Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Russell George.

Ambulance Response Times

1. Will the First Minister make a statement on ambulance response times? OAQ52627

The Welsh ambulance service continues to exceed the national target to respond to immediately life-threatening or red calls within eight minutes. In August, 74.4 per cent of red calls received a response within eight minutes, with a median response time of just over five minutes.

Thank you for your answer, First Minister. Back in March, I questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services on ambulance response times in Powys, following delays in the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive following a 999 call. This has been partly attributed to ambulances waiting outside hospitals to transfer patients into the care of hospital staff. In a letter to me on 24 July, the chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust confirmed that the average ambulance handover times for January to June of this year was nine minutes for Telford, 26 minutes for Shrewsbury, and a shocking one hour and two minutes for Wrexham Maelor. I would be grateful if you could provide details about what you're doing to improve the handover time at Wrexham Maelor, which, of course, is under the direct control of Welsh Government, to prevent further delays to ambulance response times for the residents of Montgomeryshire.

Well, there are obviously issues in the English hospitals as well, and there will be times when demand is particularly acute. What I can tell him, though, is that, in terms of Powys, in August, 71.2 per cent of red calls received the response within eight minutes—that's above the national target of 65 per cent for the fourth consecutive month. The typical response time for that type of call was around four minutes and eight seconds—the fastest typical response time in Wales that month. And, finally, whilst no formal time target is in place for amber calls, the typical response for an amber call in Powys was 20 minutes and 17 seconds, in January, again, better than the national average of 24 minutes and 19 seconds.

We usually talk about ambulance responses to people who have physical ailments, but there are people who have mental health issues too, and we don't have specific teams that respond to mental health calls. Now, in Sweden—in Stockholm, particularly—because of the high number of suicides, there is a special team that has been established, which is a psychiatric emergency response team. Given the need for emergency response to people with acute mental health problems or those at risk of suicide, would you as First Minister agree that the ambulance service in Wales should be looking at the possibility of creating an emergency or rapid mental health team in Wales?

It's an interesting idea. We have focused on child and adolescent mental health services—and that doesn't, of course, include adults. But, when a person is in a mental health crisis, they don't tend to think of ambulances or hospitals as the first port of call. But that is an interesting concept that is worth looking at, and I will ask the Cabinet Secretary to respond in writing to the Member.

First Minister, there has been a massive increase in demand for ambulances—up around 128 per cent over the last two decades. But the new clinical response model is supposed to ensure that those in the most need get the fastest response—be that a fully crewed ambulance or a rapid-response paramedic. However, last year, 16 per cent of red calls took longer than 10 minutes and 68 people waited more than half an hour for an emergency response. So, First Minister, do you agree that this is unacceptable, and will you outline the actions your Government will take to reduce the number of red calls taking more than 10 minutes and eliminate the number of calls taking over half an hour to respond? Thank you.

Well, I'd be very disappointed if calls took over half an hour to respond to on a red call. As far as red calls are concerned, we are well above target. It's not 100 per cent—I understand that—but we're well above target in terms of ambulances reaching people when they are needed. There has been an issue that's been raised in terms of amber calls, of course. There are some patients who continue to wait longer than we would expect, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services has commissioned the chief ambulance services commissioner to look at the amber category, to conduct a clinically led review of the amber category. That does include serious but not life-threatening calls—around about almost two thirds of the call volume, actually, of the Welsh ambulance service. I know that that Cabinet Secretary will update Members over the course of the next few weeks.

Supporting Welsh Universities

2. What plans does the Welsh Government have to support Welsh universities? OAQ52647


Well, we recognise the importance of a thriving, world-class higher education sector to the economic and social well-being of Wales. We'll continue to provide support, of course, to the sector through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which, together with our student support reforms, will create a stronger and more sustainable sector in Wales. 

I thank the First Minister for that response. I know the First Minister will agree that the continuing uncertainty over Brexit is having a massive impact on the university sector. Unfortunately, Welsh universities saw the biggest drop in the UK in the number of European Union applicants between 2017 and 2018. So, what help can the Welsh Government offer to the universities, which are obviously a crucial part of our economy in Wales, to halt or try to reverse this downward trend of EU students coming to Welsh universities? 

Well, I can say that the Cabinet Secretary for Education has announced several additional elements of funding for HEFCW over the next few years, including £6 million in 2017-18 to deal with the short-term implications of demographic change and in preparation for the implications of Brexit. We've also allocated £3.5 million to Global Wales too from the European transition fund to boost international marketing and links for the HE sector in Wales, and we'll look at further opportunities for the EU transition fund to support this sector. 

First Minister, clearly, the offer isn't strong enough at the moment. When you look at the figures, there's a 7 per cent drop from non-EU countries and a 10 per cent drop from EU countries coming to Welsh universities. Yet, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all saw increases in the number of students enrolling in their universities. Rather than focusing on the money, which is welcome, how are you going to change the offer that actually starts getting more students coming to Wales, such as the other offers that are available in other parts of the United Kingdom and which are seeing increases in their enrolment numbers? 

Well, there is an issue, of course, which affects all of the UK, and that's the issue of what's being done with migration. Students feel unwelcome. Certainly, that's something I've picked up many, many times in terms of students from India—they feel unwelcome in the UK. It's also hugely important that we're able to access the academic staff that are needed in order for our universities to be competitive and, ultimately, that's what it's all about—the universities compete in a world market. I've already explained what we are doing in terms of universities in Wales and, of course, I very much encourage our universities to sell themselves abroad to understand that they operate in a world market and, of course, to make sure that more students come to Wales because of the quality of the university education that's available here. 

But the point is valid, isn’t it? There is something unique about the figures here in Wales because the rest of the UK has seen an increase of 2 per cent in the undergraduates coming from the EU while Wales has seen a reduction of 10 per cent. Now, the suggestion made by your own education Secretary, of course, is that the way that student support in Wales has changed now means that, in looking at that support, EU students may find, or have the perception at least, that they would receive less support than they would have done in the past. So, with that specifically in mind, what’s your Government doing to market the opportunities and support available to those students, because at the moment it’s clear that they’re not hearing the message?

Well, I believe it’s true to say that there has been an impact as regards changing the system of support for students. It’s quite natural that we should see that. It’s impossible to know whether that’s true or not until we’ve had this system for a few years and can therefore see whether this is a blip or whether it's a trend. First, of course, it is the universities’ duty to market themselves and, of course, to attempt to attract students into their universities. We, as a Government, have collaborated with universities and I have worked with a number of universities that have gone abroad in order to sell those universities globally. But what’s important, of course, to ensure is that they have the academic staff that can offer the kind of education we would wish to see, and, at present, what’s endangering that is the fact that there is no clarity whatsoever as regards what the status of academic staff from the EU and other countries will be and whether they will be welcome here or not. I hope that the welcome will remain.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

We'll now turn to the party leaders to question the First Minister, and the first this afternoon is the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood. 

Diolch. First Minister, do you believe that the Welsh Government has an obligation to implement universal childcare, which, and I quote,

'helps address the impacts of poverty and narrows the attainment gap when children start school'?

We have a very firm manifesto commitment, which we'll be taking forward.  


First Minister, that quote that I used was from the leadership bid of the Cabinet Secretary for Children, Older People and Social Care. As I highlighted last week, your Government is slashing school meals provision. We have Cabinet Secretaries in your Government who say one thing and then do the exact opposite. Now, the children's commissioner has lamented your childcare legislation as a large subsidy—[Interruption.]—as a large subsidy for some of Wales's highest earning families that is likely to reinforce inequalities.

First Minister, you continue to turn your back on the politics of progress in favour of the politics of poverty. Do you accept that your regressive childcare offer is likely to reinforce inequality, or is it your view that the children's commissioner is wrong?

Well, two things: let's kill this myth first of all that somehow the free-school-meal provision in Wales is worse than in England. It isn't. There are 3,000 more children who will receive free school meals as a result of what we're doing as a Government. An extra £10 million has been put into the budget in order for that to happen. So, this idea that, somehow, school meal provision is being slashed is simply untrue—it's simply untrue. I've already given the figures in terms of the finances and in terms of the children who will be affected.

We put forward a radical and innovative plan to help working parents. That's what the offer is for—for working parents, because we know how difficult it can be for people to go back into work with the costs of childcare. And this is what this is designed to do—to help those people who want to get to work, to remove a barrier to employment and provide the childcare that people need at a time when they need that help in order to move back into the world of employment. That's what the scheme is designed to do.

Just like your school meals policy, with this, children will lose out. Parents will lose out, and in particular those who are struggling the most—[Interruption.]—those who are struggling the most will lose out as a result of your childcare legislation. Now, studies from Ireland to Australia to here in Wales show that one of the biggest barriers to people seeking work is access to high-quality childcare, and it's those very people—the people who are looking for work or those in education or in training—that your policy will exclude from childcare support. So, First Minister, this is a regressive policy. You'll be able to get free childcare if you're a couple earning £200,000, but if you're a struggling parent trying to get back into work or into training you will be denied such support. How is this compatible with your supposedly socialist values, First Minister?

Well, again, I come back to the point I made, which she didn't seem to have picked up on, which is this: when it comes to free school meals, the offer we put on the table means £10 million more a year and 3,000 more children will receive free school meals. I don't see how that's slashing free school meals. Let's make that absolutely clear now. 

Secondly, there is the pay scheme, of course, which helps people get back into work, but she seems to contradict herself. On the one hand she says it should be a universal scheme; then she says it should be a scheme to help people get back into work. This is what it's designed to do—to help people get back into work and to offset the costs of childcare that they'd otherwise have to pay, which makes it less attractive to go into work. Now, if that's what she's saying we should be doing, we are doing it and we will take forward our manifesto offer and deliver the most generous childcare offer anywhere in the UK.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, are you ashamed of the accident and emergency waiting times at Wrexham Maelor and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd hospitals, which were the worst ever on record, published this month?

They must improve, there's no question about that, but, if we see performances elsewhere in the NHS, we see that A&E provision is improving. Clearly, there is a challenge that Betsi Cadwaladr must meet in order to reduce the waiting times at those hospitals.

Well, First Minister, this is a health board that has been under direct Welsh Government control for almost three and a half years. What is there to show for your staged improvement and transformation plans? Well, the record speaks for itself: 1,900 patients waited longer than 12 hours at A&E services in north Wales—this is more than all the other health boards combined; this summer, more than 5,000 hours were lost because ambulances were delayed handing over patients at north Wales hospitals; in the last 12 months, 26,000 patient safety incidents were recorded, 10,000 more than in Cardiff, and 233 of these have been severe incidents, more than double those in Cardiff; in the last three years, the health board has overspent by £88 million and has more than 2,000 patients waiting over a year for treatment. These are shocking statistics, and behind these figures are real people who are suffering as a result of your sheer incompetence to help this health board improve. For three years you have been responsible for these services and have set benchmarks to see this health board improve. You are clearly failing the people of north Wales, so can you now tell us what you and your Government are going to do about this? What specific measures are you now going to take to start addressing this very serious situation?


Well, we acknowledge that performance on those two sites is unacceptable. That's the first thing to say. It's a reflection of pressures and demands on hard-working staff. I've said that I expect the board to put into place meaningful actions to deal with this. Now, what have we done? Well, the board, with £1.5 million-worth of support from Welsh Government, has put in place arrangements to target improvements and actions in respect of the unscheduled care system in the north. We also provided £6.8 million earlier this year to strengthen the health board's operational capacity at each of the three main hospitals in the north, and that package of support is intended to enable the health board to increase its understanding of local challenges and make effective decisions to support immediate improvement. The NHS Wales delivery unit is also working at the Wrexham Maelor site to support local performance management.

Now, as I said, whilst the performance generally is unacceptable, the typical wait in BCU for patients to be seen, assessed and treated or discharged was two hours and 48 minutes in August. Now, given the specific concern, which has been raised in fairness, about the August figures, a 90-day improvement cycle has been put in place and will be a point of focus for the board and clinical teams across the north. We will review the board's 90-day plan and decide whether any additional targeted support is required as a matter of urgency.

First Minister, the people of north Wales are in this position as a result of consistent underfunding, downgrading and neglect on behalf of your Welsh Government. Your sheer incompetence to lead this health board to an improved state is having huge consequences for the people of north Wales and the staff who work tirelessly to deliver their care. The people of north Wales deserve a safe and sustainable health service. Clearly, you have failed. So, here's your chance, First Minister: before you leave, will you now take this opportunity to apologise to the people of north Wales whom you have so badly let down?

First of all, these are two issues at two hospitals that have emerged in August that must be dealt with. He cannot surely stand there and say that austerity has nothing to do with this. When Northern Ireland had £1 billion given to it, a substantial amount of which was for health and education, which drove—[Interruption.] I know it's painful—[Interruption.] I know it's painful, but when a substantial amount was given to health and education, which drove a coach and horses through the Barnett formula, where were the Welsh Conservatives? Mute, silent, indifferent. Let me tell him: he tries to paint a picture of the north of Wales as neglected—it was my great pleasure last week to go to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and to open the sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre—[Interruption.] Whose fault is that? Is it my fault that the SuRNICC has been opened, apparently? There we are. A sub-regional neonatal intensive care centre opened, I remind the party opposite, because I commissioned a report to see whether it would be sustainable to place such a unit in the north of Wales—[Interruption.] As a result of—

Can you all calm down, please, and listen to what the First Minister has to say? Your leader asked the question—I'm addressing Members on the benches to my right—your leader asked a question and we need to hear the answer from the First Minister, without any help from anybody else. Thank you.

As a result of that report, as a result of the action taken by a Welsh Labour Government, there will now be many, many mothers in the north of Wales who will be able to have their babies safely and looked after safely in north Wales, rather than having to travel to Liverpool. He may talk, we deliver. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, which of the following decisions do you think that Natural Resources Wales can be proudest of? Is it the dumping of 300,000 tonnes of nuclear mud approximately 1 mile from Cardiff Bay, or is it giving a licence for a biomass incinerator that neighbours residential properties in Barry dock, or, finally, is it refusing to sell timber from public woodland at market value, potentially fleecing the Welsh taxpayer of £1 million?


Well, the first two issues are operational matters, in terms of permitting. The third issue is a matter that has been well explored and is not acceptable. Clearly, a lack of competence was exhibited by NRW—to have oral contracts, whilst they may be technically legally valid, is not wise. It is much better to have things written down. That's been explored, and rightly so, by the Public Accounts Committee.

