going on in this field, his response to the British Council report, which identifies potential challenges and opportunities, and also to set out his vision of how he sees the international tourism strategy developing over future years. 

14:30

Yes, we were very pleased to see the increase in visitor numbers, and I was particularly pleased with the cruise ship arrangements in Ynys Môn, which we hope, very much, to be able to duplicate elsewhere in Wales. The Minister's indicating to me that he'll be more than happy to bring forward a statement to that effect, so I will liaise with him about the best timing for that. 

Leader of the house, every six minutes someone in the UK suffers a sudden cardiac arrest and their chance of survival is less than 10 per cent. Within Wales, it's less than 3 per cent, yet in many other countries across the world this person would have a 50 per cent chance of life. Sadly, children and young people can suffer sudden cardiac arrest as well as the older generation. Medical experts believe many children could be saved if a defibrillator were used within minutes of the collapse. I know that the charity Welsh Hearts have worked with the Welsh Rugby Union to try and install defibrillators in every single rugby club across Wales, which is a great initiative, and I know the Member from across the Chamber, Suzy Davies, has done some work in the past on this issue. But could we have another update, because we did receive a very useful update from the Cabinet Secretary in December 2016? But could we have another update on this extremely important issue?

And also, can I request a second update from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on mental health services in schools? It's almost a year since the Welsh Government announced its £1.4 million investment to strengthen the support from specialist child and adolescent mental health services to schools, and it would be extremely useful again to have an update on what work is being done to improve the services within our school system.

Jack Sargeant raises two very important issues. There isn't a specific programme for schools to have access to a defibrillator as such, but all schools, of course, should have arrangements in place for dealing with emergency situations. As part of the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan, which we published in June 2017, work is under way with partners to map out the organisations that provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation training within communities across Wales. We have effective partnership working, which will mean that people of all ages in Wales are not only given every opportunity to survive a cardiac arrest, but are also provided with the CPR skills and resources, like defibrillators, to enable them to assist in saving a life. And, as Jack Sargeant's just pointed out, the provision of defibrillators in appropriate public places, including rugby clubs, combined with investing in first responder training for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and ensuring the fastest possible ambulance response times, does significantly increase the chance of survival and recovery for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. 

The Welsh ambulance service and third sector organisations are working with schools across Wales to promote CPR and the use of defibrillators through initiatives such as Shocktober and Restart a Heart Day. There were 53 secondary schools involved in Restart a Heart last year and, in total, 10,622 secondary school pupils were trained in CPR. Thirty-two primary schools took part in Shocktober 2017, and 2,146 pupils were taught CPR as a result of that. They also covered when to ring 999 and what to do in emergencies such as choking as well. So, it's a very important issue and we look forward to seeing the extension of that this year as part of the campaign. 

Leader of the house, can I call for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs on big cat sightings in Wales? The leader of the house may be aware that there was a further big cat sighting in north Wales just over 10 days ago on the A5, and that's in addition to, of course, the 10 big cat sightings between 2011 and 2016 reported to North Wales Police—a number of which have been recorded by the Welsh Government. I'm sure that you will agree with me that we do need to understand whether there is a population of big cats in the Welsh countryside. There have been sightings in my own constituency in and around the Clocaenog forest and, of course, many farmers are concerned about the safety of their livestock as a result of these animals, should they be in the Welsh countryside. So, I wonder whether the Welsh Government can make a statement on whether they will be commissioning any further research into this subject, in order that we can establish whether there is a population in Wales and what risk they may pose to livestock and the public. 

The Cabinet Secretary is indicating that, obviously, she answered a question from you, and she expects that a letter from her to you should be received at any moment. 

14:35

Could we have a statement on the issue of British Steel pensions, which were swindled from workers by Celtic Wealth Management and their partners? I have raised this with the First Minister, but he seemed to fudge the response. We know that Celtic are not a financial advisory firm, so they will not be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and so to try and claim that the FCA are looking into this issue is not something that I accept. We know that the firm has been offering sports tickets to pension holders, to get them to take their pensions out of the British Steel pension scheme and the PPS. And there needs to be an investigation by the Welsh Government as to how this grant was given, on what premise it was given, and, since November, you've known about the problems that have emanated from this particular firm, and I would like to see an investigation carried out by the Welsh Government before we're waiting for more problems to emanate in relation to other pension holders in the Port Talbot area.

I'd also like to ask for another statement, with regard to your communications with the police in relation to the death of a young Sudanese man in Newport last week—Mustafa. Obviously, I understand that the law needs to be enforced, but when there is a serious incident such as this, resulting in a death, after or during an enforcement operation, we need to be thorough, and we need to ensure that, in future, incidents like this do not happen again. We don't want to see anybody die in this way. Whilst we do not know his immigration status, this man was employed and came to this country for a better life, and it should not have ended with his death. I know that immigration isn't within the confines of the Welsh Government's powers, but I really would urge you to assure the Welsh population, who have contacted me, who want to know what's happening in this regard, so that we don't see instances like this happen again.

That's a very important issue. Actually, I'd like to reassure the Member that I have asked for more details myself, as the equalities Minister, to find out exactly what happened there. When I have those details, I'm happy to—I'll probably write to all AMs once we have them. I'm in the process of having that conversation at the moment.

And in terms of the British Steel pensions, if the Member has any further information—specific information—that she'd like to share with me, I'll make sure that we take that very seriously.

Can I just endorse the remarks made by Jack Sargeant earlier on? I think it's a very important issue that he's raised, and I'm glad you took it so positively. In the figures that you gave us, though, I didn't see anything about the repeat engagement of students over time—a one-off hit is not going to create a nation of life savers, I'm afraid. So, if there is a statement to come on the now-belated anniversary of the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest plan, then perhaps that information could be included.

Could I just ask for a statement, please—probably from the Minister for tourism—well, an update really, on the state of cruise tourism, specifically, within the Welsh picture at the moment? We heard a lot about this in the last Assembly, but I don't think I've heard about it at all in this Assembly. And it's not just visitor numbers I'm interested in, but the development of local businesses, and local provision—quality of providers, and so forth—to meet the expectations of cruise passengers, which are obviously pretty high, and what the Welsh Government investment has been in that area of activity, as well as in the marketing of Wales to cruise companies. Thank you.

It's a very important point. As I said, I know there's been a big increase in cruise visits to Ynys Môn. Suzy Davies is of course right: we did hear a lot about cruise tourism in the last Assembly. I know that the Minister's been working very hard to make sure that we could get an embarkation point in Wales, which would be the holy grail of the cruise industry. When those conversations are well advanced, I'll be sure to help the Minister make an update to the Assembly on those discussions.

And in terms of the defibrillators, my understanding is that that's a rolling programme. If I'm wrong in that, I'll make sure that I let the Member know.

Leader of the house, you've already given the Minister for culture one namecheck today, or I should say another Member did. I was delighted to welcome the Minister to my constituency for a meeting with Cadw and local residents at Raglan castle last week. The meeting was primarily about the successor to Cadw's resident access scheme, but attention quickly turned to the dangers for local residents crossing the busy A40 from the village to the castle, with a relatively high speed limit, and without a crossing or a bridge, or any means of crossing safely at that point. Would it be possible for the Welsh Government to bring forward a statement on possibly having an access review to Cadw's sites across Wales, as soon as possible? I'm sure that Raglan castle is not the only Cadw site affected by similar issues. It's brilliant, on the one hand, to be revising the resident access scheme and to be increasing the ability for local residents, and indeed residents from other areas, to access Cadw sites, but if the physical access to those sites is limited for pedestrians, then you're either asking for trouble, with the increasing likelihood of accidents, or people just won't be able to get there in the first place in order to access these wonderful sites and places of heritage and interest that are found across Wales.

14:40

Yes, that's a very good point. The Minister is indeed getting a lot of namechecks today. I'm sure he won't have any problem with that at all, and he's also nodding happily that he's looking into that issue and will bring something forward in due course.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: 'Our Valleys, Our Future' Progress Report

The next item, therefore, is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: 'Our Valleys, Our Future' progress report. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make the statement. Alun Davies.

Member
Alun Davies AM 14:41:12
Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services

Presiding Officer, I am grateful to you for the opportunity to update Members about the progress that the Valleys taskforce has made since the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' action plan was published last July. I would like to start by placing on record my own personal thanks for the taskforce members’ work and support over the last 12 months, including my colleagues, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, the Leader of the House and Chief Whip, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, and the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning.

