Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd05/03/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
I have received notification under Standing Order 12.58 that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, will answer questions on behalf of the First Minister. The first question, therefore, is from Siân Gwenllian.
1. Will the First Minister confirm when, after 1 March 2018, the decision to keep emergency vascular services at Ysbyty Gwynedd was reversed? OAQ53524
Diolch. Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board is currently implementing changes to vascular services that were publicly consulted on and agreed in January 2013 as part of its service change programme. There have been no changes made to this decision. We anticipate the service will be operational from 8 April 2019.
I, today, am discussing the process, not the principle, of removing emergency services from Bangor—but the process itself—and how the decision was reached. In the spring of last year, the health board gave its stamp of approval to retaining emergency services in Bangor, and all the GPs in the area received a letter stating this. The board hasn’t reversed this decision, and in numerous statements, unfortunately, it has become apparent that the emergency vascular services are to be removed from Bangor. I’ll ask again, therefore: when was the decision changed? You talk about 2013, but in 2018 there was a change of mind. When was that original decision of 2013 returned to, and can you show me where the record of that is in the board papers?
Diolch, Siân Gwenllian. A paper did go to the board on 1 March 2018, which stated that,
'Patients with diseases of the lower limbs related to the circulation will be managed at both Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and the limb salvage unit at Ysbyty Gwynedd with provision for elective and emergency admissions and in-patient treatments at both sites.'
I think it's that sentence that has given rise to the confusion. The paper should have made it more explicit that the provision for elective and emergency admissions to Ysbyty Gwynedd related to diabetic foot and non-arterial cases. Arterial cases will go to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd—you're aware of the new centre that's being built there—but those are the complex, specialist cases. That will amount to about 300 cases, and they will go to the new centre.
You ask about the letter that was sent to GPs, and, again, the same letter went with the same wording, and, hence, I'm guessing the same confusion might have been caused. There was no decision to rescind anything. Eighty per cent of vascular services will still take place locally. It will be about 20 per cent of all vascular activity that will occur in the new centre at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
The concern remains about the other problems that patients can suffer, even if they access vascular services, and that the first point of contact is Ysbyty Gwynedd. Last February, the health board told us that emergency vascular services without qualification would remain in the three district general hospitals in north Wales, supported by a petition signed by over 3,000 people, and questions raised in Prime Minister's questions, as well as in this Chamber. What consideration has been given to doing an impact assessment, particularly given the rurality of the population affected, to establish the actual needs of this population if they now have to travel further and if their conditions could expose them to other consequences that may not be available to them unless they can get to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd?
So, as I said in my answer to Siân Gwenllian, 80 per cent of patient care will continue in the other two sites—Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Gwynedd. It will only be the complex cases that go to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. So, where the new centre has been built, that's attracted consultants and doctors, whom I don't think would have ben attracted to north Wales unless we had that specialist centre. But in cases where it's in patients' interests to be treated for an emergency in either Ysbyty Gwynedd or Wrexham Maelor Hospital, as happens now, there will be a new, robust service, which will allow an on-call vascular specialist to advise and, where appropriate, attend, so the patients could still have the treatment in Ysbyty Gwynedd or Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the consequences to Wales of the UK Government's withdrawal from proposed investment in Welsh infrastructure? OAQ53508
Thank you. We are disappointed with the UK Government’s recent investment decisions in Welsh infrastructure projects. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon, electrification of the Swansea main line, and a failure to secure the Wylfa Newydd project are three recent examples of the UK Government’s failure to invest in non-devolved infrastructure in Wales.
I thank you for that, and I share your huge disappointment, as I know lots of Members in this room do. It's very disappointing to learn how much the Welsh economy is losing out because of backtracking from the UK Government on those projects that you've just mentioned. But I'm also concerned about how the withdrawal of the UK Government from those proposed investments in Welsh infrastructure will impact on apprenticeships and graduate training roles in Wales. It is, after all, this week, National Apprenticeship Week. If I compare the withdrawal of those to the delivery of our project, the Newtown bypass, it was a really good example of creating apprenticeships. And I went to speak to them, and there were 18 of those apprenticeships and graduate training posts created as a consequence of us going further. So, First Minister, can I ask if you will look at, and the Welsh Government will look at, how we can move forward and prompt the UK Government to invest in Wales and the infrastructure in Wales, so that we can give hope to those people whose futures we should be securing?
Thank you. I think you're quite right—the loss of these very significant infrastructure projects to Wales is going to be a huge blow for many young people, because I think the three projects I mentioned would offer significant career opportunities to young people. However, we are committed to supporting our young people across Wales to enter employment, education, and training opportunities. You mentioned it's National Apprenticeship Week this week. Obviously, we have our 100,000 target of apprentices this Assembly term, and we're well on track with that.
You ask about what we can do to prompt the UK Government. Well, the First Minister is, I think, frequently writing to UK Government Ministers; I know he wrote to Greg Clark about energy infrastructure. We are continuing to look at ways of resurrecting plans for the Swansea bay lagoon. Wylfa Newydd, obviously, has been paused, and we're continuing to seek assurances from the UK Government in relation to that. And also, around Swansea electrification, I know Welsh Government officials continue to meet with counterparts, as well as having ministerial engagement, to try and get that moving forward also.
The Cardiff capital region city deal was agreed by the UK Government, the Welsh Government and 10 local authorities back in March 2016, and I hope you would agree this is a good example of the Welsh and UK Governments working together to deliver major infrastructure projects. In the coming years, the UK Government will be providing hundreds of millions of pounds of funding to growth deals throughout Wales, including in my own area of mid Wales as well, and, in turn, that funding will be used to provide new infrastructure and transport infrastructure for projects going forward as well. Will the Minister today acknowledge the UK Government's financial support for growth deals and welcome the contribution that this funding will, in turn, make to the long-term improvement of transport infrastructure throughout Wales?
I think it's very important that we get the money that's intended for those growth deals. I know up in north Wales there are certainly concerns about that. But both the Cardiff capital project and Swansea have the support of both Governments.
The impact of a series, a catalogue now, of failures of investment in Wales are many—the large projects that have been mentioned by my colleagues, but they also have local impacts. Within the Bridgend and Ogmore constituencies, the investment that we need in the mainline rail, but also in signalling, and so on, is a measure of, year after year, underinvestment by UK Network Rail. Now, we need the UK Government and the Department for Transport to step up to the mark on those projects as well, and put the money in that will free up capacity on our mainline rail, that will allow more passengers and freight to be carried, that will shift people off those roads. So, it's not only the big projects. And I would suggest to the Minister, in her discussions with the First Minister, perhaps in discussions with the Prime Minister, Theresa May, an appeal could be made to her—the old-fashioned title of the Conservative and Unionist Party—if they want to maintain it as the union of the United Kingdom, then actually invest in the union.
The Member makes a very pertinent point. Despite Network Rail's Wales route having 11 per cent of the route length, 11 per cent of the stations and 20 per cent of the level crossings across England and Wales, only an average of around 2 per cent of money spent on network enhancements across England and Wales since 2011 has been spent here. We should have been allocated well over £1 billion in the last five years alone. Imagine what we could do with that.
Questions now from party leaders. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Your Government's targets for people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment in accident and emergency is zero. In Scotland, they have the same target and have managed to come within touching point of it. With a larger population, they achieved a figure of fewer than 200 with unacceptably long waits in the latest figures. But, in Wales, that same statistic has to be counted in thousands. In January 2014, the number was 1,277, and since then it has been getting steadily worse: 3,006 in 2015; 4,048 in 2017; 5,099 last year. In the latest figures, for January this year, it is worse again: 5,264—the second worst figure for Wales since records began. And I should point out that over 700 of these cases were at Wrexham Maelor, in your own constituency. So, my question is simple, Minister: do you accept that these almost unprecedented and unacceptably long waits at A&E now constitute a fully fledged crisis? I'd be grateful as well if, in your response, you could place on record the reason you are deputising for the First Minister today.
The reason I am deputising for the First Minister today is he's in London representing Wales at an event there.
In relation to A&E waiting times, I am aware obviously of the number of cases in my own constituency. The problem is we have seen an unprecedented number of people attending accident and emergency, and I think we need to look at why that is. And I think there is more work to be done in relation to out-of-hours as well. But certainly we should also accept that we're seeing very high reported levels of satisfaction within the NHS and work is being done in emergency departments across Wales. I should say more than a million patients attended A&E departments across Wales last year.
I know the First Minister has said he doesn't look forward to First Minister's questions, and he once reportedly stood up the Prime Minister to attend a party, but do you think it's in order for him to prioritise a reception in Buckingham Palace over answering questions here in the Senedd?
What I would have asked him, and now we'll ask you instead, is if you are running out of excuses for the crisis in A&E. For instance, on 12 February, the Minister for health, Vaughan Gething, told us that, over the past months, we've seen the highest number of flu cases in hospitals since 2009 pandemic, yet the Public Health Wales influenza surveillance report shows flu is circulating at medium levels below that for the year previously. Vaughan Gething also claimed that winter stomach bugs were putting an additional strain on the NHS. Well, we've researched this with FOI requests. Some local health boards told us this information for this winter wasn't available yet, but the ones that have provided us with data have shown that this year's numbers are not noticeably different from last year. Indeed, Betsi Cadwaladr, the worst performing health board for A&E, is treating fewer cases of winter stomach bugs this year than in the previous two years.
It cannot be claimed either that the NHS is being overwhelmed by patient numbers this winter. In his statement on 12 February Vaughan Gething said,
'Hospitals have admitted fewer people over the age of 85 as emergencies this winter, compared with the previous two winters.'
So, when all these excuses are stripped away, surely there can be only one of two reasons for your failure to get to grips with worsening waiting times: one is that you simply have no idea what to do to tackle them; the other can only be that you know what to do but you're simply not doing it. Which is it?
So, to go back to the First Minister, I think everybody would want the First Minister to represent Wales in the way that he is doing. [Interruption.]
Last month was the busiest January on record for emergency department admissions. Emergency admissions in January 2019 were 9 per cent higher—[Interruption.]
Let's hear the Minister respond to the questions please. A bit of quiet from Plaid Cymru. Minister, carry on.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Emergency admissions in January 2019 were 9 per cent higher than in January 2015 in major emergency departments. There was also an increase of 16 per cent in attendances at major emergency departments when compared with January 2015. I have to say I unfortunately had to attend A&E in the Heath hospital about a month ago, and talking to the staff there I was very interested to know about admissions et cetera, and one of the consultants was telling me that, over the weekend, they'd had over 10 people who were near the age of 100—over 90 years of age, but nearer 100, and she was saying that was unprecedented. So, clearly, the ageing population is also having an impact.
I have to say to the Minister—maybe we have different values, but I think that the priority for the First Minister is to be here to answer questions from the elected representatives of Wales. Surely, that's the purpose of having this Parliament in the first case.
Now, across the UK, the monthly target for people waiting more than four hours for treatment in A&E is 5 per cent. Again, the Scottish performance outstrips Wales and England as well—
Now I can't hear Plaid Cymru because everybody else is making a noise. So, Adam Price, please.
In Scotland last December, just 10 per cent had to wait more than four hours. In England, it was significantly worse, with 24 per cent waiting more than four hours, but in Wales it was worse still. Our figure was 28 per cent. It is significant that colleagues of yours—Labour MPs at Westminster—consider the waiting times statistics for England in A&E so bad they have called for an independent inquiry. Given that the figures for Wales are even worse than in England, will you join with Jon Ashworth, Labour's shadow health Secretary at Westminster, and demand that an independent inquiry should be held in Wales as well? Would it not be hypocritical to fail to hold yourself to the same standard to which you are holding the British Government in opposition here at home in Wales, where the Government is you?
I go back to some figures that I have in front of me. In January 2019, 14 of 24 emergency care facilities reported an improvement on January 2018, or the same level of performance. That includes seven of our 13 major emergency departments. Four of the seven health boards reported better performance in January 2019 compared with January 2018. I think we have to accept that the majority of people who access A&E are seen within the time, are receiving the best treatment. Some don't, and those are the people that we need to continue to support.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, what plans are in place in Wales to fund the recovery of substance misusers in residential treatment?
Sorry, could you repeat that?
What plans are in place in Wales to fund the recovery of substance misusers in residential treatment?
I'm sorry; I don't have those details to hand.
Well, let me give the Minister some figures, because figures from last year show that only a shockingly small percentage—13.5 per cent—of substance misusers who underwent treatment on the NHS were substance-free by the end of their course. Now, my visit to the excellent Brynawel rehab centre recently, the only centre of its kind in the country, showed me how desperately help is needed for some of the most vulnerable in our society from centres like this. Just last month, the Minister for Health and Social Services dismissed calls to address the need for residential care here in Wales, but despite pledging to ring-fence £50 million for health boards to back substance misuse services, centres similar to Brynawel have closed across the country. And, when tackled on the subject last month by a member of your own party, the Minister failed to commit to support what he described as merely a 'useful facility'. Can you therefore clarify here today, Minister, what specific resources are going to be available from the Welsh Government in the coming years to provide specialist residential care to help those in need to get their lives back, given that money has been ring-fenced for substance misuse services?
