Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd22/01/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) in the Chair.
Can we call the Senedd to order please?
I have accepted an emergency question under Standing Order 12.67, and I call on Rhun ap Iorwerth to ask the emergency question. Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Will the Minister make a statement in response to the announcement regarding Wylfa Newydd? (EAQ0004)
Diolch. I issued a written statement in response to the announcement on 17 January, and I've since been speaking with Hitachi, with Horizon Nuclear Power, the UK Government, local stakeholders, and I also attended an emergency meeting of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board yesterday, and I can assure the Member that we are doing everything possible as this developing situation unfolds.
Thank you very much. I think we had expected this announcement for some months. We could ask some questions about what the UK Government did during that time to try and save the agreement, but, from the point of view of the Welsh Government, it is worth asking today, given that we had expected this announcement, what steps the Welsh Government took to draw up an action plan for such an announcement. I wonder whether you could outline those plans.
In terms of the next steps, seeing what can be done in order to keep the current scheme viable is clearly a part of what’s happening at the moment. I have to say that I do fear that the Secretary of State for Wales, within the UK Government, is being irresponsible in talking about the possibility of reviving the project within a year or two, or possibly three. But, if the intention is to try and create a new funding model, can I ask what role the Welsh Government proposes to play in that scenario, along with other partners locally?
But, whatever can be done in terms of restoring this particular scheme, clearly we need investment now—additional investment—to make up for what is being lost, at least in the short term. The politics of nuclear is one thing—I understand the arguments for and against nuclear energy—but as an economic opportunity, of course, this announcement will be a blow to generations of young people in Anglesey, and they now need to see that everything is being done to invest in their futures. So, will the Minister, who has given some signals of this already, make a commitment to invest more in the north Wales growth deal? One hundred and twenty million pounds has been allocated already, as well as £120 million from the UK Government? We will need to increase that significantly now in order to invest in regeneration and economic development plans in Anglesey. particularly in the north of the island, in the Amlwch area. We need to move towards opening the Amlwch line. We need to secure funding to make the electricity link to the Morlais energy project, and we need to support the Minesto investment. So, I would appreciate an assurance in that regard from the Welsh Government.
Further, can we have an assurance that the Welsh Government will urge the UK Government to increase its contribution to the north Wales growth deal? This is another project that has failed to be delivered by them in Wales. They must now show a commitment through further investment, including, perhaps, by directing substantial HE research funds to Bangor University. Wales fails to receive its share of research funding as things currently stand.
And finally, could I have an assurance that the Welsh Government will provide all possible assistance to the staff working with Horizon at Wylfa at the moment, who, of course, have received letters warning of redundancy over the last week? Good people from the local workforce will now need your support.
Can I thank the local Member for the very important points that he made and the questions that he raised?
In terms of planning for this eventuality, well, of course, I'd already given the go-ahead to the development of a regional plan for north Wales, alongside the development of regional plans for the other two regions. That plan is in development as we meet here today, and will, of course, take account of the situation that we're in and the various scenarios that could be played out in the months and years to come. But, alongside the regional plan, of course, is the north Wales growth deal, with the 16 projects that are contained in it. Some are sensitive to the Wylfa Newydd project, but, of course, others are not. Yesterday, during the meeting of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, we discussed how prioritisation could be given to a number of the projects, and those projects that are potentially the most transformational for the region, and, indeed, how they could potentially be accelerated and scaled up. If I can just identify one as an example, I think the digital project has huge potential and could be scaled up and delivered at great pace.
Rhun also raised the important point about the work that will be undertaken in the coming months, insofar as a potential new funding model is concerned. I think it's fair to say that we must do all we can collectively—here, in north Wales, and the UK Government, working with Horizon, to ensure that the project, if it can go forward, does go forward with the minimum pause. In terms of the new funding model and the work that's under way, we've been assured that the review and the report will be completed by this summer. The regulated asset base model has been utilised in other major infrastructure programmes. One that I would point to as probably the best example of its utilisation recently in this sort of field is the Thames Tideway. We need to be fully involved in any conversations, discussions and deliberations over that potential funding model, and I've asked officials to engage fully with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
In terms of support for the north Wales economy and, more generally, the marine energy sector of Wales, we believe as a Government that the UK Government should look to develop a new tariff regime that assists the development of the sector in the same way that, for example, wind was assisted in its formative years. That would enable Wales to lead the field in the deployment of marine energy technology, and it would ensure that, as we seek energy security, we are able to rely more heavily on renewable forms of energy. And of course, in and around Anglesey there are already existing centres of excellence and research facilities concerning marine energy.
In terms of the quantum that we have allocated to the north Wales growth deal, I was always very clear that, in supporting the growth deal to the tune of £120 million, we were matching the UK Government. But I was also very clear in statements made before Christmas that we believe that the UK Government should increase its contribution, and, if it so does, so will we. And I do await positive news from the UK Government concerning the sum of money that it is willing to contribute to this important deal. And it's also worth bearing in mind that, in addition to our contribution to the north Wales growth deal, we are also planning £600 million of infrastructure programmes across the region in the coming years. And on top of that, a huge amount of money will be invested in our social infrastructure—in new schools, health centres, hospital facilities, again making sure that we contribute to the regional economy and its economic resilience.
What I would say is that, in considering any additional resource for new projects, we should not tolerate an unco-ordinated call for support for programmes in north Wales. It's absolutely essential that the regional plan, and the north Wales growth deal bid, take centre stage in developing the economic footprint and interventions of north Wales. And so, I would call on any interested parties to ensure that their work, their proposals, are aligned with the growth deal bid and our emerging regional plan.
I think the Member is absolutely right as well to call for an increase in research and development spend in the region, and I would widen that to say we should have an increased spend in Wales as a whole. Of course, within the growth deal, there is a £20 million project for access to smart energy, relating to the development of Trawsfynydd as a centre for the deployment of small modular reactors. I'd like the UK Government now to examine the potential to ring-fence sums within the sector deals for nuclear and aerospace for the region and for Wales, to ensure that we are at the forefront of technological development in two areas of expertise that I think we are renowned for around the globe.
And finally, in terms of employees, my heart goes out to those people who have worked so diligently over a significant period of time. We are in talks with Horizon about the numbers that will be retained, but we have a proven track record of being able to assist people who are affected by such decisions, through ReAct and through a co-ordinated response across a number of Government agencies. Of course, we will support anyone affected in the same way. But I can also assure the Member that we are looking to go beyond this, by engaging intensively with businesses across the region who were scaling up and skilling up in order to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are examining every possible means of providing opportunities for work and for businesses to take advantage of during the period that this project is paused.
Can I begin by thanking the Member for Ynys Môn for raising this very important emergency question, and also the Minister for his response? May I also add that my thoughts are with everyone who's been affected by this recent announcement?
I really hope that we can come to a solution on this issue, because the local people and the local communities on the island, but also the communities right across north Wales, have been working extremely hard to support and plan for this project for the best part of 10 years, and that's because it has clear benefits: the thousands of construction jobs, the hundreds of operational and engineering jobs and the opportunities for high-quality, skilled apprenticeships. So, I welcome the Minister's offer of support to those families who have been affected by this announcement.
Deputy Llywydd, I have three points for the Minister. Firstly, it's clear to me that following this announcement, and the past announcement surrounding the tidal lagoon, we need a better mechanism in place for financing major construction projects. Secondly, would the Minister agree with me that we also need to learn from the lessons and put our full weight behind other projects in north Wales, just like the Heathrow logistics expansion hub, which is an ongoing project? Now, securing these investments would bring jobs and prosperity to my constituents but also those people right across the north Wales coast? And finally, Minister, people in north Wales and across the country are losing faith in major projects not being delivered, and, as it stands, we are being let down by the UK Conservative Government. Would the Minister agree with me that it's time to get projects like these delivered so that the people of Wales can see real change in their communities and clear opportunities for our future generations?
Can I thank the Member for Alyn and Deeside for his important points and the questions that he has raised? Of course, he represents an area of Wales that is integral to the nuclear arc that stretches from the north-west of Wales right through to the north-west of England, and whilst the centre of activity will, of course, be focused on Anglesey, I am conscious that many people who work on the Wylfa Newydd programme are from other parts of north Wales. This really is a project of regional and, indeed, national significance in terms of the employment base. Indeed, within the nuclear sector as a whole, such is the demand for skilled people that employees are willing to travel far and wide for work. One of my best friends, who lives just outside Mold, actually travels on a daily basis to Trawsfynydd for the decommissioning project there. So, nuclear-related activities in the region are of huge benefit to the whole of Wales.
I think it is essential that work on the alternative funding model is taken forward at speed and, with the collaboration of Welsh Government officials, I've also pledged to provide a briefing note and regular updates for colleagues in local government in north Wales. I think the Member also raises the important point of seeking out other opportunities for employment in the region and across Wales. I think the Heathrow logisitcs hub that the Member points to could be a transformational project at the Tata plant, and I look forward to receiving an update on the work that has taken place in recent times in determining where the hub should be located.
And, finally, insofar as major infrastructure projects are concerned and major investments are concerned, I won't rehearse the points that Members have already made so far concerning let-downs for Wales and failures for Wales, but I would say that, in contrast, the Welsh Government continues to deliver. It was perhaps a very sad irony that, on the day that we heard about the failure to take forward Wylfa Newydd on the current funding model, I was actually in north Wales launching the start of work on a £135 million Caernarfon-to-Bontnewydd bypass. In addition, we're delivering the £5 billion franchise, and the international convention centre is reaching completion. We have a record spend in terms of infrastructure in the region where Wylfa Newydd was due to be located, and where I hope still will be built.
Minister, thank you for your comments this afternoon, and also last Wednesday, and in particular last Wednesday where you fully endorsed the Welsh Government's support for nuclear energy, which obviously was a concern for some people given the recent leadership race that was undertaken within the Labour Party. But what is important to understand is, as Horizon and Hitachi have pointed out, this boils down to the funding model that's available to build this project. We are led to believe that the UK Government offered a strike price of £75 per megawatt. That clearly doesn't seem to have been in the ballpark so that Hitachi could press the 'go' button on this particular project. What is your assessment of what strike price is required to let this project go forward? And, ultimately, what's really important for the communities in north Wales, and in particular on Anglesey, is that the negotiations do not continue indefinitely but that a conclusion is brought about to those negotiations.
When do you think that the Governments at both ends of the M4 will be in a position to make a reasonable call on the development of this site so that, if Hitachi are unable to develop this site, other partners can be secured? Because this is the best site to develop a nuclear opportunity in Europe, not just in the UK, and it is vitally important that Hitachi as a company, if they feel they can't continue with this project, are replaced with an alternative vision that can develop the opportunities that very many Members around this Chamber have identified for jobs and prosperity on the Isle of Anglesey.
Can I thank the Member for his question? And, of course, it's the funding model that is broken. I don't think it would be for me to judge the strike price that would be needed to take this forward, because negotiations have taken place in confidence, although the figures, I understand, are now out there in the open. What is required is an appraisal of an alternative funding model to be carried out as soon as possible, and I think the Member makes a very important point, in that the patience of individuals and the faith that individuals have in the region will be tested if this situation is not resolved either way as soon as possible.
And I think it's also important to say that there can be no more false hopes, false starts, because it takes a huge amount of will and investment by businesses and people to ramp up for activity on the sort of scale that we've seen in recent months and years. If and when—. And I hope that the project will go ahead. When it goes ahead, I would hope that businesses and individuals across the region will take full advantage of it. But, in order to do so, we have to maintain the momentum and the traction that's been developed in recent times, and so it does require further intervention by Government in terms of the Government being able to guarantee that it's doing everything possible to bring this project to Anglesey, that it clarifies very publicly the funding model and how it will work and whether it is feasible as soon as possible. We also would like wider assurances about wider implications for the regional economy of north Wales and how, in light of the decision, support could be turned to other areas of economic activity, for example, as I've already mentioned, the SMRs and digital infrastructure.
I think it's also important that we know what the UK Government will do to support skills development and the supply chain during the pause period. It's not just important for north Wales—it's important for the whole of Wales and, indeed, it spreads further: it's important for the whole of the nuclear arc and for Britain's energy security.
Thank you. I have two more speakers, and if they promise me they will just ask questions I will call them both. Mark Isherwood.
Diolch. [Laughter.] Thank you. Question: what will you now say to retract your statement last week that the Prime Minister had been in Japan the previous week and hadn't raised this, when the Prime Minister of Japan was actually in London, and she confirmed in the House of Commons that she had, as did the Secretary of State for Wales, who confirmed that he'd also met her in the House of Commons? She answered a question to Ian Lucas confirming she had. And, given that this increases the need for the growth deal, what dialogue have you had, or will you have, with UK Research and Innovation, the body that has £7 billion funding for a combined budget for purposes such as this, which I understand might be accessible to support the small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors to help fill any gap that's created and drive Trawsfynydd and north-west Wales as a European centre, and potentially as one of the global centres, for SMR and AMR development?
Look, I should just say at the outset that the development of SMRs will not make up for the potential loss of 9,000 jobs across north Wales and the rest of Wales. It simply will not. It will contribute to filling the gap, but one project alone, I'm afraid, is not the silver bullet. Of course, Innovate UK has been heavily involved of late in activities here in Wales. We look for every and all opportunity to draw down competitive funding for research and development and innovation in Wales, and, as the Member, I'm sure, is fully aware, we are now using the Government offices in London as a showcase for Welsh innovation in order to draw attention to what's taking place within our research institutions.
And with regard to the discussions that did or did not happen between the Prime Minister of Japan and the Prime Minister of the UK, it seems that conflicting statements are being made. In order to clarify exactly what was said, it may be useful to know what the response of the Japanese Prime Minister was to the supposed raising of queries by Theresa May.
Can I ask what light this might shed on the opportunities for other energy developments in north Wales, and in particular the north Wales tidal lagoon, a project that, of course, could create up to 20,000 jobs, has the potential to deliver significant contribution to the energy needs of Wales and the wider UK, and which, according to the firm that has put this project forward, has significant interest from investors around the world and can provide this energy at an affordable price? It seems to me that there's an opportunity here that we could potentially pursue as an alternative to Wylfa, given that it's been shelved for the time being, and I was wondering what work the Welsh Government might be able to do with the UK Government in order to make progress on this alternative scheme, which, of course, would also bring added benefits in terms of flood protection for the north Wales coast.
Yes. I recognise the points made by the Member for Clywd West. I think it's just important to restate the importance of finding a favourable funding model for the marine energy sector if we're going to take forward any of the proposals that have been put on the table, whether that's in the Swansea bay area or north Wales. I am aware of a number of proposals for tidal lagoons around Wales. I hope that these will be further explored at the marine energy summit that's taking place in Swansea next week, which, in light of the decision by Hitachi, I think has taken on additional significance.
I think what's also important to state about tidal lagoons is that we must examine not just their potential to create jobs and create economic development and not only consider their role in providing clean, renewable energy but also their role in potentially building places and defining places. I think all of us in this Chamber—well, certainly most of us in this Chamber—would like Wales to be recognised as the renewables nation. In order to reach that point, I don't think we should play off—and there's always a risk of this happening—one region against another region in Wales or one project against another. I think it's fair to say that most people in this Chamber would like to see multiple tidal lagoons around Wales, and most people in this Chamber would like to see a variety of renewable energy sources being deployed as wide and far as possible.
Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you.
We go to item 1 on the agenda, then, and questions to the First Minister. The first question this afternoon is from Michelle Brown.