May I remind him that his party are not exactly the best party to lecture on the environment? This is a party who, as far as I can see, have no interest in the environment at all, and who wanted to take us out of the European Union, which was singularly responsible for raising Britain's standards, which were so appalling, when it came to the environment, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. There was one river—I believe, the River Irwell in Salford—that, at one time, would catch fire if you threw a lit match into it. It was the European Union that dragged Britain out of the gutter when it came to its environmental standards. 

Now, let's see what UKIP propose in order to preserve and enhance our environment for the future, in the absence of that European framework.

Yes, you're talking about the European Union. I was asking you about your oversight of Natural Resources Wales, but thanks for leading us down a blind alley, First Minister. You mentioned—[Interruption.] You mentioned the oversight of NRW by the Public Accounts Committee, and I'm glad you see a valuable role for the Public Accounts Committee in doing that. Now, your own backbenchers, of course, have an important role to play, a crucial role to play, in scrutinising organisations like Natural Resources Wales. However, we have one backbench Member who has played an exceedingly valuable role on the Public Accounts Committee in giving oversight to Natural Resources Wales. I note that that Member is being rewarded for his sterling work by being removed from the Public Accounts Committee. Doesn't this just prove, First Minister, that you do not want proper scrutiny of organisations run by your Government?

I find it difficult to accept what the leader of UKIP says when he says—. He talks of the importance of the work of the public affairs committee, which I think is correct, and he talks of the need for scrutiny, yet at the same time wants to abolish the Assembly, thereby providing us with no scrutiny at all—over NRW or over anything else. He calls for a second referendum on devolution, and opposes one when it comes to Brexit. So, when it comes to scrutiny, his answer to greater scrutiny is to remove the very scrutineers themselves, making it far more difficult for proper scrutiny to occur. And it's because of that scrutiny that the problems in NRW have helped to be identified. In years gone by, that level of scrutiny would never have been there, in the days before devolution. That scrutiny, rightly so, has been exercised by the Public Accounts Committee, and it is a matter now for NRW, working with ourselves as a Government, to rectify the situation.

Now, to go back to what your Member said, your Member of the Public Accounts Committee, at the height of the timber fiasco, I quote:

'What is going on in NRW? To have their accounts qualified for the third year running is unprecedented and frankly outrageous. I'm struggling to think of an explanation for why this might be. Might it be corruption or incompetence? But it does appear that the forestry section of NRW is out of control... I think there should be accountability from the senior leadership...of this organisation, which does seem to be out of control.'

End quote. Now, you're talking about me wanting to remove scrutiny. I'm talking about wanting to remove this entire useless institution, the Welsh Assembly, which you've been at the heart of for 18 years. The problem is not the scrutiny by backbenchers, because when they do scrutinise, you rubbish it anyway and you remove them from the committees. The point is that the Government—[Interruption.] The Government—[Interruption.] The Government you've been part of for 18 years isn't fit to run these institutions, and that's why the Welsh public gets an awful deal from the Welsh Assembly. Is that not the case, First Minister?

Let me see now. Let me see—there have been two referendums: one in 1997 and one in 2011. He doesn't accept the result, yet he demands—demands—that there should be no referendum at all on the deal with Brexit. His hypocrisy is almost breathtaking. On the one hand, he says we need more scrutiny, and then he says we need to remove all scrutiny, without realising the contradiction in what he is saying. The Member for Llanelli, I'm sure, is delighted by the support that's been given to him by the leader of UKIP. [Laughter.] He is somebody who holds Government to account from the Government backbenches, exactly—[Inaudible.]—as should be done. Lee is somebody—the Member for Llanelli is somebody—who expresses his view, and he is right to do so. That’s what the Government backbenchers are there to do, to make sure that, as a Welsh Labour Government, we get things right.

Now, I'm not sure what he's saying: get rid of the Assembly or get rid of NRW. I don't know. What I do know is that if ever UKIP got to power—and there were seven of them to begin with, and there are four of them now; who knows, there may be far fewer of them in the future, and part of the reason for this is, because UKIP can't win anything, 'Let's try and attack the body that we can't actually win an election to.' But, if ever UKIP ever got to power, we know there'd be no environmental regulatory body; it would be a free-for-all when it came to the environment. Our environment would be destroyed, our beaches would be ruined, all in the name of the mad, free market philosophy that his party wants to expound. And that is the reality of UKIP. We will fight to make sure that the people of Wales, yes, have the Government they deserve, the scrutiny they deserve, and keep the body that they voted for, not just once, but voted for twice, in terms of extra powers.

Swansea Bay City Deal

3. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Swansea Bay city deal? OAQ52649

The four local authorities have reached a milestone with the approval of their joint committee agreement, and that's the important step in releasing Government funding.

Thank you very much for that, considering we're some way into the lifespans of these deals. It's a shame it's taken quite that long, but, nevertheless—. The Institute for Welsh Affairs has argued that there has to be more investment, research and innovation for us to have any chance of meeting the 100 per cent of our energy demand from renewables by 2035, and the homes as power stations project is one aspect of the Swansea bay city deal.

Last week, the UK Government announced an additional £36 million for Swansea University, which is, of course, a partner in the deal, taking the investment to £100 million in eight years, so that the university can lead on innovation in energy for the UK. It's been welcomed by Tata Steel, Swansea itself, and Coastal Housing, and I'm sure you welcome it as well, but it shows that the city deal is levering interest from other parties in investment. Can you tell us how your overseas visits have helped to do the same from other parts of the world?

Well, let me give you some examples. If we look at the States, I've spent a lot of time talking to the companies that invest, particularly in Wales, from America, and the same with Japan. I've spent a lot of time with companies in Europe who invest in Wales, amongst them Airbus, for example, Ford, Toyota I've met, and all these organisations very much value the presence of a First Minister, or a Government Minister, because a Minister can open doors that officials can't and agencies can't.

What are the results? The best foreign direct investment figures for 30 years, and those figures speak for themselves, and unemployment at 3.8 per cent. That would have been unthought of in the days before devolution.

She talks, rightly—and she's right to say I'd support the initiative she's described—but a very good way of moving forward with increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources would have been Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which the Conservative Government rejected, thereby removing our chances of innovation, of leading the world in a technology, the creation of 1,000 jobs, and, of course, many, many homes and manufacturing plants powered by renewable energy. That is a matter of great regret to me, and it's hugely important that the UK Government continues to review the decision that it has taken and to give Wales the same fair play as it wants to give to the DUP.

I'm delighted that among the first projects to come through under the bid is the £200 million wellness village in Llanelli, which, through its innovation promises to be an exemplar for the whole of Wales. I've been discussing with the council how we can make sure it joins in with the rest of Llanelli and doesn't become some out-of-town development; the traffic in the area is already intense in peak hours. So, will the First Minister make sure that the emerging plans on the south Wales metro are dovetailed into the developments around the wellness village?

They'll be crucial. As with any development of this size, it cannot all be car-based—he's quite right. We have the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. It's hugely important that, as we move the metro forward, there are proper bus connections, train connections where appropriate and, of course, opportunities for active travel. No development such as the wellness village, given the fact that it is a wellness village, could properly be taken wholly seriously if active travel wasn't part of the message and the ethos of that well-being village. So, he's absolutely right to say that the last thing I'd want to see is a development creating unacceptable levels off traffic, mainly because there's no other alternative for people than to drive. We must create those alternatives.


Along the same lines as Lee Waters, if truth be told. Of course, in addition to the city deal itself, the four local authorities in the south-west of Wales acknowledge that transport is also an issue that they need to resolve at a regional level, and there has been a feasibility study into a Swansea bay metro, and a metro for the western Valleys. Clearly, this is an important step forward in developing a public transport system that is modern for the south-west of Wales, to link in with the kind of development that Lee was talking about. However, to date, virtually no details have been published since this work started on the feasibility study. When would you anticipate that the public will be told of progress on this project and will have an opportunity to discuss any ideas or plans?

Well, that is something for the local authority to progress. We will collaborate with them in order to implement the plans, but it's a matter for them. I don't think they're at fault at all, but it's up to them to ensure that they produce an effective and public scheme.

Funding for Social Housing

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government funding for social housing? OAQ52646

Social housing has always been and always will be, of course, a fundamental priority for this Government. We've never moved away from supporting those in greatest need, which is why we are making record investment in social housing in the term of this Government.

First Minister, you no doubt would have heard the Prime Minister's announcement for £2 billion for social homes in England and she emphasised her pride in social housing, and I think we should all share that pride. It's been at the heart of the great house-building programmes throughout the last century. Sadly, it's tailed off in the twenty-first century. As part of the UK Government's commitment to transform house building, it will give assured funding to housing associations, giving them long-term certainty to invest. And this is something that they've called for repeatedly here in Wales. So, under the English scheme, associations will be able to apply for funding stretching as far ahead as 2028-29.

Now, when we get the Barnett consequential—these moneys do come on-stream in the 2020s—will you make a similar commitment to ring-fence this money for social housing and sort out the grant schemes to housing associations, so that they can invest for the long term and, at last, lead us to an age where we build enough houses for the people who need to live in them?

Well, there are—. I have the greatest respect for the Member, but coming from a party that sold off so much social housing and didn't replace it, and caused many of the problems we face now in first place, I do have to take that with a large pinch of salt. Two thing I'd say to him: firstly, it is not clear whether there will be a Barnett consequential yet. We know that the UK Government are masters and mistresses of sleight of hand and will make funding announcements and then say this money is being found from within a department. In which case, we get no Barnett consequential at all. 'We don't know', is the answer to that yet. And secondly, of course, this is for 2022. I can't make commitments for any Governments in place post 2021, not least because of the fact that I won't be here. So, that will be a matter for any incoming Government.

So much for the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

I recognise that your Government is carrying out an independent study at the moment into the definition of 'affordable housing', but I think the problem that has existed over the years with that is that new estates are developed in Wales that don't, according to a local definition, amount to what is 'affordable' locally. Before the summer I raised with you the fact that Help to Buy allowed many families to upgrade their homes—families that perhaps don't need that funding support. As part of the review that you're currently conducting as a Government, would you look into this issue? Because perhaps there would be more funding available for affordable housing if some of those funds went into creating more social housing in our communities.

Our review will look at a great many issues in order to ensure that the policy is correct, but there is a difference between social housing and affordable housing, because if houses are affordable, some people will rent them and others will buy them. So, we must ensure that there is a choice for people where they can make that choice. That means that there should be a mixture of housing available—some social housing, of course; perhaps others may offer shared equity; others may have a community land trust running the estate itself in order to keep the prices down. So, the aim is to ensure that there is a broad choice available as regards the type of housing available. We have already committed to a major investment in social housing, and also we're looking at how we can help those who are looking to buy but can't afford to do so at present. 


First Minister, given that the size of social housing stock has declined dramatically since 1980 when the right to buy was introduced, resulting in longer waiting times for people in housing need, will you join me in welcoming the end to right to buy by a Welsh Labour Government via the Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Act 2018? Will you also welcome Welsh Government investment in social housing in my constituency, the Vale of Glamorgan, including not only extensive investment through our social housing grant to housing associations, but the building of new council housing by, in fact, what was then a Labour council running the Vale of Glamorgan, and also, importantly, £2.8 billion major repairs allowance to enable the Vale of Glamorgan Council to bring social housing up to the Welsh housing quality standard? 

I was fortunate enough to join the Member in Gibbonsdown where we saw the refurbishment work that was taking place there. A lot of people, of course, were delighted with what they saw there. I've always said that if you try and build social housing while at the same time still having the right to buy, it's like filling up the bath with the plug out, except for the whole of the 1980s the Tories let the plug out and didn't leave the taps on at all. You can't replace your housing stock if you allow it to be sold at a rate that doesn't allow you to keep up. It's one of the reasons why we saw so much homelessness that particularly began in the 1980s, because public housing wasn't available. In Powys, I think I remember reading, around half of the public housing stock was lost and never replaced. How on earth can that be fair on people in rural areas, particularly when it's difficult to buy in some rural areas because people move in with lots of money from elsewhere and local people can't compete? So, it's hugely important that we ensure that there's a proper supply of public housing and that does mean, of course, creating a situation where public housing remains just that—public. 

Parc Bryn Cegin

5. Will the First Minister publish a specific timetable for the development of Parc Bryn Cegin business park? OAQ52636

The development land at Parc Bryn Cegin is available for development now, and is being actively marketed via our commercial property agents Cooke & Arkwright, our property data base, as well as Gwynedd Council.

The first plans for this business park were published in the year 2000. New roads were built and a new roundabout, and a new entrance to the park was also opened. It was pledged that at least 1,500 jobs would be created. Now, 18 years later, not a single job—not a single job—has been created despite the millions of pounds invested to develop Parc Bryn Cegin. Isn’t it time for the Welsh Government to give priority, energy and enthusiasm to the task of developing Parc Bryn Cegin?

Well, the history of Parc Bryn Cegin is this, and the Member is right in saying that the history goes back 18 years. Planning permission had been granted as regards employment, namely factories and offices at the time. We invested heavily between 2006 and 2008 in order to prepare the site for development, namely putting the roads in and putting the services in. But, of course, in 2008 we saw the crash and after that it started to become difficult at that point to draw people in because of the crash. There is now hope that we may be able to progress the situation. I understand that the developers, Liberty Properties, have said that a multiplex cinema might be coming to the site itself and, of course, if that’s true, we look forward to seeing that being established in order to help to assist the site as they attract more businesses in, ultimately.

Estate Management Charges

6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to address the problem of estate management charges? OAQ52645

The review of unadopted roads, initiated by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, is now under way. That work will complement that of the leasehold advisory group, convened by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. I know the Member has raised this before in this Chamber. It's a hugely important issue, something that is relatively new in its concept, but one that we must deal with in order to make sure that people aren't exploited. 

And increasingly so, people are buying freehold accommodation and being forced to pay these charges to private companies on top of their council tax to maintain their estates. In Cwm Calon in Ystrad Mynach in my constituency, Meadfleet, the estate management company there, have announced that the charges are going to rise per six months from £61 to £78, and there is nothing—nothing—anyone can do about it. It's totally beyond democratic control. Ten years ago, Barnet Council became known as the EasyJet council, whereby people pay extra for their services, on top of their council tax, for so-called additional services. It's now known as the outsource council. Well, estate management charges are outsourcing by stealth, but at least with EasyJet you can choose whether you pay for overpriced peanuts. What more can the Government do?