The Valleys taskforce was set up to create lasting change in the south Wales Valleys: an area that has immense opportunities, but also more than its fair share of challenges. I’m pleased to report today that the taskforce has planted the seeds of that change. At the heart of both the action plan and the delivery plan that accompanies it and which we published last November, there are three key priorities: good-quality jobs and the skills to do them, better public services, and my local community. There are more than 60 individual actions across each of the priorities, which have been developed following extensive engagement with people living and working in the south Wales Valleys. We believe that these actions will deliver real and lasting change for Valleys communities.

The taskforce is today publishing a first-year progress report, detailing the breadth of the work over the last 12 months and, Presiding Officer, I would like, with your consent, to share some of that progress with you today. A year ago, the taskforce set the challenging target of closing the employment gap between the south Wales Valleys and the rest of Wales. This means helping an extra 7,000 people into fair work and creating thousands of new, fair, secure and sustainable jobs in the Valleys. Over the last 12 months, more than 1,000 economically inactive people living in Valleys taskforce areas have started work through Welsh Government-led employment programmes. Nearly 1,000 people and small businesses have been helped through advice and business support. And more than 100 new enterprises have been created within the Valleys taskforce area.

The seven strategic hubs were originally conceived as areas where public money and resources would be focused to create opportunities for the private sector to invest and create new jobs. Over the last 12 months, we have made good progress in the development of these hubs. Local authorities in each of the hub areas have led the development of the plans, which are unique to their local area. Each area has been developing a blueprint for future investment, and we are identifying key projects to support long-term transformation. The early work on the hubs is highlighting the benefit that a joined-up approach to this type of investment can bring. We have seen this already with the Taff Vale project, which will provide the new headquarters for Transport for Wales, and help to revitalise Pontypridd’s high street. The Tech Valleys strategic plan has been published, providing strategic direction for investments and programme activity for Ebbw Vale, alongside a £25 million commitment between 2018 and 2021.

Presiding Officer, we are all aware in this Chamber of the metro and the welcome announcement made by my Cabinet colleague Ken Skates about the new rail franchise and the plans for a world-leading rail testing complex for the top of the Dulais valley. The metro is now becoming a reality, but as we have made clear all along, we need to ensure that it delivers far more than transport benefits alone. That will require the active support of a range of organisations, and we are already working across the region to deliver for Valleys communities.

Last week, the First Minister announced that he has appointed Linda Dickens, emeritus professor of industrial relations at the University of Warwick, as chair of our fair work commission. On behalf of the taskforce, I would also like to extend my own thanks to Professor Dickens for agreeing to support us on this journey. The Welsh Government has an ambition for Wales to be a fair work nation, and this work is extremely important to what we're trying to achieve in the Valleys. From the outset, the Valleys taskforce has highlighted the importance of engagement with Valleys communities. That has continued to be a vital element of our work over the course of the last 12 months.

Alongside our traditional methods of engagement, the taskforce has been working closely with three communities—in Llanhilleth, Ferndale, and in Glynneath and Banwen. We have been looking at how we can improve local services and make them better integrated. Each of these pathfinders have agreed a number of actions or activities, and the learning from this work will feed into the wider taskforce approach.

Presiding Officer, the taskforce will be taking forward three digital pilot schemes for the Valleys. We will explore extending public sector broadband networks to create a series of free Wi-Fi hotspots open to all across Valleys communities. We're investigating the creation of an Uber-style app, which would bring together all providers of community transport, making it easier for people to order transport to health appointments. We want to increase the use of online data mapping technologies as a means of promoting the Valleys. This work is closely aligned to the priorities identified by the Cardiff capital city region. It is also another area where the taskforce is acting as a catalyst for wider change. We all recognise the importance of digital technologies in the creation of high-quality jobs.

The Valleys landscape park is key to a third of the priorities in 'Our Valleys, Our Future'. It is at the heart of our ambition to help Valleys communities celebrate and make the most of our natural resources and heritage. We want communities in the Valleys to feel that they are a place that we can be proud to call 'home' and where businesses choose to operate. We want communities to be empowered and to show pride in their environment that is easily accessible and widely used.

The taskforce has spent much of the last year working on developing this exciting and dynamic approach that will co-ordinate, drive and promote activities related to environment and tourism across the south Wales Valleys. We all know just how much the Valleys have to offer, but I want the rest of Wales, the UK and the world to learn more about our history, our culture and our breathtaking scenery.

We have developed the idea for the Valleys landscape park with local communities, with key stakeholders and different interest groups. The aim is for it to deliver ambitious plans that will connect what we are calling 'discovery locations' across the Valleys with walking trails and cycle routes. It is my intention that this will be developed within a defined boundary and supported by a designated land status for the Valleys. We want the Valleys to be a recognised tourist destination. We want to grow the tourism economy in the Valleys to benefit from the economic impact that we know it can have. We are currently working with a number of proposed high-quality tourism developments, which, if realised, will attract new high-spending visitors to the Valleys.

I'm very pleased that this week the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport announced the approval of two projects that will make a significant difference to their areas within the Valleys. The £4.6 million Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal Adventure Triangle project will develop outdoor recreation, tourism and leisure activity along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal in Torfaen and Caerphilly, and will be able to connect the upland area of Mynydd Maen. The project will be delivered by a partnership between Torfaen council, Caerphilly council, the Canal and River Trust, and the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust. It will create a focus for visitors interested in outdoor recreation and adventure sports, bringing together a range of facilities to stimulate overnight visitor stays, and will help exploit the economic potential of the currently underused southern section of the canal and surrounding uplands.

Also detailed in the progress report is the upgrade of Llechwen Hall, a three-star country house hotel just outside Pontypridd, set in six acres of grounds. Welsh Government funding has been offered to expand the hotel’s capacity, add a gym and spa facilities and upgrade to a four-star hotel.

There is inspiring community work taking place across the Valleys. We want to build upon this and support people to take it further.

Presiding Officer, I'm sure you will agree with me that there is still very much to do, but, by working with our partners and with people living and working in the Valleys, we will deliver results.

14:45

During January's debate here on the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' delivery plan, I noted that the value of goods and services produced per head of population in the west Wales and the Valleys sub-region was still bottom across the UK, with the Gwent valleys second only to Anglesey as the lowest in the UK. I also noted that the Bevan Foundation's 'Tough times ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report said that unemployment performance was unlikely to be enough to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stood well above the UK figure, such as Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent, that there is nothing to be gained by pretending that all is rosy, and that performance was also unlikely to help young adults, with more than one in eight 16 to 24-year-olds out of work in Wales as a whole.

This plan includes within it an action: working with people who live and work in the south Wales Valleys and with the Cardiff region and Swansea bay city deals, UK Government, businesses and the third sector. In January, I asked how you were monitoring to ensure, if you believe you should, that this involves true co-production, turning the power thing upside down, if the Welsh Government is not to repeat the approaches of the last 18 years, thereby enabling people and professionals to share power and work in equal partnership.

Today's statement by the Bevan Foundation that the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' programme to improve the south Wales Valleys is bland and not reaching those who most need it is concerning. How do you respond to their statement today that this amounts to more of the same? How do you respond to their statement that recent investment in Taff's Well and Nantgarw was not in core Valleys areas? You state that 1,000 people started employment programmes. How many completed them? How many went into employment, of those 1,000? How do you respond to the Bevan Foundation's statement today that the target to get 7,000 into work sounds really impressive, but, if you look a bit deeper, that it's not very ambitious at all, that it's around about the numbers achieved over the last few years, and that if we carry on doing more of the same, the Valleys won't change? How do you respond to their statement that unemployment is 25 per cent of young males in some areas, and that there have been job losses in retail and small factories? And how do you respond to their statement that they are puzzled as to how the Welsh Government could live with deprivation virtually on its doorstep, without sufficient proposals to push investment and skills?