Thank you. I too have attended Brynawel residential centre; I think it was with Huw Irranca-Davies's predecessor, Janice Gregory. I'm very well aware of the excellent work that is done there. I don't think the Minister for Health and Social Services dismissed the matter in the way that you addressed and certainly the funding—. You will be aware that we've increased our funding significantly for health and social services by nearly £0.5 billion in 2019-20, and that's an increase of around 7 per cent. And then health boards can obviously use that funding in the way that they wish.
Well, I would ask the Minister to check the record and check last month's debate because, unfortunately, the health Minister did dismiss calls to address this particular issue. Let me remind you as well, Minister, that previous figures have shown that half of people referred for substance misuse rehabilitation in Wales are treated in England, and at Brynawel clients wait months for a space due to high demand, often at a time when their lives are in danger and they've turned to crime as a way to gather money or even to seek shelter in prison. Not for the first time on the topic of healthcare here in Wales, we are hearing that there is a postcode lottery across the country for people in need. Healthcare Inspectorate Wales reported last year that access to services across Wales is inconsistent and limited in rural areas; people found it difficult to get the treatment they needed because of long waiting times and a lack of capacity in services. And yet hundreds—hundreds—of people die every year from substance and alcohol misuse here in Wales. Minister, what is the Government doing to stop this postcode lottery and to stop people in need being put at risk of being forgotten, just because of where they live?
I think it's very important that we do address postcode lotteries, and you mentioned that half the people who need support and help are treated in England. You'll be aware that there are specialist centres that we don't have in Wales and vice versa. I know, representing a border constituency, certainly it's a two-way traffic between England and Wales in many of these areas.
You ask about substance misuse and also alcohol. You'll be aware that we've always said that minimum unit pricing for alcohol is part of our wider strategy and approach to reducing substance misuse and we will continue to use all available levers to reduce the harms that are caused by excessive consumption of alcohol and other substance misuse.
Leader of the UKIP group, Gareth Bennett.
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, the Welsh Government is currently working on a new scheme of payments for Welsh farmers after Brexit. Obviously, you know a good deal about this in your ministerial capacity. Now, I'm glad that you've adopted an overall tone that there are opportunities that can be taken after Brexit, but, of course, we also have to be mindful not to try and bring about unnecessary change and unnecessary volatility in a climate in which we already have a fair amount of uncertainty.
There is a proposal from Welsh Government to move to a new payment system, where direct payments for farmers, as we currently know them, will disappear altogether. Now, without disagreeing with the need to develop other payment schemes, we do have to face up to the hard economic reality that, here in Wales, 80 per cent of farm incomes are derived, on average, from direct payments. Is there not a strong case that this is a valuable safety net for Welsh farmers that should be left in place at least for the foreseeable future?
No. I don't think the common agricultural policy does that. It certainly hasn't made our farmers more robust, more productive; it doesn't reward the active farmer either. You'll be aware that we had a lengthy consultation last summer. I've committed to bringing forward a White Paper before the summer agricultural shows, but I've been very clear that the basic payment scheme will go. It will be replaced by two other schemes, and we want everyone to work together to bring forward those schemes. But you mention—you know, 80 per cent of funding, on average, for farmers. I don't think that's something to be proud of, 80 per cent. I think it shows that CAP has not worked in the way that we would want it to.
Yes. I certainly don't disagree with you on that point, and I did state that we do need to move away from that scheme. I'm just flagging up the possibility that, in the short term, we may need to commit to some form of direct payment as part of payments to Welsh farmers in the interim, before we develop longer term schemes. And, of course, they must be robustly modelled—[Interruption.] They must be robustly modelled before we move to new schemes. So, clearly, if we are serious about going towards new schemes, we have to have a look at the modelling. There have been concerns about the pilot schemes that you are going to get, some of which are up and running. Now, do you think that these pilot schemes are moving quickly enough? Are they robust enough and are they in a wide enough area of Wales so that we can move ahead with your planned timetable to the new payment system?
Well, the Member knows more than me, because I don't think there are any pilot schemes up and running. We are looking at which farms will do it. There'll certainly be a geographical spread; there'll be different types of farms used. I think modelling and impact assessments and those pilot schemes will be very important in forming the direction that we take, but the worst thing for the agriculture sector at the moment is the uncertainty around leaving the European Union. You will have heard the farmers' union state that to leave with a 'no deal' would be catastrophic. I also should say that all the funding at the moment comes through the European Union and I cannot get any assurance out of the UK Government that that funding will be there post 2022.
Yes. I appreciate the factors that you mention; of course there is uncertainty. It seems to me that the very nature of the uncertainty may demonstrate the need to move towards a slower transition when we bring in a new payment scheme. Another issue that arises is that, under the Welsh Government's current proposals, the move from payments to active farmers to a broader category, which we are calling 'land managers', may also result in many thousands more people being eligible for payments from the Welsh Government. So, are you entirely confident, given also the uncertainty that you've mentioned today, that you will have enough resources to deal with the payment applications when they do start to come into your department?
I think you have to accept that the majority of land managers are farmers—I do prefer the word 'farmers'—and I don't think we will see these thousands of people applying for the funding. I've heard that people with allotments will be able to apply, for instance; that's completely incorrect. What I want to make sure is that UK Government gives us every penny that we would have had as a country from the European Union. That's what I'm holding them to, and then we can make our decisions following the White Paper consultation, and I've said all along the new schemes must be in place before we remove the basic payment scheme.
3. How will the Welsh Government evaluate the work of the valleys taskforce in Caerphilly? OAQ53521
Thank you. A range of measures will be used. These will include key indicators, such as employment data, as well as those relating to impact on health, well-being and aspirations. The taskforce is taking forward a number of key commitments within Caerphilly, and their impact will form part of the evaluation.
It has to be said, the Deputy Minister for the economy has long championed the everyday economy. That was before he was Deputy Minister, and indeed before he was an Assembly Member, when he was plain old Lee Waters. One of the critiques I've had of the—[Interruption.] Well, there's nothing plain about Lee Waters. One of the critiques I've had of the Valleys taskforce is that the focus of the delivery plan has been in areas that are central and accessible in my constituency, which is good, but I would say we need to be growing and developing the everyday economy in areas that are harder to reach, like the Aber Valley, Nelson, Senghenydd and Bargoed. Can you give the assurance that the Welsh Government will focus on that, and, particularly, that that will be a key task for the Deputy Minister?
Yes. Thank you. I am aware you have recently written to the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport in relation to these issues, and I know he's offered to meet with you formally to discuss the matter further. The Deputy Minister is doing a great deal of work around the Valleys taskforce at the moment. I know he's had discussions with members of the taskforce itself. He's meeting with each of the Valleys local authority leaders, with a view to looking at how the taskforce can better align with the foundational economy and Better Jobs Closer to Home. He's also asked the local authority leaders for some examples of best practice, so that that can be spread right across the Valleys areas. So, for example, Rhondda Cynon Taf's approach to regenerating empty homes through property improvement grants—that has the potential to bring about 1,000 homes back into use. And he's also looking at how we can learn from the twenty-first century schools model of funding. So, again, we can apply that approach to examples of good practice across the Valleys. I know the Minister has also spoken to the Deputy Minister about the need to ensure that the foundational economy is absolutely embedded into the Valleys taskforce, and I think the taskforce has been really important in bringing a focus on the Valleys within the Welsh Government.
Minister, do you agree with me that the best way to evaluate the work of the Valleys taskforce in Caerphilly and elsewhere is to set clear objectives and targets so that the progress of the strategy can be measured by Government, organisations and the public in the interests of transparency and accountability? But that is not the case at the moment. Would you please explain why?
Well, we are using 16 of the national well-being indicators, which we will be able to use to measure at a Valleys level. They will be assessed over time. They may need to change over time. So, that's what we'll be doing. We'll also be having a Valleys citizens survey. That's examining people's attitudes towards the south Wales Valleys region, specifically the area covered by the Valleys taskforce initiative. Those research findings will build on our understanding of the views of the people in the Valleys. They will be able to help us measure the ongoing progress of the Valleys taskforce. We're also collating information on the data sources currently being used by policy areas across Welsh Government to track progress and outcomes across their respective Valleys taskforce delivery plan actions. It's completely cross-Government.
We're also working very closely with partners in Caerphilly—that's to deliver a number of commitments within 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan', which will include strengthening the strategic hubs. So, we've got a great deal of monitoring going on to make sure that we are on track.
4. Will the First Minister set out the Welsh Government's strategy for youth services? OAQ53504
Thank you. Since 2013, the Welsh Government has provided local authorities with £25 million a year to support local bus and community transport services across Wales, including south-east Wales. Towards—. Sorry, I'm on the wrong question. I do apologise, Presiding Officer.
No one noticed.
I know. [Laughter.] I apologise.
We recognise the vital role youth services play in supporting young people. An interim youth work board has been appointed to develop a new youth work strategy to improve these services. In supporting this, the youth support grant will increase by 188 per cent in 2019-20, particularly to support youth homelessness and mental health.
Thank you very much for that response, Minister. I think youth services are rightly greatly valued by the general public, obviously by young people themselves, and by a range of organisations, including the police, because they do provide so many different activities and opportunities for young people because of the social aspects, because of the range of encouragement and advice that's available—very important encouragement and advice. We all know that local authorities are under great pressure in terms of the funding available to them, Minister, and there have been a range of cuts to youth services, so I just want to very much welcome the new funding that's been announced for 2019-20 from Welsh Government and to ask you whether you could give us some idea of how that funding will be used to ensure quality and availability of youth services right across Wales.
As I said, it's a 188 per cent increase in the funding for next year. I'm sure the Member's aware of the snapshot inquiry that was undertaken by the Children, Young People and Education Committee under the chairmanship of Lynne Neagle, and that report came forward with many recommendations that Welsh Government have taken on board. I mentioned the interim youth work board that has been set up, that was appointed back in October 2018 and it's already met five times. I understand it's in discussions with Lynne Neagle to make sure that the recommendations brought forward from her committee are brought to fruition. The board's remit included the development of a new youth work strategy for Wales, so that will be right across Wales. It's going to recommend a new sustainable model for youth work and certainly we'll be working with all our partners.
Not all youth service funding comes through the local authority route. In 2016, the children's commissioner recommended that the Welsh Government ensures that health-related advocacy for under-18-year-olds is available and accessible to all those who need it. However, in her quarterly update published in January this year, she noted that she is not aware of any changes to provision of advocacy in health settings for under-18s, nor has the patient information been updated, with services remaining ad hoc. It's March 2019 now, that's three years since the commissioner made her recommendations, I understand that her officials met with Welsh Government officials in December, so I wonder if you can help us understand what speedy action will now be taken in this regard, bearing in mind that meeting has taken place. Thank you.
The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services will have heard that, and I'll ask her to write to you.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on bus services in south-east Wales? OAQ53532
Thank you, I'll read it again. Since 2013, the Welsh Government has provided local authorities with £25 million a year to support local bus and community transport services across Wales, including south-east Wales. Towards the end of 2017-18, we provided an additional £3 million to support the bus network, in addition to other specific grants allocated to support public transport services.
Thank you, Minister. Bus services are an integral part of our national transport infrastructure. However, in Newport, recent news that the NAT service in Brynglas will finish operating later this month has caused concern amongst my constituents who rely on this service. Sadly, this is not an unusual situation. It's affected all operators across Newport, and I'm still being contacted by many constituents about the decline of the other bus services. For example, the X18 service from Maesglas to Pye Corner train station ended in 2017. No operator has taken over that service, meaning one of my constituents has a trip of over two hours to visit her mother in Ebbw Vale, and this isn't the integrated transport system that we are all trying to achieve. To encourage people to use public transport, it needs to be affordable, reliable and regular, so what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that sustainable bus services are maintained in Wales?
Thank you. Obviously, you mentioned an individual case, and I will ask the Minister for Economy and Transport to ask the south Wales bus co-ordinator to look into that, and then to write to you.
In relation to what Welsh Government are doing, you're, I'm sure, aware of the significant funding we've put into bus services over the years. I know the Minister's officials meet regularly with Newport council and the bus industry. Obviously, neither the Welsh Government nor a local authority have the powers to require a bus operator to run a particular service. I think that's achieved through local authority contracts, and that obviously includes the public subsidy.
We're really keen for local authorities to be more proactive in planning and co-ordinating local bus services. They do have some powers to exert over bus providers. Obviously, they can have ticketing schemes, for instance, voluntary agreements with bus operators to co-ordinate investments, and they can make statutory, enforceable bus quality partnership schemes.
You'll be aware the Minister also launched a White Paper consultation back in December. It closes on 27 March, and that sets out proposals for improvising the legislative framework in Wales. I would urge all Members to respond to that consultation.
I thank the Minister for substituting today. I don't know if the First Minister used south-east Wales bus services to help him get to Buckingham Palace, but I'm delighted that he's at that investiture celebration after 50 years. I think it would be awful if he hadn't gone, so thank you.