I can assure the Member that this is part of what the task and finish group will be considering. He makes the point, quite rightly, that where new estates of houses are built, people are, these days, often told there is a service charge to pay for grass cutting, a service charge to pay for upkeep, to pay for the roads and pay for the pavements, but they're still paying council tax at the same level, of course. So, they're paying twice for a service that should be provided by a local authority. I would hope that no local authority in Wales sees estate management charges as a way of granting planning permission without the ongoing revenue cost that an estate of houses would cost them. I hope that isn't the case. But, certainly, I can give him that assurance that this will be something that the task and finish group will look at.

Identity Fraud

7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to help prevent identity fraud? OAQ52628

This is primarily a matter for the UK Government, but we're committed to making our communities safer and to continue to work with the UK Government to tackle crime.

Thank you, First Minister, and, as you'll know, identity fraud is a serious criminal activity that can cost individuals heavily. An analysis by the anti-fraud organisation Cifas shows that, in Wales, there's been some reduction in the overall number of frauds, but identity fraud rose by about 14 per cent between 2016 and 2018, and there were over 4,000 cases in Wales in 2017. So, would you join me in recognising the important work carried out by organisations, including trading standards and Age Cymru, that help more vulnerable citizens in tackling this crime? Can you tell me what more Welsh Government could do to raise awareness of the advice being offered to protect ourselves against identity fraud?

Well, I can tell the Member that an individual that I'm aware of has taken out a loan with a bank, has defaulted on that loan and informed the bank that they have moved to where we live, so I'm receiving letters myself now, addressed not to me but to this individual at my address. So, no-one can escape this. But it's an important point, and I know that you had an event in the Senedd on 19 September, raising awareness of tackling fraud and scams. Of course, the Cabinet Secretary approved up to £3,000 of funding for the Wales against scams partnership, which is hugely helpful. I know that he has also met with the Minister at the Home Office to discuss the serious organised crime strategy implementation, to meet the needs of Wales. And, of course, we'll continue to provide funding of £16.8 million in the next financial year for an additional 500 community support officers in Wales.

Brexit Negotiations

8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's preferred outcome from the ongoing Brexit negotiations? OAQ52648

It is to be found in the White Paper 'Securing Wales' Future'.  

I thank the First Minister for that uninformative reply. But I'm sure the First Minister will agree with me that Theresa May has badly bungled the negotiations with Brussels. The Chequers proposals were always going to be stillborn, no real preparations have been made for leaving the EU without a deal, and there isn't much time left to negotiate a free trade agreement such as the one that was agreed with Canada. Where does the Labour Party stand in all this? Sir Keir Starmer, the Brexit spokesman for Labour in the UK, seems to have said that Labour will vote against anything that Theresa May comes up with, or is allowed to come up with, between now and next March. Jeremy Corbyn, with whom I marched through many lobbies voting against EU legislation over the years, seems to be sitting on the fence. Keir Starmer seems to have made it clear that he wants a second referendum, come what may, whereas John McDonnell, on the other hand, says that, whilst he's in favour of a people's vote on whatever emerges, it shouldn't include the option of leaving the EU. What does the First Minister think? Should there be a second referendum in which there is an option for leaving the EU or not?

The first thing to say is that there is increasing mood music in this Chamber and outside that if there is no deal and, therefore, a disaster, it'll be the fault of the remainers and not the fault of those who gave a pie-in-the-sky analysis two years ago of what the referendum would mean. We were told it'd be the easiest negotiation ever. It hasn't been. We were told that the EU would fold in the face of the UK's demands. It hasn't done. We were told that German car manufacturers would ride to the rescue—or drive to the rescue—and would force the German Government to accept a deal in favour of the UK. They haven't done it. The reality is that the UK is more divided than the EU has been at all in the course of this process.

Now, he asked my view on it. First of all, to put this in context, I've heard his party argue strongly against a second referendum, and yet he was a member of a party who, for eight years, argued strongly for a second referendum after 1997, because they didn't like the result, and went into the 2005 general election on a manifesto of having a second referendum on the existence of the Assembly. So, there's a certain level of double standards there that has to be recognised.

Now, what do I think should happen? Firstly, if there is no agreement on a deal—in other words, that means 'no deal' or no agreement on a proposed deal—in not just Westminster but this place and Edinburgh as well, I don't see any alternative other than a general election, and, in that general election, Brexit would be the only topic, I suspect, of discussion. In that general election, it is right to say that the issue could be given a proper airing and the people could decide. If, however, the result of that general election was inconclusive, well, how else do you then resolve the issue, other than by going back to the very people who made the decision in the first place but who now would be in a position to see exactly what Brexit would mean? 

Now, to me, that is the point where a second referendum becomes something that would need to be looked at, because how else do you resolve the situation? At this moment in time, I think we have to wait and see what happens in October and November and then take decisions from there.   


But, in terms of a general election in the event of an impasse in the House of Commons, what does the First Minister think would be achieved by any outcome that is possible there, because, of course, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn want to take us out of the single market and the customs union? So, surely a choice of hard Brexits isn't a choice at all.

And I notice that, in his reply to Mr Hamilton, he failed to answer one very important and timely question, which is the fact that, if there is to be a referendum on the deal or 'no deal' scenarios, should there also be a question there asking the people whether or not they wish to remain in the European Union?  

I think that's likely. I think that there are two possibilities here, are there not? If there's no deal, then it would be 'no deal' or remain. If there is a deal, it becomes a bit more complicated, in the sense that it's: 'Do you accept the deal? But, if you don't, what do you want: "no deal" or remain?' There are ways in which the Electoral Commission, I'm sure, can finesse that referendum. But, if there's no deal on the table, well, surely people have the right to express a view as to whether they wish to leave in circumstances that not one Brexiteer suggested would happen. Nobody said two years ago, 'If there's no deal, it doesn't matter.' No-one said it. Everyone said, 'There will be a deal.' That's changed.

I don't like the idea of a second referendum on exactly the same issue, which is why I opposed a second referendum in 1997. But, where the circumstances have changed fundamentally, where the promises that were made two years ago have come to nothing, then, at that point, and if there's an inconclusive result in a general election—. Who knows what parties might put forward in a general election? I'm sure the Lib Dems will put forward something quite different again. I'm sure his party will as well. But there has to come a point where, if there is an impasse, the people have to decide, and they have to be allowed to decide on the basis of what they know now and not on what they were told two years ago, which hasn't happened.  

Thank you. [Interruption.] Thank you. Thank you very much, First Minister. 

2. Business Statement and Announcement

Item 2 on the agenda this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Julie James.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. There are two changes to this week's business. Today's statement on Brexit and support for further education and skills has been withdrawn, and, tomorrow, the time allocated to the Counsel General's oral Assembly questions has been reduced. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Can I call for three statements from the leader of the house today on behalf of the Government? The first is in relation to the trunk road network and its maintenance. The leader of the house will be aware that there have been significant delays on the A55 in north Wales recently, in my own constituency, as a result of roadworks that have caused a closure in Llanddulas. The tailbacks have been as long as eight miles, with delays of in excess of half an hour for traffic going in either direction. Now, we were assured at that time—my constituents were assured—that work would be ongoing 24/7 in order to keep those delays and the disruption to a minimum, but unfortunately it would appear that the works are shutting down completely on some evenings, which is completely not in accordance with the assurances that were provided to my constituents, so I wonder whether you could have the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the trunk road network provide an update to my constituents in order that they can be reassured that this disruption will be at an absolute minimum in the future and that work throughout the night will be taking place for the duration of the rest of the works.

Secondly, can I call for a statement from the Minister for Environment? It's been a regular call of mine to address the problems in terms of the Old Colwyn coastal defences, and I was very grateful for the fact that the Minister visited my constituency to inspect the defences for herself. But, in spite of the very positive meeting that took place, I've recently received a letter from the Minister that seems to suggest that this is not a priority for the Welsh Government and that there will not be the usual level of grant funding made available in order that the scheme can take place, because residential homes are less likely to benefit than the Government seems to imagine. Now, of course, this is a part of the coastal defence network that protects the vital transport infrastructure that is the north Wales railway line and the A55 trunk road and protects the sewerage system for the whole of the bay of Colwyn. So, quite how it can be suggested that this isn't benefiting homes and businesses is beyond me. Now, it's going to take the Welsh Government to actually get to grips with this problem and bring the various parties together that need to make a contribution to the works, and I have to say I'm astounded to have received this letter, and so was the local authority, following that meeting, which I thought was very productive. So, I would be grateful if there could be a statement on coastal defences from the Minister and she could explain the situation.

And, finally, can I call for a statement on red squirrels? People know that I'm the red squirrel champion here in the National Assembly, and I had the opportunity to visit some of the excellent conservation work that is taking place in the Clocaenog forest in my constituency and on Ynys Môn, which is being undertaken by the Red Squirrels Trust in Wales in partnership with Red Squirrels United. This week is Red Squirrels Awareness Week, and the Welsh Mountain Zoo in my constituency is part of an international breeding programme for this very important protected species. I would be grateful to know what action the Welsh Government is going to take so that the good work that is being done by these projects will be able to continue once the current grant funding comes to an end next year. Thank you.


Thank you. I commend the Member for getting quite a lot of his own constituency stuff in there, so very well done.

In terms of the first trunk road issue that he raised, the Cabinet Secretary's indicating to me that that's not his understanding, and indeed it's not my understanding either, and therefore he proposes to write to you to get an understanding of where you are and why you think that so that we can put that right, as my understanding is that the work is continuing 24/7 and ought to be so. We can put that right in correspondence. If you can provide the detail, that would be great.

In terms of the coastal defence issue, it sounds as if you're already in correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary, albeit you've indicated your lack of—what shall we say—cohesion with her, so I would suggest that that's a matter that you should raise either in questions or in continued correspondence. 

And, in terms of your championship of the red squirrels, I'm delighted to find this species champion scheme working so well here in the Assembly. I'm going to take the unashamed chance to say that I'm the species champion for the native oyster, which is now being reseeded in Swansea bay. I too am very fond of the scheme. I'm sure that the Cabinet Secretary will update us in due course about the continued funding for such a scheme. 

Leader of the house, you will no doubt be aware that the company behind the £1.3 billion tidal lagoon project in Swansea has now agreed a company voluntary agreement with its creditors to give it up to two years to find a way to deliver this project. And, as you will know also, hopes are still alive in Swansea that this project can get off the ground. In an event in the city last week Tidal Lagoon Power's Mark Shorrock stated that he wanted to supply electricity directly to organisations and homes in Swansea via private cables, something that he hopes will make the project commercially viable without any support from the UK Government.

We also know that the Swansea bay city region has established a taskforce into the lagoon and that discussions have taken place with Welsh public sector pension funds with regard to possible investment. However, one thing that was noted during last week's meeting was that, since the decision by the UK Government in June not to back the tidal lagoon scheme, the Welsh Government has not discussed with the company the £200 million that it had previously stated it would be prepared to invest earlier this year. Therefore, with different financing and ownership models on the table, there is a clear question in terms of what role the Welsh Government is going to play in helping to deliver this project.

This project has the ability to provide a much-needed economic boost to Swansea and south-west Wales and it's vitally important that, with the UK Government having again neglected Wales, the Welsh Government steps up to the mark. With all that in mind, could I ask that the Government bring forward a statement on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon that will outline clearly what the Government position is, what work it has undertaken over recent months on the issue, how it is working with the local authorities in the region, its view on possible Welsh Government investment, and its preferred model for delivering the scheme? Diolch yn fawr.


Yes. It's a very important matter for everyone in Wales, never mind those of us who represent Swansea constituencies and regions. I can confirm that the £200 million is still on the table. We are working alongside the taskforce. As soon as we know where the taskforce is going then we will be able to come forward with a statement. We are working very closely with the taskforce and certainly it will not be spent on anything else in the meantime, but there are a number of options, as the Member knows, and as all Members know, on the table for taking forward tidal lagoon power. And, until we know what those options are, we're not in a position to specifically say, but, nevertheless, the Welsh Government continues its vehement support and vehement condemnation, I have to say, of the UK Government's lack of investment in this project.

Leader of the house, can I have two statements—one from the Cabinet Secretary for health, who's left the Chamber at the moment, some time before the October recess, on the boundary changes progress as far as Cwm Taf and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards are concerned, so that we can have an update on what's happening and where we will be going? Because this will take effect as of April next year and it's important that we, as Members, are able to have that detailed an opportunity to examine the Cabinet Secretary on those matters.

The second point is that, as you may well know, we had a long campaign in Aberafan on the junction 41 closure trial that existed. We eventually managed to persuade the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport that the decision to stop the trials and keep the junction open was the right decision, and that has been working ever since. Now, last week, a report commissioned by the Welsh Government on the M4 junction 41 to 42 temporary 50 mph speed limit and the emissions was published. In that is the reintroduction of a possibility of closing the westbound slip road for junction 41 again. This, clearly, is unacceptable in my constituency, and I will once again be fighting any chances of this happening, but can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to reaffirm his decision at the earlier start of this Government to keep that junction open and operational? Because any attempt to close that junction on the grounds of pollution I can assure you will increase pollution on the ground where people are breathing it in, as the cars get congested on the local roads. It is not an answer to this and whoever wrote this clearly doesn't know the streets or the congestion caused during that trial.

David Rees has always been very active on behalf of his constituents in this instance. The measure currently proposed for Port Talbot to achieve compliance with the EU air quality directive is a continuation, as he knows, of the temporary 50 mph speed limit implemented back in June. However, at this point, the total closure of junction 41 can't be ruled out for legal reasons, because the monitoring of nitrogen dioxide concentration is ongoing and, depending on results, it's possible that further measures may be required to safeguard public health and comply with the legislation. However, if that were to happen, further measures proposed would be subject to a full public consultation before any action is taken to take that forward.

In terms of the realignment of ABMU and Cwm Taf, I'm sure that the Cabinet Secretary will be updating Members as soon as that has sufficient progress for there to be something substantial to report.

May I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on mandatory eye tests for motorists in Wales, please? In May last year, a driver with poor eyesight—

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that, Mohammad Asghar. Could you repeat it? Sorry.

Okay. Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on mandatory eye tests for motorists in Wales, please? In May last year, a driver with poor eyesight who defied his optician's advice to stay off the road was jailed for seven years after he killed a motorist in an accident on the M4 in Newport. At the moment, it is the responsibility of the driver to advise the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency that they are no longer able to drive. Can I ask for a statement on what plan the Cabinet Secretary has to strengthen the guidance issued to opticians to make it mandatory that they advise the DVLA when a driver's eyesight has deteriorated to such an extent that they are a danger to themselves and to other motorists on the road, please? Thank you.


Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm not actually sure quite where the devolution settlement is on that. So, what I'll do is I'll undertake to discuss that with the Cabinet Secretary for health and come back to the Member.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Tomorrow is World School Milk Day, and I very much hope that Assembly Members will enjoy the pint of milk that I will deliver to your doorstep, in your offices, tomorrow morning, in order to highlight and to remind you of the healthy properties of milk for our children, and the importance of the dairy sector for the rural economy. This programme, of course, is partially subsidised by the school milk subsidy programme of the European Union, and the Cabinet Secretary for Education, earlier this year, said that she was in negotiation with DEFRA in terms of ensuring continuity, after we leave the European Union—if we do leave—for that programme. I would ask whether we can have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary giving us an update on those negotiations, because clearly, as I said, it's important from the point of view of our children's health, and it's important from the point of view of the contribution it makes to the dairy industry, too. So I would ask for a statement on that.

May I also ask—? Clearly, we saw the publication of a very significant report at the end of last week by the education Secretary of work conducted by Professor Mick Waters, Professor Melanie Jones and Sir Alasdair Macdonald, who conducted an independent review of pay and conditions of school teachers. I want to put on record my thanks to them for their work. As one who provided evidence to them as part of that process, I was very pleased that many elements of the Plaid Cymru manifesto appeared in the recommendations that they made. But I do think that this report is very significant indeed, one that I'm sure will be very far reaching in terms of the changes that will emerge as a result of it in the sector, and for teachers' pay and conditions. I do regret that we had a written statement on this and that we didn't have an opportunity to discuss what's being recommended in the Chamber. Now, I assume that the Cabinet Secretary will want a period to consider what's being proposed, but may I ask that we do have an opportunity to discuss this issue soon? Because I do think that it is an exciting report, it's an interesting report, it's a challenging report in many ways, and it's important that we all here have the opportunity to air those views in full. And I would have appreciated an opportunity to have an oral statement, rather than just a written statement.

Llyr Gruffydd makes two very important points. I look forward to my pint of milk arriving; it's always a nice, refreshing drink. The Cabinet Secretary is indicating to me that she is very happy to bring a statement forward about the state of play on the continued negotiations with DEFRA on the subsidy.

And also, on the point about the very important report, I completely concur with the Member's comments on it. As soon as we've got a response ready to go, then we'll be bringing back an opportunity for Members to have a full discussion on the report, and the Government's response.

Leader of the house, are you aware of the select committee on work and pensions report on the impact of universal credit on domestic abuse victims? Given that the committee has recognised that women are more at risk under universal credit, could we have a statement from the Welsh Government considering actions we can take to deliver on recommendations from that select committee report, to protect women experiencing domestic abuse?

Secondly, with regard to the Welsh transport appraisal guidance consultation on the proposed M4 and A48 link road, concerns have been raised with me about the proposed membership of the Vale of Glamorgan Council review group, due to meet on 2 October. My constituents feel that the current membership is not representative of the four aspects of well-being—social, cultural, environmental and economic interests—and I would welcome a response from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport on that point.

Thank you for those two important issues, Jane Hutt. With regard to the Welsh transport appraisal guidance, or WelTAG, on the M4 and A48 link road, concerns have been raised about the membership of the Vale of Glamorgan Council review group. The Cabinet Secretary is going to discuss the issue with the Vale of Glamorgan so that we can get a full understanding of quite where we are with that, and I am sure he will feed back the outcome of that to you in due course. Thank you for having raised it with him.

In terms of the domestic abuse and universal credit issue that you raise—a very fundamentally important issue—we know, Deputy Presiding Officer, that one of the main causes of domestic violence and domestic abuse is economic inequality in the home. We know that that's a continuing problem. And with the changes in the benefits system, which particularly affect the purse and not the wallet, to use that way of cutting it, we know that that circumstance will only get worse. We also know that the amount of money taken out of the Welsh economy is bound to have an effect on the most vulnerable in our society.

I am due to make a number of statements and also to have a debate on a number of issues around the violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence agenda over the autumn. I look forward to having a robust discussion about some of the real issues affecting people fleeing domestic violence, as well as those currently experiencing it who have not yet found the wherewithal to flee, but in particular, as well, to continue our campaign to ensure that we have gender equality as part of the gender review, and that has to include a better financial settlement for women in the system as a whole, because we know that that sort of inequality leads to further violence in the home.

So, I look forward to a number—. I'm not going to bring a specific statement on that particular issue, but there will be plenty of opportunities, and I hope that we'll be able to have a robust discussion about exactly where we are. I think there are two, if not three, opportunities to do that over the coming term.


Can I call for, please, two Welsh Government statements? The first is on access to pulmonary rehabilitation for interstitial lung disease—or ILD—patients. Last week was IPF or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis week, and, according to the British Lung Foundation, pulmonary fibrosis is a type of interstitial lung disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation has often focused on other conditions such as COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—due to its prevalence, with over 70,000 people in Wales—or 2.3 per cent of the population—affected. But there's a growing body of evidence that tailored pulmonary rehabilitation provision for ILD can contribute significantly to improve quality of life in accordance with NICE guidelines. Last week, the health secretary wrote to me that the respiratory health delivery plan for Wales, which is updated and published in January, includes a national work stream for interstitial lung disease and the establishment of regional specialist teams to support local care. Therefore, I call for a statement detailing what progress, if any, there has been in actually developing a pulmonary rehabilitation pathway for ILD patients and when the Welsh Government expects that to be in place. 

My second request for a statement is on the Wales for Africa Health Links network. During the summer, I had a very useful meeting with trustees of the registered charity Wales for Africa Health Links network, to discuss the various health links across north Wales. They told me about the links between Wrexham Maelor and Glan Clwyd hospitals and Ethiopia, and between Ysbyty Gwynedd and Lesotho. They told me that they were getting a big impact for a small input, because there were so many volunteers giving their time free, particularly health professionals who are, therefore, also able to develop their soft skills and benefiting the NHS with the Welsh Government getting great value for money in terms of global health, global responsibility, international links and soft diplomacy, as well as the soft skills they themselves were developing.

They told me that key commitments from the NHS for institutional international health links are represented by the charter for international health partnerships, but the NHS and health boards were being very slow in implementing their commitments, and that although the Welsh Government's Wales for Africa programme has been a success in having an impact for the benefit of communities in Wales and Africa, and being very good for the reputation of Wales as a country, the Welsh Government support for the programme has been static for years. Will you, therefore, consider providing a statement in this context, where there's evidence to show that doing a little bit more could have a massive further beneficial impact on both Wales and on particularly the communities in Africa that these professionals are giving their voluntary time to support? 


Starting with that one, obviously we're very proud of the Wales for Africa scheme. The Member has outlined, I think, very ably the fact that it benefits both Wales itself and the professionals and, well, everyone who volunteers on the programme. And, of course, it benefits the African countries that take part in it. Without wanting to take anything away from that, obviously we have very difficult budget decisions to be making. Would that we could put more money into such a scheme. I only wish that were possible, but, unfortunately, in the face of the budget that the Welsh Government has at the moment, that's not going to be able to be a priority and I very much regret, Deputy Presiding Officer, that the austerity agenda that we face is driving us to some very difficult decisions. I'm afraid that's not going to be able to be one of the priorities, and that's a matter of some regret, as are a number of other schemes that will face those kinds of funding-static situations over the coming years.

In terms of the pulmonary issue, the Member indicates he's already in correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary, and he's pointed out himself that the respiratory health plan recognises the importance of timely and expert care, and that the national plan includes a work stream to improve ILD care across Wales, and that the NHS in Wales has established the two specialist services to support the local management of conditions. I'm not sure, at this point, the Government has much to add to that in a statement. The Member obviously will have opportunities to question the Cabinet Secretary further on that in due course.

I'd like to ask Welsh Government for a statement on the consultation currently under way in Caerphilly on the potential closure of up to seven leisure facilities in the county borough. I think a statement is appropriate for two primary reasons. Firstly, I know that a number of members of the public have tried to engage with the consultation process and they found it very rigid. They would have liked an opportunity to elaborate further on their views, and some of the multi-option questions being asked are not particularly broad in their range, and so that really raises questions about the confidence local people can have in the consultation and that their views are being taken seriously. Secondly, of course, as we approach a health ticking time bomb in terms of lack of physical activity and obesity, is it really appropriate that, at this point, we make it harder for citizens in Caerphilly to be physically active, especially given the provisions of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? One of the leisure centres has a record attendance rate in the recent financial year—Pontllanfraith—and more than 80 clubs and groups rely on its facilities. So, I would really be grateful for a Welsh Government statement on the plight of leisure facilities in Caerphilly.

Leisure centres, as the Member knows, is a matter for the local authority, but I share his concern that the austerity agenda drives some decisions around upstream healthcare, if you like—the sorts of leisure, and, actually, community cohesion-type facilities that those sorts of decisions make. It's not a matter for us how Caerphilly conducts its consultations on these matters, but I'm sure if he writes in to the Cabinet Secretary with his concerns, we can look at it further.

I'm sure the leader of the house will be aware that many families from Wales went up to London yesterday for the opening of the public inquiry into contaminated blood, and as the leader of the house will know, over 70 people from Wales lost their lives through this scandal, and many others have had their lives ruined. So, this is a moment of huge importance to Welsh families, and last week I met the families and their barristers to listen to the evidence that they were preparing for the public inquiry. It seems that each individual person has to request their case notes individually from the local health boards, but also the local health boards have to produce general information from the 1970s, and of course there have been lots of changes of organisations in Wales. So, I wondered whether it would be possible to have information from the Government about any role it may play during this long process, which is likely to last maybe three years at the most optimistic, and whether there's likely to be any help for health authorities in what is going to be a fairly major task.

I know the Member has campaigned long and hard for this, and we're all absolutely delighted to see the inquiry finally start. I hope very much that some of the very understandable concerns of some of the people who we've seen having interviews on tv and so on as to the efficacy of the inquiry can be assuaged by having a full judicial inquiry. We've made sure that all health boards and trusts in Wales have confirmed that they will comply with rule 9 of the Inquiries Act 2005 and provide information when and as required by the inquiry. We agree that the inquiry will take approximately until July/August 2020 before likely reports will take place.

We've also had confirmation from all of our health boards and trusts that no charge will be made for those affected by access to or copying of medical records, should those be required, and the Cabinet Secretary, I know, has made enquiries as to making sure that we can do that with some dispatch. If there does seem to be any kind of problem with that, I'm sure the Member will raise that with us, but we have made proactive enquiries to ensure that that process can be as smooth as possible. She's pointed out, rightly, that, of course, some of this stuff goes back a long way, but the health boards have all confirmed that they will stand ready and are waiting to comply as ably as possible, and that no charge will be made for any of the access or copying that might be required as a result of that.

As I say, we hope that the inquiry can go swiftly and smoothly and get the right conclusion and, you know, the sense of closure and justice that the campaigners have long fought for, and rightly so.


Leader of the house, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services published a written statement on 25 September concerning the doctors and dentists review body and their pay recommendations. Whilst it was good news to see that there's going to be an increase across this portion of the NHS and that, also, I was delighted to read the written statement, I do believe that we need a full oral statement from the Cabinet Secretary on this matter. There are potential effects on agency and locum spend. There are question marks also to understand and get to grips with in terms of specialist and associate specialist staff. And I'd also like to understand how the Cabinet Secretary for health flexed his figures so that, when he says that this deal goes beyond what was agreed for doctors and dentists over the border—and by which I assume he's referring to England—you know, as we know, in England, they made a statement in June and July of this year of a 2 per cent base increase for salaried doctors and dentists, salaried general medical practitioners, and independent contractor GMPs and general dental practitioners, which is exactly the same as the figures here. So, I'd like to have a really clear understanding of what the Cabinet Secretary is saying, and I think it would be very useful for us to be able to flesh this out so that we are all singing off the same hymn sheet.

Yes, we very much welcome the health Secretary's announcement of a new pay deal for doctors and dentists in Wales, which indeed includes a higher salary increase than the deal agreed in England. We've committed additional funding to fulfil those recommendations. Of course, the reality is that our budgets are limited, so there are other consequences. We're very happy that BMA Cymru Wales have agreed to work in partnership with us and NHS employers to deliver the ambition set out in 'A Healthier Wales' around the long-term sustainability of the workforce and delivery of the primary care model for Wales. And our recent agreement on the pay rise for the rest of the NHS Wales workforce shows that we are committed to investing in the staff to ensure they can continue to deliver excellent health and social care. Together, Deputy Presiding Officer, with recruitment campaigns like 'Train. Work. Live.' this will help us to create a workforce that can deliver a long-term vision for the NHS in Wales, and we very much welcome that.

Leader of the house, I was delighted to see the news from the Labour Party conference yesterday that this Government intends to ratify the Istanbul convention on combating violence against women and girls. The convention is a hugely important and comprehensive legal framework for countries to adhere to in combating gender-based violence. Twenty-six countries have ratified it so far, including Germany, France and Italy, but the UK has not. More than a million women experience domestic abuse in England and Wales each year. Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners. We must be at the forefront of combating what is an evil in our society, and we would do well to remember that 101 women in Wales alone lost their lives as a consequence of violence against them by a partner or ex-partner last year.

So, we cannot afford to fall behind, and that is why I welcome that statement yesterday. But what I would like, Cabinet Secretary, is a Government statement outlining the process and the timescale for ratification, and time to discuss the implications for Welsh policy, legislation and also the support services that we will need, perhaps, to re-evaluate in terms of that ratification.


The Member's complete commitment to this over a long term is well known, and I very much welcome the First Minister's commitment to us ratifying, as far as we can, the elements of the Istanbul convention. Obviously, it has to be ratified at state level and, unfortunately, we can't do that all by ourselves. But we've been working very closely with the UK Government and we will commit and have already committed, as far as possible, to incorporating all the elements of the Istanbul convention that apply to us as a devolved administration into Welsh legislation.