14:50

I'm grateful to the Conservative spokesperson for those questions. Can I say first of all that I did read the response of the Bevan Foundation? I actually enjoyed it. I thought it was a very good response, actually. I thought it was very well articulated, and I thought it made some very fair points. Can I say more than anything that I share the same frustration? I want to see a greater tempo of change. I want to see a greater tempo of delivering very real change to the communities that I represent and elsewhere. I think it's right and proper that that sense of impatience underpins a lot of our debate and much of what we say. I don't believe for one moment, and I don't seek to make any claims, that all in the garden is rosy, and I don't seek to make any claims that we have, in a little more than 18 months, turned around nearly a century of decline. I think it would be absurd were I to come to the Chamber and make those claims, and I think it would be absurd were the Government to seek to make those claims on our behalf. That's not what we are saying. In my statement, I said we were planting the seeds for sustainable transformation, and that is what we are seeking to do.

I reject any claim that we're not being ambitious enough. When I look at projects such as the landscape park, I look at something that is really transformational, and transformational in the sense of not simply putting investment in infrastructure or in a particular industrial complex, but inspirational in the way that we regard ourselves and our communities. One of the real tragedies of recent years is that too many people in the Valleys feel that there is very little hope for the future. We need to turn that around, and we need to turn that around not simply by making the physical investments that we need to be able to do—and we must do, and we will do—but also by investing in our people, our culture, our heritage and our environment. The landscape park brings together all of those different aspects of what we're seeking to achieve, and seeks to package it in a way that transforms not just the physical expression of who we are, but a cultural understanding of who we are as well. I think that speaks to the ambition of what we seek to achieve.

Now, I understand the debates about whether Taff's Well or Nantgarw are 'Valleys' enough. Are they deep enough into a particular Valley or not? Are they in the Valleys at all? I have to say that it's not a debate I intend to join, either this afternoon or at any point.

I think the more fundamental point that was made by the Bevan Foundation is more important, and that is the importance of investment in the Heads of the Valleys area and parts of the upper Valleys region where there are more significant and deep-seated problems and difficulties. For those of us who campaigned for the dualling of the A465—the Heads of the Valleys road—something like a decade ago now, we did that not to build a bypass past our communities, but to create an opportunity for real connectivity between the Heads of the Valleys area and the wider economy. What we saw that as being was a means of developing an industrial strategy for the Heads of the Valleys. I've already held one seminar on how we do that and how we maximise the advantage of that investment, and we'll be returning to that in September, because, for me, what is important is that we put in place the investments that we need to put in place to create sustainable and well-paid employment, but we also put in place the investments to ensure that that employment and that way of living is sustainable for the future. So, certainly we will not be living with deprivation. We do not wish to live with deprivation, and I'll say to the Conservative Member for North Wales that I see deprivation all too often when I return to my constituency after my duties here. I am impatient to change that. That is why I came into politics in the first place, and that is what I and this Government seek to do.

14:55

Alun Davies is right, of course, that in the near enough century of economic crisis we've witnessed in the former coalfield communities, since the collapse of the coal price in 1924, we've had a series of interventions and initiatives and strategies, and I think they can all be summed up, really, as micro progress and macro decline. The question that I think we must pose to him, and I'm sure he poses it to himself, is: how can this initiative escape that fate? We've had, time after time, raised expectations and dashed hopes, and that would be the ultimate disservice to these communities.

So, I welcome the progress report. There are many things in it that it's difficult not to like at the micro level, but, if it is to be genuinely transformational, then I think we need to engage with the kind of critical challenge—and I'm glad that he was positive about the critique offered by the Bevan Foundation, because I share some it—. Are we targeting the right things, is the focus correct? You referred to geography, and that's a critical question as well. Are the interventions collectively on a sufficient scale compared to the challenge, and are the structures right? I'm just digging very briefly into some of this.

Jobs: the only figure—the major figure that we have in targets—is the 7,000 jobs. There is a little bit of confusion there because, actually, if we look at the job creation record, or the number of jobs in the Valleys taskforce area, actually, over the five-year period to 2016, it went up to 22,000. So, at least on the face of it, unless you can correct me, it seems that the target is less ambitious than the trend rate over the previous five-year period. Even digging a little bit further than that, isn't really the issue the quality of those jobs? The problem now in many of these Valleys communities is not the number of jobs per se; it is the quality, it is the low-skill and low-paid nature of many of those jobs. It's a productivity problem and then it's about investing in skills.

On the issue of whether it is of sufficient scale, if you look at some of the earlier initiatives—the strategic regeneration areas, for example, under a previous administration, the One Wales Government—there were designated pots of money in what were effectively versions of the strategic hubs that he's created. We still don't have any clarity about the amount of global investment that is going into this programme or, indeed, attached to those strategic hubs. When will we get the assurances that, actually, we're going to get significant investment over the course of a generation, which, actually, is necessary in order to effect change?

And, finally, when we compare the Valleys taskforce—. And I also pay tribute to the incredibly impressive engagement that's gone on and the volunteers that sit on the taskforce, but, when you compare that to the structures of the city regions—the city regions, which, through their governance structures, involve many of the key agencies, including local government, and have huge budgets attached to them—then it's an unequal equation at the moment and it's no surprise that there is this concern that what is happening is the magnet of the M4 corridor within those city regions is continuing to wield its enormous power. And how can the Valleys taskforce drive the necessary investment in a different direction to the core Valleys areas that he referred to earlier?

15:00

Presiding Officer, before answering the questions from the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, I think that Members on all sides of the Chamber would like to join me in welcoming him back to this place and congratulating him and wishing his family well in the future. I think all of us on all sides of the Chamber want to pass on our good wishes to you.

Can I say this? In terms of where we are today, you've asked some very fundamental questions and, if I'm completely honest with you in answering them, I will say to you, 'Is the focus correct? Are the interventions correct? Are the structures in place?' I hope so. But let me say this: I am impatient for change. I am not content and I will not come here simply to say that what we've put in place over the last 18 months or so will remain in place. I'm continually looking at the structures and the processes that we have in place, and, if I do not believe that they're delivering the change we want to see, then I will have no hesitation at all in making the changes to ensure that we do achieve the change that we want to see. So, I hope—.

His characterisation of previous initiatives—micro progress and macro decline—is a well-made criticism and that is a criticism that we hope to learn from rather than repeat. It is not my wish, this afternoon, to simply come here and say, 'We have a report, and, come what may, whatever criticisms are made of that report, I will defend it in a ditch'. That is not my purpose. My purpose is to come here and report honestly and clearly and to learn from the critiques made, both by Members here and by the wider community, which is why, like you—. I probably enjoyed reading the Bevan Foundation's report slightly less than you did, if I'm completely honest, but I thought the arguments were good and well made.

So, in terms of the scaling up of our ambition, that is the key challenge facing us. Ensuring that we're able to put the investments in place in strategic hubs, which will then successfully lever in the private sector investment, is the key challenge. Ensuring that we do have the relationship with city regions and other strategic bodies is a key challenge. And I'm not convinced that we have that in place at the moment, if I'm completely honest in my responses.

But let me say this: the taskforce itself—. And this is one area where I am concerned about where this debate goes sometimes. Too often, people believe that the taskforce is itself a Government body that has a life of its own—its own headed notepaper and flag and a headquarters building somewhere. It isn't. The taskforce is a way of focusing Welsh Government approach and policy on the Valleys of south Wales. So, when we talk about the taskforce, what we're talking about is the approach and policy of the Welsh Government and not simply a group of civil servants or a single Minister or a group of Ministers acting independently of Government. So, all the resources we have available to us are the resources of Government and those resources need to be brought to bear on the issues of deprivation that were very well described by Mark Isherwood.

And, in terms of what we're seeking to achieve, the target is 7,000 people rather than 7,000 jobs. But the overall criticism made by the Plaid Cymru spokesperson is well made again. We are looking at the quality of work and we are looking at Wales as a fair work nation. The reason I wanted to specifically acknowledge the work of Professor Dickens in my opening statement was to make that very point. We recognise and we know that if we look at employment levels alone in the Valleys we don't tell the true story. In fact, we learn the wrong lessons. All too often, people in employment in many parts of the Valleys, including my own constituency, and I'm sure parts of the Member's constituency in Carmarthenshire as well, are working in poorly paid jobs that are insecure and don't have the opportunities for skills development that we would wish to see. So, what we need to do is not simply ensure that people have that sort of low skilled, insecure, poorly paid work available to them, but that we have the sort of jobs that will lead to careers in the Valleys and in the Heads of the Valleys and in all parts of the Valleys. That is our ambition and, in developing the target for 7,000 people, what we wanted to do—. The target didn't appear out of thin air; where it came from was to bring the Valleys parts of the local authorities in question up to the same levels as the rest of Wales, and to achieve that in five years. That is the scale of our ambition.