Newport Bus have brought in a demand-responsive transport approach where they're at least trialling the idea of allowing people to contact them and book a bus the day before. Paying a normal fare, the bus then goes round and picks up only from the bus stops where it's needed. Does the Minister think that approach is a sensible, more flexible one that can ensure financial viability when it wouldn't otherwise be there, and would she support its extension elsewhere?
Yes, I absolutely do. I think it's actually the future, and I know that that is actually contained in the White Paper, so, again, it would be good if we could have as many consultation responses as possible to enable the Minister to make decisions such as that.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on educational funding? OAQ53499
Educational funding remains a key priority for this Government, in spite of continued austerity. Working with our partners, the budget reflects our desire to raise standards for all, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence.
Thank you. As a member of the Welsh Government Cabinet, then, you'll be fully aware that it's widely acknowledged that there is a classroom cash shortage and funding crisis in our educational system across Wales. For example, in Conwy the education budget is to be cut by 3.6 per cent as a result of such a poor Welsh Government settlement on funding. Now, this is leading to more serious money saving measures that we're now seeing in Aberconwy, and there's no point shaking your head. A letter has gone out to every parent in Conwy County Borough Council, such is the concern, signed by seven headteachers. We're seeing larger classes, we're seeing staff being made redundant, and we're seeing a reduction in support for additional learning needs and well-being needs. The actual numbers of schools in Wales in deficit: 146 primary and 79 secondary.
Now, we also know, through evidence taken in the CYPE committee, that there's a wide variance across Wales in terms of per-pupil spend, by as much as £1,000. We also know that pupil funding in Wales sees our pupils receiving £607 less in Wales than they do in England. At what point—? What actions are the Welsh Government taking to address this cash crisis for our schools, and what plans do you—[Interruption.] It's all right the Minister for—
Don't get diverted by another Minister seeking to answer on behalf of the Minister. Please ask the question.
Llywydd, the Minister appears to be in denial. I hope this Minister responding isn't.
What steps are you taking to address the funding cash crisis that we have in our educational system in Wales, and will there be any consideration of an emergency pot of money that will see schools in Aberconwy be able to continue to function?
I think I'll start by reminding the Member of two things: we're in year nine of austerity from your Government in London. The second thing to remind you of is that no local authority in Wales will face a reduction of more than 0.3 per cent in their core funding for 2019-20. So Conwy council's decision to cut the education budget by 3 per cent is a matter for Conwy council. Welsh Government provides funding to local authorities through the local government revenue settlement and it is up to—[Interruption.] Somebody's shouting, 'It isn't fair'; it's done on a funding formula with local government and Welsh Government. And can I just remind you that the Tories would have cut education funding by 20 per cent?
The hypocrisy of the Tories on the issue of funding public services is staggering. Years of austerity, imposed by the Conservatives in Westminster, are bleeding our schools dry and undermining the attainment of our children and young people, but there is no doubt that the Welsh Labour Government need to take action and stop putting their heads in the sand. For example, we need to co-ordinate the support for schools more effectively to avoid wasting money on duplication and bureaucracy, and allow more funding to flow down into the classroom. So, what work are you doing in that area?
I agree. We certainly want to cut bureaucracy, and I know the Minister—I'd certainly never accuse this Minister of burying her head in the sand and I know she's taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen. We don't want to see duplication, we don't want to see additional bureaucracy.
Janet Finch-Saunders, in her original question, said that the funding difference was £607 per pupil; that is simply not true. How much an authority sets aside for school budgets is a matter for each authority. And then the schools obviously work with the local authorities to ensure that they have the budget that they require.
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on his consideration of the need for a people’s vote on the EU withdrawal agreement? OAQ53529
Thank you. We are three weeks away from the point at which we are due to leave the EU but no closer to a deal. We have long said that, if Parliament concludes that a public vote is the only way to break the logjam and move forward, we would support it.
Thank you. Minister, do you agree with me that it is both essential to rule out the disaster of a 'no deal' and to ensure that the logjam in Westminster is broken? So, does she therefore agree with me that the Prime Minister's deal, which, whatever its gross inadequacies, is the only one on offer, must be put to the people with the option of accepting that deal and proceeding with Brexit, or keeping our current deal with a voice, a veto, full membership of the single market and customs union and complete participation in the crime-fighting and security mechanisms of the EU?
Thank you for that supplementary question. We have constantly said a 'no deal' would be catastrophic for Wales, and certainly we do not support the current deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated.
In relation to a referendum, I think we've consistently said we should let the UK Government and Parliament do their job—I think we've been very patient—and negotiate a deal in the national interest, capable of commanding a majority in Parliament. If they can't do that, the decision should be handed back to the people in a referendum.
It is a fact, obviously, that the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union, and I very much hope the Welsh Government will respect the referendum result. But, if you do consider a people's vote as an option—and I, for one, do not—what analysis has the Welsh Government made of the time it would take to instigate a people's vote? I've heard figures of six, 12, 18 months. Surely, that would just add to the uncertainty if the Welsh Government was to put its weight behind such a proposition, however foolish that might be.
We've always respected the decision of the Welsh people. We know they voted 'leave', and I said in my answer to Lynne Neagle I think we've been incredibly patient. We've tried to influence negotiations as best we can. As Ministers, we've all taken part in discussions constantly—I think you'll probably find every week we are in discussions with our counterparts in Westminster. So, it's not about not respecting the decision, it's about making sure that we don't have a 'no deal' and that we have a deal that is acceptable and, as I say, commands a majority in Parliament. That doesn't seem to be forthcoming. The Prime Minister just seems to be running down the clock; she seems to be kicking the meaningful vote into the long grass, and now it's going to be next week. We are now, what, 24 days from when we leave the European Union.
So, in relation to your question around a referendum, obviously there are a lot of discussions to be had. Back in June 2016, as a Government, we were supportive of staying in the European Union. I don't think we've seen anything that would change that, but there's going to be a lot of discussion about what the specific question is, and once we know what that question is, if there were to be a people's vote, then we would, obviously, give our advice on that.
It's very clear that the reason we're in the constitutional paralysis we're in is because we have a Government that is only capable of hanging on to power by bribing 10 Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. It's also very clear that a further referendum or a further vote will take at least six months. So, do you agree with me that, really, one of the key objectives at the moment has to be an extension to article 50? We cannot complete the legislative programmes that need to be completed, and the trade negotiations are in an absolutely desperate mess. Anyone looking at the national interest—putting politics to one side, just looking at the national interest—would come to the conclusion that an extension to article 50 of at least six months is absolutely vital.
Certainly, yes. We've said that, and this Assembly, obviously, voted for that back in January. I think you're quite right about Northern Ireland. I know the finance Minister has just yesterday, I think, written to Liz Truss about the extra £140 million that seems to have appeared in the Northern Ireland budget, and it's not that we're opposed to Northern Ireland getting more funding, but it should be right across the UK, and we, too, should have additional funding, as should Scotland.
I thank the Minister.
The next item on our agenda is the statement—. No, apologies. The next item on our agenda is questions to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister in respect of his law officer responsibilities.
We both got it wrong at that point, I think.
So, the first question to the Counsel General is from Helen Mary Jones.
1. Will the Counsel General provide an update on measures being taken to ensure that the judiciary is fully aware of the growing differences between English and Welsh law? OAQ53490
The Welsh Government engages regularly with the Lord Chief Justice’s office to inform them of matters of policy and legislation affecting the judiciary. These include any proposals that affect the administration of the courts, the criminal law, or the operation of the judicial system.
I'm grateful to the Counsel General for that response. Of course, we do have a peculiar anomaly, do we not, in that we have a Parliament that makes laws but we have no distinctive judiciary to enforce those. I believe, in fact, that we're the only Parliament or regional Parliament in the western world where that is the case, and, obviously, the Counsel General won't be surprised to hear me say that we believe, on these benches, that the long-term solution to that is the full devolution of the justice system.
But with regard to the situation currently, the Counsel General will be aware that, already, incorrect decisions have been made as a result of judges not understanding the difference between English and Welsh law. He will be aware that there were a couple of cases last year, for example, relating to the provision of care services. Can the Counsel General assure us today that he will remain vigilant in ensuring that particularly new members of the judiciary receive appropriate training as part of their core training to ensure that they do understand that they are now delivering two separate, distinct types of law in many fields—in all the devolved fields—to ensure that we don't go through the costly and, in the case of those care cases, very distressing process of incorrect determinations being made as a result, frankly, of ignorance on the judges' part?
Well, the Member identifies a very serious question and it is a challenge that arises by having primary law-making powers but not a separate jurisdiction and not having the justice system devolved to Wales. The Government has agreed a protocol with the Lord Chief Justice's office, which involves providing early notice of the content of legislation and the anticipated date of it entering into effect, and the impacts of that on existing legislation, and there are monthly meetings between the office of the Lord Chief Justice and Welsh Government officials in order to ensure that information flow remains current. The statutory responsibility for training the judiciary has been devolved by the Lord Chief Justice to the Judicial College, and our hope, of course, and our aim, is to ensure that the Judicial College has sufficient advance notice of the content of the legal changes that we make here in Wales in order for that training to be deployed.
There is a continuing debate about who should be financially responsible for the training of the judiciary in areas of law where there is divergence, and our position as a Government is that, as justice is not devolved, that is a responsibility of the UK Government. However, on a practical basis, clearly in some areas, for example housing law, where there's been significant change, there have been pretty extensive discussions between officials and the Ministry of Justice on how that can be translated into practical changes to core procedure, and so on. So, that does happen from time to time when there are particular issues of significant change.
2. Will the Counsel General make a statement on the accessibility of devolved legislation to the public? OAQ53497
The Legislation (Wales) Bill commits future Governments to keep the accessibility of the law under review and to take action to make it more accessible to all. We intend to develop consolidated codes of Welsh law as well as improving the way that legislation is published.
You may have answered my question there. But, in this Chamber, we have the honour of creating legislation that impacts significantly on the everyday lives of people across Wales. Sadly, however, whilst Acts can be easily accessed online, it is true that many of the constituents that I meet are unaware of all that we do here in terms of the laws that we pass. Last term, of course, there were 25 separate Bills created here. Now, as you might be aware, there has been very good publicity around the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, and the impact of that has seen significant promotion by the Welsh Government. So, what steps could you take, perhaps, Counsel General, to actually run a campaign or build greater public awareness of each piece of legislation that has passed here in Wales?
Well, I thank the Member for that supplementary. I hope I can count on her support for each stage of the Legislation (Wales) Bill as it passes through the Assembly because it's partly intended to tackle the sorts of issues—the important issues—that she has highlighted in her supplementary question.
Our devolution settlement is complex. It has a particular impact on how we legislate as a result. Despite 20 years of devolution, much of our legislation—most of it, in fact—is still based on Acts of the UK Parliament—most of our law—and so there's a task to rationalise that. But she identifies a particular supplementary but important issue: having done that, how do you then communicate that to the public? And that is at the heart of what that legislation is intended to achieve. Yes, the consolidation, yes, the codification, but then how is it published online in a way that is current, authoritative, bilingual and easily accessible? Can we organise it in a way that makes it easier to find, not just by the date of the law but by subject matter? We're working on that quite separately, in fact, from the proposals in the Bill. So, I hope, as the Bill comes through the Assembly, we can discuss those issues further.
3. What assessment has the Counsel General made of the way local authorities are complying with the Equality Act? OAQ53481
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has statutory powers to assess the extent and manner in which a public authority in Wales has complied with the public sector equality duty. The Welsh Government works closely with the commission on monitoring arrangements and on the Welsh Ministers’ report on equality.
As you are aware, under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010, service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person in the way they deliver their services. However, I am aware of an example where a local authority has refused to install a disabled access gate at a public park. Now, this seems wholly unreasonable and clearly prevents wheelchair users in the area from enjoying the use of the park. Do you agree that local authorities should be providing disabled access to public parks in order to comply with this legislation?
I absolutely believe that local authorities need to take their duties, under the Equality Act 2010 seriously, including the one that he has just identified. I know that the publication of the local government settlement, which provides the core, unhypothecated funding, local authorities are reminded by letter from my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government about that requirement to comply with the general equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. There are, of course, in addition to that, additional duties under that Act—the public sector equality duty in particular—which it's incumbent on local authorities across Wales to comply with.
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 Part 2 code of practice states that,
'the Public Sector Equality Duty contained in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 requires all public authorities to have due regard to protected characteristics when exercising their functions',
'The Equality Act 2010 requires that reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that people have equal access to information, advice and assistance services. Local authorities must also ensure that people have the appropriate support to enable them to access the service.'
I routinely represent constituents to local authorities on issues ranging from disability support services to British Sign Language, to autism, to wheelchair access—even access to employment. The Equality Act and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act are never mentioned until I mention them, and then it's damage limitation time.
So, what action are you taking to ensure, for example, that the weaknesses identified in the Wales Neurological Alliance report on behalf of the cross-party group on neurological conditions published last November, following a survey of people living with neurological conditions, which identified a lack of information, advice and assistance, with people with neurological conditions not being signposted to review or to have a voice—? The key point is: how is the Welsh Government monitoring local authority understanding and implementation of the codes under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, because too often, by accident or design, this is not being done as it should?