1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of why the rate of sex attacks in Wales is higher than the UK average? OAQ53273
Assessing the rate of sex attacks is complex, and reporting rates are affected by a wide range of factors. The Welsh Government regularly discusses the contribution that devolved public services can make in this area with police and crime commissioners and others.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. A woman who has conceived via rape faces a set of decisions that most people would find incomprehensibly difficult to make. She ought to be able to be certain that having to see or have her rapist be part of her child's future life is not a factor that needs considering when making any of those decisions. Recently, Sammy Woodhouse, a rape and child grooming ring survivor, who is bringing up the son she conceived through rape, has urged the UK Government to change the law to ensure that rapist fathers do not gain rights over their victims' children. She was 15 when she was raped and got pregnant.
My office has been in contact with Sammy, who is now bravely using her experiences to fight for change for women like her across the UK, including Wales, and she wants me to ask you if your Government would support such a law change. I appreciate that family law is reserved, but I'm sure that Welsh Government's moral support on the issue would mean much to Sammy and the women for whom she speaks. So, First Minister, will you add your voice to mine and Sammy's to make sure that fathers of children born from rape or abuse can never gain access to their children against the consent of the raped mother?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, it is almost impossible to imagine the distress that is caused to any individual in the circumstances that the Member has just outlined. She is right, course, that the change in the law that is being sought is something that only the UK Government has the authority to bring about. If the Member did have information that it was possible to share with my office to provide some further background to the case that she has raised on the floor this afternoon, I'd be very happy to consider that in the context that she's raised.
First Minister, sex attacks and other similar offences against an individual are horrific examples of the darkest and most disturbed corners of our society, be the victim a man, a woman or a child. Such treatment is abhorrent, illegal and most certainly immoral. In addition to sex attacks, though, we have a worryingly high known rate of domestic abuse and sexual violence across England and Wales. Indeed, in the year ending March 2018, an estimated 2 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year. That is 695,000 men and 1.3 million women. Now, with regard to the latter, Baroness Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, recently commented that:
'Domestic violence and abuse is still all too common and, according to a recent study, a frequent reason why women now lose their children into the care system.'
First Minister, will you clarify what further steps can be taken? I do appreciate that a lot of work had gone on by your Welsh Government previously, but there needs to be more. So, what steps will you take to ensure that there is a reduction of sex attacks in Wales and domestic abuse and sexual violence, and that, where there is proven abuse to victims, they don't then see their children being lost to the care system across Wales?
I thank the Member for that important supplementary question. She is quite right that a great deal of work has gone on across this Chamber, including putting on the statute book the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. It has been followed up. We have trained 135,000 professionals to recognise the signs of domestic violence here in Wales so that it doesn't go unreported or unattended, and we are investing £5 million in this financial year in grants under that Act to local authorities and third sector organisations to be able to make sure that we are able to follow through on the issues that the Member has raised.
She will know that I have previously referred to the rates at which children are taken away from families here in Wales, and circumstances in which women lose their children as a result of abuse that they have suffered is clearly unacceptable as a course of action and will be part of a new focus that I want the Government to place on making sure that we do everything we can to help families through difficult periods and to help families to stay together, rather than thinking that removing children from families is always the best way of responding to difficulty and distress.
Thank you. Question 2—I've agreed that question 2 and question 7 will be grouped, so question 2, Leanne Wood.
2. How has the Welsh Government responded to figures showing that Wales has the highest incarceration rate in western Europe? OAQ53272
7. What discussions has the First Minister had in light of figures showing that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe? OAQ53267
I thank the Member for that question. Deputy Minister Jane Hutt met with Dr Robert Jones, author of the factfile report to which Leanne Wood refers, on 17 January to discuss its key findings. We will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Justice to explore the report fully and understand what this means for Wales.
The report produced last week by the Wales Governance Centre shows that we have the highest incarceration rate in Europe, and it's, in fact, double that of the north of Ireland. Also contained in the report is the fact that this high incarceration rate is despite the fact that Wales has a lower crime rate than England every year between 2013 and 2017. From my background as a former probation officer, I know first hand the devastation that custodial sentences can bring to people. It can end careers, it can end marriages, it can result in homelessness. The Westminster criminal justice system is clearly not working for Wales. In fact, it seems to be punishing Wales. Will you make a push to devolve the criminal justice system as a key priority for your Government, in order to prevent more lives being ruined in Wales? And will you agree to push for the reunification of the whole of the probation service back within the public sector, as, without safe community sentence options, the incarceration rate is going to keep going up?
I thank the Member for that important supplementary question, and agree with a great deal of what she said in introducing the question. The big picture in criminal justice in England and Wales has been the same for nearly a quarter of a century. Recorded crime rates are falling, fewer people are appearing before the courts, yet more people are being sent to prison and for longer. That is not an acceptable set of circumstances to the Welsh Government, and it's particularly unacceptable in the circumstances that Leanne Wood referred to, where, for example, as the fact file tells us, a quarter of the women who are sent to prison in Wales are sent to prison for less than a month. And yet, in a month, you can lose your home, you can lose your job, you can lose your children—in the way that Janet Finch-Saunders identified—and these are for non-violent offences and, in some cases, for offences that are being committed for the very first time. That serves nobody. It serves neither the individual, the victims, nor society as a whole.
I want, Dirprwy Lywydd, to take a practical approach to devolution of the criminal justice system. I don't want us to miss out on practical actions that we could achieve by searching for something that is beyond our ability to deliver. So, I believe that there are three areas with which we should begin as a focus. We should seek the devolution of the youth justice system, we should seek the devolution of the probation service to Wales, and we should seek new powers in relation to women offenders. Those are the areas of the criminal justice system that sit closest to the responsibilities that are already devolved and where we could make the most immediate difference. I think, in a practical way, we should focus on those aspects first, and if we can secure their devolution to Wales, then we will be able to move on from there into the other aspects that would follow.
I thank the First Minister for his responses to Leanne Wood. I feel, Deputy Llywydd, I have to convey that we need a bit more ambition. I fully understand what the First Minister is saying, in that if we can get youth justice devolved very quickly, if we can get the probation service devolved very quickly, and if we can get additional powers on women offenders, that would be welcome. But that still leaves—. The majority of people going into the prison system are actually adult men, and we know the devastating effect that that can have on them and on, of course, their families, as he rightly points out.
With regard to the probation service, I'm sure the First Minister is aware that the rates of sickness for probation officers in the privatised elements of the service are three times higher than those in the National Probation Service. It's clearly not a system that is working, and while we very much welcome the steps that are being taken towards creating a Welsh probation service, it's my understanding that, at the moment, that would only include one-to-one work with offenders. Now, if we are to reduce, as the First Minister has identified he wishes to do, the rate of custodial sentences in Wales, we have to have stronger and more credible rehabilitative community penalties. So, as part of his work to seek the devolution of the probation service, will he seek as a matter of urgency to ensure that responsibilities for group work and for what was called community service for unpaid work—which is, of course, seen as a credible sentence by the community, because they can see the element of punishment there—are included in any developments of a Welsh probation service, because otherwise we'll have a split system and won't be able to be consistent?
I thank Helen Mary Jones for that follow-up question. I should have said in my answer to Leanne Wood that, of course, I do completely support the reunification of the two severed parts of the probation service. While I welcome the steps that are being taken in relation to the probation service in Wales already, there is more that we need to do, and to go beyond that prospectus. And we know, Dirprwy Lywydd—the frustrating thing is that we know what works: we know that a system in which we have maximum diversion away from the system to early intervention and prevention; when it is necessary to intervene, we intervene in the minimum necessary way; and we manage the whole system. Changing the way the system works will always be quicker than trying to change individuals within it. And we know that works, because the figures in the fact file demonstrate that—whereas in other areas, including young men, we are not doing as well as elsewhere—in youth justice, the achievements in Wales outstrip those beyond our border. So, we know that we have a prescription that works; we know that we have a prescription that protects victims and promotes community safety.
I want to be ambitious, Diprwy Lywydd, in this field, too, but I want particularly to be achieving. I want us to do those things that we know will make a difference and make that difference most immediately, and focusing on those aspects of the criminal justice system that are closest to the responsibilities we already hold, I think, is the way that we will see progress in this area.
First Minister, you've already mentioned that one in four women have sentences of less than one month, but the report also highlighted that more than 68 per cent of those sentences were for 12 months or less—very small sentences—and, as such, we need to look at the guidelines for that. Now, yesterday, I was welcoming the decision and the announcement by the business Minister in London to actually say that the superprison in Port Talbot was no longer viable, it was scrap, effectively, but then dismayed to hear that he was still looking at superprisons elsewhere in south Wales.
Superprisons are just warehousing mechanisms. They're not actually helping individuals stop reoffending. So, if we want to take some action in the Welsh Government, there's an easy way: don't work with the UK Government for more superprisons. Will you convey to the Ministry of Justice how the Welsh Government does not agree with superprisons as a solution, has different approaches, and, in fact, that we need to look at reducing these sentencing guidelines so that not so many people have to go there in the first place?
Well, let me agree with what David Rees has said. We want fewer people to go to prison in the first place. I do not believe that building more prison places is the right way to solve the crisis in our criminal justice system. I do absolutely recognise that people are held in conditions in Wales and in England that are not acceptable in the twenty-first century. Swansea is the tenth most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, and the Victorian conditions in which people are held in parts of the prison estate are not acceptable and there is a need to make sure that those are replaced, but building more prison places is not the answer. I was reminded of what Alexander Paterson—a prison commissioner in the 1920s—said when he said,
'Wherever prisons are built, Courts will make use of them. If no prison is handy, some other way of dealing with the offender will possibly be discovered.'
That was true 100 years ago, and it's true again today. We made clear last year in April and November our view as a Welsh Government about developing superprisons here in south Wales. We've had no further discussion with the Ministry of Justice on this matter since. My colleague Jane Hutt is seeking a meeting with the Minister for justice and Ministers in the Home Office to discuss the fact file report, and it'll be an opportunity to restate our position face to face.
Of course, we already know that the prison and probation service in Wales will be responsible for probation again from 2020 in Wales, with a focus on communities, community sentencing and rehabilitation. But, given that the Wales Governance Centre analysis that this question originally related to found that under the Westminster criminal justice system, as it was earlier termed, the total number of prison sentences in England between 2010-17 dropped 16 per cent but went up 0.3 per cent, and that custodial sentences imposed by magistrates in Wales went up 12 per cent, what dialogue will you endeavour to have, perhaps, with the judiciary, with the magistracy, to establish their reasons within Wales for this, when I know, many years ago, in taking evidence in Assembly committee, when similar geographical differences were found, they put a case to us that we were able to consider?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I had an opportunity to discuss the report briefly with Lord Thomas, who is leading the commission on justice that has been established here in Wales, a former senior judge, and he offers us a direct line of insight into the thinking of sentencers in this area. Why rates have risen in the way they have in Wales is a complex matter. There is an increasingly punitive climate of opinion that some analysts point to. There are certainly changes to legislation. There were over 3,000 new offences put on the statute book in 10 years from 1997 to 2007. We in this Assembly have put fresh offences on the statute book in the work that we do. There are the impacts of sentencing guidelines and guideline judgments that have had the effect of increasing length of sentences, quite certainly, and there is the issue of, as some sentencers put it, a collapse in confidence in the probation service. I said in answer to Leanne Wood that we welcomed strengthening probation, building confidence, in the consultation with the Ministry of Justice last summer. We'll do what we can within that, but want to go further.
I feel I have to rise in defence of the magistrates. Whilst we acknowledge that the Welsh Government has little power to influence such statistics, does the First Minister agree with me that there are strict guidelines laid down for sitting magistrates and judges as to the sentencing options? Incidentally, magistrates deal with 95 per cent of all criminal cases. Magistrates also have to refer to the recommendations outlined by probation reports. My experience as a magistrate for over 13 years was that no-one was sent to prison unless all other options were fully explored or instigated. Only when an individual refused to engage or co-operate in the alternatives to incarceration, or where there were multiple crimes, or the crimes were of such a serious nature was a prison sentence considered. There are, however, many being dealt with in the criminal justice system who would never be there if there were sufficient alternative interventions in place, particularly with regard to mental health issues. Is it not here that the Welsh Government must acknowledge its responsibilities and make sure there are agencies in place to prevent people being involved in the criminal justice system in the first place?
I certainly echo the final point the Member has made. Of course, our success in the youth justice field has been achieved by making sure that there are strong diversionary services to which magistrates can direct young people, and those services are very, very largely provided through devolved bodies. The Member is right when he points to the impact of sentencing guidelines that magistrates have to work within, but I think he would have to recognise that the phenomenon of justice by geography is a real one. In the opening pages of the fact file, the author points to the fact that there are greater variations in sentencing within England than there are between England and Wales. Those of us who have worked in the field know perfectly well that here in Wales the culture of a particular court will mean that someone is sentenced differently than they would be had they appeared before a different bench of magistrates with a different history and culture behind them. That's what we have to try to address, to make sure that when we are talking with sentencers about the difficult job that they do, we manage to make sure that the best practice, which we know exists, is followed by all.
Thank you. We now move to leaders' questions. The first party leader this afternoon is the leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, do you agree with me that this Assembly works at its best when parties come together to collectively improve the lives of all people in Wales?
Dirprwy Lywydd, I'm always heartened by those occasions where we are able to work across party lines here. There are very good examples where we have achieved that, but we recognise as well that all parties in this Assembly have strong views on issues and they will not always coincide.
Well, I'm afraid actions speak louder than words, First Minister, because your leader, Jeremy Corbyn, refuses to sit around the table with the Prime Minister to discuss the implications of Brexit, and, last week, we saw tribalism from your party and your Government for tribalism's sake in this place, when you voted against the autism Bill. Having failed—[Interruption.] Having failed to work with me—having failed to work with me or to—
—your party voted down a vital piece of legislation that would have delivered real improvements to the lives of people with autism. Your Minister for health interpreted the findings of the committee reports, and the views of other stakeholders, in a particular way in order to make a case for voting it down, and we all know that one of the reasons that the Finance Committee could make neither a positive nor negative recommendation on this Bill is because the Welsh Government did not provide the relevant and essential information. [Interruption.] Therefore—
Right. Thank you. [Interruption.] Excuse me. I won't have people pointing across the Chamber at anybody, wherever it comes from, and neither will I have any help from people about what is acceptable or not. I will make a ruling on what's acceptable. I appealed last week for us to do a kinder politics. That applies to everybody. Carry on.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Can you therefore give a commitment today, First Minister, that if the code of practice that you are bringing forward does not meet the needs of people with autism, then your Government will bring forward the necessary legislation?
Dirprwy Lywydd, I think this Government has a creditable record of working with Members in other parties where there are proposals that we are able to support. Indeed, I was responsible for responding to the safe nurse staffing Bill in the last Assembly, a backbench Bill with widespread support across the Assembly, where a great deal of work went on between the Government and Members in different parties here to get that piece of legislation safely onto the statute book. The position last week was different. The Government's position was clear. There are a series of actions that we are taking that we believe will have a far more significant impact on improving services for people with autism and their families than would have been secured had that Bill moved forward. The Minister outlined those carefully during that debate—the fact that we are to have a statutory code of practice, that the integrated autism service will be available in all parts of Wales, that we have to allow the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 passed by this Assembly to have its impact. The Minister made a series of undertakings to continue to report to committee and on the floor of the Assembly in the progress of that legislation, and he said—I heard him say on this floor during that debate—that, when those aspects have had a chance to be bedded in, to mature, if at the end of that there are things that can be done through legislation, our minds are not closed to that. If we do that in the way that the Member first mentioned in his initial question, I think there is a better chance that families across Wales will get the sort of service they want, and we will be better off if we continue to try to work on that shared agenda, rather than using this forum as a way simply to try to allocate blame.