As the Member points out, the purposes of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 were to prevent violence against women, gender-based violence and domestic abuse and sexual violence, and to support and protect victims and survivors. In fairness, the UK has already some of the most robust protections in the world against violence against women. There are some extra-territorial jurisdiction matters that are not yet incorporated into domestic law at UK level. They require primary legislation to be introduced across the UK for us to be able to fully ratify those elements as the United Kingdom. They don't apply here in Wales. The Domestic Abuse Bill that the United Kingdom legislature has set out will include the necessary provisions on extra-territorial jurisdiction to incorporate those currently overseen by the European Court of Justice into domestic law, so that we can be assured that, even in leaving the European Union, we will not be deprived of those protections against sexual violence, which are so necessary in the world that Joyce Watson so ably set out.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I will be brief; I know time is pressing.

Leader of the house, I recently met with representatives of Moncare, a Big Lottery and Disability Wales-supported initiative to improve social care in towns and villages across Wales though a co-operative, co-production type model. It seems to me it's the type of project that ticks the Welsh Government's boxes, ticks local authorities' boxes, ticks the co-production box. But they would like a bit more support in terms of raising the profile of what they're trying to achieve in Monmouthshire and also in terms of rolling out their model more widely across Wales.

They want to put the citizen at the centre, put the patient at the centre of their care. As I say, I was very impressed by what they had to offer and what they were talking to me about, so I wonder if we could have a statement from the Welsh Government or if you could have a discussion with your colleagues about how this project could be supported.

Yes, if the Member wants to write to me with some of the details, we can certainly look into that. Anything that is done via co-production and puts the citizen at the centre and in control of their own personal circumstances and care is very much to be welcomed. So, if you want to write to me with details, I'll make sure that we can look into it.

3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education: The Evaluation and Improvement Arrangements

Item 3 on the agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education: the evaluation and improvement arrangements. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer.

It has been a widely held view that, for too long, Wales’s education accountability system has not had the desired effect in raising standards. In fact, in some instances, it has led to unintended consequences with detrimental effects on individual pupils’ education. These unintended consequences are well rehearsed. From schools overly focusing on the arbitrary C grade boundary regardless of pupil progress and ability, to cases where schools focus so much on what they believe they are held to account for that they’ve narrowed the curriculum to an unacceptable level. Our national mission action plan sets out our vision for an assessment and evaluation system that is fair, coherent and based on our shared values for Welsh education. International evidence and the message within Wales is clear: we must ensure a coherent approach that avoids those unintended consequences, and contributes towards raising standards in all of our classrooms, by all of our teachers, for all of our learners.

I have already taken action, such as addressing incorrect use of GCSE early entry and announcing new interim and transitional performance measures for secondary schools to ensure that every child counts regardless of their background or their ability. The overall assessment and evaluation framework will be published next year alongside the new curriculum areas of learning and experience. It will describe how learners will be assessed in schools, how teachers will be appraised and the evaluation arrangements for the system as a whole.

Today, Deputy Presiding Officer, I am pleased to update the Chamber on how we are delivering the commitment to develop and publish new evaluation and improvement arrangements for the entire education system. The arrangements will have four integrated strands that will apply equally to schools, regional consortia and the Welsh Government. These are self-evaluation, peer review and validation, evaluation indicators, and the publication of an action plan.

As in many of the best-performing education systems in the world, robust and continuous self-evaluation provides the mechanism to improve. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Estyn are working with practitioners to design a self-evaluation framework, which will ensure coherence, criteria and a common language for self-evaluation across schools, local authorities, consortia, Estyn and the Welsh Government. Schools will be required to self-evaluate across a number of areas, such as their impact on pupils’ attainment and on their well-being, the breadth of the curriculum, their capacity to improve and their effectiveness to collaborate with other schools.

The main purpose of our approach to self-evaluation is to identify areas of success and failure, where good practice can be shared and, importantly, where failure can be urgently addressed. I'm also clear that the self-evaluation process must require an external perspective if it is to benefit from the necessary challenge needed. Therefore, it is our intention that all schools will have their self-evaluation validated. The school’s self-evaluation will be discussed with the consortia on an annual basis to determine what level of support the school requires or the level of support it can provide to other schools. Furthermore, it's hoped that this self-evaluation will then be validated by Estyn as part of their new inspection process. Importantly, as a school’s self-evaluation will be expected to be peer reviewed by other schools, this will help us to develop our culture of partnership and school-to-school support, while also building capacity across clusters of schools so that they can gradually take more responsibility for their own development.

I won’t pre-empt the outcome from developments that the OECD, Estyn and the profession are working on. However, I do expect schools’ self-evaluation to be wide-ranging and to include important areas such the quality of leadership in a school, the quality of teaching and learning, the well-being of pupils, as well as how schools are supporting the four purposes of the curriculum, amongst other areas. This will give us a lot more information about how a school is operating, above and beyond the simple level 2 inclusive score that for too long has masked the performance of too many cohorts of our pupils, in our secondary sector in particular. In terms of the visibility of this information, the outcome of self-evaluation and validation will feature in a three-year school development plan. It is our intention that all schools will publish a summary of its school development plan in order to share that information with parents and with the wider community. This is about providing a more intelligent set of evaluation and improvement arrangements and I'm confident that the peer review and validation processes will do this.

As I mentioned earlier, these arrangements will also apply to other tiers of the system too. I will expect regional consortia to self-evaluate against their agreed business plan and go through an annual peer review with other consortia. The outcome of the self-evaluation will be the development of a three-year action plan, which will be subject to scrutiny and sign-off as part of existing governance arrangements as outlined in the national model for regional working, with Estyn validating the self-evaluation. Consortia will be expected to publish a summary of its action plans annually to share information with its constituent local authorities and schools.

Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer—and I hope Members of this Chamber will welcome this—at a national level, Welsh Government will also self-evaluate against the objectives and actions within our national mission and generate a self-evaluation report. The self-evaluation report will be peer reviewed by members of the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory, which includes leading education systems such as Finland, Ireland and states and provinces in North America. I intend to publish a summary of the self-evaluation and action plan in the form of a Wales education report by the end of this year, and I will further update Members on this work in the coming months.


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I just say I definitely welcome this statement? Anything that speaks to improvement and the visibility of the improvement in standards is something I'm sure we will all want to hear a little bit more about.

Perhaps I could just ask you to kick off with—you say that we're going to get an update on this again when the curriculum areas of learning and experience are going to be published, which I think is due for April next year. Can you tell us if that's broadly right and, in which case, how difficult it's going to be for the peer review work that you mentioned at the end of your statement there to be produced by the end of the year? It doesn't seem to give them an awful lot of time to get to grips with this new system.

I welcome in particular as well the acknowledgement of the unintended, but, arguably, foreseeable consequences of the existing system that has been overfocusing on that C-D boundary and early entry, both of which were matters we raised in the debate last week. In that debate, we also challenged the assertion that comparisons in standards couldn't be made year on year because—in that case, we were talking about qualifications, but we said that you still can compare, because the Qualifications Wales report had told us that standards were stable. What I'm after, I think, is some assurance that the change in this system won't make it difficult for us to compare findings on improvement or failure to improve in what is to come and what has already been. You already know about our concerns about recategorisation possibly disguising some failures to improve, and, as we've heard with ambulance waiting times, changing rules does just disguise an increasingly worrying constituent experience. We want to avoid us being in that position with these changes, which, as I say, on the face of it, look very welcome. We do have a duty to scrutinise you, and I know I'm new in this post at the moment, but I'm finding it difficult to find points of comparison between the system we have at the moment and the changes you gave us an indication of in your May written statement. So, obviously, I hope to get better at comparing, but if you can give us, as I say, some assurance that we're going to be able to see comparables between this system and the previous—.

Will the evaluation include the effect of emphasis on academic subjects over good-quality vocational offers? I raised this again in the debate last week, where we saw that the drop in the number of entries by weaker students for A-levels obviously improved the statistics for A-levels, whereas an increase in numbers going for GCSE sciences saw an overall drop in the percentage of A to C achievements. So, part of this change is to better evaluate the quality of leadership, and as school management is one of the reasons we had a ruck of warning notices, also referred to in last week's debate, can you tell us that if school leaders, on a per-pupil basis, decide a pupil is better equipped, if you like, to go for a vocational subject rather than an academic subject, or examination, sorry, that this won't affect the school evaluation statistics? Because good leadership is about getting the best out of every pupil, and, of course, academic subjects aren't for everybody.

I'm pleased to see that the evaluation applies to regional consortia and, indeed, Welsh Government. Self-evaluation, of course, may be a characteristic of best practice, but it does come with its own risks, and I seem to remember that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, going back a couple of years now, identified that schools in Wales tended to be rather overgenerous with themselves when it came to self-evaluation of their performance on discipline. So, I absolutely welcome this idea of peer review, particularly the final comments in your statement. But can I ask whether it allows for an element of—well, I've got 'cross-pollination' written down here, but what I mean by that is: will schools, in evaluating themselves, be allowed to comment on their relationships with school consortia, with schools challenge, even local authorities, maybe even Welsh Government, because these are all relationships that should lead to better school standards? So, I'd like them to have the freedom to be honest about those relationships and, similarly, for those other bodies to have the freedom to be honest about their relationships with certain schools as well.

And then, finally, you mentioned visibility—or maybe comprehensibility is what I'm more interested in, because that whole world of school families and quartiles genuinely may as well been written in Klingon as far as families were concerned. So, even though the OECD may have suggested that assessment of pupil performance is about identifying their strengths and weaknesses in order to help them improve, I think it's realistic to expect families to want to understand how schools as a whole are performing as well. So, how will you be establishing what information matters to families and how that information will be included in the summary of the school development plan? I'm just wondering: is there any space, perhaps, for some guidance on that to run alongside the new evaluation indicators? Because the quality of communications between schools and families is something that's worth evaluating, in my view—maybe not necessarily as part of this, but if there's some way we can incorporate that into what we're looking at in the future, that would be really helpful. Thank you. 


Could I thank Suzy Davies for those questions? Deputy Presiding Officer, she does herself a disservice by focusing on the fact that she is new to the job. I think the points that you've raised are really relevant and important things that we need to discuss.

If I could just go through them as comprehensively as I can, I think there is—. What the Member conflates is the assessment and evaluation framework, which will be published in the springtime. That is part of our work on developing the new curriculum. What we need to do as we develop the new curriculum is not just focus on content, although clearly that is very, very important, but actually how we are going to measure individual children's progress against that content. Members will be aware of—and sometimes they raise with me—the issues around Scotland. I think one of the lessons we have learnt from the Scottish experience is that they tried to bolt on assessment and evaluation after they had dealt with content. We’re trying to do that at the same time so that there is a clear understanding. What we’re talking about here is the self-evaluation of individual schools’ performance, which is a slightly different thing.

The whole purpose is to increase visibility and to provide more information to those that are interested, so that the school itself can reflect on its own performance, where it needs to improve, where it’s doing well and what progress it can make. The Member quite rightly said, ‘Is there a danger of people marking their own homework and choosing what they want to be evaluated on?’ One of the problems that the OECD identified with the current system of self-evaluation—because it does happen in school—is that there is no national approach. There are various toolkits, there are various methods of doing it, and one of the things that I'm clarifying today is that there will be a national approach, a shared understanding, of how each school will do this so that there is a coherence across the whole system, so that we can improve upon what has happened to date, and also, as she rightly identified, make sure that that applies throughout the whole system.

I appreciate that, because we are changing systems around accountability, that does provide a challenge with year-on-year comparisons. But what we’re doing, I believe, is moving towards a system of more intelligent accountability measures in our schools that I believe will drive the right kind of behaviours. The Member, quite rightly, talked about parity of esteem between academic and more vocational qualifications, and school leaders making the right decision for each pupil. I would argue that, under the old regime, we had incentivised perhaps school leaders playing the system that made the school look better, rather than actually thinking about what was right in the needs for each individual child. That’s why one of the matters that will be considered as part of the self-evaluation—although I don’t want to pre-empt the work that the OECD is doing, because the OECD, Estyn and the profession are developing the evaluation framework; we’re not doing it on our own, and we have international oversight—will be to look at the breadth of the curriculum, and actually what is on offer, so that our school system does meet the needs of a variety of learners and understands that that comes from a breadth of curriculum and a breadth of offer.

Of course, the Member will be aware that we’ve already moved away from a level 2 inclusive performance measure for secondary schools to a capped points score, which means that every pupil counts. In the past, if you concentrated on your C-D borderlines and got them over the edge, actually, that’s what drove behaviours in school. Under the new system, every single child will count. What they do will count. This will mean that every child matters and they deserve the equal attention of their school staff.

I take your point about relationships with the families. After the quality of teaching, we know that parental engagement in a child’s education is the second biggest factor that will affect how that child does. So, good working relationships between families is absolutely crucial, and I understand that that has been part of the assessment that is being looked at at the moment. Cross-pollination is exactly what we want from this process of getting schools to work more closely together—and schools and regional consortia and Estyn—so we get better at sharing good practice. One of my constant frustrations in the system is that we have excellent, world-leading practice in some Welsh schools, and, surely, it can’t be beyond the wit of us to ensure that that is consistently applied in all of our schools. And part of this process is all about making sure that schools are working collaboratively together—that'll be part of the evaluation—and I'm working with my other schools. I have responsibility, yes, to my children, but I also have responsibility to the cluster and to the nation. And also that summary of the evaluation will be available to parents. At the moment, the information is really limited that's available to parents, so this is about giving greater visibility to parents beyond just what's available at the moment.

Can I just disabuse the Member of one thing? There is a difference between assessment and accountability. We have to get back to a system where assessment is used for the purposes of learning and for driving a child's educational journey. Assessment should never be about systems of accountability, because if you cross those over, that's where you get gaming in the system. That's where you don't get a true picture of what is going on. So, there is a difference between assessment, which we want to drive learning in our schools—. Assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning, and we can't have that being caught up in an accountability regime. Accountability stands separate, and that's what we're developing: robust assessment measures to drive teaching and learning in our schools but also robust accountability measures by which individual schools, regional consortia and the Government can be held to account.


May I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement and welcome it too? Clearly, we will want to see the framework and the details when they become available, but I certainly welcome the direction of travel. Very often, we forget—we certainly have done so in the past, perhaps—that we need to trust in our teachers more than perhaps we have done in the past. I've said this in the context of identifying children's ability and potential to make progress and so on and so forth, and I think that the same principle applies here, namely moving to self-evaluation and self-assessment. Plaid Cymru has long since asked for a system of self-improvement where the profession is responsible for their own standards but also where there is an assessment framework in place that is robust and underpins that.