The Member identifies an important question in his supplementary. The public sector equality duty is fundamental, of course, to the operations of local authorities. We were the first Government to bring in specific equality duties in order for public bodies to better perform their duties against that broader set of duties.
He may know that the EHRC has commissioned a piece of work to inform it in relation to compliance of local authorities generally, and to inform its own work about compliance across a range of duties, using that to drive forward action on ensuring that public bodies are complying with their equality duties at large. He will also know that the Welsh Government publishes a report periodically on public sector equality, and that will be published in the forthcoming weeks.
4. What discussions has the Counsel General had with the Minister for Housing and Local Government on steps the Welsh Government could take to ensure a fair and equitable hearing at planning inquiries? OAQ53498
The regulations for planning hearings and inquiries have recently been reviewed and already provide for a fair and equitable hearing.
I'm sorry, I have to disagree on that one, and I think there are probably about 1,500 objectors, many residents and locally elected councillors in Aberconwy who would disagree with that, simply for the fact that I, along with many democratically elected members, have spent a lot of time and have worked to oppose controversial housing developments in Aberconwy. These were where applications came forward for land not designated to be in the local development plan, subjected to an inquiry, and yet, before a decision was made, at the eleventh hour, when 'Planning Policy Wales—Edition 10' came in, despite us being able to contribute to the original application and the hearing, we were not allowed, nor were the 1,300 others of us, to make representations. Only the local authority and only the developer were invited to come forward with new evidence.
Now, that is contrary to other parts of the UK. The reason given for this is that the evidence was Welsh Ministers' policy. Clearly, that is unfair and unreasonable, when subsection 47(7) of the Town and Country Planning (Referred Applications and Appeals Procedure) (Wales) Regulations 2017 allows representations to be invited when there is any new evidence. But, in this instance, Welsh Ministers have decided that that isn't correct.
So, I'm going to ask you again whether you would look again at this, as the Counsel General, because I think it is—well, it is—a flaw in our legislation here in Wales, and whether you would perhaps work with the Welsh Government, in particular the Minister for Housing and Local Government, to look at reviewing this situation. Because we need a system in Wales, as regards our planning system, where there has to be fairer planning inquiries, because it's a very expensive procedure, and it's one that, in this instance, on two very weak applications, but very strongly fought applications by the developer, we saw legislation in Wales that has actually really disadvantaged us in my constituency. So, it's something that I will continue fighting on until I see that legislation changed, but I would ask you, in your position, whether you would support us on that.
I'm aware that the Member has been in correspondence with the Government in relation to that matter. I'm obviously not in a position to comment on the specific application that the Member has described in her supplementary question. But the appeals procedures have been reviewed and updated in 2017, and, obviously, were subject to extensive consultation before coming into force, as is change in Welsh Government policy. So, whenever Government policy changes, including planning policy, that is itself subject to extensive public consultation, and so is excluded from that specific obligation to reconsult.
The planning inspectorate in Wales has acquired a reputation for excellence and it significantly outperforms the planning inspectorate in England, to which she alluded in her question, in terms of accuracy and timeliness, and that within a framework that allows planning inspectors the ability to go above that legal minimum in the legislation. And, given that reputation, we don't intend to constrain that.
Counsel General, you'll have heard it said before that access to justice is a bit like owning a Rolls Royce—everyone can have one. And I think our planning system is a bit like that at the moment. I've recently had inquiries where large development companies, represented by QCs and a host of expensive experts, are stood against the Ramblers' Association and local citizens. And it seems to me—. Why are they paying those vast amounts of money? Well, the first thing is they can. Some of our housing development companies are robbing the population, exploiting the shortage of housing. The fact that one particular company is recently reported as making £66,000 per house as a profit—no wonder they're able to pay their chief executive £32 million per annum. So, it seems to me that we have a system that is being bought up by those who stand to make enormous profits out of it, and the issue is not about the procedural fairness of the process, but the ability of people to be fairly represented and to have a fair say within that process. And I think those of us from all parties who engage in this process will see a gross injustice. The planning system has been bought up by the incredibly wealthy corporate companies, and what I'd ask is not so much the fairness of the process, but perhaps the mechanism of representation. Why isn't it the case that one of these big housing development companies, who stand to make tens of millions of pounds out of their developments, should also pay into a fund to enable local representation of local communities and local groups, because, until something is done, we have a gross unfairness within the system?
The Member identifies a very important point of principle and a question of access to justice, which I know he has pursued in this and other contexts. The question is: without control over the levers which best deliver access to justice in that context, what can we do as a Government to ensure that the points at which that advantage can be exercised are minimised as far as possible within the constraints that we face? And the plan-led system that we have relies on adopted current development plans, which have been subject to consultation, and community consultation before adoption, and that community engagement in the development of the local development plan obviously is welcomed, encouraged, to ensure that it contains policies that reflect the aspirations of the community.
But I recognise the point that he makes that that imbalance in representation is a challenge to the fairness in that system.
5. What assessment has the Counsel General made of public bodies' compliance with the Freedom of Information Act? OAQ53479
With regard to public bodies at large, it is the Information Commissioner's role to monitor and enforce public bodies' compliance with access to information law. I have no role in monitoring other bodies' compliance. As regards Welsh Government specifically, information requests for Welsh Government are handled by civil servants, in accordance with well-established internal procedures. The current compliance rate is above the Information Commissioner's target.
Thank you for that.
But I've received representations from individuals who have expressed concerns over the quality and timeliness of several organisations in dealing with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Even after referring the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office, the wait took so long that, by the time the information was received, it was no longer required or events had overtaken. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Do you therefore believe that the Information Commissioner's Office is sufficiently resourced to deliver against its objectives, and can you outline what discussions you have had on this matter to bring about improvement?
Well, I'm afraid I'm not in a position to comment on the resourcing of the Information Commissioner and his office; that is a reserved matter. The sponsoring department of the ICO is the UK Government's Ministry of Justice. Plainly, though, the statutory regime, which does provide via section 15 a mechanism to seek redress, as he outlines, and he identifies in his question some of the obstacles to that—. But it does provide a system for seeking further information and for escalating that to the High Court, ultimately, if redress isn't solved. But, plainly, delivering that system in a way that gives meaning and effect to the statutory obligations, as with any statutory obligation, requires an adequate level of resourcing.
Thank you, Counsel General.
The next item now is the business statement and announcement. I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are several changes to this week's business. Later this afternoon, the Government will propose a suspension of Standing Orders to enable the Assembly to hold a debate on European Union withdrawal negotiations. In order to accommodate this, the statements on apprenticeships, investing in skills for the future, and flood and coastal erosion risk management have been postponed until next week. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Trefnydd, can I call for two statements from the Welsh Government today, the first on funding for Welsh schools? I listened to the exchange earlier on during First Minister's questions regarding the situation in Conwy. But of course this is a Wales-wide problem, which has been the cause of concern for a number of unions, so much so that they issued a statement just yesterday saying that Welsh schools are at crisis point. I think that what people want to understand is why it is that, under the current fiscal framework, Wales receives £1.20 for every £1 spent on a child in England in a school, whereas, actually, we're spending less than is currently being spent per year on our pupils. People find that very difficult to understand, and I think that we need some clear transparency from the Welsh Government on what is happening in terms of our funding situation. It's quite clear that our pupils here have been falling behind—we had some of the worst GCSE results last year in a decade. Fewer of our children are getting into the best universities across the United Kingdom as well. And, of course, we've got this ambitious reform taking place in our education system at the time when the finances are in a fairly parlous state. So, I do think that we need to understand how the Welsh Government is going to deal with the crisis—and that's the word that has been used to describe it by the education unions—in order that we can get on top of the situation and make sure that our young people are getting the investment that they need.
Can I also call for a statement on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder services for adults here in Wales? You'll be aware that, as a result of the pressure that was brought to bear by my colleague, Paul Davies, with his autism Bill, the Minister for health has taken action to develop an integrated autism service—or certainly that's the Government's ambition. Now, I welcome that there's been a step in that direction. One of the reasons that that integrated service is required is because there are behaviour issues, emotional issues such as anxiety and anger, issues developing social and daily life skills, which are all problems not just for children with autism, but also for adults. Now, exactly the same situation applies to adults with ADHD as it does to children with ADHD, and yet there is no integrated ADHD service proposition in Wales. I do think that this is a gap that we need to address, and I'd be very grateful indeed if we could have a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services on what he intends to do about it.
Thank you very much for raising that, and I'm more than happy to provide the clarity on what is happening with our funding situation, because, of course, the UK Government's sustained austerity agenda has led to a cut of nearly £1 billion to Wales's overall budget. But, in spite of this, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has explicitly stated that school funding per pupil has fallen faster in England than it has in Wales, and we recognise that to continue to raise our standards our schools and teachers do need additional support. And that's why we recently announced the single biggest investment for teachers since devolution—a £24 million package of professional learning to support the new curriculum. We've also directed all of the £23.5 million to local authorities to fund the schoolteachers' pay award and also provided an additional £15 million on top of this. So, I hope that does provide the clarity that the Member is seeking.
In terms of the question on ADHD, I do have to say that the integrated autism service long predates your colleague Paul Davies's introduction of his proposed Bill, but I will certainly ask the Minister to write to you with an update on ADHD services.
Trefnydd, you will be aware of local concerns in Swansea over a planned consultation meeting by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which was due to take place next week on 12 March. The meeting was due to discuss the potential siting of a nuclear geological disposal facility. Such were the protests in Swansea that the meeting has now been cancelled—it appears online. But what has become clear over recent weeks is that the Welsh Government position on the potential siting of a geological disposal facility in Wales is unclear. Now, Labour-run Neath Port Talbot Council and Labour-run Swansea council are against siting such a radioactive dumping facility in their areas, but the Minister for the environment has previously stated that:
'The Welsh Government has not identified any potential sites or communities to host'
a geological disposal facility in Wales, and that a geological disposal facility—AKA a nuclear dump—
'can only be sited in Wales if a community is willing to host it'
and receive money for that pleasure. However, we find that another Government Minister, Vaughan Gething, is sponsoring a meeting with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority next week, here in the National Assembly for Wales. Now, at a packed public meeting a couple of weeks ago, people in Swansea were rightly asking, 'What is the Welsh Government's position on this?' There was disappointment that the Welsh Government has not taken a more robust line and followed the strong line propagated by Labour-run local authorities against siting such facilities in Wales. Now, in light of the concerns raised in south-west Wales, will the Welsh Government agree to bring forward a statement on geological disposal facilities in Wales?
Thank you very much, and I am very happy to be very clear on this matter: the Welsh Government has no intention to bring forward any proposals for disposal sites in Wales.
Can I return to job losses at Virgin Media in Swansea? In January, you said:
'The first tranche of those staff did leave in November, and there will be a further two phases planned for this year. Virgin Media's out-placement support team has taken on responsibility for providing staff with on-site access to key partners of our Welsh Government's taskforce, including Careers Wales, the DWP and local employers. The jobs fair in October took place on the Virgin Media site, and there are further jobs fairs planned to coincide with the additional tranches of staff who will be leaving. So, those further jobs fairs will be timed in relation to those further tranches, as I say, of people who will be leaving the company.'
Can I ask for a Government statement outlining the date of the next jobs fair, how many people have found alternative employment, how many people seeking employment have left without alternative employment?
Can I also return to another issue I've raised before? I would like to ask for a statement on the increase in public sector employer pension contributions, and how it is going to be funded. There is concern amongst a number of public sector organisations, especially schools, regarding the effect of increased costs of the employer contributions for teachers' pensions. There have been warm words and a promise that the Welsh Government will pass the money on that they get, but the new financial year starts in April and budgets are having to be set. An indication that the money is going to be provided will save a lot of worry, and possibly job losses.
Thank you very much for raising both of these points. With regard to Virgin Media, I can confirm that a jobs fair was held at the end of February to coincide with the March tranche of people leaving the company. The remaining company—the remaining workers, I should say, will be leaving the company in June of this year, and our partner the Welsh contact centre forum has been leading on those jobs fairs. We're currently gathering the information on the success or otherwise of the redundant staff in securing alternative employment, and this will very much inform the way forward. But when I do have a date for a further jobs fair, I'll be more than happy to share it with you.
With regard to the public sector pensions, it's been extremely frustrating trying to get the information that we need from the UK Government on this. We were due a response back in November, I recall, but it's only very recently that the UK Treasury has provided details of the Barnett consequential for Wales as a result of additional funding for public sector pensions in England. It doesn't meet the full 100 per cent of that cost. We've sought some further detail from the Treasury about its calculations, working through now what it means for public sector bodies here in Wales, but I do hope to be able to make a statement very imminently on that.