Well, I'm pleased that the First Minister has confirmed today that, obviously, if the code of practice does not work and is not effective, then his Government will bring forward legislation. But there is a wider issue at play here, First Minister—a growing culture within your ranks not to engage with proposals that come from opposite benches. Your Government did not provide essential information to the committee, and you have not set out specific details relating to your code of practice. This is despite your Government having a duty to be open and transparent about how decisions are actually made. In my view, considering your failure to provide this information, it is neither clear nor transparent to me as to why you voted down this piece of legislation in the first place.
Now, tomorrow, my colleague Darren Millar is bringing forward proposals to introduce an older people's rights Bill that has overwhelming support from stakeholders and professionals to put older people's rights at the heart of our public services. Will you now learn lessons from your poor handling of the autism Bill and vote in favour of the proposal tomorrow and work constructively with us to scrutinise this legislation in a fair and open manner?
Dirprwy Lywydd, I think that Members of this Assembly have unrivalled access to Ministers who are in the Government. The size of our institution, the number of opportunities that Members have to engage with Ministers both in the formal processes we have and in the many meetings that members of the Government agree to hold with Members right across this Chamber—I absolutely refute the suggestion that the Member makes that we do not respond, and respond positively, to ideas that other Members of this Assembly bring forward for examination. But I will say this, and I'll put it on the record again: when a Member—a backbench Member of this Assembly—succeeds in a ballot and brings forward a Bill, it is for that Member to provide the information necessary for the Assembly to scrutinise those proposals. It is not the job of the Government to provide information that that Member has accepted responsibility for providing by the act of bringing that Bill forward. Just as Members of this Assembly quite rightly expect the Government to provide full information alongside Bills that we provide, and criticise the Government from time to time when you believe that we've not done that satisfactorily, so the rules of engagement here are clear: when a backbench Member brings forward a Bill, it is for that Member to bring forward the supporting information, in a way that allows other Members of the Assembly to scrutinise that Bill in full—[Interruption.]
Can I just once again say—? We've asked for a kinder politics. Can I just ask you to reflect on how we will get that kinder politics? It's not by shouting at each other. This is going to be my new year's resolution, so you'll learn very quickly—that's my new year's resolution—or we will just keep going on and repeating the same thing. But I am getting slightly tired of people shouting across the Chamber.
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I ask the First Minister: what is the Welsh Government's strategy for capital investment in our economy, when the three biggest projects set out originally in 'Prosperity for All' are now unlikely to proceed? The tidal lagoon in Swansea has been rejected by the UK Government. Wylfa Newydd, as we heard earlier, in Ynys Môn has been suspended by the Japanese. The third—the M4 relief road—is, according to most seasoned observers, likely to be cancelled by you. It was clear from last night that Mrs May doesn't have a plan B. The question as far as the Welsh economic strategy is concerned is: do you? Is there a pipeline, full to bursting, with alternative economic projects that will have major impact on the Welsh economy, there, ready to go? Or is there a vacuum at the heart, now, of your investment plans, as well as at your thinking?
Dirprwy Lywydd, we do indeed, of course, have a capital investment strategy. It was refreshed last year, and I came on the floor of the Assembly, as Finance Minister, to set out the additional investments that we were making as part of the Wales infrastructure investment programme. The single biggest investment that we will make as a Government over the course of this Assembly term is the £1.4 billion that we will invest in our housing programme, to deliver 20,000 affordable homes additionally here in Wales. Beyond that, we have the south Wales metro, a major capital investment programme here in south-east Wales; we have the twenty-first century schools programme, putting more money than ever before in schools and colleges, to make sure that they are fit for the twenty-first century; we have the single biggest ever investment in a single health project at the Grange university hospital; and we have a pipeline far beyond that.
I've set out in front of the Finance Committee many times the strategy that I followed in capital investment, always using the cheapest form of capital available to the public purse here in Wales first, but going beyond that in a series of ways, through innovative investments in capital, including the mutual investment model. I wish that there was more capital available to this Welsh Government, because we have ambitions that we would be allowed to bring forward if the UK Government was prepared to invest in Wales, instead of continuously falling back on programmes that it has announced and then letting Wales down.
I didn't hear any recognition there in the First Minister's response to much of the analysis that we saw from the media in response to the latest announcement, that Wales has a reputation, doesn't it, as the country where major projects go to die? There’s a seeming inability to actually bring forward major transformational projects. We heard the language of transformation again from the economic Minister, but where is the implementation of that? We had the fiasco of the Circuit of Wales, but that’s just one example over many, many years.
Isn’t part of the problem, in relation to the three specific projects that I referred to, in part or in totality, that we are often relying on decisions made by others? If you like, we put our eggs in someone else’s basket. And so, our economic strategy is being constantly driven by forces from outside Wales. Now, I know your own view is that the ultimate answer to Wales’s problems is the election of a different government at Westminster, but that isn’t what devolution was meant to be about. So, when are we going to see, First Minister, an autonomous, ambitious, home-grown economic strategy that isn’t dependent on what others decide for us, but is built instead around what we are determined to do for ourselves?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I always have a much more optimistic view of Wales than the Member ever offers us on the Assembly floor, and I don’t for a minute think that it helps Wales to repeat the sort of canards that the right-wing press in London put about, about Wales being somewhere where projects go to die. It’s nonsensical. It’s nonsensical in every part of Wales, where people will see the investments that we are making in public facilities, in transport infrastructure, in a £5 billion rail franchise, in a new convention centre that will bring activity to Wales from other parts of the United Kingdom.
His position always seems curious to me. In a global world, he wants to argue for an autonomous Wales. Somehow, capital decisions and capital flows ended at our border, and if only we were in charge of these things, we would be able to make different decisions by Japanese governments and others who make these decisions in other parts of the world. I take a different view to him; I think we do far better in Wales than he ever seems willing to recognise, and I don’t believe for a moment that his ambitions to cut Wales off from the rest of the United Kingdom and make us, in his terms, ‘autonomous’ would in any way help us to create the sort of future for our country that we would like to see.
Well, in the spirit of a kinder politics, maybe I can help the First Minister. Later this afternoon, we'll have a whole series of statements on planning to mitigate the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. There’s one area that is curiously absent, which is the economy. Now, the Chancellor in Westminster has confirmed that there would be an emergency fiscal stimulus in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, similar to that used by Gordon Brown at the time of the financial crisis. Now, the Welsh Government surely needs a similar plan, and in the wake of the news over Ford and Wylfa, we need it urgently. So, why not ask the newly constituted National Infrastructure Commission for Wales to identify major projects across Wales as part of a multibillion pound programme of capital investment? You could fund it via your own new Welsh Government bond—in the event of a crash-out ‘no deal’, a Brexit bond that Welsh citizens could purchase to do their bit to help rebuild the Welsh economy. This is exactly the kind of creative and collaborative response that led, during the last economic crisis, to ideas like ProAct and ReAct and a series of emergency economic summits in the spirit of team Wales.
But you know, First Minister, team Wales needs a captain, and it needs a game plan. I’ve heard the economy Minister reel off a long list of possibilities for Wales, and among them was us becoming a home of driverless technology. At the moment, we have a driverless Government, and as a result of that, we have a driverless economy as well.
Well, as soundbites go, it didn’t go very far, Dirprwy Lywydd, did it?
Of course we have a plan, and of course we have a pipeline of projects. We set them out in front of the Assembly last year, we refresh it all the time, and we certainly look at it in the context of decisions made at Wylfa and in the context of Brexit. But, Dirprwy Lywydd, Wales needs a captain, but Wales needs a captain that at least understands the rules, because I’ve heard the Member offer us his bond idea many times on the floor of this Assembly, and as he knows perfectly well, Welsh bonds do not add a single pound to our capacity to invest in capital projects. He knows perfectly well that the rules are that that would count against all our other capital investments and would simply substitute for other and cheaper money than we currently enjoy. It's not an idea that gets off the ground for an instant.
Now, that there are some things that the Member has said this afternoon that I don't disagree with. I think it's very important that we plan ahead. I think it's very important that we have a pipeline, which he refers to, but it doesn't help anybody to pluck out of the air, and parade it as though it were a solution to our problem, an idea that makes no contribution at all.
The leader of the UKIP group, Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. First Minister, Adam Price touched briefly on the issue of Brexit in his questions. As we both know, there are 66 days to go before the UK is due to depart the European Union. Theresa May has ruled out delaying the date of departure. She has also ruled out a second referendum, so the default position is that we leave the EU on 29 March. Given that, First Minister, would it be a good idea if the Welsh Government now simply accepted this outcome and focused on preparing for the 'no deal' Brexit instead of trying to stop Brexit from happening?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the rest of the afternoon will help to provide the answer to the Member's question. Of course, the Welsh Government does not accept, and will not accept, that we are simply on an inevitable path to the disaster that a 'no deal' Brexit would be for Wales. As a responsible Government, we do the things that Members around this Chamber have asked us to do, and that is to prepare against the worst, and you will hear this afternoon the many things that we are doing as a Government. But do we accept that we are all somehow tied to a train that the Prime Minister has set off and that there's no alternative for us but to career off the edge with her? Well, of course we don't.
I know that there are many statements this afternoon, and I'm actually glad that there are statements coming out in a sense, because there is an element in what the Welsh Government is saying, in that you are making preparations for Brexit, which we very much welcome on this side of the Chamber. But, at the same time, you are still clinging to this idea that you've just articulated once again, that you can somehow help to force a second referendum and thwart Brexit from happening. Now, why would you want to do that when you have a clear democratic mandate from the majority of Welsh voters, who voted to leave the EU? In short, why are you so set on going against what the people of Wales voted for? And why have you scrapped a whole day's business here today, largely to indulge in a day of project fear?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I think the Member's contribution began by welcoming the statements that are in front of the Assembly this afternoon and the fact that we are preparing against an eventuality that we absolutely do not want to see, and then described the same thing in alarmist terms. Dirprwy Lywydd, let me be clear: from the day of the referendum, the previous First Minister said—and I often had the opportunity to echo him—that the Welsh Government was focused not on the fact of Brexit, but on the form of Brexit. The fact of Brexit had been put to people in a referendum, but the way you leave the European Union has many different possibilities and is on a very wide spectrum. We continue to believe that it is possible that the House of Commons may find a centre of gravity that would support a form of Brexit that will be aligned with the one that we set out together with Plaid Cymru in 'Securing Wales' Future'. We've also said that if the House of Commons is deadlocked and cannot deliver an orderly way of leaving the European Union, then putting that decision back to people for them to have the final word would have to be the way in which that would be resolved.
Well, I do really question whether the will of the people who are sitting in the House of Commons overrules the people of the United Kingdom, who have already had their say on this matter. And as was made clear by David Cameron when he gave us this referendum in the first place, it was supposed to be a vote that was going to be binding on the House of Commons. Constitutionally perhaps impossible, but you should at least engage with what the majority of the people of the UK, and indeed, the people of Wales, have voted for. So, I would ask you again: I do like an element of these statements—we do have to make contingency plans for leaving, and I'm glad you're doing that—but can I please ask you, going forward, if we're going to have 12 weeks of this, can you focus on the actual contingencies and not on trying to thwart Brexit, and trying to thwart what the people of Wales voted for?
Well, as I've said, Llywydd, I don't believe for a moment that the actions of this Welsh Government have been about thwarting the referendum; it has all been about how we leave the European Union, and the way in which we leave the European Union, the conditions under which we leave the European Union. We may have different views around the Chamber as to the best way in which Brexit can be made to happen, but that's what we've been talking about all the time. Now, there are many people who, as the realities of what that will mean dawn upon them, come to see the sense of what this Government said to people in Wales in the run-up to the referendum—that Wales's future was best secured through continued membership of the European Union. And if it proves impossible for the House of Commons to agree on an orderly way in which Brexit can happen, I do not see how it is in any way not a democratic course of action to go back to the people of the United Kingdom and to get their view on how that might best be resolved.
3. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government on offender rates in Wales? OAQ53276
I thank the Member for the question. In the most recent year for which figures are available, recorded crime rose, but self-reported crime continued to fall. Responsibility for data on offending rates lies with the UK Government, while we continue to work with UK Ministers to ensure that Welsh interests in this area are properly understood.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. As Leanne Wood said earlier, the recent report on custodial numbers in Wales is especially shocking, given that the crime rate here is lower than in England. The National Association of Probation Officers in Wales has highlighted that appropriate sentencing and effective rehabilitation is fundamental to resolving the issue. The UK Government's disastrous transforming rehabilitation reforms, disintegrated probation, failed the public, and deprived offenders of rehabilitation opportunities. Will the First Minister challenge the UK Government on this, call for a fully unified, properly resourced, public sector probation service, and what further discussions has the Welsh Government had with the probation service regarding the reducing reoffending strategy and steps that can be taken to support rehabilitation?
I thank Jayne Bryant for the question. I entirely agree with her that we have to recapture the ground that the probation service traditionally occupied, and occupied with such success. We know that the transforming rehabilitation reforms were brought to us by that well-known emblem of successful administration, Chris Grayling—'failing Grayling' as he's known across the House of Commons—and this is yet another area in which his dead hand hands on difficulties to those who come after him. Now, we have the right prescription, we know what we want to do, and it is the one the Member set out—a reunified, properly resourced, publicly run probation service, in which public service and not private profit is at the heart of what that service does. We continue to have discussions with Welsh interests. The real answer is to put the probation service in Wales under the control of this National Assembly, where we could make sure that it does the job that delivers in the courts and delivers in the community as well.
First Minister, Dr Robert Jones's report for the Wales Governance Centre says that more people are being jailed in Wales even though Wales has a lower crime rate than England. And we all understand that we are the worst country in Europe for putting offenders in jail, here. The Ministry of Justice is considering banning prison sentences of less than six months in England and Wales, unless the sentence is for a violent crime or a sexual offence. Short-term sentences provide little opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and lead to high rates of reoffending. First Minister, what discussion has the Welsh Government had with the Ministry of Justice on the potential alternatives to short-term prison sentences in Wales, please?
Dirprwy Lywydd, can I agree with what Mohammad Asghar has said, that short prison sentences often do a great deal more harm than they do good, that they disrupt the lives of the individuals concerned and make it more likely that their lives will be prone to reoffending on release than if that sentence hadn't happened? And we will definitely have discussions with the Ministry of Justice on the proposal that was floated—I don't think you can go much further than that—a few days ago.
I do just say, Dirprwy Lywydd, that the field of criminal justice is littered with unintended consequences, and it is not beyond the possibility that some sentencers would react to not being able to pass a sentence of six months by imposing a sentence of nine months instead, and that if this isn't done properly you could actually see longer sentences and more people being dragged up the severity of the system than the intention, and I appreciate that it is the intention of the Ministry of Justice suggestion that fewer people would end up in custody. So, it will need to be thought through carefully. There will need to be defences to make sure that unintended consequences, perverse outcomes, don't follow, but the basic proposition is one that we agree with and we look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice on the detail.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government plans to relieve traffic congestion around Newport? OAQ53269
I thank the Member for that question. Variable speed limits, junction improvements and a £14 million investment at the Brynglas tunnels are amongst the steps already taken to help relieve traffic congestion around Newport.
The First Minister didn't mention one major commitment from the Labour manifesto, and I quote:
'We will deliver a relief road for the M4'.
When I asked the First Minister last week to make a statement on whether Welsh Government policy on the M4 relief road has changed since he took office, he made no mention of the relief road in his response, instead just saying,
'No change has taken place since the Welsh Government's intention to bring about significant improvements on the M4 around Newport'.