The Member is a very good and skilled economic historian; he knows the difficulties that have faced the Valleys over decades. What we seek to do is to plant the seeds of change, and that will take more than 18 months and it'll take more than two years. But what I hope we'll be able to do is to demonstrate that we have in place the foundations for a very different future for our Valleys.

15:05

Thanks to the Minister for today's progress report on the Welsh Government's ongoing Valleys initiative. When opposition spokesmen and politicians discuss your plans, we normally do have a little bit of prelude about lots of Valleys plans that have been before, and Adam's given us that prelude again today—a very informed one—but we know that we need to get away from the past failures.

We in UKIP are hopeful that this initiative will lead to some progress in the Valleys and there are good things contained in the update today. We think, overall, of course, any initiative is a good one as long as it has good intentions and it means to be meaningful. You stated last time around that what you didn't want to do was to create any new bureaucracies. You didn't want a secret conclave of politicians, but what you did want was to bring the people of the Valleys into the discussion, and I agree with you that we don't want to create things that appear to be more tiers of government. It is crucial, I think, that we do bring the voice of the Valleys into this discussion and that we allow people in the Valleys to have a meaningful say in plans for their own future. So, I'm encouraged by the talk of the local authorities that have been involved, bringing events like summits and workshops into play, so that we do get that engagement with local people.

But, of course, Adam has raised the issue that, in some ways, this kind of reacts against, perhaps, the city region plans, which will be focusing on the fact that the Valleys are proximate to the M4 corridor, whereas what you want to do with the Valleys plan is to actually bring investment into the upper Valleys. Of course, we do have to consider what the Valleys actually constitute and that there is a meaningful difference between the southern corridor end and the upper Valleys. I know you acknowledged that there is a difference. We don't want to get too much into it, because investment in the Valleys as such is a good thing, but I think there is a distinct difference between the two ends of the Valleys. So, we have to be a bit focused about where we do put any investment.

Now, going back to the public engagement, how will you ensure that the voice of local people will continue to be represented in your plans, and will that voice lead to meaningful change? You did mention the relationship with the city regions and that the shape of it at the moment isn't as you would like it to be, so, if you could shed a little bit more light on that, that would be good. The primary need is the need for good quality and sustainable jobs. Yes, they need to be high-quality jobs, not—. We need to move away from low skills and try to get people into higher skilled jobs, so, clearly, that involves a need to retrain people and a big factor is giving an increased opportunity to train and retrain people so that people of all ages in the Valleys will be able to access those jobs. What specific commitments will be given to retraining? You're going to have to work with employers, with local colleges and with careers advisors, so what will your engagement be with employers and colleges and with Careers Wales as you take your plans forward? Particular points were raised last time, in fact, by Hefin David, who has got a lot of experience, clearly, of higher and further education—he mentioned that more part-time study and more franchised study was needed and that local colleges would have to take that responsibility on. So, what are your thoughts on those precise points? 

Transport is going to be key. Mick Antoniw and Adam Price have both in the past cited the need for a circle line around the Valleys, which the current plans for the south Wales metro do, to some extent, provide for. So, I think we need to make sure that the metro doesn't end up just being another route into Cardiff; we do need it to have that interconnection between the Valleys. What will you be doing to ensure that that interconnecting idea remains in place as plans for the metro progress, and can you offer anything to assure us or to help keep the metro from perhaps bypassing these plans in future? Perhaps, if it scales down its investment, there is a danger that that interconnecting idea could disappear. 

We also have local schemes; a couple of them were mentioned today. That's very welcome. The canal scheme sounds like a good initiative. I met last week with several people involved with the Rhondda tunnel scheme. So, I wonder what part schemes like that will have in your thinking, and are you looking to develop more local transport schemes as we go forward? Diolch yn fawr.  

15:10

Presiding Officer, one of the issues that was raised with us at almost every public event we've done over the last two years has been the issue of local transport. Most people raise issues around local buses rather than the metro system, and I think it's important that we do recognise that, in developing the metro, we are developing and delivering a transport network that does go beyond simply the trains that quite often form the highlights of that. So, we will be ensuring that transport links lie at the heart of what we're doing. When we identified the seven strategic hubs, we identified areas that were accessible by public transport and areas that would be served by the metro in the future so that we do have a spatial and strategic view of where we will be focusing investment in the future, and the metro will form an absolutely essential part of that. 

In terms of the issues that the UKIP spokesperson raises on apprenticeships and training, clearly, we will be ensuring that the employability programme that the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning has launched is active in the Valleys, and it has a focus on the Valleys. We're also developing a shared apprenticeship model in Merthyr Tydfil that will ensure that we are able to develop and learn the lessons of some of the other projects, such as the Aspire project, based in my own constituency, which will ensure that we have a means of delivering skills, training and apprenticeships that is sustainable and reaches all the different parts of the Valleys, and the different skills required for sustainable jobs in the Valleys. 

But can I say that the UKIP spokesperson makes a point of ensuring that local people are involved in the design of all of these different projects and programmes? We have rooted all that we've done in the ambitions that have been shared with us from people in and around the communities of the Valleys. This hasn't simply been co-produced in the way that the Conservative spokesperson has said, but it's been rooted in the ambitions and the visions of people throughout the whole of the Valleys region. We have spent time and we have invested time not simply in talking with people, but listening to what those people have said to us. And one of the key things they've said to us—and the Plaid Cymru spokesperson referred to this in his remarks—has been that all too often expectations have been raised only for those hopes to be dashed. What I want to be able to do through this programme of listening and talking, and by publishing a delivery plan, is to be held to account for the promises that we make, so that people here—Members on all sides of the Chamber here—will be able to hold us to account for what we deliver and what we say we will deliver, the timetables and the targets that we set, but, at the same time, people across the Valleys will be able to hold us to account as well. And I think, in terms of winning and rebuilding trust in politics, that is essential for the future. 

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for the update? I think there is, Alun, much to welcome in the statement that you've presented today. Like you, representing a Valleys community, I've been hugely supportive of the work of the taskforce, what it has set out to achieve and the way in which it has engaged with communities right the way across the Valleys to get to the point that we're at now. But you will appreciate that I'm going to make no apologies for, once again, taking this opportunity to make a parochial point about the upper Rhymney valley. While I welcome the kind of investment that we've seen in things like the delivery of the new Idris Davies School in Abertysswg, for instance, I do remain concerned that Rhymney is becoming a forgotten corner of the Valleys. There's been no obvious or substantial economic investment coming its way, despite it being so strategically placed next to the Heads of the Valleys road.

As has already been mentioned, I think this is the point that the Bevan Foundation were trying to make in their statement, particularly in relation to the metro investment in Taff's Well. And I know you don't want to go into that and I know that others have mentioned it, but I will repeat it: it's closer to Cardiff than it is to the Valleys. I have raised this before and I think it is a question of economic priorities in terms of investment, and that's the reason I've questioned that. Because I think that such an investment like that, if that had been in the Rhymney valley, would have been transformational in terms of the quality jobs that it would have provided, the skills it would have brought with it, and the positive knock-on effect on the wider economy, not just in Rhymney, but across the Heads of the Valleys. It would have ticked every box in the Valleys taskforce objectives, as well as in the Government's Better Jobs Closer to Home programme. 

So, given the Welsh Government has to lead on the delivery of investment in our Valleys communities and that it does hold the levers of economic power in so many areas, I'm pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the economy is coming to Rhymney on Thursday, when he's going to be meeting with local representatives and some businesses there, and he will be able to see first-hand and hear from them what's expected. So, my question to you, as Cabinet Secretary for public services is: will you also visit Rhymney with me and discuss the progress in our Valleys strategies for these communities and give some assurance that this Valley will not be left behind? Because frankly, while, of course, I totally understand that things can't happen overnight, and I know that you'll agree with this, if 'Our Valleys, Our Future' doesn't deliver in places like Rhymney, then it will have failed.

15:15

Presiding Officer, the Rhymney valley has some great advocates speaking on its behalf. I know that Dawn Bowden, the Member for Merthyr and Rhymney, speaks for the upper Rhymney valley and our colleague Hefin David speaks for the lower parts of the Rhymney valley with equal ferocity, shall we say. I understand the points that have been made, and I recognise those points. I'm very happy to come across to Rhymney at any point to speak and to visit and to have these conversations. But I think the fundamental point you make about the communities of the upper Valleys, of the Heads of the Valleys, is absolutely correct. I think you attended a seminar back in April to discuss some of those particular issues. All too often, we look at the Valleys as a whole without understanding the differential in the different communities and the importance of having a very focused strategy to address some of the more deep-seated issues.