Organiser, can I seek two statements off you, please, one building on the answer that you've given to Mike Hedges around the pensions situation with public sector workers and, in particular, the lobby that was held this afternoon by the teaching unions? They were very clear that they believed a commitment had come in January to you as a Welsh Government about the money to meet the pension liabilities. And I appreciate you might have some fine balancing to do over numbers or some clarifications, but an assertion from you as finance secretary to indicate that that money, whatever the quantum of it will be, will be passed on would put a lot of peace of mind in place for headteachers in particular, because at the moment they have no assurance whatsoever that that money will be with them as of 1 April. I appreciate you might have a balancing act to do, but an assurance that whatever money comes will be passed to the front line, I think, would go a long way to alleviating some of the issues that they did face and, certainly, they amplified in the lobby that we all attended this afternoon.
Could I also seek a statement from the Minister for sport in relation to the discussions that are ongoing about the reform of regional rugby here in Wales? I appreciate it's not a direct Government responsibility, but I find it hard to imagine that the Welsh Government a) don't have a view, b) have not been approached to seek some form of help and support, especially as, if the proposals are taken forward, there's the prospect of establishing a region in north Wales, and to have no comment on this very topical issue, I would suggest, would be somewhat alarming, because I would hope that the Welsh Government do have a position on what is going on. And I'd be grateful if you could confirm that a statement would be coming because, obviously, as I said, it's very topical at the moment.
And if I could just on the rugby front update the Assembly, with your indulgence, Presiding Officer, the Assembly rugby team had a stonking win against the Houses of Commons and Lords two weeks ago—46-14 it was—which, in fairness, on tallies—that's the biggest victory we've had for some years; but also the charitable aims of the club as well, raising money for bowel cancer and other local charities; and just put on record my thanks to everyone who participated—spectators and players—and wish the team well for their Scottish excursion this weekend. Because, for the first time we'll be playing the Holyrood Parliament, which does seem to be an increasing feature of club activity, that the various Parliaments and Assemblies around the UK and, indeed, in France, are seeking fixtures with the Assembly, and that is something that I would hope all Members would agree is a positive step.
Thank you very much for that, and for building on the issue raised by Mike Hedges regarding pensions. I can confirm that we only had the information regarding pensions just before the finance quadrilateral that took place in the middle of February, but I do intend to make a statement—hopefully, a written statement—tomorrow with the kind of clarity that the Member is looking for.
With regard to regional rugby, I'm sure that there will be views in terms of the proposals. I know there are certainly strong views at both ends of my Gower constituency about those proposals. In terms of what's appropriate from a Welsh Government perspective, I think that any restructuring plans do need to be sustainable and to support the future development of rugby, and to continue to attract the support of the public across Wales.
I'm certainly pleased that it was a successful match—'a stonking win', as you call it—and I do wish the team well as they head to Scotland.
The state of our environment is the most pressing issue of our time. A United Nations report has found that climate change, pollution and changes in water and land management have combined to ensure that we are fast approaching irreversible collapse for biodiversity. And this would mean the irreversible collapse of food production too. The global grassroots organisation Slow Food said that
'Time is running out, we must turn things around within the next 10 years or risk a total and irreversible collapse.'
It's timely, therefore, that Democrat representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and fellow party members have unveiled a green new deal that would usher in huge reforms to dramatically reduce United States carbon emissions while adding millions of jobs and investing in infrastructure projects. Cortez and her colleagues have correctly identified that the time for tinkering has passed, we need fundamental change if we are to save this planet for future generations. Will this Government recognise the climate emergency that we face and introduce a radical plan to address this issue? We need a fundamental rethink of our economy. Is the Government prepared to act on that?
I'd like to raise the matter of the support that veterans receive when they return to civilian life. This is a matter I've raised before and there has previously been some exemplary campaigning work undertaken by my Plaid Cymru colleagues in Westminster on this. A constituent contacted me recently to share with me his experiences of accessing mental health services after leaving the army. Whilst in service, this man completed two tours of Iraq and three tours of Afghanistan. He subsequently suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme anxiety, as well as drink and drug problems. I'm pleased to say that he has come out on the other side, but he says that that was not as a result of the overstretched mental health services that he tried to access. In his own powerful words, he said,
'I feel the army and the Government completely leave veterans to crash and burn, especially in our area, once service has been terminated. I'm proof of this. The aftercare is pretty poor and therapy for me used to consist of questionnaires that would ask, ''On a scale of one to 10, how are you feeling today?''.'
When are we likely to see real change on the ground for Welsh veterans and are you confident that the 10-year strategy for our veterans, unveiled last year, will deliver for people like the man from the Rhondda who contacted me?
I want the Government to reconsider the threshold for free school meals. This is something that I've called for before and I will keep calling for it until we have parity with the north of Ireland, which has a threshold twice that of Wales's £7,000. Many of my constituents in the Rhondda are in work, yet they remain in poverty. They fall just outside the threshold for free school meals and they are the type of people who the children's commissioner, Sally Holland, identified in her report released this week. She said that children's basic needs in families like these aren't being met, with families struggling to afford school uniform, equipment and sanitary products. She also said that we need this Welsh Government to, and I quote,
'show real ambition and leadership in helping the thousands of families across Wales who are really struggling.'
Do you believe that that much needed ambition and leadership are forthcoming and can we please have a debate about the children's commissioner's findings in Government time as soon as possible?
Thank you for raising those issues. Certainly, the first that you mentioned related to the pressing environmental and climate change challenges that we are all more than aware of. Certainly, our Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 does compel us to not only think differently but very much act differently in terms of the decisions that we take as a Welsh Government, but also that the public bodies beyond the Welsh Government take. Of course, the Minister will be making a statement in due course on the 'Brexit and our land' consultation, which certainly looks at the important role that farming has to play in terms of protecting our natural resources here in Wales, and farming in a responsible way, because, of course, the question was about food production when you asked it.
In terms of veterans, I'm really pleased to hear that the Ministry of Defence has now begun to issue veterans with an ID card and that will certainly recognise the time that they have spent in the services and enable them to access some of the services that we have specifically for veterans. Veterans should be able to have priority access to health services if their condition is as a result of the service that they've given to our country, and that certainly applies to mental health services as well as meeting physical health needs. So, if there are particular issues in the case of the gentleman you describe that you would wish to raise with the Minister, then I'm sure that they would be keen to respond.
In terms of the free school meals issue, I know that we have consulted widely on proposals and provided significant additional funding to enable us to take the steps that we are with regard to the future of free school meals and the way that we address the needs of children in those families. The decisions we have taken will actually increase the number of children who are able to benefit from it. But of course, our concern is about those families and those children who are on the cusp of receiving services and support. So, I will ask the Minister to write to you with some further information on our approach there.
Trefnydd, I recently had the opportunity of discussing the potential of the financial transaction tax—the so-called 'Robin Hood tax'—with representatives from Unison Cymru Wales. We also heard from the Robin Hood tax campaign about the potential for such a tax to transform our public services. As we've had no evidence of austerity ending any time soon, I'm sure there'd be support in several parts of this Chamber for the opportunity to debate this issue, as it would raise significant funds for public services. In light of the First Minister's existing support for this tax, can I ask you if the Government would consider bringing forward a statement on its potential implications?
Thank you very much for raising that, and congratulations for holding a successful event here in the Assembly to raise awareness of and seek support for the Robin Hood tax. I can certainly confirm that the Welsh Government supports the principle of the tax that you describe. We recognise that this isn't within our devolved competence, and we would certainly encourage the UK Government to explore it further. We do recognise that a tax of this type would be most effective were it to be introduced globally, but certainly, if that were not possible, to do it within the tax jurisdictions of all leading economies, at a minimum, would be an excellent way forward.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Education on the continuing problems caused by Newport City Council regarding Gwent SenCom? The Minister may be aware that on 11 December last year I called for a statement on Newport City Council's decision to withdraw its funding from this service, which supports children who have vision, hearing and communication problems. In her reply, the then Minister said she was sure the Minister for Education would report back to the Senedd once her discussions were completed. The council subsequently put its plan to withdraw funding on hold until 2020. However, the continuing uncertainties over the future of the service is putting considerable pressure on staff, and plans have been already drawn to shed 16 jobs. Please, can we have now a statement from the Minister for Education on what actions she will take to intervene to remove this uncertainty and safeguard this vital service for children in Newport? Thank you.
Thank you very much. I know that the Minister has been very clear that she does welcome the decision to push back any final decision in terms of a way forward in order to be able to have some further discussions. I think that having this space now to find an appropriate way forward is certainly a positive move.
We're in the middle of lambing season, of course, and, at a time such as this, one becomes more aware of the problem of dogs attacking sheep and lambs. Indeed, research by NFU Mutual has shown that attacks like this cost £1.2 million for the livestock sector in the UK last year. What causes concern particularly for me is that these cases are reducing in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but are increasing here in Wales. It cost almost £300,000 to the sector as a result of losses last year, specifically in Wales, and that, of course, doesn't include the impact on the welfare of animals that are attacked, and the anxiety caused to those farmers affected by those attacks. It has become apparent now that the time has come to change, to review and reform the 1953 dogs Act, because it is dated.
The police can't take a dog following an attack if they know who the owner of that dog is. The police don't have the power to take a DNA sample from a dog suspected of carrying out an attack. The courts can't ban the owner of any dog that's attacked a sheep from taking ownership of another dog, even if that owner has been found guilty of a criminal act.
Now, North Wales Police are clear in their call for a need for reform of the legislation, the agricultural unions agree, as do I, and I call on the Welsh Government and the UK Government to amend this legislation. So, can we have a statement from the Government and from the relevant Minister on what the Welsh Government's intentions are in relation to this legislation? It's almost 70 years since the legislation was passed and it's clear to everyone now that it’s not fit for purpose and that the time has come to take action.
Thank you very much for raising that issue. Certainly, dog attacks on livestock are a real area of concern for Welsh Government. I know that work does go on with North Wales Police in particular, but also the police across Wales and with the farming unions, to explore how we can better promote responsible dog ownership in all kinds of areas, but with a particular focus on preventing attacks on livestock. I'll certainly ask the Minister to write to you with an update on her views as regards the reform of the 1953 dogs Act in the way that you've described.
Trefnydd, I was alarmed to hear a few days ago that women going through miscarriages at less than 20 weeks term are being accommodated in a ward at Singleton hospital where there are no en-suite facilities. Worse still, this is a mixed ward where women in the throes of miscarrying are expected to walk past men to get to the toilets and showers, which it is claimed—I'm not sure about this—are also shared by men. This is a serious claim being made by more than one constituent, and I think it deserves being raised in this Chamber rather than through a letter. So, I'd be grateful if you would ask the health Minister if he will investigate this urgently and report back to us in a statement confirming Government policy on this.
Thank you. I'll certainly discuss with the health Minister in terms of the way in which he can explore this particular issue that you describe with the health board, and he will report back to you.
I was very pleased today to meet representatives from the miners' pension campaign. I know that many of you will know that they've been campaigning for many years because the UK Government has been taking half of their pension surplus from the fund, which they've been doing since 1994. Billions of pounds that should have gone to the miners has instead been pocketed by the Treasury, and that's truly appalling. Some of the miners who are affected by this have been getting by on as little as £84 a week.
The campaigners have now succeeded in getting the 100,000 signatures that they need for there to be a debate in Westminster and they're taking the petition to 10 Downing Street tomorrow. I would like to put on the record that none of this would have been possible without the tireless work of my predecessor Steffan Lewis, who campaigned side by side with the miners for many years on this issue and I know that they are incredibly grateful to him for that.
On 15 January, Adam Price asked the First Minister to commit to supporting the endeavours of the former miners and to meet a delegation of them in order to offer the Welsh Government's full support. Mark Drakeford had said that he would do that. I therefore ask for the Welsh Government to give a statement please on an update on this and how it intends to support the campaign now that it's nearing the endgame.
Thank you very much for raising this and for paying tribute to Steffan's work in this particular area. Of course, Welsh Government has also been a long-time supporter of our mineworkers here in Wales, and I know that the First Minister has met with the NUM in order to look at the progress that's been made with regard to this particular campaign and to discuss how we can best support the 22,000 people in Wales who are amongst the nearly 140,000 people who are affected by this.
I know the First Minister has also written to the UK Government and to the scheme trustees to ask them to review the scheme and to consider revising the approach to the division of the surpluses that you describe—surpluses of over £2.5 billion, I understand—to agree a new and fairer distribution of those surpluses, and thus improve the pensioners' benefits and reflect the true level of risk, actually, that's involved in that particular pension scheme. We hope that the UK Government will respond to the issues raised in the report and undertake to work with the NUM to deliver a positive outcome for the scheme's dependents, and the First Minister will be making a written statement on this particular issue today. I think it's actually just arrived in everybody's inboxes.
I'd just like to return to the issue of the children's commissioner's report on protecting Welsh children from the impact of poverty. We know that this affects somewhere in the region of a third of all our children, so this is a really major challenge for all of us. I think that, on the one hand, in primary schools we know that many children who need that free school breakfast are not getting it, because the places are quickly filled by those who are using the school breakfast as free childcare, and that's a big challenge for headteachers—to ensure that the right people are getting priority for that. But in our secondary schools, the picture painted by the children's commissioner is very concerning, because there we have a cafeteria system of school meals where, frankly, the catering companies are endeavouring to maximise the income from children. This is impacting not just on those on free school meals, but those who are struggling financially because of low wages. I know, because I have seen it myself, that some schools actually do not provide tap water in the dining room and they are promoting these drinks in plastic bottles. I cannot understand how this has any place in the 'Appetite for Life' guidelines.