Your commitment was to deliver a relief road for the M4, not merely some vague improvements around Newport. Why have you changed your mind?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, the relief road proposal has been subject to an independent local public inquiry, the most comprehensive of its sort into any Welsh road scheme. Senior legal advice from outside the Welsh Government has been secured to ensure that advice that goes to Ministers has been thoroughly tested and that it deals with all the different dimensions of this complex scheme. Once that advice is available, I will consider it carefully and dispassionately.
[Inaudible.]—agreed it will take several years for it to be completed. Will the Welsh Government consider solutions, such as directing traffic from the north and midlands travelling west to use the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, making the outside lane of the M4 between junction 24 to junction 28 for through traffic only, or closing motorway junctions around Newport?
Well, I thank Mike Hedges for those suggestions, and he's absolutely right that the problems that face residents of Newport are problems that are happening in the here and now, and that were there to be a relief road, then it would be a number of years before that solution would be available to them. That does mean that we have to turn our minds actively to those courses of action that are immediately available to us. The improvements to the Heads of the Valleys road—another example of a major capital investment being successfully carried out here in Wales—will allow for traffic that wishes to go to south-west Wales to use that route from the midlands, rather than having to come down to the M4, and there is a series of other ideas, including those that Mike Hedges has identified. I am very clear that, as a Government, we will actively look to implement those things that are immediately available to us in order to address the problems of traffic congestion that are happening in the here and now.
5. What action has the Welsh Government taken to enhance the public sphere in Wales? OAQ53227
Amongst the actions we are taking will be those provisions to promote diverse engagement and high standards of conduct in the local government and elections Bill, which the Welsh Government will introduce to the floor of the Assembly this year.
Many Members will be aware of the Policy Forum for Wales, who hold one-day conferences in Cardiff and around Wales on issues of interest in the public sphere. They charge public sector attendees £230 per person plus VAT to attend one-day events. They are headlined, free of charge, by key stakeholders, who many of us will be familiar with, and also chaired by Members in this Chamber including, in the past, myself. The Policy Forum for Wales is not based in Wales and is part of a company trading as Westminster Forum Projects Ltd, and they're headquartered in Bracknell. I've looked into their published accounts, and their two directors, C.J. Whitehouse and P.S. Van Gelder, received dividends from the company of, respectively, £250,000 in 2017, £550,000 in 2016, £350,000 in 2017 and £642,335 in 2016 respectively.
So, while I understand the draw of these events, having attended them, I would strongly question their value for money. Westminster Forum Projects Ltd make no original contribution, relying entirely on those volunteers, and there are more cost-effective ways of enhancing the public sphere in Wales. Does the First Minister agree with this view, and does he or do any Welsh Government Ministers plan to attend any of the Policy Forum for Wales events held in this Assembly term?
Dirprwy Lywydd, can I thank the Member for that important question? It's important for me to begin by saying that I welcome all forms of debate and discussion of public policy matters here in Wales, and I've no objection of principle to commercial organisations wanting to be part of that landscape. The question that the Member raises I think, though, is whether participation by Welsh Ministers, or, indeed, other Members of the Assembly, should be part of the business model of a private profit-making venture. Now, there are Members around the Chamber in different parties who are patrons, I believe, of the organisation, and many Members here will have taken part in its events. Personally, from early on in my period as health Minister and ever since, I decided that my default position would be not to accept invitations to speak at such events, preferring to use my time to contribute at events where Welsh citizens did not need to pay to hear what I have to say.
I think the Member recognised in his supplementary questions that there may be some occasions where the importance of a topic, or the opportunity to address a particular audience, may lead others to a different conclusion. In the end, I think that such invitations have to be resolved on a case-by-case basis. My basic position is that I do not accept such invitations unless there is a compelling reason to do so and, so far, no such compelling set of circumstances has arisen.
6. How is the Welsh Government working with the UK Government and others in progressing plans for a Chepstow bypass? OAQ53239
I thank the Member for the question. We continue to work with Monmouthshire County Council on an assessment of options to improve the flow of traffic along the A48 and A466 through Chepstow. As this is a key cross-border route, a number of stakeholders are involved in these discussions, including Gloucestershire County Council.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. I've asked this question a number of times to your predecessor and, indeed, to the Minister for Economy and Transport. The abolition of the Severn tolls was a very welcome decision in south-east Wales and, indeed, the wider south Wales M4 corridor, improving connectivity with the south-west of England, but there's already evidence that it's impacting on traffic levels in and around Chepstow, as was predicted. You'll be aware that Chepstow already exceeds World Health Organization limits for air pollution due to chronic congestion. So, can I ask you—I welcome what you've said so far about ongoing collaboration and discussion with the UK Government—could you ensure that those discussions do continue and that, indeed, we do develop a real plan to make sure that in the not-so-distant future we do see that much-needed bypass built south of Chepstow, so that the people of Chepstow can enjoy the sort of standard of living that they deserve and, indeed, commuters and general travellers in Chepstow do not suffer the sort of delays, congestion and pollution that they have to date?
Dirprwy Lywydd, I thank the Member for that supplementary question and recognise the assiduous way in which he makes sure that these proposals are kept in front of Ministers and of the Assembly. My colleague Ken Skates met with the leader and the chief executive of Monmouthshire County Council yesterday and this was amongst the issues discussed there. The stage 1 assessment of options will include actions to reduce traffic volumes. It will examine the case for a bypass. It will look at improvements to existing routes and it will look at measures that can improve air quality. We recognise that those solutions can only be successfully delivered in consultation with cross-border organisations, such as Gloucestershire County Council and the Forest of Dean District Council, as well as Welsh interests, and we will continue to make sure that that work is taken forward.
Thank you very much, First Minister.
Item 2 on our agenda this afternoon is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and the Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans.
Members will have seen from the revised agenda published last week that the Government has replaced the majority of its programme of business today with a series of statements outlining the impact of and our planning for a potential 'no deal' Brexit. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Can I ask the Trefnydd for two Government statements today, the first in relation to Transport for Wales plans to improve access to Liverpool from the north Wales line? Arriva Trains Wales were planning to introduce direct services to Liverpool from north Wales in December of last year along the Halton curve, which, of course, has been improved to accommodate these, yet there's no news at all from Transport for Wales as to when those services will be re-established. The last time they ran was back in the 1960s and, of course, these are extremely important for the north Wales economy. So, I would appreciate a statement on that and perhaps also in that statement there could be some reference to any promotions that might be available as well. This time of the year it's usually the Club 55 promotion, which many of my constituents and others in Wales like to take advantage of—cheap return tickets to anywhere in Wales for £27. That is what has traditionally been run at this time of year by Arriva Trains Wales. Is there a similar proposal for a similar promotion from Transport for Wales? It would be good to hear from the Government on that.
And, secondly, can I call for a statement in respect of timber felling licences? It may not have escaped Members' attention that yesterday was Red Squirrel Appreciation Day across the world, and I am the red squirrel species champion here in the National Assembly for Wales. You'll know that the red squirrel is a near-threatened species here in the UK and one of the things that is contributing to their decline is inappropriate timber licence granting. According to the 1967 Forestry Act, timber felling licences cannot currently be refused for, and I quote, 'the purpose of conserving or enhancing' the flora or fauna. Now, that obviously is a concern to many people who appreciate red squirrels and other wildlife in wooded and forestry areas, and I think it's about time that we put that right here in Wales. We have the opportunity, we have the powers, to able to do so. So, I would like a statement to be brought forward. I know that a woodland management statement has been postponed from today, but I do think it's important that we hear about what the Welsh Government is doing to address this concern that wildlife enthusiasts have with timber felling licences in particular.
Thank you very much for raising both of those issues. With regard to Transport for Wales plans to improve services cross-border to Liverpool, I can confirm that those improvements should be in place by May. I understand that there was a delay as a result of some scheduling changes. On the issue of the discounts, I know that there will be some cross-border services that will offer reduced fares. I will ask the Minister to write to you with greater detail on that.
Regarding timber felling licences and the impact on the red squirrel population, the Minister will be bringing forward a statement on forestry. As you say, it has been deferred from today, but we will bring it forward as soon as possible.
Trefnydd, last month, it was revealed that three areas of London had received more National Lottery funding than any other part of the UK over the past 20 years. The areas of Westminster, Holborn and St Pancras, and Islington South and Finsbury have received more than £1.8 billion over that period, at a rate of £4,640 per capita. This is more than 10 times as much as has been received by Wales in the same period. With a population of 3.1 million, Wales received some £450 per capita. Only recently I've received concerns from groups in South Wales West—the pensioners' association in Craig-cefn-parc, for example—who have seen their relatively small bids for lottery funding being rejected. This inequality in funding between London and Wales is clearly unfair, and I would therefore want to ask the Deputy Minister for culture to bring a statement forward on this issue of lottery funding in Wales. It would be good to hear what steps he is taking and any discussions he's having with the Westminster Government and the National Lottery in order to ensure that funds for lottery projects are distributed more equally across the UK. Thank you.
Thank you very much for bringing this issue to our attention, and I also received those representations from the Craig-cefn-parc pensioners' association, which has benefited over a number of years from funding to enable them to hire transport to take members of the group out on day trips and so forth. And I know through correspondence with the Big Lottery Fund that they are receiving some advice as to how to better tailor their future applications to meet the criteria, which have changed in recent times, to try and create schemes that are more outward looking to other, neighbouring communities. But I will certainly speak to the Deputy Minister to explore what is the best way to update Members on the discussions that Welsh Government is having with the Big Lottery Fund.
The Welsh Government has got a great record in bringing in progressive housing legislation over the last several years. Unfortunately, the law relating to no-fault evictions has not yet been changed. Will the Government make a statement outlining its proposed policy on no-fault evictions?
Thank you, Mike, for raising this particular issue. Welsh Government's been very clear that the way in which some landlords use no-fault evictions is very much of concern to us, because those relatively short periods of notice do make some households more at risk of facing homelessness. We're currently considering how this issue should be taken forward, and I know that there have been some good discussions already with organisations such as Shelter, for example, and the Residential Landlords Association. But, alongside that piece of work, we are also developing some really exciting proposals that seek to remove the barriers that some people face when seeking to enter the private rented sector, with a view to opening up the sector to people but also to allowing them to access longer term tenancies. I know that the Minister with responsibility for homelessness will be bringing forward a statement on homelessness and rough-sleeping in due course, once the rough-sleeping figures for this year have been published.
Minister, may I ask for a question from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, following the publication by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last month of an update on its bovine TB eradication strategy? Statistics within the update show that badger culling in the areas of England where the disease is endemic has significantly reduced the level of bovine TB. This is in contrast to the areas of Wales with high TB levels, where incidences in cattle are at best static. Given that nearly 10,000 cattle were slaughtered between January and September last year, does the Minister have any plans to review her TB eradication programme in the light of the evidence coming from England, please?
Thank you very much. You'll remember, of course, that your party leader had the opportunity to raise his particular concerns about this issue with the First Minister during First Minister's questions very recently, but I can confirm that the Minister will be bringing forward a statement on our approach to tackling bovine TB in April.
I was wanting to request a statement on the Government's position with regard to criminal justice. I heard what the First Minister said earlier in relation to the three priority areas, and, while I welcome that, I am concerned that that has somewhat pre-empted the role of the Commission on Justice in Wales, who are currently looking at all options in relation to the devolution of criminal justice, and the comments made by the former Cabinet Secretary Alun Davies, who said that we need to devolve criminal justice so that we can do things differently here in Wales.
I, of course, welcome the decision by the UK Government not to pursue the superprison in Port Talbot, but that does not keep Wales out of the woods entirely in relation to other plans the MoJ may have for Wales. So, we need assurances, I think, in a separate statement from Welsh Government that you are mindful of this and that you can be assured that the justice commission will be looked at seriously and you will consider all options with regard to the potential for the devolution of criminal justice.
My second request would be for an update on the Welsh Government's involvement in the current situation that now arises from the sale of the Banksy art in Port Talbot. I've been contacted by the former security guard of the site, who tells me that the new owner has contacted him, asking for advice as to who can move the current piece of street art because he has told him that he hasn't had support from the Welsh Government in that regard. I'd like to clarify if that is the case or not because my relationship with seeking a meeting with the Deputy Minister hasn't been as fruitful as I would have liked to ensure that we can have a positive dialogue as to understanding what the Welsh Government are doing, because we know that the arts council, the museum, have expertise in this area. And what I don't want to see is us trying to move the Banksy and things falling apart. That wouldn't benefit anybody. So, I would urge you to contact the new owner and for us, somehow, as AMs, to be kept updated, or those of us with an interest, anyway.
Thank you very much for bringing forward both of those issues. On the justice issue, we do understand that the Ministry of Justice might be pursuing, or seeking to pursue, sites for a new male prison in south Wales. However, we have written to the Ministry of Justice to inform them that we will not facilitate any further prison development without meaningful and thorough discussion about the future estate as part of a much more holistic approach to penal policy in Wales. And you will have heard the First Minister say that our colleague Jane Hutt will be meeting with her counterparts, and I will ask her to write to Members following that meeting to provide an update as to where things are after that.
With regard to the Banksy work in Port Talbot, I am aware, as you say, that it's now in the hands of a private buyer, and it's very much hoped, I think, that the work will be displayed in Port Talbot for people to carry on enjoying. As you know, Cadw is currently handling the security arrangements at the site. I will speak to the Deputy Minister to see what further insights he's able to give.
The Llywydd (Elin Jones) took the Chair.
Trefnydd, could I ask for a statement on the Newtown bypass, please? People are understandably eager to know when traffic will get the green light, and I'm also keen to know what the official plans are for the opening ceremony. The £90 million project—and I repeat that, £90 million project—has been a huge success and it represents a massive investment by the Welsh Government, Labour Government, in Mid and West Wales, bigger than any other Government in my time representing this area. And it would be right and fitting to reflect that in the arrangements for the big unveil. And I ask when we have this big unveil whether we could highlight the work that has been done on apprenticeship and training—because that's the legacy that we will leave behind for the young people and the future of that area—and also, how we connect that to the investment that we're going to make and the training that will happen on the Dyfi bridge.
I know that the transport Minister will know that there have been a few campaigns about naming parts of the scheme, for example, bridges, et cetera, as a way of marketing Newtown more widely. So, it would be really good to hear more about that and maybe to invite cross-party representation so they actually do see that we do have a plan for investing in all parts of Wales, including this massive investment in mid Wales.
Thank you very much to Joyce Watson. I'm pleased to say that we are confident that the Newtown bypass will be open to traffic within the next two months, providing, of course, there is no unforeseen issue that arises between now and then. This £95 million project has made excellent progress, and as Joyce Watson quite rightly points out, it does demonstrate real investment by Welsh Government in mid Wales. The ongoing legacy of that with regard to the importance of apprenticeships and training, I think, is really important, and we need to be considering how we use that investment in people now to take forward other important projects in the area.
We have asked Powys County Council and the town council to consult with local people on the proposals for naming those structures along the route, and once there are some preferred options for that, there will be some further consultation that does take place on that. With regard to the specific details of the opening ceremony, they will be announced nearer to the completion date.
Could I call, please, for a single oral statement—not now, but hopefully within a very short period of time—on the Welsh independent living grant? Eleven days ago, I chaired a meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Disability, the Assembly group, in north Wales. It was packed, and I was asked by attendees to raise this issue again in the Senedd, and, quote:
to try to get some answers, because time is running out.
We know that when the independent living fund was devolved by the UK Government in England to local authorities, and in Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland to the respective Governments, that Scotland launched ILF Scotland to ensure recipients have choice and control. Northern Ireland chose to join the Scottish scheme, and disabled people and disabled groups in Wales said they wanted to join it too, but instead the Welsh Government gave the money to local authorities. In May last year, we were told in a written statement by the Welsh Government that local authorities were reporting that most people were receiving similar support to that they'd had with their ILF payments, with no significant issues being raised, but we know, since, there has been extensive coverage of disabled people suffering because of the decisions made.