For me, the Heads of the Valleys will provide the litmus test for us for whether we succeed or fail. The points made by the Plaid Cymru spokesperson were well made, and if we are to pass the tests that have been set by you and others here, it will be in places like Pontlottyn or Rhymney that that will be seen. So, let me say this: we brought together a group of people in the spring to look at how the dualling of the A465, the Heads of the Valleys road, can be used as a catalyst for change, and I believe that we need to now look at what steps and what investments we have to make in the infrastructure of the upper Valleys to realise that ambition. I can see the Member for Cynon Valley is here as well, and we know that from Hirwaun right across to Brynmawr, our communities face some very significant challenges that are beyond those faced by other areas—and we can debate as to whether they are part of the Valleys or not at perhaps another time.

The key issue of the upper Valleys is firmly in the centre of my mind, and I hope that what we'll be able to do in the early autumn is to have in place an industrial strategy that is aimed at those upper Valley communities—an industrial strategy for the Heads of the Valleys, which looks to see how we can secure sustainable employment in and around the area of the Tower Colliery site in the upper Cynon valley, across to Merthyr itself. I think the Crucible project that we've debated before will provide a real boost for Merthyr in the way forward, and the upper Rhymney valley needs exactly the sort of investment that you've described. For my own constituency, it's about developing places like Tafarnaubach industrial estate or Rassau industrial estate, ensuring that the Tech Valleys investment doesn't simply stay in Ebbw Vale, but is able to act as a boost for investment across the whole of the Heads of the Valleys region. That is the ambition that I think we all share, and we need to make that a reality. So, I very much agree with the points that have been made.

15:20

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your update here today. You'll know that I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the Valleys taskforce and its delivery plan, as are so many of my constituents as well. It's good to see you referencing the former Tower Colliery site, which I believe has excellent potential due to its unique connectivity links. I look forward to seeing what can be done with that site with Welsh Government help in the future.

I have a few questions for you today. Firstly, in relation to the Valleys landscape parks, and particularly joining those up, you may have seen recently in the news that RCT council has been appointed as the lead authority to take forward the reopening of former railway tunnels, including the Abernant tunnel, which links Cwmbach in my constituency with Merthyr Tydfil. With your comments around heritage and tourism, do you agree with me that these structures, including the Abernant tunnel designed by Brunel, could be used as levers to support tourism being brought into the area and also to encourage active travel? How can the Welsh Government support taking these projects forward?

Secondly, a number of interventions around health were mentioned in 'Our Valleys, Our Future' and with last week's timely seventieth anniversary of the NHS, and that institution's strong links to the Valleys, are you able to say any more on Welsh Government actions to meet these goals?

Thirdly, and finally, I recently spoke at a conference organised under the umbrella of the mutuals alliance, which highlighted how co-operative and mutual models could be used to deliver services in a range of areas. How are you linking into this sector and encouraging the development of real grass-roots, co-operative alternatives?

Presiding Officer, the points made by the Member for Cynon Valley are very well made. In terms of health and co-operatives, of course, we have just celebrated what many people described as the seventieth anniversary of the national health service. Of course, for those of us from Tredegar, Presiding Officer, it is simply the seventieth anniversary of the Act of Parliament that created the national health service. We have been celebrating the one hundred and twenty-eighth anniversary of the founding of the Tredegar medical aid and sick relief fund that led to the creation of the health service. And that's a very well-made point, because those of us who are Members of the co-operative party recognise that there are ways that active citizenship can be used in order to deliver significant change in our communities, which takes us back to many of the themes that have run through our conversation this afternoon.

My ambition for the Valleys isn't simply doing things to the Valleys whether the Valleys like it or not, but active citizenship determining our futures throughout the Valleys. The future that we would want to see in the Sirhowy valley and in Blaenau Gwent may well be very different to the view of the Member for Neath on the Neath valley and the Dulais valley, where we were very recently, where we'd have a different set of priorities and a very different set of ambitions. But it is right and proper that we put in place the means of enabling active citizens to take control of their own futures and to ensure that we provide the means and the funding and the structures to enable people to do that.

When I think of the great history and heritage of the Valleys—we talked about the Abernant tunnel this afternoon, but we've also talked about the tunnel in the Rhondda valleys on previous occasions—there are opportunities here for us to change the future of the Valleys. I think the Valleys landscape park is one of these very, very exciting initiatives and concepts that could actually do far more than it says on the tin. It can actually change the way that we look at ourselves, which is absolutely crucial for me. When I was talking to people in Aberdare, in the Dare Valley Country Park, a couple of months ago about their ambitions for the future, it struck a chord with me about my own ambitions, and that we share that vision for the future.

When I think of the landscape park, I think also of gateways—areas into the Valleys—and I think the Dare Valley Country Park could be one of those areas. I think Merthyr could be one of those areas. I think areas around my own constituency, with the heritage of the national health service, could also be one of those, and you can bring in Blaenavon with Big Pit, and other areas as well. There are a number of ways in which we can transform the future, but we will only do it if we root our visions with the visions of people living in the Valleys at the same time. When we were talking about the economy of the Heads of the Valleys, it was great to see Tyrone O'Sullivan, the great miners' leader, talking there about his ambitions for the future of the Tower site, and what that can continue to offer the people not just of Hirwaun and Aberdare, but people of the whole of the Heads of the Valleys region. It's that ambition that I hope we can unleash in the future.

15:25

Diolch, Llywydd. Cabinet Secretary, I thank you for your statement this afternoon. I very much welcome the taskforce and its ambitions, and I want to see it work. Obviously, I want to be able to see the lessons learned from that apply to all the valleys in south Wales, because, as you know, the Afan valley is not included in your hub areas. You've actually identified the Valleys landscape park as one opportunity, and Vikki Howells has mentioned the Abernant tunnel. The one she didn't mention was the Rhondda to Blaengwynfi tunnel—to ensure that that all works as well.

But there are developments in the Afan valley, which is not included, that have looked at projects that will develop the tourism industry there, with the Afan Valley resort project or the Rhondda tunnel project. These are projects focusing upon bringing tourism in. Will you confirm to me now that, because we're not in the hub areas, we will not be missing out on the opportunities to benefit from the Valleys landscape park, so that we can build into that and work together?

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

I can absolutely make that confirmation today. When you take decisions about strategic investment, you do create that sort of situation whereby some people feel they're in and others feel that they are not. I recognise that, and I know that others have made very similar points to me at different times. But let me say this: I think all of us who have travelled through the Afan valley and have travelled up to Blaengwynfi, and over the top there, have seen a landscape that is comparable with anywhere in the world. It's a fantastic place to be; it's a fantastic proposition, if you like, for tourism. It brings together some fantastic opportunities, and certainly, the conversations that we've had about the future of tourism in the Afan valley are, I think, some of the most positive conversations I've had about the future of the valleys. Certainly, the investments that we've debated and discussed in the Afan valley, I think, will transform not just the Afan valley, but the perception of the valleys and the place of the valleys, both in terms of tourism from Wales and the rest of the UK, but also our own perception of ourselves.

I think the Valleys, in terms of tourism, have more potential than almost any other part of Wales; that potential is currently untapped. What we have to do is to ensure that we put in place the structures that enable tourism to be a key part of our future, but also—and this is important for me in finishing, Deputy Presiding Officer—that the benefits of that tourism stay within the valleys, and that we see Valleys communities benefiting from that in a very real way, and also, returning to the point made by the Member for the Cynon Valley, that we do also ensure that it's a part of who we are in the future in terms of public health, and in terms of providing opportunities for people to explore and understand in a way that we've been losing in the last few decades. So, the reopening of the tunnels is one way, an understanding of our heritage is another way. Opening up access to the hills and the mountains and the countryside around the Valleys, and within the Valleys, I think, is a way of reconnecting ourselves with our past to create a very different future.