You said in a statement last September that you would publish the new framework for the education system as a whole during the autumn of this year. Clearly, today, now, you have confirmed that you will do that next year. You've touched on this in a previous response, but I would like to understand why we've seen this delay. You referred to the fact that you were linking this process with the introduction of the curriculum, and one can understand the rationale underpinning that, but when will this be fully operational across Wales? What's your aim in terms of getting this framework operational and everyone within the education system being accountable to it? I would be pleased to hear confirmation of that.

You mentioned in your statement that self-evaluation across a number of different areas will be expected, looking at attainment and pupil well-being, the range of the curriculum available, the capacity for improvement, working with other schools and so on and so forth, and all of those are laudable and are to be encouraged, but how will that be considered in the context of the divergences in terms of the resources available to schools? There is inconsistency. We're looking for consistency in assessment, but there is inconsistency in the resources available in terms of delivering the range of the curriculum in certain areas. In certain areas, there are better budgets available, and that will have a direct impact on the subjects schools can offer. So, whilst I believe that the principles are important and that we should have a coherent system—I think that's the word you used—and that they should be consistent across Wales, the context, of course, varies from one area to another, and that may create some conflict within the system.

You're also entirely right in saying that we need to encourage and facilitate sharing good practice, but, again, one of the things that we hear from the sector very often is that there isn't the space and capacity and the slack within the system to release staff members to go and share this good practice, and that, to a certain extent, is acknowledged in the additional resources that you're providing to the flagship schools, in order to enable teachers to go to conferences and share their experiences. So, are there additional resources available in order to implement elements of this framework? Or do you anticipate that there will be some transitional funding for moving from regime to another? I'd be very pleased to hear what the situation is in that regard.

It's great to see that the consortia and the Welsh Government will be accountable to corresponding frameworks. I think that sends an important message to teachers and to the sector as a whole that everyone is not only pulling in the same direction, but that everyone is accountable and is playing to the same rulebook, and it introduces an element of equality, which is a positive message in my view.

I would also ask whether there is an intention to pilot this at the coalface, because we're all eager to see us moving in that direction and it's important that, if it is to happen, it is done properly. You talk about the need to avoid unintended consequences and introducing a coherent approach across Wales; well, I'm sure that an element of piloting, as part of its introduction, would contribute towards that and would be an important contribution in that regard.


Can I thank Llyr for his welcome for the direction of travel? I'm sure we both have been reading and studying the same research and evidence about the power of self-evaluation in driving improvement and the power of a self-improving school system. If we look at international best practice in high-performing countries, trust in the profession but also a strong system of self-evaluation and school-to-school working are crucial in driving an education system forward.

Unfortunately perhaps in some of the ways in which we have had accountability measures in the past, it has worked against that principle of schools sharing good practice. If I'm in a quartile, I need somebody else to be doing worse than me, so why would I share with you my approaches that are working well for me? So, actually, in the past, we have had a system of accountability that perhaps unintentionally has worked against this principle of schools working closely together and raising standards collectively, which, as I said, we know from international evidence, is a strong driver for changing an education system.

With regard to timescales and to the important point that Llyr made about testing, we'll be testing this in the new year, in 2019. You're absolutely right: we need to understand that if the Government pulls this lever, what that means on a day-to-day basis in our schools, and we don't want to create a new set of unintended consequences by the changes that we are making. So, it will be tested. Initially, at the moment, we're sharing some of the thinking with our primary school sector on how it will work in the primary school sector. What's important to note, Llyr, is that this self-evaluation tool is being developed in conjunction with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, so that we have that international rigour and oversight, with Estyn, who will have the job of validating a school's self-evaluation regime, and with the profession itself so that we know that we're coming up with a system that is workable in a school. Because the worst thing that we could do is design a system that, actually, is not practicable for a school to use and to help them drive improvement. So, the profession is involved in the development of it.

But I also think it's important—. I take your point that individual schools and local authorities make different types of funding decisions, but I do think that we need to have a shared understanding across the system about what we mean by self-evaluation and we're looking at the same factors in each of our schools. Again, the things that we would be expecting to see delivered as part of the framework would be its effectiveness as a learning organisation, how it's demonstrating how it can move things forward, the effectiveness of its school improvement processes, crucially on the impact on the pupils. Why are we doing this? What's the point of doing any of this if your improvement isn't going to lead to better outcomes and a more positive impact on your school pupils? Progress and achievement around the curriculum itself clearly, but also looking at the issue of well-being.

We've had many debates in this Chamber recently about the need for a whole-school approach. We have to have a more sophisticated way about how we hold schools to account for the issue of well-being. At its worst, well-being is about, 'Have the children turned up?' and if they have, 'Well, there we are, we're addressing well-being.' We know, from the work that the committee has done, that we have to be much more sophisticated at looking at how we address well-being. We need a whole-school approach. We also know that schools do what they will be evaluated on, so this has to be an important part of the self-evaluation framework as we go forward.

You're right: one of the challenges, Llyr, is creating time for all of this to happen. In the first instance, you correctly identified that we are providing resources for pioneer schools to be able to undertake this work. We will be looking to resource new professional development learning opportunities that facilitate people going to and from different schools. So, this will need to be resourced and, in the longer term, that's why we commissioned Mick Waters to do the report that you yourself mentioned earlier on in questions to the leader of the house, because that talks about how we can begin to think about how we can make these things a possibility in the constraints of a very busy working life for a teacher. And I will be looking to respond fully to that report once we've had the opportunity to digest everything that's within it, but I was very heartened that you found it a very interesting and stimulating read, and that provides a blueprint for how some of these issues can be addressed in the longer term in a more sustainable way, rather than constantly having to put pots of money together to make these things happen.


Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. Self-evaluation is an important internal exercise, but when used in this context, where it will form part of a larger evaluation and assessment process, and where schools operate under a funding model that sees schools competing for pupils, will the self-evaluation of schools and consortia simply end up being an exercise in self-promotion? I know that you say that the self-evaluation will be validated externally, but if that is the case, if it will be subject to external validation and evaluation, why bother with the self-evaluation in the first place, and not just leave the matter to external bodies such as Estyn? And from a practical point of view, what will validation mean in reality, and how will Estyn actually go about validating self-evaluations of consortia and schools? I would be really, really interested to hear how you foresee that working, Cabinet Secretary. 

The schools should already be self-evaluating for their own use, so this idea that the evaluation should become public, in a sense, will surely risk what previously might have been an honest evaluation becoming one spun in order to attract more pupils. Is this really the correct move considering the funding model, and would the Cabinet Secretary favour a changed funding model that would suit this evaluation scheme better?

Turning to the peer review of both schools and regional consortia's self-evaluations, how do you foresee that working in practice? What is the intended output of the peer review? And given that both regional consortia and schools will be effectively checking each other's homework, how can you ensure that standards will be improved as a result? Thank you.

I believe that there is a huge amount of value to be placed on an internal exercise that looks at the strengths and the weaknesses of an individual institution and, more importantly, what steps are going to be taken to make that institution better. We know, from all the international evidence and research, that schools as learning organisations are a feature of high-performing education systems, and that's what I want for the children of Wales. But we also know that self-evaluation does need to have an element of peer review. That's why we will have schools working together to provide that. Not only does it provide an excellent opportunity to verify an internal exercise, it promotes the spirit of collaboration between our schools—something that we have not been good at in our system in the past, and we need to improve upon. And that was one of the features of the OECD report into the Welsh education system.

The validation will be carried out by Estyn. The Member says maybe we should just leave all of this to Estyn, but, realistically, the inspection cycle would leave huge gaps when Estyn would be able to get to a school. This will be an annual process that will be undertaken, and therefore we can have real live time. One of the problems of our current inspection system is that a school can go many, many, many years before Estyn comes back to inspect that school again. And, you know, for better or for worse, an inspection report can become out of date quite quickly. I know of schools that have moved immeasurably in a short period of time, and also we have schools that have done well, and there's lots of evidence of this across the border in England, where a school has done well and then, after inspection, performance and standards drop immediately because the threat of an inspection report isn't due for years and years' time. So, actually, this gives us a much better, and a much more robust, system where these things are being constantly looked at and challenged.

I have no plans to change the current model of education funding, but, of course, I will look at every opportunity to maximise school budgets and maximise the amount of investment that the Welsh Government can put into our education system.

4. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services: The Autism Updated Delivery Plan and Autism Code of Practice

Item 4 on our agenda this afternoon is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, the updated autism delivery plan and autism code of practice, and I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething. 

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

It is widely acknowledged that autism services are improving, but I am acutely aware that many autistic people and their families still face a daily struggle to access the support that they need. I understand that services must not only continue on this improvement trajectory, but do so at increased pace. 

That is why, today, I have published an updated autistic spectrum disorder strategy delivery plan. The revised plan reflects important new commitments to improve services. These new commitments reflect feedback that we and our partners have heard from autistic people, their families, carers and wider stakeholders. The commitments include: issuing a code of practice on the delivery of autism services under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the National Health Service Act 2006; issuing a code of practice on the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 and roll-out of the new ALN system from 2020; updating and expanding Welsh Government autism guidance for housing providers; improving data collection through developing GP autism registers; consulting on making autism a stand-alone theme for future population needs assessments; raising awareness by improving engagement and involvement of autistic people in policy development; and expanding the independent evaluation to look at the alignment between children’s neurodevelopmental and wider autism services and to address the continuing barriers to reducing diagnostic waiting times.

I want to say more today about my intentions for the statutory code of practice on the delivery of autism services, which I have already committed to publish within this National Assembly term. This code will set out how local authorities, health boards and their partners should have services available to meet the identified needs of autistic people and their families and carers. In November, I will issue a public consultation to gather views on where we need to focus the autism code. The code will have a significant influence on where and how local authorities and health boards prioritise resources and how they actually deliver autism services. We need to get the balance right between requiring certain outcomes while at the same time enabling continuing innovation.

The consultation document will reflect the feedback that has already been received from stakeholders, including our ASD advisory group and professionals working to provide autism services. As I reflect on individual’s experiences of struggling to get the support they need, I particularly want to hear more from autistic people and their parents, carers and wider family about what they want to see in a code of practice that will make a practical difference in their daily lives. We also want to hear more from those who deliver support, who will be able to advise on current practice to tell us where improvements should be made. We also want to know if there are any unintended consequences that could arise because of any guidance that we choose to put in place.

The consultation document will focus on five key areas and will seek to capture many of the issues that are set out in the autism Bill, which I believe can be addressed without the need for the legislation proposed in the Autism (Wales) Bill currently beginning scrutiny. These are: assessment and diagnosis; accessing care and support; staff training; planning; and stakeholder engagement in service planning and delivery.

The consultation will ask for feedback on where our plans could unintentionally cause harm to existing services and impede the successful delivery of the ASD strategic action plan, particularly the national integrated autism service. For example, we plan to maintain the 26-week assessment waiting time standard for children and expand this into adult services. We do not think it is wise to change these arrangements, as our tested approach will enable service providers to organise and deliver timely first-assessment appointments, rather than just to signal that assessment has commenced, as proposed in the autism Bill. Our approach will help to ensure there remain sufficient resources to provide a post-diagnostic service. I think there is little to be gained by focusing hard-pressed resources on funneling individuals through assessment at the cost of providing care further down the line, where it is most needed.

The code, when published, will reinforce the duties already placed on local health boards and local authorities to provide autism assessment services, setting out guidance on the arrangements and the scope of service provision. It will highlight the need for compliance with nationally agreed diagnostic pathways, which have already been published, and by encouraging named lead roles to ensure services are regularly reviewed and reflect up-to-date practice. There will also be guidance on how autistic people should be able to access care and support services based on their needs and made accessible through adapted practice. That should reflect the existing duties in social care legislation.

In recent years, we have also made significant progress in raising awareness of autism amongst services and across the community. And we want to do more by asking services to undertake a training needs assessment of all of their staff and then to provide training identified as suitable for their role and experience. The national autism framework for Wales is already available as a tool to undertake this work.

The code will also provide additional guidance for regional partnership boards in relation to service planning and existing duties to undertake a population needs assessment. We will make autism a mandatory stand-alone core theme for future assessments. This will ensure that regions have clear plans in place to deliver and monitor autism services. And, lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the new guidance will set out the steps that should be taken to ensure that autistic people, their families and carers are engaged in planning activity and involved in the service development.

In developing the code, I will of course take account of the work being undertaken on the Assembly Member led Autism (Wales) Bill that has recently been introduced. As the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee gather evidence on the proposed legislation over the next few months, I will of course be listening. I'll be attending committee and presenting written evidence. However, it does remain my view that the Bill is not the right answer to improve services for people, in the context of the range of service developments that are, or will be, put in place. In the context of all the actions I've set out today, the potential legislation being discussed in the Assembly will not, I believe, provide us with new tools to improve services. It would though, I believe, install a rigid set of requirements that are likely to do harm to the improvement trajectory that we have put our services on. It will not result in more money being put into the system; it would result in existing resources being used less effectively.

I believe we're on the right path. Rather than change course now, we need to get on with delivery, including through taking the steps I've outlined today. And I do hope that colleagues across parties can get behind our plan and, as a result, that outcomes for autistic people, their families and carers will continue to improve.


Suzy Davies took the Chair.

In your statement, you say that the autism code of practice will set out how local authorities, health boards and partners should have services available. What do you mean by 'should', and what use is 'should', given that 'should' never delivers anything? You refer to a public consultation, but you know that the design of the integrated autism service was supposed to adopt co-productive approaches. So, how do you respond to the findings of the interim independent evaluation of the autism strategy and integrated autism service that, although the co-productive approach involving staff, service users and carers in the design, the implementation and the evaluation of the IAS was required, there were concerns about a top-down approach, which had stifled this? And I can assure you I've spent much of the summer working with distressed autistic people and their families, who tell me it ain't getting better.

In terms of your consultation, how are you ensuring this puts the onus on the service provider, or on Government, to identify the communication needs and the communication environments of autistic people? Simply sending them or giving them information about a consultation will not enable access for many and will actually act as a barrier for them.

You refer to assessment and diagnosis: how do you respond to a situation I've encountered—obviously, in my case, in north Wales—where a private diagnoser, a clinical consultant psychologist and a multidisciplinary team, are being commissioned by the health board to assess and diagnose, but their private assessments, where people have been refused assessment and diagnosis, often because girls have been so effective at masking in school, have been refused by the same health board on the repeated claim that they apply different standards, which have been shown to be factually untrue, where exactly the same process is applied in both circumstances? 