A particular point I was asked to raise at the meeting in Wrexham by a packed room of people, most of whom were disabled themselves, was to emphasise this is about the difference between staying in bed or getting out of bed, about having dinner or not having dinner, about having control or being controlled. They said, 'They just don't understand the importance of one word to disabled people, "independence", and the impact on mental health and well-being', and the ability for them to interact with society. That's lived experience, articulated again by Nathan Davies at the meeting in north Wales, who has led the Welsh independent living grant campaign on behalf of recipients of the grant—including himself, but also very many others.
As we approach the final point on this, when nobody will be left in receipt of an independent living grant, will you as a Government, for once, in this case, deliver an oral statement and answer the questions that disabled people across Wales who were in receipt of the ILF are increasingly asking?
Thank you for the question, and, of course, it is paramount that people's ability to live independently isn't compromised by the changes to the way that their care and support is arranged locally, and particularly so for people who were previously in receipt of the Wales independent living grant. I know that the First Minister has asked the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to review the progress that there's been to date in terms of moving across to the new system of receiving care and support, and that's very much to decide what further action might be necessary to ensure that there is a fair outcome for everybody concerned. I know the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services will be meeting the leader of that campaign later this week to discuss his concerns face to face. You'll be aware, of course, of the deep-dive review, which took place to ensure that where there were changes to people's support it was appropriate and not compromising, in any way, that person's ability to live independently. I understand that work has been completed, and the review will be shared with the Petitions Committee, and I know that there'll be opportunities to question the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on her approach in due course.
The leader of the house will no doubt be aware of the accumulative impact of bank branch closures on our communities. Barclays announced the closure of the Ferndale and Tonypandy branches late last week, and I know that other branches are closing throughout Wales as well. Of course, internet banking and the decline of our traditional town centres are, in part, driving these changes, but there are many people in our communities who are never going to use online banking, people like the elderly woman I spoke to in Ferndale this week who uses her trip to the local bank every week as a way to get out and about to avoid the problems associated with loneliness. Now, most banking can be done through the post office, but that relies on all of our town centres maintaining their post office, and I'm seeking assurances directly from the Post Office about services in the Rhondda, but only yesterday, it came to my attention that the Department for Work and Pensions are discouraging claimants from accessing benefits via the post office, advising them to use a bank instead, and I've got evidence in this letter, which I'm prepared to share with the leader of the house. It says,
'We currently pay your pension into a post office card account. We want to pay your money into a bank, building society or credit union account instead.'
Now, given what I've just said about the banks and the increased importance of the post office in some of our most neglected communities, will you agree to look at this advice being issued by the DWP and tell them to change it so that people are encouraged to use their post office for banking and benefits transactions? Will you also bring a debate about in Government time outlining what support you can provide and what additional support you're able to provide in the future to ensure a sustainable and accessible post office network for everyone and all communities?
I'd also like a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the future of accident and emergency services at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. Conversations with staff there about a shortage of permanent doctors and nurses and the impact that this is having cause me grave concern. I and my constituents are seeking reassurances about the long-term future of our A&E department at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. There are genuine fears among the staff there that the hospital is being wound down, and I'm told that doctors are leaving because of the loss of consultant services. We have lost so many services from this relatively new hospital in recent years because of the centralisation agenda that has been pushed by this Labour Government. This agenda has led to the decision to remove consultants from three key departments: A&E, maternity and paediatrics. People are concerned about the loss of even more services. So, can the Cabinet Secretary address our concerns on the floor of this Senedd at the earliest opportunity, please?
Thank you very much for raising both of those issues. With regard to bank closures, clearly, Welsh Government very much shares your concern about that. I know that we've written on many occasions to the UK Government asking them to take a much more strategic approach to banking in the round, and community banking particularly. And, also, we provide great support to our credit unions across Wales as well because although they are no substitute for banks, actually, they are a really important part of the jigsaw in terms of ensuring that people do have financial inclusion within communities. And, actually, some of those credit unions are coming forward with some good ideas, which are making them much more like banks in terms of having a card that can be used in order to pay for things and so on. So, I think the credit union movement is very much developing in Wales. But, that said, I would certainly be happy to ensure that the appropriate Minister takes forward that particular concern about the DWP encouraging people to use banks rather than post offices. As you say, for many people, it simply won't be possible, but, also, we need to ensure that we do have a vibrant and sustainable post office network right across Wales, for many reasons.
I will speak to the Minister with regard to your concerns about A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, which you've outlined, and ask him to give you the reassurances that you're looking for.
Trefnydd, I raised earlier with the First Minister the issue about the superprison in Baglan and how the UK Government had confirmed it would not be going ahead and was no longer viable, but also in that evidence, the prisons Minister highlighted that the Welsh Government had sold the land. Now, the strong campaign that was put forward by people in my constituency would need reassurances, because one of the arguments was that the land was for 'industrial purposes'—that was what it was for—and the covenant on the land highlighted that. Can you ask the Minister for the economy to, perhaps, update Members as to what the land was sold for—the purposes? Does it fit in with the ambitions of the enterprise zone in Port Talbot, perhaps—to reassure my constituents who bought that land so that we can be comfortable that we know its purpose?
On a second point that's already been raised by Bethan Sayed about the Banksy, can I add to the point that the new owner highlighted the fact that he wanted to move it to a part of Port Talbot to ensure the people of Port Talbot would still be able to see and benefit from that and bring other items of Banksy artwork down? That clearly indicates a need to have a proper building to secure that type of display and gallery. Perhaps the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, when he responds to the request, might want to highlight the introduction of a national gallery for contemporary art and how Port Talbot would be an ideal place for that, because it seems that we were originally considered and this highlights the benefits Port Talbot brings to that concept. The introduction of a national gallery of contemporary art would fit into this agenda very nicely.
Thank you very much for raising that and your argument was well made. I know that the Deputy Minister, sitting next to you, heard those arguments. As I say, I will have some further discussion with the Deputy Minister on the issues that both Members have raised this afternoon in terms of ensuring that the Banksy artwork is preserved in a way that is sustainable but also in a way that hopefully can be enjoyed by people in Port Talbot for a long time to come.
On the issue of the Port Talbot site, I know that contracts have been exchanged on a conditional basis for 5 acres of the land for industrial development. We're also in discussions with another company for the remainder of the land for another industrial development. At the moment, these discussions do remain commercial and in confidence. However, as soon as the Minister is able to say more, I know that he will.
Can I welcome you to your post, Trefnydd? Can I first of all ask you to use your influence to obtain an answer to an e-mail I sent to the Minister for Economy and Transport five weeks ago with regard to the Newtown bypass, where I asked all the questions that Joyce Watson raised today? I would be grateful for that answer, because there is huge amount of interest in this project, and certainly my constituents would like to be kept updated on this fantastic project. So, I'd be grateful if you could facilitate that reply.
Also, can I ask whether or not you will ensure that statements that are made to this Assembly are made here first, before details of any significant contracts are released to the press? I say this with regard to lot 2 of phase 2 of the Superfast Cymru project, which was awarded and announced on 11 January, but the written statement in this regard to Members was released on 18 January. Can I request that you make time available for the new Minister responsible for broadband to provide an oral statement to this Assembly so that we can scrutinise phase 2 of the project further?
No details have been released on what the difficulties that have prevented the Welsh Government from awarding this contract earlier or were included in the written statement. There are no details about why there wasn't a seamless transition between phase 1 and phase 2 of the scheme, which has resulted in standstill for nearly a year, leaving many of my constituents left in the lurch and seeing broadband infrastructure hanging off poles at the end of their drives and being unable to use it.
There is a series of other questions that I won't read out now, but I would like to be able to have the opportunity to ask the Minister those questions at an appropriate time, if time could be permitted for that.
Thank you very much. On the first issue of the Newtown bypass letter, I'll ensure that a response is forthcoming to you as soon as possible.
On the issue of broadband, I know that the Chamber is frequently updated in terms of oral statements on progress with broadband, and it is worth remembering of course that, before the Welsh Government took action on this agenda, just 45 per cent of premises had access to superfast broadband. Coverage now is up to 95 per cent across Wales and we have the highest availability of superfast broadband amongst the devolved nations. This has been a huge undertaking, totalling £200 million of investment, but we do appreciate that there are still some properties that haven't been reached, and I think that we'll all be aware of those properties through our casework. Nonetheless, work does go on through phase 2 and I'm sure that there will be a suitable opportunity very soon to question the Minister.
I'd like to ask for a statement from Government on the guidance that you expect health boards to follow in terms of their duty to communicate changes, which can be far-reaching, in terms of services with the public, and, indeed, with all the relevant stakeholders too. The lack of transparency within the Betsi Cadwaladr health board in terms of changes to the vascular services at Ysbyty Gwynedd concern me greatly. My constituents had thought that the emergency vascular services were safe, but it has become apparent recently that that isn’t the case, and, indeed, the emergency services will leave Bangor.
I’ve also been given to understand that there are to be further changes in the pipeline to change urology services and stroke care in north Wales. But, again, there is a shortage of information, which creates concern and anxiety locally. There is talk of change, but there is no mention of which sites could lose services, and therefore people are starting to have all sorts of thoughts, perhaps entirely unnecessarily.
So, I would like a statement from Government or from the Minister as to just how transparent you expect health boards to be when they are making far-reaching changes to core services. Thank you.
Thank you very much for the question. Of course, we would expect health boards to be very open and transparent in terms of the way in which they go about putting in place plans for service change. We would expect consultation to take place and so on. I hear what you say about the experiences that you've had with potential changes within your constituency. I'll certainly ask the health Minister to write to you with some details as to what exactly he would expect from health boards, but it should be, certainly, good communication based on openness and changes in a co-productive way.
Minister, I'd like to ask for two statements. Last year, one of my constituents started a petition calling for women in Wales to have access to an improved service for women going through the menopause. This is in conjunction with the national Make Menopause Matter campaign, which focuses on many of the difficulties women with often severe symptoms face in the workplace and socially, and the impact this has on their quality of life. Aneurin Bevan university health board has one of only two specialist menopause clinics in Wales, and I'd be grateful for a statement on how the Welsh Government is ensuring that women have access to these services, and what is being done to improve the support provided by GPs, pharmacists and other health practitioners.
Secondly, I'd like a statement on bone marrow donation in Wales. A campaign is currently under way to enable my constituent Marley Nicholls, age 6, from Bettws, to have a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Marley suffers from a rare blood condition but a match is yet to be found. Over 10,000 people have so far joined the bone marrow register as a result of the campaign run by Marley's friends and family, and nationally donation rates are very low. I'd like an update on what Welsh Government is doing to encourage more people to sign up to the bone marrow register.
Thank you very much for raising both of those issues. With regard to the first issue that you raised about support for women who are going through the menopause, Welsh Government obviously takes this issue very seriously, and I'm pleased to inform you that officials are already working with Public Health Wales as they develop the sexual health service specification for 2018. That will set out a menopause care pathway for use by all health boards in Wales. And this will be—we hope that the pathway will be signed off at the next meeting of the sexual health programme board, which is due to take place very soon.
Of course, you mentioned the importance of the roles that general practitioners can play, and pharmacists, because the entry point, really, for many women for menopause care is through the GP. So, in accordance with individual clinical needs and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance, women might then be referred on from the GP into other services, but it is important that GPs do understand the issue and the importance of the issue, and how the menopause can affect women in all aspects of their life. You mentioned the workplace, and of course it goes on into all other aspects.
On bone marrow donation, if a person in Wales needs a stem cell transplant, then the Welsh Blood Service can interrogate registries right across the world at the moment in order to identify potential donors. I think that's really positive. However, clearly we still need more people to come forward in order to make that offer of a donation, and one of the ways in which we're trying to increase the number is through the work that the Welsh Blood Service do. So, they actively encourage donors to join the panel, and they specifically ask those donors who are between the age of 17 and 30 if they'd like to register, because this group does very much offer transplant patients the best chances of survival. So, we would encourage everybody to consider whether or not they would be able to make what is a life-changing and life-saving gift to another person.
May I ask the organiser for two statements? The first is in respect of the possibly tragic news regarding the 28-year-old Argentine striker, Emiliano Sala, who was in Wales on Saturday to announce his record signing for Cardiff City. After returning to Nantes, where he was previously playing, it has been confirmed that he was on a plane travelling from Nantes to Cardiff yesterday evening, which lost touch with air traffic control. The Channel Islands have had a force of five planes and two boats out searching for him, but so far without any news. Clearly, we would all like to extend our wishes to the family and to everyone concerned. But does the organiser have any news with respect to this, and does the Welsh Government have any facilities that may assist in the search?
Secondly, could I ask for a statement on the Commission on Justice in Wales? Tomorrow, as chair of the law cross-party group, I am welcoming Rick Rawlings, one of the commissioners, and the secretariat to dining room 1 at 12.45 p.m., for any Members who may be interested in hearing the commission's perspective on how its work is going. I do, though, note from the comments earlier—. Can I first clarify that, rather than being an initiative just of the previous First Minister, this commission is fully supported by Welsh Government and by the new First Minister?
Secondly, the First Minister emphasised, I think, that the Welsh Government now supports devolution in three areas: youth justice, probation and, at least in some respects, regarding women offenders. Is this an evolution of the Welsh Government policy position, or was that included in the remit and terms of reference of the commission? The emphasis of devolving areas where we are already doing relatively well within criminal justice: is that the right way to do it, rather than looking at areas where there are particular problems as perhaps having more urgency for devolution?
Finally in this area, is the commission and Welsh Government working sufficiently closely with the justice in Wales working group that the UK Government set up? I see that the Ministry of Justice has shared research data for the excellent report from Dr Robert Jones and the Welsh Governance Centre, including the addresses of every single offender and cross-referencing those. It's a very substantial piece of work, and this commission gives us as real chance to get the research basis to look at this issue properly, and I'd just like to clarify that the Welsh Government and the UK Government are working closely to support that.
Thank you very much for raising both of those issues. With regard to the first issue that you raised, about the flight that lost contact yesterday evening, clearly, as you say, all of our thoughts are very much with everybody who is concerned with, and affected by, that. I can confirm that Cardiff Airport is in close contact with the air accident investigation branch, and will continue to assist with its inquiries in any way in which it can, although it is very much the French planes that are leading the search in this instance.
On your questions about justice, I can confirm that the interest in, and commitment to, the commission is fully supported by our new First Minister and by Welsh Government. Indeed, the First Minister met the chair just last week to discuss the work programme going forward. I know that there'll be opportunities again to discuss these issues in due course.
Finally, Nick Ramsay.
Diolch, Llywydd. Trefnydd, I'm sure you'll agree with me that Mike Hedges always has interesting things to say. I listened closely to your question to the First Minister in questions earlier, Mike, where you suggested that congestion on the M4 could be relieved by utilising the A465 and the A40, the Heads of the Valleys link, for traffic entering Wales and heading to south-west Wales from the midlands. That's not a bad idea at all. I wonder if we could have a couple of statements, actually, from the Welsh Government. If that suggestion was to go ahead, it would have implications for two issues close to my heart in my constituency: first of all, pedestrian access to Raglan castle, which I've raised with the Deputy Minister for culture on previous occasions. We desperately need a footbridge there, so I wonder if we could have a statement from the Deputy Minister—an update on access issues to Welsh monuments in general, but particularly in those areas where busy roads affect that access. And, secondly, another issue close to my heart—you'll get used to this, Trefnydd, I often raise these issues; I raised them with your predecessor, and I can see the First Minister is amused I've raised them again—secondly, the worn-out concrete road surface on the A40 between Raglan and Abergavenny. I know that would be costly to renew, but, if we are going to go down the route of increasing traffic on that stretch of road, I think the current road surface does become untenable. So, if the M4 doesn't proceed, as looks like becoming increasingly likely, then perhaps we could have statements from the Welsh Government on where resource could be used to improve aspects of people's lives across my constituency and further afield.