I would like to call for two responses immediately from the Government, prior to us debating this report. One is that I would like to ask if the Minister for local government could write to all local authorities and ask that they monitor exactly what's going on in each of their secondary schools. There are fewer than 20 schools in Cardiff, which is the largest local authority, so this is perfectly doable. Either they are ignorant or they are complicit in what is going on in terms of promoting products that will maximise income as opposed to what nourishes children.
Secondly, I'd like a statement from the education Minister to clarify exactly who is supposed to be monitoring the standard of school meals, which in my view does not meet the nutritional requirements for children. We are seeing children on free school meals who are simply using it to buy chips with curry sauce on a Friday, and that is not a nutritional meal.
Thank you very much for raising these issues relating to the children's commissioner's report. I can hardly believe I have to say that, yes, schools should be providing opportunities for children to drink free, fresh drinking water at any point during the school day, should they wish. Schools should be signposting water stations throughout the schools, providing younger children with a cup or glass of water, or allowing them to carry water bottles, and ensuring that dining room supervisors are encouraging children to drink available water at school times and promoting water right throughout the school—and certainly making the pupils aware also that things such as taps in the toilet areas aren’t an appropriate source of drinking water. These are all things that you could think would be basically understood by schools.
Certainly with regard to the standards, we have the Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013, which apply to all food and drink served to pupils at breakfast, break times, lunchtimes, afternoon break or in after-school clubs. But I will certainly ask the education Minister to write to you with regard to the monitoring of those regulations and how we can be satisfied that those regulations are delivering healthy food and drink to children throughout the school day.FootnoteLink The Minister for local government has indicated that she would be happy also to write to local authorities regarding the quality of the food that is being presented to children in schools and how the local authorities themselves are satisfying themselves of that requirement for healthy food and drink.
Trefnydd, yesterday I, Jenny Rathbone and, indeed, the day before, Mohammad Asghar were part of the Public Accounts Committee trip to Wrexham in north Wales—a very useful meeting. And it was made possible by a very pleasant train journey there and back, courtesy of Transport for Wales. That journey went very well, but, as I'm sure many AMs are aware, that experience is not universal, and I've received a number of concerned e-mails from constituents who've had problems with that train service, one in particular from a constituent whose daughter travels to Hereford Sixth Form College on a regular basis to study. Her exams are coming up and she's concerned that a large proportion of services are either cancelled at short notice or are delayed by varying amounts and she can't plan her studies effectively. Now, I remember the Minister for transport telling us, I think a few weeks ago, that partly these issues are due to poor maintenance from the previous franchise and that we should bear that in mind, and I think that there is an argument there. However, that's not really relevant to my constituents or people using these train services at the moment. So, what assurance can we give to my constituents and other passengers on Transport for Wales that, whatever the reason for these current delays and problems with the service, these are being dealt with by the Welsh Government and normal service can resume as quickly as possible?
Thank you very much. As you indicated, we have very recently had a debate on railway services here in the Assembly Chamber, led by the Minister, Ken Skates. Certainly, Transport for Wales is working very hard to improve the situation and to deliver the kind of investments now that we have agreed with them. I'm sure that Ken Skates would be happy to bring forward another statement in due course so that Members will have the opportunity to reflect on their constituents' experiences of the new franchise and also to quiz the Minister on delivery.
My constituent Hannah Evans has been diagnosed as having a rare hereditary genetic condition, Ehlers-Danlos type 3 syndrome—I hope I've said that right—and has developed secondary complications as a result of mast cell activation disease and systemic mastocytosis disorder. Hannah has to travel to London to see a private specialist as there is no specialist in Wales to meet her complex medical needs, and that's put a lot of pressure on the family because they've had to pay for this private treatment and they have been turned down by the specialist services here in Wales. So, they've asked me to raise this with Welsh Government, calling for a statement on how you could potentially look to fund these types of conditions in the future, given the fact that the cost of private treatment is so high and may push people out of being able to seek that treatment as a consequence.
The second question I wanted to ask followed on from Andrew R.T. Davies's in relation to the situation with regard to rugby. The first question is: why are they doing this in the middle of the six nations, for one, because it's really distracting everybody when it should unite a nation? And the other question is: I heard your answer earlier, but I don't think it's as easy as Welsh Government looking from the sidelines. At the end of the day, the WRU will be applying to the Welsh Government for a new region in north Wales. A potential merger is one thing and, as you said, there are different opinions, but this will affect livelihoods, this will affect the job conditions of the rugby players and where they are settled at the moment, uprooting them from their communities. Can you tell us what discussions you are having with the Welsh Rugby Union and how you will be engaging with them to find a solution that will be sustainable and viable for the future, because we've seen this happen before in Pontypridd and we don't want to see the same mistakes repeated again? So, please give us reassurances. We would appreciate a statement.
Thank you very much. You'll recall that the health Minister made a statement on the new treatment fund just a few weeks ago here in the Assembly, but certainly if you wanted to write to him with the details of your specific case, I know that he would be interested to explore the issues that you've raised in greater detail.
The question regarding rugby, on why, I think that's probably a question for the WRU, but I know that Welsh Government officials and the Minister—the Deputy Minister, I should say—will be having regular discussions with the WRU on a whole manner of aspects relating to the sport in Wales. And as soon as the Minister has some kind of update in terms of the Welsh Government's role in terms of the future of the sport in Wales, I know that he will bring it forward, but certainly today I think the response really is very much about ensuring that the future of the sport is sustainable across Wales, and we would be keen to work with the WRU to ensure that's the case.
Finally, Huw Irranca-Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Could I say to Andrew R.T. Davies, and to Bethan Sayed, if there was a mood to take forward an individual Member's debate on the future of rugby in Wales, include grass-roots rugby as well? Because the importance of the regional structure is also not to just the Welsh team, but it's downwards to grass-roots rugby as well.
But could I ask for two debates, please? And I'm giving the Trefnydd plenty of time to consider this as well. In Westminster, we used to have an annual fisheries debate. Now, I'm not suggesting we should have that here, but we do have a proud story to talk about what we've done within the marine environment, but we also have to challenge what more we could do as well. Now, I'm very interested in the idea, based on what we've already done in Wales, and what more we have to do, on the idea of an annual marine or marine and fisheries debate—marine sustainability—because it doesn't get enough airtime here in the Chamber. There is more for us to do, and I think it would focus on what we've already achieved and show what more we could do. Now, as it happens, 28 July to 12 August is National Marine Week UK. It falls just outside, but, in the week leading up to that recess, that would be an ideal time, perhaps, for an annual debate of that type.
Could I also flag up the possibility, please, and a request, for a debate, now that we have a Government Minister with responsibility for co-operation and co-operative principles within Government—social enterprises, social economy and so on—on co-operation? Now, could I suggest, again giving time—? We have Co-operatives Fortnight on 24 June to 8 July. It would be an ideal time for Government to bring forward a debate on how they can embed co-operative principles, and I declare my interest as a Co-operative as well as Welsh Labour Member in that, and the chair of the Co-operative group of Assembly Members.
Finally, could we have a statement on the issue of through-ticketing, from grand themes to great detail? Through-ticketing is an important issue for my constituents. It would allow us, if there was a statement, to ask the Minister about Transport for Wales's approach to through-ticketing, when, for example, if you buy a Bridgend to London single advance ticket, it costs £25; if you buy that same ticket from Maesteg, which, as the Minister will know personally, is just up the line on that branch line going up to Maesteg, it is £50.60—it is 124 per cent more expensive—when, if you buy a single from Maesteg to Bridgend just to catch it, it's £2.60. What is going on? And this is just one example of many I have. So, if we could have a statement on through-ticketing and the approach, because there's clearly an inequity there and it's discouraging people from actually joining on our branch lines to join through-trains to London or Bristol or anywhere else when they have such a price premium.
Thank you very much for raising those issues. I can confirm that the Minister will be going out to consultation on 'Brexit and our seas' later this month, which will explore the future of our fisheries in Wales, and I know that there will be an opportunity in due course then to discuss the marine environment more widely with the Minister. I think that I recall that we tend to have an annual statement on marine and fisheries in the Assembly, and I think that we've been doing that over recent years.
With regard to co-operation and co-operative enterprises, of course, the Deputy Minister will have heard your call for a statement there.
And, with regard to through-ticketing and Transport for Wales, the particular journeys you've described do demonstrate very clearly the issue there, and I will ask the Minister to write to you in the first instance to describe Transport for Wales's plans in this particular area.
I thank the Trefnydd.
The next item, which is item 4, has been postponed.
Which brings us to item 5, a statement by the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip on International Women's Day. Jane Hutt.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. I'm pleased to make this statement celebrating International Women’s Day, marking the twentieth anniversary of this Assembly, established under the Government of Wales Act 1998, which also placed duties to have 'due regard to equality of opportunity' in our statute book. Equality is enshrined in the DNA of the Welsh Government through the legislation that underpins our existence.
Equality and human rights are central to the work of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government and our vision for Wales. We believe in fair treatment of every person, especially those who are most marginalised by socioeconomic factors, prejudice and discrimination. We work towards a more equal Wales and to ensure fairer access to services and support opportunities for all.
Suzy Davies took the Chair.
International Women’s Day provides the opportunity to reflect on achievements that have been made during the past 20 years, including pioneering policies and leading legislation on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It also provides the opportunity to take stock of the distance we still have to go to achieve equality in Wales. The World Bank has reported that there are six countries in the world where women enjoy an equal legal footing to men, and Britain is not one of them. We know that this is the case from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Chwarae Teg's 'State of the Nation' report, but we can take, and are taking, steps to put Wales ahead in our four nations, and, indeed, in the world, if we make this a priority of the Welsh Government.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is Balance for Better. From grass-roots activism to worldwide action, we're entering a period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. The Welsh Government now has more women than men in Cabinet, addressing previous gender imbalance. The work of the Welsh Government gender review will contribute to this balance by looking at areas where we can make improvements and become a leader in advancing women's equality to eradicate the stubborn inequalities that still exist. The review is considering the added impact of having another protected characteristic, for example, disability, race or sexuality, has to gender equality. This consideration will enable us to embrace an intersectional approach to policies and priorities. Consultation and workshops steered by Chwarae Teg's expert advisory group have resulted in a vision for Wales to proclaim today: a gender-equal Wales means an equal sharing of power, resources and influence for all women, men and non-binary people. This is a vision where the Government aims to create the conditions for equality of outcome for all. We want a Wales where all women can have economic independence, and paid and unpaid work is valued, diverse women are fairly represented in positions of influence and empowered to play a meaningful role in society, all women are free from discrimination and free to live their lives as they choose, violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence stops, existing power structures that disadvantage women are challenged, and all women, men and non-binary people enjoy equal rights and protections and equality of outcome.
I've begun meeting with Cabinet colleagues to discuss progress on the gender equality review and to identify pathfinder policy areas where there is scope to take early action. Chwarae Teg will continue to consult widely with stakeholders to develop the road map for gender equality in Wales, with events planned throughout the country in the near future.
I have ministerial responsibility for equalities, violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and public appointments. My responsibilities within the First Minister’s office for crime and justice enable me to progress action with the female offending blueprint to work with the UK Government on the stark findings of the Cardiff University Wales Governance Centre report on sentencing in Wales.
Without a strong vision and principles, it's felt that inequality between genders will not change, and we will carry on as we are. Some have reflected that we have talked about equality of opportunity for some time, and we're still living with entrenched inequality, so a step change is required. For example, the gender pay gap in Wales was 13.6 per cent in 2018. Without a focus on the underlying issues, future generations will continue to be subject to continued inequality. We must focus on equality of outcome to encourage people to look beyond just preventing discrimination, and instead look for ways to advance equality for all. The recommended vision for Wales therefore includes equal sharing of power, resources and influence to ensure the playing field is levelled. This focus on equality of outcome would bring Wales in line with other world leaders for gender equality, such as Sweden and Canada.
Welsh Government officials and I recently met with a Nordic delegation to learn from their best practice and to consider how some of that could be used within the Welsh policy and legal context. I would like this to represent the beginning of a fruitful relationship with other nations who are striving for gender equality.
Following the public announcement of the gender review by the Welsh Government last year and the report on the seminar of human rights and socio-economic duty, which we will commence in Wales, there is, rightly, raised expectation the Welsh Government will improve equality for women. Our vision and principles set out our commitment. There is an expectation of action to bring about that change. To be meaningful, in agreeing the vision and principles, the Welsh Government is recognising the need and desire to be committed to action.
I'd like to conclude by paying tribute to the women of Wales who fought to secure the vote 100 years ago and continue to organise and campaign for women’s rights in their workplaces, trade unions and communities. Let’s celebrate their achievements, listen to their calls for action, respond to their manifestos and use our agency and leadership to create a fairer and more equal Wales.