4. Statement by the Leader of the House: The Review of Gender Equality

Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the leader of the house on the review of gender equality. I call on the leader of the house, Julie James, to make the statement.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. On International Women’s Day, the First Minister announced a rapid review of our gender and equality policies, and wanted to bring new impetus to that work. The initial phase of this review has been supported by the equalities charity Chwarae Teg, and the Wales Centre for Public Policy. I am very pleased today to be able to update Assembly Members on progress and to set out next steps.

Chwarae Teg and the Wales Centre for Public Policy have today published an important report, gathering evidence from Wales, the UK and other countries. I am extremely grateful to them for their work, and also extend my thanks to the many stakeholders who contributed to the evidence gathering, and who put forward proposals for consideration. The Chwarae Teg report identifies mechanisms to strengthen the way Welsh Government, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Welsh public sector work, and to be more ambitious about the development of our policies in ways that actively promote equality in relation to gender.

The report focuses on three key themes, the first being vision and leadership. The Welsh Government is challenged to be clearer about our vision for a Wales in which gender is at the heart of our policy making. We need to set a clear vision of equality in Wales, identifying goals and desired outcomes, and making sure that this is well understood within the Government, with our stakeholders and the general public. Wales has some world-leading legislation, and we have been challenged to do more to consistently use this to its full potential to have a greater impact. The Welsh Government also has an important role to play in leading by example, both as an employer and a policy maker, to drive lasting change.

The second theme, policy in practice, looks at the way the Welsh Government designs and implements policies and legislation. The report has identified areas of good practice, and made recommendations about how this can be delivered more consistently. It focuses on areas such as the budget-setting process, how we engage, and the importance of effective equality impact assessments.

The final theme, external scrutiny and accountability, finds that external scrutiny is welcomed, and that effective scrutiny drives behaviour change. The report identifies that there is scope to strengthen and better integrate existing accountability mechanisms across the legislative and regulatory framework.

The report also highlights the importance of putting such action in the context of equality more widely, recognising that intersectional factors, such as disability, race and poverty have a great impact on life outcomes. Conversely, a strong focus on gender equality has the potential to drive forward equality and fairness for everyone in Wales, including the most disadvantaged groups in our society.

The Wales Centre for Public Policy report, annexed to this report, examines international approaches to embedding a gender perspective in decision and policy making. Scandinavian and Nordic countries consistently score well in indices that measure how well countries are closing gender inequality gaps. The report recognises that some polices implemented by these countries cannot easily be transported to Wales, where we have a very different welfare regime, mostly determined by the UK Government. However, they are well worth considering in terms of what we can learn from their sustained efforts to promote gender equality.

The WCPP report recognises the challenges of including a gender perspective in all decision making, finding that we need the right cultural and behavioural conditions, cross-cutting Government working, equalities expertise, and the inclusion of the voices of people affected by mainstream policies that are otherwise assumed to be gender neutral. The WCPP concludes that proactive, creative and collaborative use of gender-mainstreaming principles and tools will assist with setting a vision for equality in phase 2 of the gender equality review, and recommends areas to explore in our next phase.

These reports have posed challenging questions we need to ask ourselves, and presented recommendations for action to strengthen the building blocks for achieving gender equality. These recommendations provide areas for action in phase 2 that we can move forward on immediately, and others that will need further exploration. I will publish a full response in the autumn. The second phase of the review will begin as soon as possible, and will provide the opportunity to explore these recommendations in greater depth. [Interruption.] Excuse me for that, Presiding Officer; I thought that was on silent, but it's vibrating in a very unhelpful manner. And I've completely lost my focus now. This will include clarification of the costs, issues and risks involved, and move to action. I will set up a steering group to facilitate the progress of phase 2, and the analysis of the phase 1 recommendations.

We have achieved important successes with regard to equality in recent years, including the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. Nevertheless, it is clear that we must make better use of the levers of Government if we are to achieve the ambition to be a gender-equal Government that truly puts gender at the centre of our policies.

We need to strengthen the current vision and leadership in Wales, and build on our existing legislative and regulatory framework, to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. The report makes it clear that this framework, and how the various pieces fit together, is not well understood by stakeholders, and is consequently perceived as not fully integrated. We can and we will do better.

15:30

Thank you very much for the statement. I'm happy, actually, to join with you in congratulating your success, as a Government, obviously supported by this Assembly, in the two Acts that you mentioned at the end of your statement there. I think there is quite a lot to be proud of there.

To turn to the rest of the statement, though, I wonder if you can deal with these for me: the first one is—I'm just wondering, is this intended to be a sort of pathfinder for the private and social enterprise sector as well? I accept that we have a very small small and medium-sized enterprise sector in Wales and there'll be lots of businesses that are too small to take a lot of what we're talking about on board here, but I'm just wondering what your plans are for perhaps rolling this out, or sharing the good practice that we'll see as a result of this, hopefully, with the private sector, and whether there might be any plans to incentivise some businesses to take these on. I mean, my argument being that there shouldn't be a need to incentivise them, but it's always worth considering, isn't it?

Just to go back to your first point, policy and practice—no, sorry, the vision and leadership part of your statement, equality and sustainability were embedded in this Assembly when it was created, so I was perhaps a little worried to hear that a clear vision of equality may not be as understood within Government as perhaps we might have expected. Do you have any internal policy on this issue? Surely, you must have, because the Assembly itself does, but if you do, can you say whether the gaps are visible in any particular directorate or particular policy area, and what it is that you will be expecting, from the vision and leadership, to fix precisely?

Turning to equality impact assessments, I’m wondering if the process for compiling these has changed significantly over the years. I remember reading budget documents and there certainly was a time when these were referred to and then routinely ignored in making decisions. So, if there have been any movements forward in what is considered during the course of making impact assessments, I think that would be quite helpful for us to all know, actually.

I haven’t seen the report itself—I’ll be honest with you there—but I was quite interested in your remarks on scrutiny and accountability, not just in the role of this Assembly—. Obviously, it’s clearly the role of this Assembly, but civil society in Wales as a whole has a huge role to play here as well, not least our media. Do you have any concerns that there may be some quarters who are nervous of criticising the outcome of Welsh Government policy, lest they be received less favourably for Welsh support in the future?

And then, looking at the mainstreaming of principles and tools, which you mentioned, I’d like to come back to a particular area of interest for me, which is the vocational choices that tend to be made by young women, post 16. One of the things I particularly wanted to mention was the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Welsh Government here for an apprenticeship route into occupational therapy, as they have in England. Now, this is an area of work that is already very attractive to women, and I think this lack of an apprenticeship route is actually a barrier for women coming into an area of work where, actually, they’ve got a massive career opportunity, with plenty of routes of progression within the profession.

Similarly, we’ve discussed peer pressure before, about the choices young women make at 16. Alongside any work that encourages them to go into the less traditional areas than health and beauty and social care and so on, how will your steering group consider how further education courses that traditionally attract young women can be geared better and promoted better to students so that they view these as the beginning of an ambitious career programme, rather than just assuming that it’s got limited expectations, which perhaps unfairly characterises some of these courses, I have to say that, so that they’re looking at it with an ambitious eye, rather than just a, ‘Well, this is what I can do, because my academic qualifications weren’t so great’? Thank you.

15:35

A very excellent set of questions. I'll try and just talk about them as we go through. Apologies—the report has been published today. I'm not at all, therefore, surprised that Suzy Davies hasn't had a chance to read it in any depth. However, there is a summary report included. It's published on the Chwarae Teg website. Also, the Welsh policy annex is also very interesting in terms of international examples, if you like. I think, Deputy Presiding Officer, it's fair to say—and I've said this to Cabinet colleagues as well—in reading that report, I experienced an almost epiphany in the way that I thought about gender. It's very interesting and I hope that Members will be able to read it.

The statement today is the beginning of a process, so we're not formally responding to the report. I can answer some of the questions from what I know now, but what we're doing is launching the report. What I very much hope we can do, Deputy Presiding Officer, is have a good conversation across this Chamber and civic society, and all society in Wales, about what on earth to do about it. The epiphany is this—that in the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, they start from an agreed place that women suffer discrimination at all levels in society. So, obviously, the suffered discrimination is in proportion to where else they are in that society, so a white, middle-class woman will suffer less discrimination than an ethnic minority or disabled woman and so on. But, nevertheless, that discrimination is there, as against the male counterpart. Therefore, they look at all of their policies, not to see that they don't discriminate, but at what they do to advance the cause of equality, which is the flip side. And as soon as you start to look at it like that, it looks very different. So, you ask yourself not 'Will this policy discriminate against women?', because that is what it describes as gender neutral. In other words, it will do nothing about the relative place of women at the moment. It won't discriminate against them, but neither will it advance them. I think that a conversation needs to be had about whether we want to flip that the other way round. So, I think that is a real difference in the way that this report presents itself to us. And then, when you view our policies through that framework, they look different.