Thank you for those questions. I should be very clear that the First Minister has not seen the inspector's report, so no decision has been made as yet. We expect the Orders to be presented to the First Minister for his consideration shortly. Welsh Government, clearly, as you know, is making a great deal of investment in our road surfaces, and you'll have been aware of the announcements that have been made with regard to investment there. But I'm sure that the Minister will write to you suggesting how, perhaps, best to take forward your particular interest, and I know that the Deputy Minister heard your points about the importance of access to our Welsh monuments.
I thank the Trefnydd.
Items 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 have been postponed, and that brings us therefore to item 9 on our agenda, which is a statement by the First Minister—an update on the UK Government's proposals for EU withdrawal. And I call on the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd, diolch yn fawr. The Welsh Government will bring forward a series of statements this afternoon responding to the threat of a 'no deal' Brexit. We do so because events at Westminster last week demonstrate that the UK Government is moving yet further into crisis. We have a Government in London that has suffered the largest defeat of any on record on the single most important responsibility it has to discharge. That defeat had become increasingly inevitable and the scale of that defeat provided the clearest of all messages that the Prime Minister’s deal is over. Mrs May said following the defeat that she will listen to Parliament, but that commitment has come two and a half years too late. From the referendum to the meaningful vote defeat, the Prime Minister has followed a 'winner takes all' strategy, entrenching herself in unworkable red-line positions when she should have been reaching out to secure a broad-based strategy and building support for it. Now, that belated process must begin with a single and immediate action—ruling out 'no deal' and the harm that the UK Government's own analysis shows would follow from leaving the European Union without agreement. Here in this Chamber, Ministers have said time and time again that a crash-out Brexit would be catastrophic to the economy, public services and our citizens in Wales.
Now, of course, Llywydd, we understand, and, unlike the Westminster Government, have always been clear, that we in the United Kingdom do not hold all the cards in the Brexit negotiation. Even with a Government determined not to allow such an outcome, we cannot be absolutely sure that it will not happen, and that's why we bring today's statements before the Assembly. Nevertheless, the UK Government can and must take 'no deal' off the table as an outcome it is prepared to preside over or even tolerate. And when that happens, Llywydd, I believe that a clear parliamentary majority will rule out leaving the EU without a deal. Last week, the National Assembly rejected leaving the European Union without a deal, and now Parliament must find the opportunity to do the same. And it seems very likely that Parliament will indeed have to take back control over these matters in order to be able to do that, because, once again, the Prime Minister is boxed in by the divisions inside her own party and in her Cabinet, where some are actively seeking a 'no deal' outcome.
Yesterday, Llywydd, the Prime Minister said that she would be more flexible, open and inclusive— those were her words—in finding a way forward. The problem is that her actions seem so far adrift from her words. To quote that leading Conservative Party Member of Parliament Sarah Wollaston, the Prime Minister's statement yesterday was
'like last week's vote had never happened'.
Indeed, plan B turns out to be simply plan A with a new helping of pious hopes.
It's clear, Llywydd, that Mrs May continues to focus on trying to do the impossible—deliver a deal that is simultaneously acceptable to the EU-27 and to the DUP and the hard-line Brexiteers—rather than genuinely seeking a new consensus across Parliament. How can the Prime Minister expect that MPs would suddenly support a tweaked version of her deal, when it was so comprehensively rejected? It simply will not happen. So, the second thing that does need to happen is that, once the threat of 'no deal' has been removed, the Prime Minister must seek an extension of the article 50 process. We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our country with self-imposed deadlines and the self-harm of a cliff-edge approach to negotiations. The UK Government must then gather around a proposal that has the support of Parliament, whether that be an alternative deal that reflects 'Securing Wales’ Future', or by moving to a second public vote—the position, in fact, endorsed by this National Assembly on 4 December.
From the start, Llywydd, the Welsh Government was clear that we respected the result of the 2016 referendum, and our focus has always been on the form and not the fact of Brexit. That is why, even at this late hour, Parliament needs to explore every way of delivering an outcome to the Brexit process that simultaneously respects the referendum and protects us from damage to our economy and the fabric of our society. But the debate in Parliament over the next week is the last opportunity to rally around that form of Brexit, one which has at its heart a future relationship based around continued participation in the single market and a customs union. Llywydd, if that cannot be done, the severity of a 'no deal' Brexit is such that, if Parliament cannot agree on a majority position that secures our long-term interests, the only option that then remains is a single public vote to break the deadlock.
And, for the avoidance of doubt, let me say this: in 2016, the advice of the Welsh Government was unambiguous—that our future was best secured through continued membership of the European Union. Nothing in more than two years of detailed work on Brexit has led us to change that view. In the meantime, because a 'no deal' Brexit remains a very high risk, as a responsible Government, we have a duty to set out the consequences of that outcome for Wales and to demonstrate how we are seeking to mitigate those consequences.
In a series of statements, Ministers will outline the risks we face for public services, the economy and across society. The impacts are potentially far ranging and will be felt by everyone. These are not theoretical or hypothetical concerns, but the reality of where we may now find ourselves. Today's series of statements is part of our determination to ensure that Assembly Members are kept updated on all this work. For now, Llywydd, the truth is that nobody really knows what will happen in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. It follows that neither Wales nor the United Kingdom as a whole can be truly prepared for all the possible eventualities. This Welsh Government will do everything we can and use every opportunity to join with others to persuade the Prime Minister to turn away from this disastrous course, to halt the damage it would cause to our country, and to find a better way forward.
Can I thank the First Minister for his statement this afternoon? The UK is now weeks away from leaving the European Union, and so I share the First Minister's view that it's crucial that constructive engagement takes place to immediately prepare Wales in the event that we leave the EU without a deal. Therefore, it's vitally important that Wales's leaders set aside their political differences and leave no stone unturned when it comes to preparing Wales for life after 29 March. That's why I accepted his invitation last week to meet with him to discuss the implications of Brexit.
Now the First Minister, in his statement, says that there is now only a week to seek agreement on Brexit. I'm sure he would agree with me that it's crucial that politicians talk and work together, where they can, in the interests of the people they represent. However, does he agree with me that it is extremely disappointing and, indeed, worrying that the leader of the Labour Party is refusing to sit around the table with the Prime Minister to discuss Brexit, given that leaders here in Wales have been mature enough to meet? Will he now, therefore, put pressure on his own leader to do the same at a UK level?
I understand why the Welsh Government is making a series of statements here this afternoon, but we have to accept, whether we like it or not, that people did vote to leave the European Union in 2016. Now that he has confirmed in his statement today that he will now push for a second referendum, could he explain to this Chamber how he will ensure that he and his Government respect the original referendum result, because up until now—up until now—he has made it clear that this is of paramount importance to him?
The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that it's not the intention of the UK Government to simply run down the clock until 29 March, and so we have a vital opportunity to work together to deliver on behalf of the people of Wales. In that spirit, I want to make it absolutely clear that my colleagues and I are willing to work, where we can, with the Welsh Government to ensure that the priorities of communities across Wales are communicated to the UK Government, and I sincerely hope the First Minister will use this invitation in the coming weeks.
Now, as the clock ticks, it's crucial that all stakeholders across Wales are preparing for the possibility of a 'no deal' Brexit, and I'd be grateful if the First Minister could update us on how the Welsh Government has been working with its stakeholders in general terms to ensure that they are as prepared as possible for that scenario.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate that Ministers will be making specific statements later on today, where they will be going into detail in respect of their own portfolios. Members will be very much aware of important Assembly committee reports on preparing for Brexit over the last 18 months. Now, one of those reports was published by the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee almost a year ago. That report recommended that the Welsh Government improved its communication with individual organisations through greater encouragement of representative bodies to cascade information to those organisations. That report also made it absolutely clear that public services in Wales lacked the information they needed to adequately prepare for Brexit. Therefore, I'd be grateful if the First Minister could detail what additional work the Welsh Government has undertaken since that particular report to better support public service operators as they prepare for Britain to leave the European Union.
Now, there are, of course, a number of questions around Wales's constitutional relationship with other parts of the UK going forwards. So, perhaps, in responding to my questions, the First Minister could give us his view on the impact that a 'no deal' Brexit, should it come to that, could have for the future of the United Kingdom as a whole, and Wales's place in that future United Kingdom.
Finally, Llywydd, the legislative workload of this Assembly will significantly increase if Britain leaves the European Union on 29 March without a formal deal and a transition period. Indeed, the lack of a transition period could put huge pressure on this institution and indeed on the Welsh Government. So, perhaps the First Minister could tell us what assessment the Welsh Government has made of the impact of a 'no deal Brexit' on its operations and indeed on the Assembly's operations.
Therefore, in closing, Llywydd, can I thank the First Minister for his statement today? Time, of course, is now of the essence, and so can I reiterate once again that my colleagues and I are committed to working, where we can, with both the UK Government and the Welsh Government on behalf of the people of Wales?
Llywydd, can I thank Paul Davies for the way that he opened his contribution and for returning to that theme at the end? I was grateful to him for accepting the invitation to meet last week, and I note very carefully his offer of continued discussions beyond today. That’s an offer that I will certainly want to take up with him.
Turning to some of the specific questions that he raised, the position set out by the leader of the Labour Party at Westminster is a position that I have set out this afternoon: that the Prime Minister should take ‘no deal’ off the table. That is the way to break the logjam that has developed at Westminster, that is in the Prime Minister’s own gift; she can make it clear that we will leave the European Union, but that we will do so in a way that is planned, that is orderly and that has a deal with the European Union. If she can take ‘no deal’ off the table, it will change the atmosphere, it will allow those discussions to happen, and that is what she should do.
I want to just make clear again the position I set out in relation to a second referendum, because I don’t want that to be misunderstood. What I’ve said is that Parliament should continue to work as hard as possible to find a deal—a deal that respects the referendum and protects our economy. And I think it is still possible that they will find a centre of gravity inside the House of Commons around a particular method in which we both leave the European Union and mitigate the harm that that will cause. What I went on to say is that if that proves impossible, if over the coming days the House of Commons is deadlocked and there is no majority to be found for any form of deal, at that point, the deadlock is best resolved by putting the question back to those people who were asked the question in the first place. And I completely reject the off-microphone accusations that this is somehow an anti-democratic way of doing things. I voted for a Government in 1997. I didn’t expect that the result would last for ever. Indeed, I was asked again in 2001 and gave the same answer. Indeed, I was asked the same again in 2005 and gave the same answer again. So, the idea that it is impossible to return to people who have provided a democratic mandate and a decision, to ask them for a further review, is nonsensical in any democracy. That’s why I have said that if the House of Commons is deadlocked, then returning to the people from which any democratic mandate is derived is the way that that might have to be resolved.
Paul Davies asked me about what we are doing to help stakeholders. He will have seen the Brexit business portal that we have provided. He will have seen the new website Paratoi Cymru, which has had over 2,000 unique visitors since it was launched less than a week ago, and Ministers continue to meet with stakeholders in their portfolio areas on a very regular basis.
He asked about improving communications. He will have seen, I hope, the help that we’ve been able to provide through the £50 million EU transition fund—money to the Welsh Local Government Association, to the health service confederation, to the Association of Directors of Social Services, to the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action. All of those umbrella organisations have received modest—it is modest—help from the fund to enable them to be conduits of improved communication of the things that we are able to tell those organisations direct, but then we rely on them to be able to pass those messages on to their membership, and we’ve done our best to provide some financial assistance to them in doing so.
Paul Davies ended his questions with a very important point about the further strain on the constitutional relationships inside the United Kingdom that a ‘no deal’ Brexit will cause. It’s common currency, isn’t it? It’s the conclusion of committees here, it’s been the conclusion of committees at the House of Commons and the House of Lords, that the current inter-governmental machinery that we have in the United Kingdom cannot bear the weight of Brexit—that we've relied on a common rulebook ever since devolution, a common European Union rulebook, to which we are all bound. When that rulebook disappears, then the machinery that we are left with is not adequate to the task. And we press that point, and, in many ways, Wales has been the leading source of determination to get those issues resolved, and the JMC plenary, while my predecessor, Carwyn Jones, was a member of it, has set work in hand to do just that. But it's urgent, and it is difficult to persuade the UK Government to find the energy, the time and the commitment to make those very important things happen.
That workload that will flow from Brexit will be felt in this institution, Llywydd, and I look forward to further discussions between the parties and with you to make sure that we find the most practical way we can to manage the legislative impact that a 'no deal' Brexit would throw up for the National Assembly itself.
While there is some disagreement, clearly, across this Chamber, substantively in relation to Brexit policy, I'm sure that there's wider agreement about the chaos and confusion that currently characterise Westminster, and the monumental failure of politics in that Chamber that is driving us towards the brink of a catastrophic 'no deal', the reality that has made necessary the contingency planning to which the First Minister has referred. The shutdown in Congress and the impasse in Westminster are two bookends of dysfunction across the Atlantic ocean at the moment; they mirror each other almost exactly.
I hope that in this Chamber, it might be possible for us to agree on a constructive response to the crisis that we're facing in politics, so that together in this place across the parties we are able to capture the engagement of a public that must be deeply frustrated and bewildered at what they're seeing. And I'm here talking about the establishment of a citizens' assembly across the nations of these islands, but certainly here in Wales, to take the lead in reaching out across the divide that separates those who voted to leave and remain in 2016, to try and arrive at a greater degree of mutual understanding.
In a recent poll by HOPE not hate, this proposition—the proposition that politicians clearly cannot decide how to resolve the issue of Brexit, and the country's deeply divided and therefore we need a different kind of response—met with strong support from the public. Now, it's not a new proposal, as people will be aware. Indeed, an amendment along these lines will be tabled in the House of Commons this week, but for a citizens' assembly across the whole of the UK. Naturally, we believe that it should be constituted on a four-nation basis.
In an article in The Guardian a few days ago, the former leader of the Labour Party, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown also suggested a series of citizens' assemblies along similar lines, addressing not just the issue of the relationship between the UK and the EU, but part of those deeper questions that possibly fuelled the 'leave' vote in many areas. So, issues about the state of the economy in many parts of the UK, the condition of left-behind communities, the rise in child poverty that austerity has imposed.
Probably the UK Government will reject this new idea next week, as it's so far rejected most of the new ideas that have been tabled in order to try and break the impasse. But we here, First Minister, in the National Assembly, if we will it, have the capacity to show leadership to take action now. We could agree to establish, on a legal basis, a Welsh citizens' assembly. I prefer the term 'convention' or, even better in Welsh, 'cymanfa'r bobl', to engage our own people. It could do so on an entirely different basis to the by now tired and largely discredited conventional political way that the Brexit debate has been conducted.
In putting forward this proposal, we in Plaid are in no way stepping back from our strong support for a people's vote on the final choice between whatever deal the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament arrive at and to remain within the European Union. But a Welsh citizens' convention would be, it seems to us, a beneficial, unifying and constructive precursor to that referendum if it is held. And it could also allow us to address, really, some of the deeper issues, as I said, that Brexit has laid bare, which are not just the relationship between the UK and the EU, but the relationship in these islands, the constitution of these islands and the way in which our politics in general is at the moment broken, and we need to take our own steps here in Wales to remake it. So, could I invite the First Minister to respond positively to that?