Thank you. I ask every speaker today to take account of the fact that we have three quarters of an hour for this statement. There are a number of speakers, and I start with Dawn Bowden.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank you, Deputy Minister, for this important statement and take this opportunity to give a special mention to some events in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney this Friday, International Women's Day? We'll have the great honour of hosting only the second purple plaque in Wales, marking the contribution of remarkable women to Welsh public life. I look forward to seeing you and the Deputy Minister for health, Julie Morgan, there as well. The plaque will be dedicated to Ursula Masson—born, raised and educated in Merthyr Tydfil—who went on to become instrumental in founding the Women's Archive Wales, was a committee member of the south-west group of the Women's History Network and co-edited the journal Llafur of the Welsh People's History Society. It was Ursula, as you know, who put forward the idea of holding a series of Wales women's history roadshows, where people would be invited to bring material relating to social histories of women's lives. Some of those items later became part of the People's Collection Wales.
As if that wasn't enough, Ursula also established the Centre for Gender Studies in Wales department at the University of South Wales, and undertook seminal research for her doctorate on women in Liberal politics in the early part of the century in Wales. I could go on about Ursula, but suffice it to say that she was an inspiration to so many, particularly working-class women, who found new direction and access to education that had never been open to them before.
Ursula's home town of Merthyr Tydfil has a number of statues to boxers, plaques and memorials to men. Due to the wealth of the ironmasters, we do know a bit about the legacy of the Crawshay and Guest women, but the stories of our remarkable working-class women, like Ursula Masson, are perhaps less well known and celebrated, and certainly not 'balanced for the better', as the theme of International Women's Day is this year.
So, would you join me, finally, Deputy Minister, in thanking Merthyr Women's Archive Wales member and activist Ceinwen Statter, who has been instrumental in getting the work of Ursula Masson commemorated and recognised in Merthyr Tydfil, culminating this Friday, when we will unveil the purple plaque as a celebration of that remarkable woman's life?
I'm very pleased to thank Dawn Bowden for that tribute to Ursula Masson and to thank her for all the pioneering work that you've done, Dawn, since you became Assembly Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Because I know also, last year, during the centenary year, you actually brought to our attention and public attention—and particularly local attention—some of the important historical figures in your constituency.
Certainly, in terms of the opportunity now to celebrate one of Merthyr Tydfil's most distinguished activists, feminists—as she liked to call herself—campaigners, academics and inspirational teachers, I think Ursula Masson, who, actually, was nominated by a whole range of people from across Wales, because of her work with the women's archive—. But, particularly, also I thank Ceinwen for what she has done, because she actually then brought it to our attention.
I think this also shows that the purple plaque initiative is now building momentum. I have to, just at this point, draw attention, of course, to the first purple plaque, which we unveiled a year ago, which is outside on our Senedd walls. Val Feld, former Assembly Member for Swansea East—obviously, another pioneering champion of equality.
But I think this Friday we will be—. It will be on the Carnegie library, which—. Again, many thanks to Dawn Bowden and all the colleagues and activists in the town who've enabled this to happen, obviously with the local authority's support as well. Julie Morgan and I will be pleased to be there, because we were initiators of the purple plaques initiative, but, indeed, many other women—and it is across this Chamber—have brought this to fruition. So, it's the second purple plaque that we're unveiling on Friday. It's a fantastic way to celebrate International Women's Day on Friday. I think it will raise awareness, not just on Friday but, certainly, in Merthyr and further afield about—. And people will want to then look at the life of Ursula Masson, and I'm sure it will be a key feature for the schools locally in terms of recognising this remarkable woman and her unwavering contribution to our nation. So, we do have more plaques to come, and I think the presence of those plaques on our streets, our public buildings, will be a very simple and significant way of highlighting the outstanding achievements of Welsh women who many people may otherwise not have heard of. And what is most important, and Ceinwen has shown us this, is that you need the local support and champions, with an Assembly Member like Dawn Bowden alongside, and, of course, the volunteers who play their part in the steering group for the purple plaques initiative to take this forward.
I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement today. It's a great day, International Women's Day, which is not only celebrated here but by the United Nations since 1996. Women have made and continue to make significant contributions in all aspects of life in Wales. Even with greater equality and legislative rights and impressive female role models, women still face challenges today here in Wales, Minister. Many of these are in the workplace. It is a sad fact that the gender pay gap in hourly earnings, excluding overtime, for both full-time and part-time employees in Wales was nearly 15 per cent in 2017. So, can I ask the Deputy Minister what plan does she haves to close the gender pay gap in Wales? I'm concerned that, all too often, career advice tends to guide women to apprenticeships that are paid less than those for men. Can I ask what Welsh Government is doing to ensure gender equality is promoted in the workplace?
It takes tremendous courage to come forward and report incidents and domestic abuse. We must do more to encourage such victims to report abuse and to recognise the signs of domestic violence. Some years ago, the then First Minister gave a positive response to my suggestion that all public sector organisations should have a workplace violence against women policy in place. This would identify and assist employees who are the victims of violence. I wonder if the Deputy Minister can advise if any progress has been made in this regard.
The exploitation of women in and around Wales is becoming far more acknowledged. A breakthrough regarding the way human trafficking is perceived is resulting in more and more exposure of its hidden nature and various guises. Apart from the sexual exploitation of women, there are issues of forced labour, of services slavery, servitude, and even the removal of organs. Female genital mutilation is a scandalous breach of human rights, with potentially life-threatening consequences. I also call on the Minister to assure us that the Welsh Government will remain at the forefront of the campaign against these abuses.
In 1897, Susan Anthony, an American activist, actually said, and this is a wonderful quote:
'There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.'
Since that time, we have witnessed significant progress toward women's equality and emancipation. Deputy Minister, like life, I believe that peace begins with women—peace in the world. They tend to be the first to form lines of life and calibration across areas of conflict and division around the world. As the world moves towards International Women's Day 2019, on 8 March, it is important for all of us to recognise the contribution of women across all walks of life—women such as Theresa May, Angela Merkel, our Presiding Officer, Margaret Thatcher, Sheikh Hasina, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi, Julia Gillard, Golda Meir and Helen Clark. These are only a few I can count who have all broken through the glass ceilings and led their nations in the world. Every woman who ran a country never had a war with their neighbours, or any other nation. Those were the most peaceful times. All created a change, they all have done something out of the box, and they all have been a driver of progress within their work and family life. I believe it is imperative to recognise famous women whom we all know, as well as those women who strive to provide a roof over her family's head, those women who juggle multiple jobs to put food on the table, those women who play the role of mum and dad, and those women who spend their lives taking care of others. I always say the world is a black and white photograph, or a picture—with women, it becomes colourful. For today, for the day of women's day, I would like to say from this side of the Chamber, thank you very much all of you, ladies, around the world.
Thank you very much, Mohammad Asghar. I do also thank you for your support, and the support of the Welsh Conservative group, for International Women's Day, and also for the recognition of the role of women in Wales. I think that was a key point in my statement. And indeed we have been acknowledging, particularly, significant women in Wales who have had an influence. We will on Friday—Ursula Masson, Val Feld. I was asked the question today, and I also talked about one of the first Welsh women Labour MPs, and that was Dorothy Rees, in my constituency. So, I think we all will be honouring and remembering women today.
You mentioned two or three very important points. The gender pay gap. Now, I've already mentioned the fact it's unacceptable we have this gender pay gap, and that is across all sectors. But we do now, through the Equality Act 2010, have the opportunity to monitor the gender pay gap, and also to ensure that we extend that monitoring to companies, not just in terms of the 250, but below. We need to look very carefully at how we are addressing the gender pay gap. We have our robust public sector equality duty, as a result of the Equality Act 2010, and all public sector employers now, as I've said, report annually on their disparities in pay. They are then expected to have plans to address employment or pay differences. But also, looking at issues like the different distribution of men and women between grades, occupations, working patterns, we need a fair work Wales, which we will move towards. I think the socio-economic duty, when we adopt that, will also help us. But we need to ensure that we understand the gender pay gap differences, and address the causes of that.
I think the issue around work, and enabling women to move forward, is addressed by many employers and initiatives now, but the Agile Nation 2, managed and delivered by Chwarae Teg, does aim to promote gender equality, and support career advancement. Of course, that has been supported by European funding, and I think the latest development of the project, women exploring business, well-being integrated support hub, which is coming through LIMITLESS, an initiative that is across five local authorities—. And that project will assist women to progress in employment, women who are so often constrained into the lower paid echelons of the workplace. That's why we have to link this, of course, not only to the real living wage, which we need to adopt, and the socio-economic duty, but also our economic contract. And I am, as I said, having bilateral meetings with all our Ministers; tomorrow, it will be the turn of Ken Skates, the Minister for economy, and we will be talking about women in the workplace, and how we can progress in terms of moving that forward.
Now, you also raise important issues in terms of our national strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. And part of that strategy, of course—objective 1 of our national strategy—is to increase awareness and challenge attitudes on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, across the Welsh population. And that, of course, includes tackling slavery. Although it's not a devolved responsibility—many of the levers do rest with the UK Government—we are committed to tackling slavery, and in many ways we are leading the way in the UK. We are the first and only country in the UK to appoint an anti-slavery co-ordinator, appointed in 2011. And I'm sure Joyce Watson, if she doesn't raise this issue again—we pay tribute to the role she has played in that.
And, of course, we're much more aware now of issues relating to sexual harassment, and that has a debilitating and discriminating effect, a harmful effect on women, particularly in the workplace. Public sector organisations are, as I said, subject to the public sector equality duty, and we have the duty and they have the duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Sticking with the theme of Balance for Better, there's a great deal that we all need to do to combat climate change on behalf of our sisters in other countries, which are much more likely to be threatened by climate change, including seeing their communities disappear. We know that the easy wins have been achieved in terms of reducing the amount of coal being used for power generation. We now need to look at the much more challenging issues of reducing vehicle emissions, which means improving public transport and active travel for short journeys.
I want to remind us all that women should be able to space their children to comply with the World Health Organization recommendations that note that women should wait two years before having another child, and this is lacking in so many countries.
I'm sure the Deputy Minister will support the Fairtrade Fortnight request for a living wage for women cocoa farmers in the Côte d’Ivoire, where they currently only get 74p a day, and £1.86 is the amount they need to earn in order to be able to live a decent existence.
Lastly, I just wanted to point out the efforts for peace in Israel-Palestine that are being led by women through an organisation called Women Wage Peace. On Friday, which is International Women's Day, thousands of women from all different communities across Palestine and Israel—Arab, Jewish, Druze, Israeli Palestinians, settlers, as well as women affected by the nation state legislation, which means that Filipino women, for example, who've worked in Israel for many, many years are at threat of deportation, members of Parliament and musicians, will be marching from the museum to Rabin Square erecting a mother's tent in Rabin Square which will stay up until election day on 6 April. Given the really acute situation that is being faced by Palestinians, both on the West Bank and in Gaza, I hope that women will lead the campaign for dialogue, which is the first step to resolution of conflict, which has been going on for far too long in that area.
I'd like to thank Jenny Rathbone for those important and wider questions, which will be the theme of many events and discussions across the world, in terms of International Women's Day on Friday. I'm particularly interested—. I met my bilaterals in terms of the gender review. I met with the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language earlier on, and we were talking about the prospects of developing pilots around how we can support women through our powers and initiatives that we're supporting, such as Wales for Africa, where there is a huge threat in terms of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, but also recognising that fair trade today was brought to our attention in the canteen when we were able to taste the chocolate, and recognise, remember and learn about those women cocoa farmers. I look forward to holding a spring breakfast in my constituency to which I've invited children from schools who, as part of Fairtrade Fortnight, will be thinking and learning about, particularly, women farmers, and it's important that we play our part. Let's remember that Wales was the first fair trade nation. In fact, this was the first trade nation, which was launched by Rhodri Morgan, our former First Minister, and we have a commitment to that, but women play such a role internationally and, of course, that point has already been made.
This includes the role that women play in the prevention and resolution of conflict. So, it's also interesting to hear about Women Wage Peace and the movements across the world, and we must welcome that and look at the UN resolutions, which are very clear in terms of how we must move that forward. But it is also very important that we look at this in terms of the opportunities we do have with the well-being of future generations legislation. We have got pioneering legislation, we have got the chance to look outwards as well, and with a Cabinet Minister for international relations as well, of course, as our First Minister. But the points that you raise in terms of women's role in terms of peace and resolution of conflict and supporting movements across the world, and particularly, I'm sure, following our visit last week—Women Wage Peace, clearly a great deal to learn from that.
I thank the Deputy Minister for her statement. She will, of course, remember the hard fight we had to have included in our founding statute the specific responsibility for this institution to have due regard to equality of opportunity in 1998. It's nice to hear her refer to it in her statement, and I would also like to remind us all that that was led by our former colleague Val Feld, who brought many interests together, and I'd like to pay my respects to Val for that today. We have, of course, seen some progress since 1998, but I know the Deputy Minister has acknowledged today that we still have a great deal more to do, and knowing that time is short I just want to briefly raise a couple of specific points, if I may.