We've done very well in eliminating discrimination. What we haven't done well at is advancing equality, and I do think that those are very important. So, in your series of questions, that's what the clear vision is. It's not that we don't have a clear vision about preventing discrimination, it's that we lack the clear vision for advancing equality. So, if you flip it like that, all the way through, you can see. So, when you look at our equality impact assessments and flip them, you get a slightly different result and slightly different policies, and that goes all the way through. If you do the scrutiny on that basis, you get a different result. So, the report is very interesting, Presiding Officer, and has the basis for us to do it differently in the way that countries that are a lot further advanced than us are still doing in numbers, because nowhere in the world, I'm sorry to say, are women actually equal to their male counterparts in the society that they live in.

15:40

I too welcome the publication of the first part of this review of gender and equality policies, but we have to acknowledge, of course, that this work is restricted in its nature and the focus is on the Government processes. They are important, of course, and issues such as equality impact assessments are vitally important, but it is limited, isn't it, with regard to promoting equality across society in Wales? That, ultimately, is what will lead to a nation where women can live their lives safely and where equality is prioritised.

I do agree with you when you say in your statement that the Welsh Government does have an important role to play in leading by example as an employer and as a policy maker to create permanent change. Recommendation 24 of the report by Chwarae Teg notes that stage 2 needs to start with a public debate in order to put practical and tangible actions in place to promote equality. For me, this is an important recommendation. Yes, we do need to have that debate, but, please, not one that goes on and on and on. What’s important is that actions are taken on key policy areas, and there is already a whole host of evidence about these issues. We know already what we need to be tackling in order to lead to improvement. What we need to do now is to make that improvement.

One of those areas, of course, is childcare, and everyone recognises that having affordable, quality childcare provision that’s available in all parts of Wales is vitally important to promote equality. So, you know what I’m going to ask next: do you believe that the current childcare offer of your Government is fit for purpose? I wonder whether we need to reconsider the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill that’s going through committee stage at present, because it is taking us towards one specific direction, and stakeholders, the vast majority of them, argue that that direction is the incorrect one. They argue that the childcare offer needs to be active when a child is one year old and not when they’re two years of age. That’s what will make the genuine difference in order to allow more women to return to the workplace. So, the question I ask is this: do you believe that it would be worth pausing the Bill, reconsidering it and reintroducing a motion that would make the difference that we all wish to see?

Turning to a second area, whilst this review is under way and whilst Stage 2 will take place, the discussions about Brexit will also continue and will intensify, and it’s vitally important that women’s rights are maintained and developed as a result of leaving the European Union. Rights such as the right to equal pay; the right to leave from work for an antenatal appointment; rights in the workplace for pregnant women or for women who are on maternity leave; health and safety for women in the workplace; pension rights and so on—rights, as you know, that stem directly from our membership of the European Union, but also rights that are genuinely at risk of being lost, remembering this increasingly aggressive environment that we’re living in with regard to rights. We need to face the possibility that there will be an attempt to undermine some of these rights, without mentioning preventing the further development of rights. One way of safeguarding these rights would be to embed equality principles in the law in Wales: the principles of the Istanbul convention and the convention on eradicating discrimination against women and so on.

So, I’d like to know—. I know that I’m straying from the review itself here but I do think it’s important at this current time. Is the Government considering embedding those equality principles in our laws here in Wales? Experts, such as Professor Simon Hoffman from Swansea University, are of the opinion that it would be appropriate to do just that, and it’s within our competence, and perhaps to put forward a Bill to safeguard women’s rights and also workers’ rights, of course—a specific Bill in Wales.

You mentioned—

15:45

Yes. You mentioned in your statement that you want to show vision and leadership in Wales on gender issues, and of course we want to do that. I think that bringing a Bill forward to safeguard our rights as women would be an excellent way of showing that vision and leadership. Thank you.

Yes. A very important set of points there. In terms of why it's limited in the way that it is, it's just that for the first phase of the review, to get it under way, we asked them to do a rapid review of the Government and its policies deliberately, as a place to start—that's all. So, obviously, what we want to do is take it out from there, and the recommendations make that plain. There are, however, some recommendations for us, as I said, as both an employer and a policy lead, to make sure that we have our own house in the very best place it can be, in order to be able to be a role model. It would be very hard to ask other parts of our society to, for example, close the gender pay gap, if we're not able to do it ourselves. So, I do think there are some important things that can be done in-house, if you like, but then, clearly, the idea is to take it out to the world. A large number of the phase 2 recommendations are around that and the steering group, and I very much welcome a role for the cross-party group on women in taking forward the review as well, because in this place, I think, we have many things that we share across the whole Senedd about how this can be taken forward, and there are some very exciting things in here that will need some drive to push them forward.

You mentioned a couple of very specific things. The Bill, at the moment, on the childcare offer, is actually just about the HMRC arrangements for proving eligibility for working parents, so I don't think that that limits us in terms of what we do on the childcare offer. So, that's a different Bill. The committee scrutiny for the actual childcare offer Bill will be very interesting to see. I'm sure we'll take into account a range of stakeholder views, and so on, and there's a conversation to be had about what the best way forward on some of the offers is. I think our offer in our manifesto is a very generous offer, but there are issues around all childcare offers that need to be fully explored.

In terms of Brexit and the embedding of rights, we are actively looking into whether we can embed parts or all of the Istanbul convention. Obviously, we're not the nation state, but what we can do to embed that in our law, and actually also the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women stuff from the European Union. We want to hold onto those rights and make sure that they are embedded in our law. So, there's an active engagement with the Counsel General about how we might achieve that in our legislation, and what the best way to do that is, whether it needs a separate Bill or whether we can do it in another way. That will be very much part of phase 2 as well, as we go forward. We will be looking to establish a steering group alongside the cross-party group on women, which I know, Siân Gwenllian, you take a very particular interest in, alongside Jane Hutt and Suzy Davies. I'm very much hoping that, together, we can get a consensus on how to take some of the very exciting parts of this review forward.

15:50

Thank you for your statement, leader of the house, and for your earlier written statement. This year we celebrated the centenary of the first women being able to vote in parliamentary elections, and 90 years since we were given the vote on equal terms. Gender equality has come a long way in those 90-or-so years, but it hasn't come far enough. There is still a huge gender pay gap, unnecessary barriers to women taking key leadership roles, and we still battle misogyny on a daily basis.

Gender is a function of biology and should have no bearing on a person's life chances. Unfortunately, in 2018, it still does. Welsh women can expect to earn over £1.80 an hour less than men. Only 6 per cent of the top 100 companies' chief executives, and fewer than 14 per cent of local government chief executives are women. Women make up 51 per cent of the Welsh population, yet only make up 42 per cent of senior officials in Welsh Government. Only 28 per cent of local councillors are women. The Welsh Government have passed a number of pieces of legislation and regulations aimed at improving gender equality, but as highlighted by the rapid review of gender equality, they are not working sufficiently well.

Legislation will not tackle misogyny. Positive discrimination will not eradicate prejudice. We have to change attitudes. We have to show the world that it is not okay to make comments on a woman's appearance rather than what she is saying. We have to show the world that men are not better than women, that girls can do anything that boys can; and we have to show the world that threatening to rape someone on Twitter will not be tolerated.

I have just one or two questions on your statement. Leader of the house, how will you ensure that action on gender equality is taken across Government? And what discussions have you had with the Cabinet Secretary for Education about the action she can take to ensure young people are educated about becoming gender blind, and encouraging young girls and boys to challenge stereotypes? There should be no such thing as a man's job or a woman's job. Young people should be free and encouraged to do whatever job they wish. Finally, leader of the house, when will you be in a position to outline the timescales for the completion of phase 2?

We all have a role to play in improving gender equality. We have to fight misogyny, stand up to domestic violence, and challenge gender stereotypes. That's not feminism, it's humanism. We will not tolerate discrimination in any form. Diolch yn fawr.