On the question of a people's vote, I was glad to see that the First Minister has just reiterated his view that Wales's interest would be best secured through continued membership of the EU. Not only that, he acknowledged that if Parliament cannot agree a deal that is in our economic interest in Wales, one that entails continued participation in the single market and the customs union, the only option remaining will be a people's vote. It seems we are moving closer together on this question of a people's vote.
Can I just ask him to reiterate again, in terms of the timing, because, obviously, we have to have an eye on the clock given the current deadline: does he believe that that decision needs to be made fairly imminently? We're talking about a matter of weeks whereby Parliament needs to vote in favour of a people's vote in order for us to use that last remaining hope to avert what many of us believe would be a disaster?
Can I thank Adam Price for his contribution and for the way that he has set it out? And he's absolutely right to point to the fact that on the big-picture issues in relation to Brexit, there has often been significant and substantive agreement between our two parties. Just dealing very briefly with the points he made towards the end, the position I set out today is the position that both our parties voted for here on the floor of the Assembly on 4 December. Now, further weeks have seeped away since then, so, of course, he is right to point to the fact that time is narrowing down and Parliament is, as I said, I think in the final lap of its ability to craft a deal that respects the referendum and mitigates the damage that leaving the European Union will do to our economy.
I listened carefully to what he said. I agree, there is a degree of public bewilderment at how things have reached this point. And sometimes it's more than bewilderment, isn't it—it's a feeling of anger that we have failed to be able to resolve this major issue, and there will be the need for civic reconstruction after this is over, when we are able to get people who have strongly held and differing views able to re-engage with one another in a way that is respectful of those different positions. And shouting from the sidelines is not a model of respectful debate, however strongly a Member might feel about that position. At the end of all of this, no matter how strongly people feel, there will be a job to do of bringing people back together.
Now, a citizens' assembly, a convention, a cymanfa—all of those are possibilities that I'm very happy to engage with positively. They're not the only ideas, Adam, which is why I don't just completely commit to them today. In an earlier life, I once ran a series of local community select committees, which were designed to resolve locally controversial matters, in which a panel of citizens of the area came together, heard evidence from a series of witnesses, and tried at the end, in that deliberative way, to come to a conclusion about the best way forward. So, there are a variety of ways in which that job of civic reconstruction could be brought about. A citizens' assembly is certainly one of them, and I look forward to a continuing dialogue with the Member and others as to the best model that we could adopt for that purpose here in Wales.
The Deputy Presiding Officer took the Chair.
Thanks, First Minister, for the latest in a series of Brexit-related statements, which began last week. Now, we did have a semi-interesting one last week from your Brexit Minister, in which he was talking about things like your Welsh Government Brexit website, offering advice to businesses and organisations about contingency planning for leaving. And this, as I mentioned to you last week, is all potentially useful stuff, and that's stuff that the Welsh Government should be doing: making contingency plans and offering advice. I don't see much of that nature in this statement of yours today.
I was intrigued by part of your response to what Paul Davies raised when he was mentioning—well, I'm not sure who mentioned it, but the subject of the 1997 Welsh Assembly referendum cropped up, and you made the point that you kept answering the question in the same way. You said you answered it in 2001, you answered it again in 2005—[Interruption.] What you—[Interruption.] What may—[Interruption.] Oh, the general election, okay. The point that you may have omitted to mention is that, in the meantime, in 1999, this place was actually set up. So, actually, the result of the referendum was implemented. So, I fail to see how, by that logic, you are going to thwart the result of this referendum that we had in 2016 on Britain's membership of the European Union.
In terms of this statement today, there is nothing in it that is new. You are relating positions from the UK Government that we already know about. We know that Theresa May has said that she won't delay the leaving date. We know that she won't consider a second referendum. We also know your position on all this, which you're making clearer now, but we've known it for some time—that you want a second referendum. My only real question about today's statement is: why are you wasting the time of this Chamber with this essentially empty nonsense?
Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I don't regard it as a waste of time to debate on the floor of this Assembly matters that will have a direct impact in the lives of people in every part of Wales and where Ministers are available to be questioned by Assembly Members on the detail of the proposals that will be rehearsed here this afternoon. How could that possibly be a waste of time in a democratic forum? This was a genuine attempt by this Government to demonstrate the seriousness of the position we find ourselves in, to be clear with people in Wales about our assessment of what a 'no deal' Brexit would mean for public services, for business and for their lives, and then to make sure that they have the most up-to-date available information about the actions that we are taking, and then to hear from others as, to be fair, we have had contributions from both the Conservative Party and Plaid Cymru here this afternoon, making some further and constructive proposals about the way in which we can work together to make sure that, were that to happen, we are able to share information, think ahead together and do our best to mitigate the impact here in Wales. I don't regard that as a waste of time at all.
First Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon, and I will be listening very carefully to the remaining statements because, clearly, we raised this spectre of no deal over 12 months ago when we had the first report prepared for us by the Welsh Government.
Paul Davies—I had a couple of points. I just want to keep it simple because I know the time is short for your statement. He highlighted the legislation workload that is coming our way. Has the Welsh Government identified its priorities on legislation? In other words, is it in a position to know what it wants to pass quickly and what it will defer until after 29 March, in case we have a 'no deal' situation and we do leave on 29 March? Have you also assessed yourself on capacity? I know that we were talking about your capacity to be able to undertake this workload, and you have employed more staff, but are you at the position now where you have sufficient capacity to move forward in this sort of arena, because we are seven weeks away from the point where we will be out of the EU and we will have to abide by UK law and the laws passed in Westminster for everything.
The 'no deal' Brexit technical papers that were published last year: what's now your assessment of those? Because when I looked at them, to be honest, most of them were a waste of paper; they just told us what we knew and didn't tell us how to solve the problems. Have you now got some solutions to some of those issues? And on 29 March, if a 'no deal' arises, where are we with the common frameworks and the implementation of those frameworks to see where we progress with that?
I thank the Member for those, and, Dirprwy Lywydd, just to say again, as we've said previously here, that reports from Assembly committees, and particularly the committee that David Rees chairs, have been genuinely influential in our thinking and have allowed this National Assembly to be part of a wider set of relationships with other legislatures, making sure that things that matter here in Wales are shared with our counterparts at Westminster, Scotland and, hopefully in time, with the Northern Ireland Assembly as well.
David Rees asked me whether we have prioritised our legislation. Yes, we have. That has led to some challenging conversations with the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, for example, about whether we are bringing sufficient material for scrutiny in front of the Assembly, whether we are over-relying on taking legislation through Westminster. But that is a prioritising exercise; it was trying to make sure that the time of the Assembly, which will be scarce, is devoted to those legislative changes that have a genuine policy impact, and allowing legislation to be taken through at Westminster, where it is simply technical in nature or has no policy change from our current position.
On capacity, we are stretched, Dirprwy Lywydd. That is the truth: we are stretched. We don't have an infinite army of people working for the Welsh Government that we can redeploy to deal with the urgency of Brexit. What we are having to do is to move people from other important work in order to do even more urgent and important work in the Brexit field. And while we do have some welcome funding from the UK Government to allow us to temporarily employ people to deal with the Brexit impact, all that takes time as well. The skills you are looking for are not always skills that are automatically in easy supply.
David Rees is absolutely right, Dirprwy Lywydd, in his last point about the technical notices. They were very short on solutions and very long on telling us that solutions were being looked at, were being worked on, were being explored, were being discussed, but very seldom delivered. Where does this all get us? It gets us to the position that Dr Liam Fox had to admit to only in the last few days—that the 40 trade deals that he said would be the easiest to negotiate in the history of trade deals—. I remember hearing him once say that all it would take would be a bottle of Tipp-Ex, where we would be Tipp-Exing out the initials 'EU' and inking in the initials 'UK', and that's all it would take. Not a single one of those deals will be ready on the day that we leave the European Union.
Thank you very much, First Minister.
Item 10, then, is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit on our health and care services. And I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. When I first set out the potential impact of a 'no deal' Brexit for NHS and social care services in Wales in June last year, some Members in this Chamber accused me of scaremongering and political mischief making. Yet, two and a half years after the European Union referendum, and less than 70 days before the UK is due to leave the European Union, the prospect of a 'no deal' is now greater than ever. Barely a foundation stone of our future relationship with our closest and most important trading partners has been laid. Instead, just last week, we were hearing reports about increasing numbers of medicines affected by supply issues across the UK in the face of a 'no deal' Brexit.
The UK Government is responsible for maintaining the continuity of the supply of medicines, like so many areas, which will potentially impact upon the people of Wales. Although the number and type of medicines affected is relatively low, it is clear that the UK Government cannot provide full assurance that a 'no deal' Brexit will not affect business as usual. From a health and social care point of view, it matters more than ever that a 'no deal' Brexit should be taken off the table as a minimum.
I continue to be concerned about the future supply of radioisotopes to Wales in the event of a 'no deal' scenario. Radioisotopes are essential for diagnostic and therapeutic use by our national health service. There are no sources within the UK, and supplies are routinely imported from other EU countries through the main cross-channel ports. Disruption from custom checks at our ports is likely to render radioisotopes useless for healthcare treatment. We are reliant on UK Government assurances that although the UK still plans to withdraw from Euratom, there will be no regulatory barrier to the continued import of radioisotopes post Brexit. However, a 'no deal' Brexit could lead to divergence in regulatory arrangements and standards between nations that could affect the import of radioisotopes. And, of course, it is the express desire of most 'no deal' advocates to have divergence in regulatory arrangements and standards.
Let nobody underestimate the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit—the impact that a 'no deal' Brexit will have on individual citizens and families. That includes, of course, European Union nationals living and working in the UK, or UK nationals, including many Welsh citizens, who have taken advantage of freedom of movement to live and work in the European Union. All will be affected.
Apart from the uncertainty over reciprocal healthcare and settled status arrangements, a 'no deal' Brexit will inevitably lead to a tighter health and social care labour market across the UK. That will make it even harder for us to compete for staff, and of course a likely rise in costs. A 'no deal' Brexit will have a profound impact on all professions and all health and social care staff. The effect of changes to migration policy, particularly a policy that favours high skills and wages, will be most keenly felt in those parts of our health and social care sector that depend on relatively low-paid workers, such as workers providing domiciliary or residential care, who have a central role supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. So, let's be clear: disruption in our social care sector would not just affect vulnerable citizens within social care, it would inevitably lead to delayed discharges from hospitals and increased pressure upon our hospitals. That means pressure on our staff and on citizens themselves who still require health and social care.
The Welsh Government has been clear that a 'no deal' Brexit would cause serious and unavoidable harm to our health and care services, and that harm would extend to all sectors, including, of course, the at least 1,400 European Union nationals who we know work in our national health service. If we are to leave the European Union with minimum harm to our health and social care services, then there must be the certainty of a deal that ensures full and continued and unfettered access to the single market, and the development of a new migration system that links migration more closely to employment, whilst protecting those employees themselves from exploitation.
I'd now like to focus on the work that we have been doing to mitigate some of the substantial and known risks of a 'no deal' Brexit. We've been working closely with the NHS, the local authorities, professional and representative bodies to plan and prepare wherever possible. To support social care providers, we have commissioned Ipsos MORI to assess the composition of the social care and childcare workforce here in Wales. That research will help us to identify how many European Union workers are employed in the sector, so that we can support them and their employers, and it will also facilitate cost-effective planning for areas or roles where vulnerabilities are identified.
I started my statement this afternoon by referring to reports of medicine shortages. We have been focusing work on ensuring the availability of a supply of medicines, medical devices and clinical consumables in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. In terms of medicines, as I said, we are essentially reliant on the work being undertaken by the UK Government and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that stocks and dedicated transport routes are available. However, we are being rigorous in our interrogation of the data that is made available from the UK Government about the medicines most likely to be affected or where there is insufficient assurance from manufacturers. In terms of medical devices and clinical consumables—everything from pacemakers to incontinence pads to surgical gloves—we will use UK arrangements where that is the right thing to do, but we will also take additional steps where we have areas of concern, or where we feel we can provide the additional certainty that we need here in Wales. In doing so, we are considering how we look beyond 29 March, and to try to secure some lasting value from the measures that we are having to take to prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit.
I was pleased to welcome yesterday the publication of a very thorough and considered analysis by Public Health Wales about how Brexit could impact on all aspects of health and well-being in Wales over the short, medium and long term. The report focuses on the distinct political, social, cultural and economic challenges that Brexit poses to Wales. It will provide an invaluable reference and evidence base for service and community leaders as we move forward into even more uncertain times and the possibility of new international relationships. This is the only health impact assessment of Brexit that's been published anywhere within the UK. It is a further demonstration of how we're taking what we can from UK arrangements but also going further where that is the right thing to do.
Both of these initiatives are vitally important to our overall contingency plans and we will provide the additional assurance that we can, as we are as prepared as we reasonably can be, but, as yet, we still don’t know what form Brexit will take, with only nine weeks to go.
On 23 June 2016, the people of Wales and, indeed, the UK voted by a majority to leave the European Union—the largest number of people ever voting across the UK since records began. Now, I have always believed, as I do today, that politicians, irrespective of party, have a fundamental duty to ensure that the will of our people is delivered. The legal default position, of course, is a 'no deal'.
Over the past two and a half years, I have been saddened here to see this Welsh Government prevaricate from its own devolved responsibilities, avoiding scrutiny in favour of causing mayhem by scaremongering, and now seeking to derail Brexit through issuing confused calls for both a general election and, indeed, a second referendum or—call it what you like—a people's vote. Instead, you should have been focused on preparing the devolved areas that you have responsibility for here, not least the health sector, from the outset. You are right in your statement: there is a nervousness in the Welsh healthcare sector, but this is not being helped by you yourself. For example, it is an astonishing fact that the Welsh NHS's share of the Welsh Government's £50 million EU transition fund fails to reflect your hyperbolic rhetoric. As you might recall, Minister, in October 2018, you announced that only—yes only—£210,000 of the £50 million fund will be used to prepare the health service in Wales for Brexit. Really? When considering that health and social care spans seven health boards, 22 local authorities, it is actually quite shocking that you have essentially allocated just around £7,200 per public body.
Sadly, lack of preparedness is a common theme when considering the Welsh health and social care sector, as has been picked up and acknowledged by one of your own Labour AMs, David Rees. Whilst you mentioned in your statement that you've commissioned Ipsos MORI to assess the composition of the social care and childcare workforce in Wales, it is a striking fact that this is only being done now. Thankfully, our UK Government is more organised and has acknowledged issues such as medicine and advised manufacturers to stockpile six weeks' worth of stock in the case of a 'no deal' scenario. It is also nice to know from the First Minister that the latest raft of 140 employees—interns—into the Welsh Government department to prepare for Brexit have, in fact, been funded by the UK Government. More so, the UK Government has no wish to prevent people from inside or outside the EU coming to work for our public services. The UK Government has—and don't deny it, they have guaranteed that there will be no change to the status of NHS staff if no deal is agreed. Finally, it seems—
Are we getting a question, please?
Yes, I'm coming to my questions now, Deputy Presiding Officer. You have a greater issue on your plate, as it seems that Wales continues to struggle to retain staff, regardless of their nationality. Indeed, the concerns of Oxford university's Nick Fahy include that there is a danger staff might relocate to England. Personally, I think this is unsurprising, as I already know that it's happening in north Wales, and that is due to your own incompetence of running the health service—a board that has been in special measures for three years.