How do you refer to the statement by the National Autistic Society that a code of practice alone will not go far enough to address the needs of the autistic community, where the London School of Economics warned in its 2017 'The Autism Dividend: Reaping the Rewards of Better Investment' report that, without legislation, there would be little ability to require public bodies to implement Government initiatives in full and it doesn't provide statutory permanence in a way that an autism Act would? 

How do you respond to the concern, which has also I know been expressed to you, because I've been copied on some of this correspondence, about the lack of numbers being picked up by the integrated service and the lack of services from the service to pick up slack from third sector bodies that are progressively losing support? I know—. And I quote from a letter to you on 11 August regarding the one-stop shop offered by the Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru in Cardiff, which is now cutting down on their services from September due to lack of funding. As this person told you, it acts as a safe space in the community for autistic people like them and it has supported over 740 autistic people between 2015 and 2018. The IAS signpost people to services and yet the services that the autistic community themselves state that they rely on are progressively disappearing.

The Cardiff and Vale integrated autism service, in fact, according to Cardiff Council, does not offer a drop-in service for autistic adults and only offers telephone consultation and support for autistic adults, their carers or parents—again, a failure to assess the communication needs of autistic people and therefore gauge what real experience they're actually having. 

How do you respond, given that Flintshire County Council is hosting the IAS in north Wales, to this e-mail that I received last weekend on behalf of a peer advocate group of autistic people—a draft letter, which they said shows that autistic individuals and families are repeatedly being failed, and then, when complaints are made, no-one is held accountable for failures—or one last week from a 12-year-old child, one of many who had initially been refused assessment because she was so effective at masking? She wrote to the same council, and she said, last weekend, after her draft statement had been shown to her, 'I found many points to be incorrect, some were too extreme. I'm 12, currently unable to attend school for many reasons. I'm unhappy with the report and feel no-one has listened to the information we provided', because nobody established her communication needs first. I have another one here to the same organisation: 'Many of us struggle with meeting strangers, especially in alien places. We struggle to communicate our needs effectively by phone, in writing and e-mail. We've been unable to obtain effective advocacy on our and our children's behalf despite us detailing our processing difficulties. It often takes us a long time to process information verbally or in writing without support to understand and interpret correctly, despite many of us appearing very articulate.'

When they contacted the new IAS, they were sent forms to fill in, which put many of them into meltdown. They were then told that, if they couldn't fill in the forms, they should come in to a drop-in centre at a specified location to meet unknown people, which showed that the people who sent these have no understanding of autism, autistic people or their communication needs. 

I'll jump on and just conclude by asking how you respond to the article on the Institute of Welsh Affairs website recently by the external affairs manager for the National Autistic Society Cymru. She said that their recent survey

'found that nearly half...of autistic adults cited a lack of professional understanding as a barrier to accessing support. It’s clear that existing legislation isn’t enough to reduce the very significant barriers autistic people face.'

She said the Bill, the autism Bill,

'is an opportunity to provide autistic people with a level playing field, where someone can access the support they need without being bounced between other statutory services, such as those designed for people with a mental health condition or learning disability.'

So, let's ask what the consequences of inaction would be on the 34,000 autistic people across Wales and their families. But the challenge for anyone still to be convinced that this legislation is needed would be to listen to the views and experiences of those people and offer a solution that commands their support and makes a meaningful and tangible difference to their lives. So, hopefully, you will hear that call and, in so doing, perhaps you could just conclude by telling us how again you will ensure that your Government, your services and the IAS actually start establishing the communication needs of the autistic community and individuals within it in Wales before it starts drawing up conclusions and making recommendations to you.


I thank the Member for the series of comments and questions within. I think there are, essentially, three broad themes there. The first is about communication, and I recognise that there is a challenge about effectively not just communicating to but with people that is common to many of our challenges across health and social care—particularly in this area, though. 

The second broad challenge, I think, is that a number of the points that you make are about the north Wales service within the examples that you gave. And, of course, the roll-out of the integrated autism service only began this summer within north Wales, so I'd not expect to see a significant consistency to have taken place there yet or a significant story of service improvement that is making a real tangible difference that people feel and can experience themselves in north Wales yet. I think it is right that we judge the success of the service once people have actually taken part in it in significant number. But there are lessons to learn as we look to continue and complete the roll-out of the service. And it is important that we understand when things don't go well. That's part of the whole point about service delivery and improvement. 

On the discrete issue you raise about diagnosis, I obviously can't deal with it; I'm not able to comment on the particular points that you make. But, if you want to write to me with the detail, then I'm happy to make sure that those matters are properly looked at.

The third broad point that runs through your own series of comments and questions is to make the case for legislation, and there is an honest disagreement about this. I would honestly say to him and other proponents of legislation that, if you look at what has happened in England, you cannot plot a chart for both service improvement and outcome improvement for people with autism. So, I think there's a challenge about the suggestion that legislation will cure the challenges that we all recognise across this Chamber that affect people with autism and their families. And I think autistic people are looking for an answer that will practically help to improve their current life and their prospects for the future.

And I do think that trying to suggest that the autism community have a single view on this is not borne out by the facts. Autistic people have engaged in the consultation and the conversation thus far and it is not true to say that there is a single or overwhelming view. If you look at where the integrated autism service has rolled-out over a period of time, there are a range of testimonials from staff within the service who believe they are doing a better job and have more time to do a better job, as well indeed as autistic people themselves who have engaged and have been listened to to make sure that their individual needs are properly taken account of.

Service redesign is never unanimously supported and I think it's important for all of us who want to see services reformed in any area to recognise that. So, there will of course be criticism—people who don't support what's being done, people who recognise their individual experience isn't good enough—and I don't try to avoid that all, but I really don't accept the rather doomsday pronouncements that the Member makes about what is being done and why. I look forward to further evidence on the roll-out of the integrated autism service, I look forward to people engaging openly and honestly with the suggestions that have been made today and, indeed, the consultation that will come out in November this year.

Thank you, and I have to say that there are several elements of the statement that we've received from you today that are positive in themselves, but I think that what is important to remember is that they do, in many people’s view, including mine, fall short of what could be provided through specific legislation. You, through the way that you deal with this issue, talk about diagnosis and talk about specific support services as the important things, but there is much more than that to this, and that’s why I think we need legislation. We’re talking about the need to overcome barriers the prevent people with autism from playing their full part in society.

We need to provide greater safeguards for people with ASD against decisions that are made that don’t take into account neurodiversity. It’s to do with changing recruitment practices, for example. It means realising that decisions about all kinds of areas of public service can have a very deep impact on people with autism. For example, I heard about the effect that changes to or withdrawal of transport services to schools can have on children with ASD. Those changes can have a major effect on an autistic child. School transport isn’t a service for people with autism, but decisions about those things can have that effect.

Now, a couple of general questions. You state yourself that the code that you want to develop can have a 'significant influence' on where and how local authorities and health boards prioritise resources and how they provide services, but will you admit that having a significant influence does fall very much short of the guarantees that would be provided through legislation? And you, in rejecting, at present—we hope to change your mind—going along that path of having separate legislation, say that separate legislation would set too stringent requirements that would damage the improvement that we are seeing, in your opinion, at present. But will you not accept that it’s because people are failing to see that we are on a path of sufficient improvement that the vast majority of families of people with ASD and autism feel that we do need that specific legislation?


Thank you for the briefer series of comments and questions from the spokesperson from Plaid Cymru. I recognise the broad challenge here about legislation or not legislation, and it's an honest one as well. I'm not saying that people are engaging in this debate in bad faith—far from it. I recognise there is genuine concern across all parties about whether we provide the right services with the right level of engagement to deliver better outcomes for autistic people, their families and carers, and I understand this perfectly well within my own family as well. So, I really am sensitive to how we properly meet the needs of people who are not getting a good enough deal at present. That's why we've put time, energy and effort into improving services with and for autistic people. That's why we've put additional money into doing this. It's the whole point and purpose of rolling out the integrated autism service. But I don't think that legislation in itself will guarantee that some of those social barriers are overcome. It's about how do we deploy the different tools available to us to do that.

I recognise the challenges that you set out, but I actually believe that, within the integrated autism service already being rolled out and our proposals to cover those, including the code, there is real action that should make a real difference to help people deliver against the objectives they have for themselves, and I think that has to be part of a genuine conversation about how their needs are met, to lead to an end point, so that they can see their needs being met more effectively, too. But I do recognise your point; if people fail to see improvements and don't believe they're being listened to, then I understand why the prospect of legislation is attractive—I really do. The challenge is: is it really the case that people feel let down, therefore legislation is the answer, or is it the legislation that's proposed?

Equally, I think that what we are doing on really looking to drive improvement on engaging people directly in the service—both people who deliver those services and autistic people themselves—that is genuinely what we are doing with the money available. I believe, if you look at the testimonials from people engaged in those services, where the integrated autism service has already been rolled out, you will see people being positive about it. The challenge comes in the testimonials that I know you hear directly, where people still have concerns about the level and the quality of the service as it is being rolled out on a newer basis in other parts of the country.

I still think that legislation is not the answer, and I hope that everyone engaged in examining the current Bill will look openly at not just whether there is an issue that people care about, but whether legislation is the right answer to help address that issue to make a real and practical difference, and weigh that up against what we are already doing in what I'm setting out today. I hope that—as people, I do believe, generally share the same objective about improving outcomes with and for autistic people—we will ultimately be able to reach a point of view that all of us can support.


Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, and thank you for your statement and your commitment to putting things into action to improve the lived conditions of families with autism, while the whole debate about legislation continues around it. I visited the Serendipity nursery in Pembrey recently and saw for myself the Learning with Autism early years programme. The Serendipity nursery is the first in Carmarthenshire to have gone through that programme, and I was very impressed by the way that the experience, not just for the child in that nursery who had autism, but for all the children there, was being attuned. So, the whole experience was about making everybody value difference and make small changes to make everybody feel included. I felt that was a really palpable example of change at a grass-roots level.

I'd be interested to know about the progress in rolling that out across Wales, as I believe it was due to begin last year through early years and secondary settings. I think the principle is the right one. It now needs to be rolled out at scale. Similarly, I'd like to hear about progress in developing the same programme, Learning with Autism, for further education and workplaces, in line with the timetable, I believe, you had in mind for starting roll-out in 2019. And the national integrated autism service itself—from the conversations I had with those dealing with it at the chalkface, they were very encouraged by the principle, though, clearly, there's a lot of detail to get right. It's meant to be in place by March next year, I believe. It's not yet in place in Llanelli, and I'd appreciate an update, please.

I'm happy to have the direct example from your constituency, where it is about making improvements in the here and now. Indeed, a number of other AMs have spoken to me, from around the Chamber—I won't name them—about the challenges they see within their local communities and, equally, progress that they see, as well, for some people. It's an important point, I think, to capture what you said about small changes that can make a big difference to people's lived experience.

Specifically, in your part of Wales, it is the last part of Wales where the integrated autism service will roll out—the western bay and west Wales area. It is my understanding that it is on track to be operational by March, within this financial year. So, it is on track to do so. I think there's an important point about, in the future, me providing a more detailed update to Members on what is happening in the assistance provided in a range of other areas of life, in particular about activity around work, as well. Because if people are genuinely going to be included, then, actually, the importance of work for all of us matters, and it matters for autistic people just as much. So, I am keen to be able to spell that out, about the scale of activity that is taking place and where that is taking place. Equally, if Members don't see that taking place within their own communities, I'd be interested to hear from people, because I'm interested in making this genuinely a national roll-out for national improvement in every part of the country.

Thanks to the Minister for his statement today on a very important subject. We've had at least one highly passionate debate on this in the Chamber—probably more than one if you go back a few years—so it's obviously a matter that's close to a lot of people's hearts. Now, Minister, you said you wanted support for your new measures from across the Chamber, and I'm sure you would get that support if you could convince us that a new delivery plan and a code of conduct would offer a meaningful, positive difference to the position of autistic people in Wales today and in the near future. But there is a very real difference of opinion, as you’ve alluded to yourself, as to whether or not we would need legislation to achieve this change. I do agree with you in one thing: legislation is not, in itself, a panacea. It depends on the quality of the legislation and also, crucially, on how that legislation is enforced once it’s been passed. As we would probably agree, enforcement is the key to making good legislation work.

Now, I was glad to hear that you gave some specific dates to Lee Waters about the roll-out of the new measures, and I think that what people want to know is: will this make things get better, and how long will it take before things get better? So, if I could just press you on a couple of specific points. Access to diagnosis: are you confident that these measures will improve access to diagnosis, and what’s your likely timescale before we can see that kind of improvement? Another issue, I think, is training. I think training is going to be fairly key to moving ahead with these measures. Now, you did stress to a certain extent the need to upgrade training for people who are likely to be involved with trying to help autistic people. You talked about organisations needing to assess how well their staff are trained to deal with autistic people. Can you give us any more details on how quickly this roll-out of training is likely to progress? Thank you.


On the progress on diagnostics, we've announced already the 26-week waiting time standard, which I referred to in my statement, and we will have—. Assuming we get the data right, they will be published on a regular basis in Stats Wales. We're committed to having an annual update on measures taken in the strategic action plan, and that will also provide the update on training measures—on improvement in training, in addition.

Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has confirmed in his statement today that he has been following my Bill with very great interest, and I would urge him, even at this stage, to seriously reconsider the Welsh Government’s position and work with me to create the strongest possible autism Bill that this institution can develop. There is still time, Cabinet Secretary, for us to work together on a piece of legislation.

Now, today’s statement has confirmed the introduction of a code, which I believe points to the fact that the current strategy clearly isn't meeting the needs of the autism community—a step that I believe would not have come about if it weren't for the strength of the campaign to bring forward legislation in the first place. So, does the Cabinet Secretary agree with me and accept that the Welsh Government would not even be considering the introduction of a code if it wasn't for the proposed autism Bill? Indeed, does he also accept that introducing a code is, in fact, introducing quasi-legislation, given that a code will have some statutory elements? Wouldn't it be better, therefore, if the Government just decided to support the introduction of legislation and just support my Bill in the first place?

Now, the Cabinet Secretary is aware of my view that a code does not go far enough in tackling some of the long-standing issues around service delivery, and it certainly doesn't offer absolute permanence to the delivery of services, because a code can be revoked at any time. So, perhaps the Cabinet Secretary is now in a position to tell us how introducing a code will tackle these sorts of issues.

Finally, acting Deputy Presiding Officer, he states in his statement today that he believes that introducing legislation would result in existing resources being used less effectively. However, surely introducing a code will also involve existing resources being used. So, can he tell us what financial impact assessments have been carried out on the potential of introducing this code? In other words, can he tell us how much money will be utilised in introducing this code in the first place?  