Well, thank you very much for those remarks. There was much there that I completely agreed with. I think, Deputy Presiding Officer, it's worth indulging myself with a quote from a young woman who was with us standing outside with Val Feld's plaque, who said that she looked forward to a time when somebody complimenting her on her figures was talking about her attainment in maths and not the shape of her body. So, I think that's something well worth bearing in mind, and we are a long way from that, I fear.

But I also think it's worth quoting a little bit from the report—and I appreciate that Members won't have had a chance to read it even at all, or certainly not in depth—because I do think this epiphany that I spoke of earlier is summarised by this. So, it says:

'A gender-neutral approach defaults to treating men and women the same, which does not result in equality of outcome for men and women. This approach is often described as "gender-blind" which the UN define as "inability to perceive that there are different gender roles, need, responsibilities of men, women, boys and girls, and as a result failure to realize that policies, programmes and projects can have different impact on men, women, boys and girls"'.

I think that sums up the report. So, it's exactly as I said in response to Suzy Davies: if you flip the way you think about it and say that gender neutrality is not what we're looking for; we're looking for gender equality, which is not the same thing, because we are not equal when we start. Therefore, a policy that is gender neutral results in the same inequality at the other side of it as it did when it started. That's the drive, I think, across Government.

Obviously, we have taken this report through Cabinet before I took my oral statement. We had a robust conversation there about what can be done. In taking phase 2 forward and in developing our full response to this, which I'll bring back to the Senedd in the autumn, we will be talking about what each Cabinet Secretary and their departments can contribute to this. There are recommendations in the report, which I have yet to be able to discuss with all parts of this structure of Government, if I can call it that. Some of them are for the Commission. Some of them are around the ways that political parties promote gender equality and so on. That's why I was talking about the cross-party working group taking some of those forward. We will need to find some structures for how to advance mutual understanding of all of that, and that clearer vision, not just for the Government but across civic society—I think that Siân Gwenllian very much majored on that as well—that we accept where we start and then what we want to do to go forward. I do think that's fundamental for that.

In terms of outcomes, we're expecting to get to a point where we can agree how to take this forward by a year's time. I just want to be really clear what I mean by that. Obviously, I don't expect to have achieved gender equality in a year's time. Would that I could expect that, but obviously not. What we hope to do is have a comprehensive programme to embed in Wales in our lives in a year's time that we all agree on and that we can take forward.

15:55

Can I welcome your statement, leader of the house, on the gender review? It's particularly relevant to this year, with the centenary of women's suffrage. Last Saturday, I spoke at an adult learning event, and my theme was: 'We won the vote 100 years ago. Let's win equality for women in Wales today.'

The opera Rhondda Rips it Up, which some of us saw—the Welsh National Opera opera—told us about the life of Margaret Mackworth, or Lady Rhondda as she became, who set fire to the post box in Newport as part of her protest as a suffragette. She was sent to prison and went on hunger strike, but was released under the cat and mouse Act. The main theme on Saturday, once we'd talked a bit about suffragettes in our communities and historical figures who had made such an impact and enabled us to be there and be discussing the way forward—. The main discussion point on Saturday was on issues relating to today's Wales, in terms of gender equality, and that is where my questions will arise in relation to your review.

I look forward to reading the reports that you have published today. I've only been able to read the Chwarae Teg gender review summary. But I, particularly, have been impressed by the Women's Equality Network manifesto, and that states that it has—the manifesto and the network—a vision for Wales where every woman and girl is treated equally, lives safe from violence and fear, and is able to fully participate in the economy. So, leader of the house, do you believe the outcomes of the gender review, phase 1 and then moving on to phase 2, will help us move to fulfil—? We can only move, make steps to fulfil that vision. We acknowledge that. Will it help to address gender inequalities that are highlighted in that manifesto?

It's worth again looking at those inequalities. Fifty-five per cent of girls aged seven to 21 say that gender stereotypes affect their ability to say what they think. Fifty-two per cent of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace. We know we have a responsibility, not just the Welsh Government but here in this Assembly, to address the Me Too issues that have come out this year. One in three women in Wales will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. And the one that is so hard for us to tackle, and we cannot tackle it on our own in terms of the Welsh Government: there is a 15 per cent gender pay gap in Wales. Average hourly pay for women in Wales is £10.57, compared with £12.75 for men. Do you believe your review will help us to move forward in terms of securing commitment to halve the gender pay gap, as proposed by the Women's Equality Network in their manifesto? Can you update the Assembly on the gender pay gap in the Welsh Government—indeed, the Commission has a responsibility here—and how we can directly address that?

Now, you have said, and I'm grateful for it, that Siân Gwenllian and I are co-chairing, and Suzy Davies as well—the new cross-party group on women. On Thursday we welcomed Laura McAllister to speak on her expert panel on 'A Parliament that Works for Wales'. I'm pleased to note the recommendation in the Chwarae Teg phase 1 summary report, which says Welsh Government should legislate for implementation of the expert panel for Assembly reform. Well, we know this is, again, up to the Assembly to take forward. I hope that the gender review will enable us to take this forward in terms of some of the gender-focused recommendations, and I would talk about regaining the 50/50 representation of men and women in this Assembly. We gained it in 2003. We have to regain that, and, if that includes looking at those recommendations regarding gender quotas, job sharing, then so be it. We need to move forward.

Just finally on this area, we have made strides to tackle the scourge of violence against women in Wales, but the reality of violence against women is stark. I'm patron of both Atal y Fro, my local Women's Aid group and Bawso. Can you assure me that the recommendations in the gender review will be taken forward? I think this does relate to your point in your statement about making better use of the levers of government. We can have legislation, we can have funding, we can have policy that we approve, but it's about how we use those levers of government to ensure that we put gender at the centre of our policies. Can we see a step change in Welsh Government to achieve this? Of course, that does include the recommendations that say Welsh Government should review and, where necessary, strengthen existing legislation and duties, including the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act (2015).

So, just finally—sorry, thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer—there's a lot more we can take forward, but I would be very pleased for what I hope will be agreed in our cross-party group, that we can help you to take this forward in terms of the gender review.

16:00

Thank you for that series of questions and comments. I entirely agree with what you said. There's a lot to digest in the report. I wanted to bring it forward to Members for them to see the report as it is. We have not yet formally responded. We'll be doing that in the autumn. I would very much welcome that cross-party group involvement in that, because I think this is an agenda, Deputy Presiding Officer, that self-evidently the Government cannot achieve alone. We absolutely have to agree cross-party here a set of things to go forward in order to take civic society, society at large, with us. Because otherwise we're just not going to even get off the mark.

We've got groundbreaking legislation, of which we're rightly very proud. It's played its role, it makes the statements, it sets in train some of the actions, but you need more than that. You need a groundswell of opinion. You need what's in the Scandinavian countries: an absolute acceptance across the piece that this is something that the country wants to tackle.

So, just to take some of the specifics that Jane Hutt mentioned, these are a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, really. Women make choices based on their gender because they expect to be primary carers in their home. One of the recommendations in the report that I'm looking forward to exploring is that we should take account of the unpaid care that goes on in the Welsh economy in terms of our GVA. That's a very interesting thing, because we know that the young women stakeholders who were interviewed as part of this process know that their aspirations will be tempered by their need to be the primary carer, because we have not shifted that agenda one bit. We also know that economic disadvantage plays a role—it's not the only cause, but it plays a role—in gender violence. We know that gender aspirations do affect people's choices. We know these things are happening. We need a big push to accept as a society that we want to do something about that, to develop the role models that allow that to happen.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I know that you share with me the frustration that this is a conversation we are still having. We had it ourselves as young women and we ought to be advancing this. So, I'm not ashamed to stand here and say I do not have all the answers to this. But, between us, together, we can move this agenda forward.

Thank you. We have had a major speaker from each of the parties. Can I now—? For the rest of the speakers—we've still got quite a few—it will be a short introduction and one question so that we can get through all of you. Bethan Sayed.

16:05

I'll try and be brief. [Laughter.] In your 2011 manifesto, there was a section where Labour outlined what they were going to do to make gender equality a reality and lead to significant changes of culture, not just within the Government, but also in the private sector. I don't feel that this has been done to a significant enough level. I appreciate your personal commitment, but it does sound to me as if you've never been in Government for the last how many years by the way that you're speaking here today.

There were promises, for example, to ensure public appointments were at least 40 per cent women. This was back in 2011. How well is this going? There were commitments on specific equality duties to ensure emplo