First of all, I'd like to ask the Deputy Minister about the provision of services to women survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and their children. Now, I'm sure the Deputy Minister will agree with me that those services—and we know this from research—are best provided by local women-led organisations that are answerable to their service users. We know that these organisations across Wales are losing tenders to provide those services to larger commercial organisations. Often, no children's services are provided in those tenders, and, if they are, they are an add-on, there isn't adequate time. Where they are provided, they're often provided by volunteers—provided on a shoestring. Now, I know the Deputy Minister will agree with me that we will never break the circle of domestic abuse unless we support the children who have witnessed those atrocities in their own homes. Surely, this has to be a priority for the Welsh Government, and can I ask the Deputy Minister today what more she can do, in partnership with local government in Wales, to halt and reverse this trend of local organisations losing out to the big commercial people who are there to make profit, not to look after our children?
The next issue specifically I'd like to raise is the issue of period poverty, and I do welcome the recent Welsh Government investment, but we've seen further evidence again this week that we still have girls missing school because they can't have access to appropriate sanitary products. We still see women and girls using inappropriate things, like having to use socks, having to wash things, and I congratulate the National Union of Students—I'm sure the Minister would agree with me—on the campaign that they've kicked off on these issues this week. I'd specifically like to draw the Deputy Minister's attention to research published by the British Medical Association in Wales this week—last month, rather—showing that no consistent approach is taken across the NHS to the provision of sanitary protection in hospitals for women and girls who are in-patients. There are places—there are some of our hospitals where people cannot even purchase those supplies for themselves, let alone have them provided for free. No health board in Wales has got a specific policy, according to the BMA, on how these services should be provided. So, can I ask the Deputy Minister today, as part of the discussions she's referred to in her statement that she's having with ministerial colleagues, to discuss this matter specifically with the Minister for health to ensure that all women and girls receiving in-patient treatment in all Welsh hospital settings are provided with sanitary products free of charge as a matter of course? We do not expect our patients to bring their own lavatory paper into hospitals; we certainly should not be expecting them to provide their own sanitary products.
My last specific point is to highlight the plight of the 1950s women whose pension rights were reduced without consultation—referred to as the WASPI women. The UK Government has, of course, now acknowledged that thousands of these women were never contacted about the proposed changes, and that this condemns many of them to poverty towards what they expected to be the end of their working lives. Now, obviously, this isn't a devolved matter, but I'd like to ask the Deputy Minister to agree that the Welsh Government will make further representations to the UK Government in this regard, in the light of the fact that the UK Government has now acknowledged that they did not notify all the women affected.
And, finally, I'd like to very briefly make a general point relating to the use of language when we discuss this matter. Acting Presiding Officer, if we, as legislators in this Chamber, know anything, we know that words matter; they have very specific meanings. And, if we do not accurately describe a problem, we cannot appropriately address it. When referring to discrimination against women, the Equality Act is clear in its language: it makes sex discrimination unlawful except in certain specific circumstances. Yet, when we discuss these matters, we tend to use a much more imprecise term. We talk, for example—and the Minister has done today—about the 'gender' pay gap when what we mean is the 'sex' pay gap. The Deputy Minister refers in her statement to the Government's own 'gender' equality review, and talk, of course about gender equality is common practice, but it's a practice that needs to be brought to an end. There seems to be some sort of squeamishness about using the legally correct term, which is 'sex', and this matters. It matters because policy reviews and frameworks and policies should correctly reflect the legislative frameworks on which they are based to ensure that they appropriately comply with legislation. It also matters because the use of the term 'gender' could lead to confusion between actions needed to tackle sex discrimination and the important but distinct agenda around protecting and promoting the rights of people who identify as trans.
The Deputy Minister and I are both too old to be squeamish about the use of the word 'sex', and I would like to ask the Minister to undertake a review today of the language the Welsh Government uses with regard to this matter to ensure that, in future, it is fully compliant with the Equality Act. I completely accept that this conflation of the terms 'sex' and 'gender' is common; things that are common are not necessarily correct or useful, and I hope that the Deputy Minister will be able to take a look at this so that we can use the right language when debating these issues in future.
Thank you very much, Helen Mary Jones, and can I say that I think you are one of the key champions who were, at that time, probably working with Val Feld in the Equal Opportunities Commission? I also want to mention the fact that we wouldn't have that due regard to equality of opportunity if it wasn't for Julie Morgan, who was an MP at the time in Westminster, getting it through the Government of Wales Act, and today's the time when we can actually remind ourselves that we're part of history, and, in future, some will remember that there were those women down there in the Senedd who actually played their part to move this forward. But you've made very important points, because, having that due regard, we now have to deliver on it. In terms of the violence against women national strategy and how we are now supporting and funding refuges and Women's Aid groups, I have every sympathy with what you say. And, of course, I know from my local Women's Aid groups, and across Wales, that these are issues that they are struggling with as a result of different commissioning arrangements.
I want you to, hopefully, be reassured about the fact that we've got a sustainable funding group. That's actually chaired by the national advisers that we have: Yasmin Khan, who, I hope that Members—many Members have met our national advisers, appointed as national advisers—and Nazir Afzal as well. They are advising on the development of a sustainable funding model and what is important, of course, in terms of making sure that there are collaborations between third sector groups in this area. So, it's working with them; they're part of the sustainable funding group to take this forward. But I also think it's very important that we do recognise that, at a local level, we do have the Supporting People grant, and we've kept it in Wales, and that's paid to local authorities; that's administered to 22 local authorities, as you know. They are working with regional collaborative committees for advice on planning and commissioning, but that is a crucial way that refuges, particularly, are supported. In fact, looking at the Supporting People grant, which we've all protected it across this Chamber—despite austerity, we've kept it going—over £9 million was spent on domestic abuse services last year in terms of Supporting People. But we take your point in terms of those issues.
Now, your second point, very quickly, well, yes, the health Minister today has announced—which you probably have seen—that there will be free sanitary products offered in every hospital in Wales to all in-patients in the NHS in Wales. It's unacceptable to have patchy provision. As of today, the health Minister, Vaughan Gething, has made this announcement, so there should be no issue. International Women's Day—sometimes it takes something like this to say, 'Right, well let's get on with it; let's grab it.' Certainly, it was the first question I asked when I saw the headline on Sunday, that this was a—. I said, 'Where are we in Wales?' It's happening in Wales. And let's remember also the £1 million that we put into period—. What we're trying to promote is period dignity, and I did have my meeting with Kirsty Williams yesterday to talk about schools, because this is really where we need to develop period dignity, and that also links to a whole range of other issues in schools, which we talked about and which we're addressing. So, that is a key point as well.
Yes, in terms of Women Against State Pension Inequality and the women who have campaigned so hard in terms of the impact of the changes in pension age, and the fact that we've just seen that the High Court has granted permission for judicial review of matters arising from the Government policy of equalisation of women's pension ages, and the impact of those changes on women born in the 1950s—. So, that's as a result of campaigning, which, again, many of us have been involved in; we've had support across this Chamber for this. The case is due to be heard on 24 May, and we must again look at ways in which we can deal with the complaints, because at this stage we have to wait for that, in terms of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who could deal with complaints from a decision of the independent case examiner. But that is—. We're making some progress, I think.
Just finally, on your point about language, well, I think many of us are learning about language, but we are quite clear: we have legislation—we have the Sex Discrimination Act, we have the Equal Pay Act, we have the Equality Act. And we have to be mindful of the protected characteristics, which, in terms of the Equality Act, have made us much more aware of intersectionality, which, of course, I've mentioned in my statement, in terms of the fact that you can be a woman but you can also have other protected characteristics. So, it isn't just about your sex or your gender; it is about a whole range of other issues. But we take note, and, of course, we'll have due regard to the points that you make in terms of language.
Thank you for your statement, Deputy Minister, updating us on your Government's activities to try to address gender inequality. I join with you in wanting all women to have economic independence, for their paid and unpaid work to be valued, for women to be empowered, and those other excellent objectives you have summarised in your statement. I also share your vision that Wales should be a place where there is equal sharing of power, resources and influence between the genders. But none of these very laudable objectives can be achieved without a top-class education system that not only gives girls the academic and social skills needed to excel in life, but gives them the confidence to take up positions of power and authority and challenge the outdated condescension of some men in their midst.
It takes a lot of strength and confidence to withstand the put-downs, condescension and dismissiveness with which some men treat female colleagues. So, at the same time as giving girls the tools to deal with such caveman behaviour, society needs to get it through to boys that this behaviour is unacceptable. And, whilst I'm on the subject of attitudes to women, I'd like to ask the Deputy Minister where the Welsh Government stands on the anti-woman messages to be found in some forms of pornography. How is the Welsh Government also combating the gender stereotyping of toys by retailers operating in Wales, or the gender stereotyping that is found in teen magazines? The Deputy Minister's quite right to draw attention to the continuing gender pay gap and aim at its elimination. This is a disgrace that has been ongoing for decades, and the pace of progress is positively glacial. But the gender pay gap will never be eradicated here whilst the school system in Wales is failing children. The ones suffering most from these failures are likely to be girls, condemned to low-paid, intermittent and insecure work in adult life, or to playing catch-up in adulthood, because the Welsh Government is being too proud to admit its mistakes or learn from schools that far surpass the state system in terms of academic and other achievements. Everywhere else in the world, it's recognised that education is the key to gender equality. How many times do we see adverts for charity donations saying that girls in the third world just need education to put them onto a level playing field? So, will the Deputy Minister let us know which discussions she has had with the Minister for Education about fixing our shamefully performing education system so that girls can excel as they should?
Just as everyone here will say they want girls to be engaged in education, we would also want women to be involved in politics. Women can stand for public election, that's true, but what happens to them when they're elected? The social media are currently trolling women who are against Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, which is disgusting and disgraceful. It also exemplifies the treatment too often meted out to women public figures, whether elected or not, simply for expressing their views in an attempt to silence them. Will you ask the First Minister to set an example by making sure that anyone from his own party who has trolled a female elected representative will be thrown out of Welsh Labour for their harassment of women?
Finally, how can the Government claim that it wants women to be empowered and equal when its own First Minister could not bring himself to agree with people on all sides of the political spectrum, including those in his own party, that rapists should not be given access to any child born out of their rape? The answer is it can't, because if your First Minister, on behalf of your Government, is unwilling to take a stand against such men being given an ongoing means to control and emotionally abuse their victim, then your statement made on behalf of that same Government rings rather hollow. Thank you.
I will respond to some of the positive points that you've made about the importance of International Women's Day. I think it is important that you raise issues about gender stereotypes. In 2018, Welsh Government launched the This is Me campaign, which challenges gender stereotypes in a positive way and encourages conversations about gender and gender inequality, particularly recognising that this can be a cause and consequence of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.
We have got to improve women's representation in political and public life and support them in those roles. It's important that we're looking, in the local government and elections (Wales) Bill, at ways in which we can require political party group leaders to promote high standards of conduct among their group members, and local authority standards committees to monitor ways in which women particularly are being treated. I support the Electoral Reform Society's 'New Voices' report, and that has recommendations around social media and developing across all parties a joint code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour.
I think you have made an important point about education and the role of education and I think it's the new curriculum that will help address this, particularly in relation to relationship and sexuality education across all six areas of learning and experience.
Finally and briefly, Jack Sargeant.
Diolch, Deputy Deputy Llywydd. I'll keep this very short, but I'm very pleased to hear throughout this statement today references made to the violence against women Bill, the well-being of future generations Act, and also the statement and announcement today by the health Minister with regard to period poverty and free sanitary products. I know that Jenny Rathbone worked closely with dad before his sad death on this issue to see what he could do in the portfolio.
Deputy Minister, would you agree with me that we need to continue promoting and acting on these pieces of key legislation to truly deliver the equal Wales we all want to see? Also, would you agree with me that this is not just a women's issue, this is everyone's business, and it's pleasing to see men in the Chamber today too? Deputy Llywydd, I'd like to place on record my admiration for the new First Minister of Wales ensuring that the Welsh Government now has more women than men in the Cabinet, addressing the gender imbalance from issues raised in previous Governments within the Senedd.
Finally, I'd like to pay a personal tribute to my mum, actually. She has supported me all my life through all the decisions I have made, and she continues to be there for me and many others, even through the worst hurt of her life after losing dad. Finally, Members of the Chamber, Deputy Llywydd, the future is exciting, but let's make a pledge in this Chamber today to build a better, gender-balanced and kinder one. Thank you.
I think there's very little I need to say in response to Jack Sargeant's very powerful statement. As Jack Sargeant has said, this is everyone's business, and I have to pay tribute to Jack, and how proud your dad would be of you here, and how you have stood up for women, equalities and social justice, but particularly for a kinder politics. That is what we seek to achieve, and I know the First Minister will recognise that this is a very significant contribution that you've made, Jack, on behalf of this Assembly in terms of International Women's Day and what it should mean to us all.
Thank you, Deputy Minister, and apologies to those I was unable to call this afternoon.
The next item, item 6, has been postponed.