Therefore, my questions to you are, Minister: will you clarify whether you will be assisting any companies financially with stockpiling costs, and, if so, whether that will be coming from the EU transition fund or that of the health department; (2) what work are you undertaking to allay fears of 'no deal' on healthcare staff, and are you really confident of retaining NHS staff Wales regardless of nationality whilst also resisting the over-reliance on agency staff; and (3), finally, will you explain whether you are considering securing more money to help prepare the health and social services sector? Across the UK, this is the only devolved Government where we've seen massive and savage cuts to our health service. So, I think any—[Interruption.]—any criticism now should be directed at this Welsh Government, and let the UK Government get on with Brexit.
Minister. [Interruption.] Minister. There were three.
I'd like to thank Janet Finch-Saunders for her interesting contribution. There were a range of assertions made that were non factual. I won't go through all of them. But let's deal with the three supposed questions.
Money for companies to help them with stockpiling: we expect to have the same financial arrangements in paying for equipment and medicines for use in the health service. There may however be additional costs that would be passed on. For example, if radioisotopes are flown into the United Kingdom because the customs arrangements after a 'no deal' arrangement mean that you can't actually bring radioisotopes in via the usual route of ports, there would be a cost that would almost certainly be passed on to the health service, and that would have an impact on budgets in every single nation of the United Kingdom.
On settled status, it was a positive step that the Prime Minister finally saw sense and agreed that there would not be an application fee for people to apply for settled status. There is still the challenge about not understanding how the process will work for potentially vulnerable citizens who have lived in this country for a significant period of time and are already accessing health and care. People, understandably, across all parties in Parliament have concerns about a process run by the Home Office, in particular in light of its recent track record over Windrush citizens, some of whom were, of course, deported from the United Kingdom, some of whom were denied essential health and care treatment. There is still much more to do before people have full reassurance about settled status, and, of course, in the event of a 'no deal', that will have to be in place for a process to be run within just a few short weeks.
And there was the non-factual statement about health and social care funding. We regularly go around this in this Chamber. This Government funds health and social care services by a significant amount more—at least 8 per cent—than the United Kingdom Government does for England. The relative cuts in social care are significant. Don't take my word for it: look at the Conservative leadership of the Local Government Association in England and they will tell you how bad a deal social care has had within England. Also look to colleagues in the national health service in England and they will also tell you about the deal that they have had. We do much better by health and social care here in Wales, and there's simply no argument with the facts on the matter.
On your broader assertions about a lack of preparedness and causing mayhem, at some point you might want to turn on the television news. I don't know if you're aware of this particular phenomenon—there's something called Parliament, the United Kingdom Parliament, where people talk about Brexit on a regular basis. Ministers regularly resign from the Government because they can't agree with Government policy. Government Ministers regularly brief the media about disagreeing with Government policy. The Chancellor last week, actually, in a telephone call to a range of businesses, said that 'no deal' would be taken off the table, and the Prime Minister insists that isn't going to happen. So, Philip Hammond is brilliant for suggesting 'no deal' will not happen, but the pointy bearded Marxist Jeremy Corbyn is evil for suggesting 'no deal' has to come off the table. If you want to see mayhem, look at the United Kingdom Parliament, look at the United Kingdom Government. The shower of Brexit directly runs to the door of the United Kingdom Government. Theresa May is responsible for our position, after, of course, David Cameron, who started this all off in the first place.
And on your point, your assertion, that the UK Government have guaranteed that—in the event of a 'no deal', that they have guaranteed the status of NHS staff, that is simply not true. At some point, I'd welcome Janet Finch-Saunders joining the rest of us on planet Earth and taking 'no deal' Brexit seriously.
I'd like to thank the Minister for his statement. In the statement, he sets out some of the issues and problems very clearly, and those concerns are concerns with which we in this part of the house would want to associate ourselves. I suppose I must admit to being a little bit disappointed that there's a lack of detail in some of his response, but I would also acknowledge that we have an awful lot of 'no deal' Brexit business to get through this afternoon and it may not have been possible for him to set out in detail everything that he may have wished to cover. So, I will explore, if I may, with your permission, some of the issues that he's raised a little further.
With regard to the issue of radioisotopes, this is actually, as he says, a serious potential risk. Not that anyone is going to voluntarily not wish to sell them to the Welsh NHS anymore, but there are, as he rightly highlights, practical issues—which can be overcome, though with considerable expense—and of course there are the legal issues. Now, Professor Wyn Owen has warned us that there is a danger that, if there is no agreement, suppliers will either take the view that they'll carry on supplying the UK until told not to, which would be fine in the short term, or they won't supply until they receive legal clarification that they are allowed to do so. So, I'm hoping that the Minister will be able to provide us with a little more detail about the discussions that he's had with the relevant persons in the UK Government to ensure that this legal position is clarified in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, and I would encourage him to consider, given the current state of the UK Government, which appears to be unable to organise itself out of a wet paper bag—I'd ask him to consider being prepared to deal directly with Brussels on this particular issue. Obviously, we need a UK-wide solution, but, if that's not forthcoming, I'm sure the Minister would agree with me that we cannot afford to leave the people dependent on these services and the Welsh NHS without the necessary supplies.
The Minister mentions in his statement the work that's ongoing—the research—to look at the composition of the social care and childcare workforce in Wales. This will be very useful, but I'm hoping that the Minister can provide us with some details this afternoon about the timescale for that work, because it, obviously, is a matter of urgency to identify where those gaps may be forthcoming, and, if we end up with problems in the social care workforce, that will inevitably have a knock-on effect, of course, into healthcare, because we won't be able to discharge people from hospitals.
With regard to the points he raises in terms of medicines, and he speaks about being essentially reliant on work being undertaken by the UK Government—and I'm not sanguine, I'm not reassured, by that, though I realise that, at some levels, that is necessary—I wonder if the Minister can share with us this afternoon, or perhaps he would write to Members in due course, any details that he is identifying about medicines that are likely to be affected, and whether or not he is satisfied, as things stand, with the assurances that are being received from manufacturers. Similarly, with regard to the medical devices and consumables, in the Minister's statement he said he will take additional steps in areas where he has concern. I wonder if he's in a position to give us any early indications today about what those areas of concern might be, and what contingency steps are in place.
Now, the Minister refers, rightly, to the very good Public Health Wales report that many of us received today or yesterday. I would commend it as a valuable piece of work, though in one aspect I would beg to disagree. One of the possible positive outcomes of a 'no deal' Brexit that they highlight is a possible reduction in the consumption of alcohol. Well, for myself, I think a 'no deal' Brexit is more likely, frankly, to drive me to drink, if you'll forgive my levity, Deputy Presiding Officer.
But I'd like to call the Minister's attention to a couple of the recommendations. There are nine in the report—further areas for work. Recommendation 7 says that further research is needed on the impact of Brexit on mental health and well-being, community resilience, particularly highlighting children and young adults, and farmers and rural communities, the port areas, and black and ethnic minority groups. Can the Minister say whether he's yet been able to have, or his officials have been able to have, any discussions with Public Health Wales about what that research should look like and who should be carrying that out? And, similarly, with regard to recommendation 9, where Public Health Wales highlight the fact that the public health workforce currently lacks the experience and skills to influence and contribute to trade agreements, they say that the public health system should consider how to build knowledge, skills and capacity to ensure that health and well-being are considered at the forefront of such processes. Again, I'd be grateful if the Minister can inform us either what steps are already in place to start responding to that recommendation, or what further steps he will take, because it does seem that that may be crucial.
Finally, recommendation 3 is about leadership, and the recommendation is that leadership across the totality of Brexit issues needs to continue to provide overall direction to Wales's response. I do hope the Minister will assure us that he will continue to take a very clear personal role in leadership in this regard, with the health and social care sector. His statement indicates that we will be continuing, at present, to place a great deal of reliance on UK arrangements and plans. Given some of the things that the Minister has said in the past, I'm surprised that he's any more sanguine than I am that these UK arrangements and plans will deliver. Can I seek his assurance today that, given the chaos that is Brexit in Westminster at present, he stands ready to make sure that any direct representations that need to be made on Wales's behalf in the field of health and care are made by him?
Thank you for the comments and the series of questions. I certainly can't provide all the detail that I would be able to. I would take up the time of several other Ministers. We could have the whole afternoon simply talking about all of the various different areas that will affect the health and social care system if there is a 'no deal' Brexit.
On radioisotopes, I've repeatedly made this point about the challenge not just of actually providing radioisotopes into the country physically, but challenges about regulation on whether manufacturers can legally import radioisotopes into the United Kingdom, especially if the United Kingdom does continue with its current proposal to withdraw from Euratom and there is a 'no deal' Brexit. There are ongoing conversations about that. The British Medical Association themselves, for example, have produced a briefing raising some challenges about that. The UK Government currently say that they have in place—or they're confident they will have in place—arrangements to make sure that the supply of radioisotopes can continue. It is in their interests, not just ours, for that to happen.
That brings me on to my point about those matters that are UK responsibilities, and the broader question of leadership. There are some areas—for example, the regulation of staff and medicines—where these are actually UK responsibilities. The challenge is how open the relationship is between the UK Government and the devolved Governments across the United Kingdom, and how information is shared and used. While, of course, we have varying views on what should happen in the coming weeks and after 29 March, it is in all of our interests for the health and social care systems across the UK to share as much information as possible, in whatever form of Brexit may or may not take place. So, I am keen that not just the conversations that take place between officials continue, but that there is direct contact between Ministers.
I have previously written to Matt Hancock. I know that Jeane Freeman, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for health, well-being and sport, has also written requesting a face-to-face meeting. I've written again to do so as well. It stands in contrast to other members of the Government here in Wales. Lesley Griffiths and Kirsty Williams have had direct contact with ministerial counterparts. Not everyone will envy Lesley Griffiths her direct meetings with Michael Gove, but there is direct contact that needs to take place between the national Governments of the United Kingdom. I certainly will continue to pursue that because there is a leadership responsibility for all of us and, of course, for me here in Wales.
On the ongoing conversation with Public Health Wales and taking forward their recommendations, you'll understand that the significant report was published at the start of this week, on Monday. I have read the executive summary. I have considered a range of parts of the report, but I won't try to pretend to you that I have taken forward all of the recommendations. There is, of course, an ongoing conversation taking place about the response of the health and care system here in Wales, bearing in mind that recommendations have been made. But, I am happy to update the Chamber as we formulate a fuller response that will, of course, have to evolve, given that the Brexit question is far from settled as we speak.
On social care and the challenges of the social care workforce, I'm expecting to provide further updates to the taskforce that will meet more regularly now. We met last week. We will certainly need to meet in early February, and we are looking at a date, again not just to share information but to make choices. I will undertake to make sure that we update the Chamber on information, as and when we can share it, to make sure you are aware of the steps and measures that we are taking across the whole system. I'm also doing the same on updating on medicines—medicines management and supply issues, and the assurances we received, and the reality of those, including the conversations that we do have with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry here in Wales as well.
On clinical consumables, there are different products that are regularly used between the health system in Wales, England and Scotland, so a range of those things will be available on a UK basis. We'll need to make sure that all of the various clinical consumables we would want to continue to use in Wales are available. So, I am definitely looking at arrangements to make that available, and for the necessary amounts of stock to be available too. And I’ll have more to say when I'm able to make a definitive decision on that in the coming weeks as well. So, you can expect to hear more updates in writing from me over the coming weeks.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement; it’s very important that we highlight the issues about health and social care and other aspects. One of the things very often forgotten in this Brexit argument, because we talk about goods—but here we have services, and they are very heavily affected, and I appreciate the comments you've made already. If I could just ask a couple of quick points on this, because this is an area that all of us will be affected by—every single one of us benefits from the health service one way or another. You talked about, and you did highlight, the possible increased costs as a consequence of the delays that may arise, and you mentioned an example of the flights of radioisotopes coming in, but we were told by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry that, actually, they are spending a lot of money on stockpiling. They have to invest in new warehouses, stockpiling, information and storage, and cold storage in particular. Have you had discussions with the UK Government as to who is going to help fund that cost? Because, undoubtedly, the organisations will want to pass those costs on, and this is something that, clearly, is a UK Government issue, which you highlighted.
Also, we haven’t talked about clinical trials. One of the things that we may lose out on is clinical trials. Steffan Lewis raised this very much in his arguments about Brexit. Have you had discussions about the implications for clinical trials in Wales? We have benefited hugely from those, and we are likely to lose out very quickly, particularly in a 'no deal' scenario. And what will implications be for existing clinical trials and future ones planned?
You talked about your social care workforce. When the committee looked at this very carefully, we were concerned about the lack of Welsh data on the social care workforce. Have you undertaken more work in collecting the data on the social care workforce so that we are clearly aware of where they are and where the gaps will be if there’s a problem with the workforce in that situation, and particularly in relation to qualifications, and matching qualifications? I know that there’s been a statutory instrument on that. I have tried to look at it on the UK Government’s webpage, and I had trouble getting at it, and I’m not clear exactly where we are with that.
And on the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, that is something that should be in place by March 29, if we are going to leave without a deal. Where are we on that, and where are we with reciprocal arrangements if that isn’t in place?
Thank you for those questions. I’ll deal with your last point first, on reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Between the different Governments in the United Kingdom, I think there’s an agreement that we want reciprocal healthcare arrangements to continue. The challenge still is having a piece of legislation that we all can support. At present—you’ll have seen the report on this, it's a draft report or a final report from the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, where I’m not currently in a position to recommend to the Assembly that we give legislative consent. So, that’s about the drafting of the current piece of legislation and the powers the UK Government seem to take, which I think are well beyond what is necessary to make sure that those arrangements remain in place. If there is no deal and there is no alternative legislation in place, then potentially those arrangements fall away, and that obviously affects European Union nationals in the UK, as well as UK nationals within the European Union and the wider European economic area. I will, of course, update Members when there is any further progress on the Bill, and when, I hope, amendments are laid within Parliament that we can support to resolve the issue.
On your point about data and the social care workforce, that’s what we’re looking to have covered by the Ipsos MORI research, so that we understand the range of risks that we are potentially carrying, but also, of course, there is the broader point about wanting to make sure that European Union citizens feel generally welcomed here in Wales and have a Government that is on their side. A number of workers across health and care have already voted with their feet and left, with the changing environment that exists. It is part of our job to make sure those people understand that there is a Government here in Wales that wants them to continue, not just to work and provide services, but actually to live as part of the communities of Wales.
On your broader point about clinical trials, this is something that goes across a range of areas, including higher education. It goes across some of the challenges on attracting and keeping staff within our higher education and our healthcare systems, but also on data sharing as well across different borders. And the challenge here is that much of the data sharing that we have is overseen by a range of data protection Orders, and there is a role for the European Court of Justice in overseeing a range of that information, including, of course, on the broader point about public health data sharing as well, so that we actually have proper disease resilience and intelligence across the European Union. Now, that's part of the challenge of red lines, because if there is absolutely no role for the European Court of Justice, it has a much wider impact than simply keeping some people happy on a limited range of areas; it has a significant impact across health, social care and many wider areas as well.
On your point about additional funding for medicine supplies, that is a UK Government responsibility. We expect them to be good for the pledges they have already made about funding additional costs for medicines supply if that is necessary. Matt Hancock, the UK Government health Secretary, has said he is now the largest purchaser of fridges in the United Kingdom, so they are already purchasing and acquiring a range of stock. Because the 'no deal' Brexit has moved closer, every Government within the United Kingdom is not just spending time and the resource that we can't use in other areas, we're actually spending money, real cash on preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit that may not happen. That is part of our difficulty. We are spending money that we may not always be able to recover or make use of in a different way. So, I hope people do understand the seriousness of this issue for the country, but also for every Government within the United Kingdom and our use of public money on behalf of the people that we serve.