I thank the Member for his comments. I'm disappointed at the outset about the suggestion that the Government would not be committed to taking action to improve services were it not for the Bill. That is simply not true. If he had listened to previous debates within this Chamber, he would recognise that—and our previous meetings. It is simply not true to say that, without his Bill, there would be no code. There was a commitment given by this Government some time ago to look at a code to try and provide greater permanence and certainty about what our expectations are for the delivery of services. It would have to—it’s simply not a case of a code being so transient that it is of no value. I don’t accept that at all. We have a number of codes that directly affect service provision and outcomes for people. If any person in the future wished to change the code or revoke it, they would have to positively do so. The code is already planned in to the work that we have, so we have budgeted for it and expect not only to go through the process of consultation but to deliver services. The Bill and the model that you propose would direct services in a different direction. It is perfectly reasonable for me to point out to Members that using money in a different way would provide different outcomes.

The Bill that he proposes, I believe, would be a poor use of resource and would take it away from direct service provision. It is a matter for him to make the case for his Bill and the money that he wishes to see used and what that actual resource is. There will of course be robust scrutiny from people who do still broadly agree that we want to improve services with and for autistic people. We do, however, have an honest disagreement about whether a more rigid path of legislation is the right answer for doing so.


Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I hope you feel better soon.

5. Statement by the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport: Priorities for the Historic Environment of Wales

We will now move to a statement from the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport: priorities for the historic environment of Wales. I call on the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

Thank you very much, acting Chair, for that welcome.

It gives me great pleasure to present today my priorities for the historic environment of Wales, as set out in the document that I hope that you’ve all received this morning, namely this paper, amongst our most recent publications from the culture department.

These priorities cover four key themes. First, I want us to build on the great strides that we have made in recent years in caring for our irreplaceable historic sites and landscapes. Secondly, I want to make sure that we have the skills across the sector to support their conservation appropriately. Thirdly, I want to help people enjoy and appreciate our historic sites and to encourage greater and more active participation in looking after our heritage. And then, finally and fourthly, our historic sites are also assets that also contribute to the economic vitality of Wales. They’ve made a contribution that extends beyond their value to society and to our knowledge of the past. They make a significant contribution to tourism and to efforts to promote Wales as a unique place for inward investment, and especially as a very special place for us all to live and work.

However, these themes are also interdependent. We need to realise fully the contribution that the historic environment can make to our economic well-being, but we cannot realise the economic value of our heritage if we do not care for it, and we need to pay for that. So, the historic environment sector plays a key role in realising wider Welsh Government objectives. It contributes to the themes of the national strategy, ‘Prosperity for All’, which is part of our national strategy, by helping to deliver a more prosperous, active and united nation, and one that learns. It also underpins the ambitions set out in our economic action plan, by recognising the special places that form the backbone of our local economies across Wales. But most of all, the historic environment is at the heart of our well-being goals and our sense of pride as a nation, something that it’s impossible to place a value on, I would imagine.

Returning to my first theme, caring for our historic environment has to be the starting point. As a Government—before I joined the Government—we introduced the groundbreaking Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the associated guidance. We maintain and care for the 130 monuments in the Government’s care. We also assist private owners and trusts to care for their important assets, whether through grants or through advice and guidance.

On the second theme, the process of protecting and conserving our historic environment depends on an understanding of its special qualities, and on a set of specific conservation craft skills. I'm very eager to support action to foster that understanding and to grow the practical skills base. To do this, it will require the mainstreaming of heritage craft skills into the wider construction industry and skills curriculum, and building on the already well-established examples within these courses.

In order to achieve the third theme, namely cherishing and enjoying our precious historic environment, I want to encourage many more visitors to our historic sites and help them all, whatever their specific needs or personal requirements, to do so.

Visitor numbers are significant. During 2016-17, over 1.4 million people visited Cadw’s 24 staffed sites alone. However, there's an opportunity for us to do more to encourage younger visitors, and I am keen to see more family activities at Cadw monuments and also engaging interpretation. And that's the purpose of exciting events such as opening Gilbert’s Maze and the Dragon’s Lair at Caerphilly castle, in the presence of the local Assembly Member, of course. Seeing the joy and wonder on the faces of the children and adults was priceless. 

We also need to continue the work on maximising and improving access to those with mobility difficulties, and to do so as effectively as we can. I hope that some of you have had an opportunity to see the excellent access bridges at Caernarfon and Harlech castles. I want to see significant progress in the improvement of access to the higher levels of some of our castles in a way that is sympathetic to their historic character and without affecting the unique experience of being within such monuments. I have also tasked Cadw with revisiting the guidance on easy access for all to historic buildings and to bring it into line with the latest thinking and standards. Access to Cadw sites, of course, also begins long before visitors arrive at the entrance. I have asked for a review of the way that visitors make their journeys to Cadw monuments to include signposting, parking, walking routes, cycle provision, and also on the co-ordination of public transport.

The need to sustain effective partnerships is the basis of the success of these four themes. In recent years, many of the successes of the historic environment sector have been founded on such partnerships, including those with the historic environment group, the built heritage forum and, of course, the local authorities, who are often vital for us to be able to deliver effectively on the front line. More recently, the newly formed Welsh places of worship gorum—and I've had an opportunity to go to one of their meetings recently—is tackling the difficult question, for those of us who are members of faith communities, of seeing the decrease in the congregations and the increasing numbers of chapels and churches that have become redundant, having been, in the past at least, the focus for their communities.  

The new strategic partnership between Cadw and the other three national heritage organisations in Wales provides a real opportunity to share skills and commercial experience—how to ensure revenue and funding for the work of heritage—and I look forward to receiving regular reports on progress in this direction. At the same time, as one who lived in the national library, almost, for some years when I was trying to be a scholar, before I pursued other temptations—this isn't in the official statement, I assure you—I want to recognise the contributions that the National Library of Wales, the National Museum Wales and Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales make, in their own right, and the quality of their work, and their importance, in my opinion. As I argued some time ago, in a different situation, about their futures, their unique work and the quality of their work as individual bodies is very important. I do not want to see these organisations lose their individual identities, but I also look forward to the development of new governance arrangements for Cadw: a new internal board being established in the coming months, and greater operational support, then, allowing Cadw to operate more effectively, alongside its partners in the commercial environment. 

I am coming to a conclusion now, I'm pleased to say. These are challenging times for the historic environment sector because of financial pressures and many future uncertainties. The sector has benefited considerably, as we all know, from European Union funding in recent years, and the process of withdrawal from the EU—but not from Europe, and never from European culture—will present significant challenges. But they are also exciting times. The fact that we have achieved so much in recent years is testimony to the successful partnerships that the Welsh Government, through Cadw, has forged with a wide range of stakeholders. There is now a real opportunity for our outstanding heritage to be positioned at the centre of our future well-being. It sits at the very centre of our cultural identity as a nation, telling the story of Wales’s place in the world. Thank you very much.


I'm delighted to make my first contribution as the new culture and heritage spokesperson for my party, following in the great example of the person now chairing our proceedings; I think that's an elegant link. Can I say, Minister, that for 12 most distinguished years, you sat in that chair and you promoted the concept of constructive challenge, and that's the type of relationship I think that we will now have, and it's one I very much look forward to?

I do commend the document. I think it's set out very nicely and well illustrated. I was particularly delighted to see a picture in there of Neath abbey—more specifically, the way Neath abbey was adapted after the terror of the reformation, and nicely modernised by the Tudors into a mansion and residence, which is a reminder of the terrific forces we have in history. But I was born 2 miles from this site. Most of my family live fairly close to it, even to this day, and when I return to Neath, I often go on a walk that takes me down to Neath abbey along the Tennant canal. You see the canal there, and then the other early signs of industrialisation and the copper workings, and the abbey. It's a remarkable sight. I think it stands in comparison, almost—almost; it didn't have a romantic poet—with Tintern abbey, and we should remember we have these sites. They're only just below the premier league, but they are of enormous value and I know how proud the people of Neath are in Neath abbey. We don't have such a glorious castle. Our main historical site, of that antiquity, is the abbey, and I'm delighted to see it illustrated. 

Can I commend your commitment to partnership working? I think, in this sector, it is key. The work with volunteers and work with civic groups has always been so enormous. In fact, in the 1920s, when the remains of Neath abbey were worked on by a great archeological group, with a mixture of academics and people in civic societies and just enthusiasts—it led the way. It's really, really important, and I wonder if you might even go as far as commending the work of Dr Mark Baker. My colleague is a Conservative councillor in north Wales, but his commitment to heritage is remarkable, and he has been recognised for his work in saving and conserving Gwrych castle—work he started when he was just 13—and he's been recognised by the Prime Minister with a special Points of Light award. I'm not making a partisan point here at all; I'm just saying that it is people with that vision that are really key, because they value their local sites and see their true significance, as I have perhaps indicated with Neath abbey. 

Talking about Neath abbey, I'm obviously pleased to see the reference to the Welsh places of worship forum. You referred to this and the incredible heritage we have with chapels. I think something like one a week opened in the nineteenth century—5,000 or more places of worship. One of the great expressions of the advance of evangelical Christian faith, and it's something we should be proud of. Obviously, most people don't have an attachment to that type of folk Christianity any more, but it was really, really important.

And can I commend, now that I don't serve the area of Neath—my political life has been here in South Wales Central—the landscapes of faith project, run by the diocese of Llandaf I think, which should stand out here, and for their partnership with other organisations such as Coleridge in Wales? I think that shows you the imagination that we really need. It is very, very important that we follow the aim of their project to champion Wales as an internationally important place to discover the heritage of faith and faiths, and we could apply that across other areas of historical and cultural interest.

I think that key here is how we use listed places of worship in order to sustain them. And the most magnificent ones really do need to find a use, and that use maybe could range from a gallery—that's a traditional one—but it may be a restaurant, it may be some community centre; a whole range of things. And we do need to protect those buildings, but we need to use them, and I think that that is key.

I was pleased that you referred to the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016, which of course aims to identify and conserve a whole range of important historical sites. Many of these are now being revealed by new mapping techniques and aerial photography, particularly those relating to the early medieval period, the Iron Age, and even the neolithic. We are discovering a remarkable number of sites, and many of them will be of absolutely international significance, potentially, because of the strength of those early cultures in this part of western Europe along the seaboard. And I think it's very, very important that we support people, landowners in particular and local councils, wherever these sites are, and preserve them and then, obviously, interpret them, because some of them will emerge truly as sites of first-class importance. 

Can I just finish by concluding on marketing and tourism? As the document says, it's practically a £1 billion industry in Wales, and I think you're right to talk about the economic potential and the need for us to have a vision of Wales. I'm glad that castles are mentioned, because it is easy for us to see this as the Anglo-Norman sort of heavy hand on Wales, but the other side of interpreting that is that was the military investment required to control that area, and it is quite a remarkable compliment in an odd way.

But if we look at Conwy castle, for instance, it does have, I think, the most coherent claim to be the pinnacle of castle building, and castle building as a fortress ideally suited to its geographical area and for a very—in that case—brutal political purpose. It's important that when people come to Britain to visit castles that they realise that if they want to see how a fortress castle works—and it's nearly in perfect preservation; it's not a ruin, it is as it was built, practically—they need to go to Conwy.

And can I conclude by just saying that I think modern technology is a key area here and that skill is really important? I would like to hear you specifically on anything that you're doing in the digital, cultural projections and resources. The UK Government has a specific digital, cultural project. I'm sure we're doing something similar, but a bit more information on that would be important, because people can see that in North America, Australia, whatever, and when they're planning their trip, they can then know and have a virtual visit to Conwy castle and then come and see it as it exists. But we will work constructively in this very important area to ensure that Wales gets the maximum value for its own citizens, for us all, but also for those who visit us.


Thank you very much, David, for your generous and positive remarks.

I visited Neath and it was a revelation to me to see the way in which the restoration of the abbey has been achieved. I actually stood there and stared at the pointing that had been achieved by those employed by Cadw on the work on that site. But there's also, as my colleague on my left here would remind me, the ironworks. That whole area around Neath, including the canal system, is an area that could be developed, I think, although I mustn't say too much, because, clearly, there are also commercial interests involved who are active in that area with their own businesses. But I'm sure that area could be developed as a main conservation attraction area for visiting tourists.

And similarly, I have visited Gwrych—how could I not visit Gwrych castle, because I live only 10 miles or so away—and seen the amazing work that Dr Mark Baker is doing there. He single-handedly conserved and looked after the old hunting ground of Prince Llywelyn within my own area of Dwyfor, and he is a hugely imaginative person and a great resource for us. And we have, in fact, invested in the beginnings of the maintenance and restoration of Gwrych castle. It is not a folly; it is a unique attempt to reconstruct in the nineteenth century the wonders of the medieval period, and therefore it is the equivalent, I suppose, going back to my own academic past, of the romantic literature, romantic literature and poetry in particular. It is a building, as it were, in the tradition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. And therefore, to sustain that and its particular location, visible as it is from the A55 and from the main north Wales railway line, and reconstruct it as a tourist attraction, I think, is a huge opportunity.

I am also pleased to say that I'm about to visit the great temple of non-conformity at Morriston.

So, I think I will keep my powder dry on chapels until I've had that discussion in Morriston, but I am keen to see what we can do with the chapel heritage. A lot of them have already been converted and have become fine private houses. Some of them have become garages, some of them are very good garages. All these uses that we have for our religious buildings, I think, are important to recognise.

I've also had the great opportunity to visit some of the neolithic sites. Bryn Celli Ddu on that site on Ynys Môn is an amazing space. The work that has been done already to conserve that space by people like Dr Ffion Reynolds and others in Cadw is a huge delight and we will continue to invest in that.

Castles are very special because, as you so rightly said just now, David, it's about the Anglo-Norman inheritance. It's about the Government of Wales looking after great military installations that were put up for an ineffective attempt at conquest. What is equally important to me are the castles of the lords and princes, and that is what we will also be promoting. But both of these are the drama of Welsh history, and if we can convey those to our visitors and, indeed, digitally to those who have not yet visited, that is part of the role of Government, because as I said about three times, I think, in this statement, that is our identity and the difference that Wales is in the world. Therefore, it's something that I feel very strongly about promoting. Thank you.

Oh, and by the way, my door is always open to opposition spokespersons to come and discuss these matters, because the heritage of Wales doesn't just belong to Welsh Government.