Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

26/03/2019

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

Emergency Question

The first item is the emergency question that I have accepted under Standing Order 12.67. I call on David Rees to ask the emergency question. David Rees.

The European Council Meeting

Will the First Minister make a statement following the conclusion of the European Council meeting held on 21 and 22 March? (EAQ0006)

It is some comfort that the EU 27 have given a narrow window to avoid the catastrophe of a 'no deal' Brexit. I strongly welcome Parliament's vote to take back control at this time of crisis. The Prime Minister must abandon her disastrous red lines and listen. The extra time must be used wisely, to break the deadlock and find a majority in Parliament for a soft form of Brexit, as we set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. Failing that, the public must decide the way forward.

Thank you for that answer, Counsel General. And it's very interesting the last comment that you just made, but, clearly, last week we saw the Speaker of the House of Commons making it quite clear that the Prime Minister couldn't take back the motion, which hadn't been amended anyway whatsoever. She went to the European Council on 21 and 22 March, making a request for an extension, though, as the First Minister indicated yesterday, they had not seen what that request was. She spent the weekend in chaos, talking to Brexiteers in her private dwelling in Chequers. And, yesterday, she actually laid a statutory instrument asking for the extension, or change of date to the exit, again without informing the devolved nations that she was doing so. It is total chaos. And she last night lost the vote again in the Commons.

As you say, it is pleasing to see that the European Council, and Parliament, is now taking action to take back control of this whole process, because the Prime Minister has totally run out of ideas—well, she only had one, and it's not going anywhere, is it? And she's also now running out of time. But the extension you've talked about is only two weeks and, in two weeks' time, we could be facing the same situation, where we could be leaving without a deal. Do you agree, therefore, that it's essential she now commits to take this forward, she needs to actually work with other parties, she needs to look and be actually co-operating with other groups to see if we can get the best deal possible? And if that fails, she should go back to the people and ask for a general election, so that we can actually get a voice on this and get this Government, which is in total failure, out.

Well, I couldn't agree more with the Member when he says that this is a disaster of the Prime Minister's making. What is astounding to me, and I'm sure to Members generally, is that, three days away from the day that was intended to be exit day, we see this level of chaos in Parliament, with Government Ministers resigning last night, and Parliament wresting back control. It's incumbent now on the Prime Minister to listen to the will of Parliament and to take that forward. Had she adopted an approach from the start that had reached out across the House of Commons, to seek a different kind of Brexit, we would not be in this situation now.

If she chooses to persist in seeking the narrowest possible coalition for her approach to Brexit, she will fail. If that gets her across the line—and I doubt that it will—in relation to a third vote, even if that were to happen, it is a very, very unstable basis for tackling the legislative task that lies ahead to ensure an orderly Brexit, and it would be deeply irresponsible of her to do that. We have been very clear that what needs to happen is for Parliament to seek a much broader basis for the discussions ahead and for the political declaration to be renegotiated along the lines that we have called for here in this Assembly, which has been endorsed several times, and as described in 'Securing Wales' Future'. That could be done quickly, it would not require the renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, and it could be done within the sorts of time frames currently being discussed with the European Union. And if that fails, then, as I made clear earlier, our position is that the public must have their say.

I have to say, Brexit Minister, I'm very disappointed that you've been criticising the Prime Minister. While you and others in this Chamber, and elsewhere—[Interruption.]

While you and others in this Chamber and elsewhere are hellbent on doing absolutely everything you can to frustrate Brexit and prevent it from happening, the Prime Minister is working hard to honour the outcome of the European Union referendum in June 2016 and to deliver an orderly Brexit that protects jobs, protects the environment and keeps people safe. Now, I, for one, applaud the Prime Minister for securing a short extension to article 50. It's a very sensible thing to do in the current circumstances, and, of course, it gives people more time to reflect on her deal, and the alternative options to that. Now, you may well want to criticise the differences of opinion in the Conservative Party, but at least Conservatives do the right thing and resign from the Government benches when they have a difference of opinion with the Government, unlike your health Minister sat just down the row from you on the front bench. [Interruption.]

So, let me be clear: Wales voted to leave the EU, and leave the EU we must. Both the UK and Welsh Governments must respect that decision and must work together to deliver on the outcome of the referendum. The people of Wales did not vote for further European elections. They did not vote for long periods of uncertainty. They want this uncertainty to come to an end. They took part in the biggest democratic exercise in the history of the United Kingdom and the outcome of their decision to leave in that referendum must be implemented. So, I ask you, will the Welsh Government now do the right thing for our country, put party politics aside—[Interruption.]—honour the promise, which your party has made in manifesto documents to deliver on the referendum result, and get behind the only deal that has been negotiated with the EU and agreed with the EU, which is the Prime Minister's deal, so that we can get on, deliver Brexit and honour the result of the referendum? 

13:35

The Member has about as much support in this Chamber for his position as the Prime Minister has in the House of Commons for hers. [Interruption.] It is quite extraordinary, the day after we see resignations galore from the UK Government in order to vote against the whip, that at least the Prime Minister can count on the unswerving loyalty of Darren Millar. [Interruption.

I can't hear the Brexit Minister. Allow the Brexit Minister to be heard, please. 

The reason we are in this pickle is entirely the Prime Minister's fault. Had she realised early on that the narrow coalition between the Brexiteers and the DUP and her party was going to get us to this position—one which was completely obvious from the very start—we would not be in this chaotic situation three days before we were intended to leave. The Prime Minister now must do what she has failed to do from the start and show leadership on this issue, reach out across the House of Commons, comply with the will of the House of Commons—she's only in this position because of the abject failure of the Government—and take forward to the EU a deal that both Parliament can support and the EU can support, and which this Government here in Wales has been advocating for two years and more. 

Minister, now that the available options are narrowing, I would appreciate clarity about how far the Welsh Government would be willing to go in order to avoid a 'no deal' scenario. There will be a series of indicative votes in Westminster this week, and Plaid Cymru MPs will be prioritising holding a people's vote as the only sustainable way of solving the crisis. But our MPs have also signed a revocation amendment intended to force the UK Government to revoke article 50 if 'no deal' is otherwise inevitable. This would allow us to avert the immediate crisis so that a new path could be found for dealing with the issue of our relationship with the EU, including a post-revocation people's vote with an option to remain for good or to leave on specific terms. Would Welsh Government also support revocation as an emergency call to stop the train of state from careering off a 'no deal' cliff into disaster? And, on that point, could I ask the Minister whether he is among the 3,600 people and counting from the Neath constituency who have signed the petition to revoke article 50?

It's possible, however, that the UK Government will get behind a procedure that would allow it to form a consensus by taking various options off the table one by one until a majority can be formed behind one route. My colleague Jonathan Edwards MP proposed this idea months ago and suggested an alternative votes system could be used to achieve this aim. Finally, if this were to happen and Parliament were able to agree a way forward, does the Welsh Government agree it would be prudent to extend article 50 for however long it takes to renegotiate with the EU on whatever basis is agreed to achieve this? If so, does the Welsh Government agree that this would mean it would be necessary for the UK to take part in the European elections in May? 

Well, I thank the Member for that series of questions. In relation firstly to the point about article 50 and the revocation of article 50, she misrepresents the position, I'm sure unintentionally. The European Court of Justice has been very clear that it is not available to the UK Government to revoke article 50 in order to seek another referendum. It is clear that the only basis on which that can be revoked is if there is a change of approach and that the UK intends to remain as a member state of the European Union. 

In relation to the options provided to Members of Parliament, I hope that Members of Parliament will approach the options in front of them, recognising that no option is likely to lead to a situation where all members of the public are happy with the outcome that is reached. It is a time for constructive compromise in relation to the options that are available. We hope that they will have an opportunity to vote on the kind of Brexit deal that we have been advocating here—of close alignment and strong partnership—and we also hope they'll have an opportunity to vote on another referendum. We have been clear that we will be able to support either of those options on these benches.

13:40

Minister, I was very proud on Saturday to March with a million plus citizens of the UK, including many thousands of people from Wales. I'm sure you will also have seen the 5.5 million people who have signed the petition calling for article 50 to be revoked. Given the unprecedented democratic backlash on this issue, would you agree with me that it is now time for the Welsh Government to give full-voiced support to the need for a people's vote on this issue, which would be absolutely about listening to the will of the people now that they have had the opportunity to consider what the Brexit future looks like?

Well, I know that the Member has been one of the advocates in our party of this position for some time and I know that she and others were there on Saturday. I also saw the First Minister's message on Saturday, which was clear that the Welsh Government' position is, as it has been, that if Parliament concludes that a second referendum is needed in order for us to get out of this crisis, that we would support that, and that we think, however, given the time that remains, preparations should be taken now, steps to prepare should be taken now, in case that is required. If Parliament takes that path and takes us forward on that basis, then I believe, and the Government believes, as we always have, that Wales would be better off choosing to remain in the European Union. That was the case in 2016 and it remains the case today.

Would the Counsel General agree with me that we are now in a crisis of democracy? He said at the beginning of this question today that it's incumbent now on the Government to carry out the will of Parliament. But isn't the problem here that Parliament is unwilling to carry out the will of the people? Seventeen point four million people voted to leave the EU in the referendum, but we have an overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament, as indeed an overwhelming majority of Members of this Assembly, who are remainers and are determined, at all costs, to frustrate the decision of the British people in a freely cast referendum two and a half years ago.

Eighty-seven per cent of leavers, in the current opinion poll published today, think that politicians want to stop Brexit, and even 38 per cent of remainers think that politicians want to stop Brexit. Only 19 per cent of the public disagreed with that. Forty-one per cent of the public think we should leave on WTO terms, and only 28 per cent disagree. Fifty-three per cent of the public say that if MPs vote to revoke article 50, it will do irreparable damage to the democratic process. Is this not a case of the professional political class here confronting the people, and there's only one way that that's going to end up in due course?

If I may say, the Member does no service to the complexity of the debate in relation to Brexit. And we are, bluntly, in the position that we are in because for too long people have been promised things that they weren't able to deliver and people have not had politicians describing to them the difficult choices involved in navigating these choppy waters. He attacks Members of Parliament for their roles in this. I think that's incredibly irresponsible, and we saw the Prime Minister doing the same from Downing Street last week.

What ought to have happened from the start is the Prime Minister should have listened to more Members of Parliament rather than fewer. They are engaged in a process of trying to reconcile the outcome of the 2016 referendum to the choices involved in that and how we best navigate a situation where respect is paid to that result, but also the least damage is done to the Welsh and the UK economy. I hope that in the coming days, and I'm sure that in the coming days, Members of Parliament will approach that task in a means that pays respect to the 2016 referendum result but also gets us to a position that reflects the kind of Brexit relationship—the post-Brexit relationship—that we've been advocating for here on these benches for two years or more.

13:45

Like others, I was very proud to join the million people on the streets of London on Saturday, and I was proud to march behind Lynne Neagle, who was leading a million-strong demand for a fair say and a final say in these matters. I was delighted to hear the health Minister and the Minister for international affairs speaking up for Wales and speaking up for the Welsh Government and Welsh Labour, demanding—demanding—that any deal goes back to the people for a final say. Minister, do you agree with Tom Watson when he spoke on Saturday? He said that the way to unite our country, our Parliaments and our people again is to put these matters back to the people, to a public vote, to enable all of us to take a decision on where we are today and the crisis that's been created by the failure of the United Kingdom Government.

And do you agree with Keir Starmer when he said that any deal that the Prime Minister comes back with has to now go back to the people so that it's the people that take this decision and we unite this country and move away from the divisions that people on the hard right of politics have sought to create and to exploit? And in doing that, the first thing the Welsh Government has to do now is to ensure that we have time—that we have time to take that decision, we have time to consider these issues and we have time to vote on it. Let me say this: I will stand up and speak for my constituents—[Interruption.]—because they elected me to do so. [Interruption.] You have never won an election at all.

Stop. There's too much anger in this room at this point and I ask Members to calm down. These are important issues and they need to be discussed and questioned calmly. The Minister to respond, please.

Diolch, Llywydd. Well, in response to the Member, as he will know, it is the position of the Welsh Government that a referendum is one of two means of responding to the situation that we are in. I know that he was there with other colleagues on Saturday advocating for a referendum. We have been clear that if a deal is available that reflects the principles in 'Securing Wales' Future'—one of close partnership and alignment in the future—that is the way forward that we advocate, and in the absence of that, then another referendum will be required in order to take us forward. And that will be the opportunity for people to give their opinion, and we, as a Government, will be advocating that Wales, as it has always been, will be better off as a member of the European Union and we'll be giving that advice to the Welsh people at that point.

1. Questions to the First Minister

That brings us to our next item, namely the questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Russell George.

Steel Manufacturing

1. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government's support for steel manufacturing? OAQ53665

Llywydd, the Welsh Government supports the steel sector economy in Wales both directly and indirectly. Investments in innovation, research and development, skills development and procurement all reflect our recognition of the importance of steel manufacturing to the Welsh economy.

Thank you, First Minister. I do welcome your written statement earlier today on steel research and development. I'm aware that Liberty group have launched a green steel strategy, which recycles steel. Now, they say that this will transform manufacturing, reinvigorate the supply chain and generate new skilled jobs, in turn securing the future for the steel industry here in Wales. What considerations have your Government and yourself given to investing and supporting this particular scheme and other schemes and strategies like it? 

Well, Llywydd, I thank the Member for pointing to the green steel proposals of Liberty Steel. They are a very important contribution to discussions on the future of the steel sector, and I commend the company for the work that they have carried out in Newport to date. I was fortunate enough, Llywydd, to have a tour of the Liberty Steel premises in Newport earlier last year and to hear directly from the company about their plans for the future. So, at an official level, discussions with the company were carried out last year in relation to the state of the ideas that they are bringing forward under the green steel vision at that point. The Member will understand that there was a series of issues that arose for the Government in relation to them. There are balance sheet issues that Members in this Chamber will be familiar with, which have to involve the Office for National Statistics and Eurostat in relation to any financial assistance that the Government might provide. There are state aid issues that have to be explored, and, of course, there are value-for-money issues in any investment that the Welsh Government might make. Those discussions took place last year. Officials continue to be engaged with Liberty Steel on a regular basis, as we see how we can work with this company in taking forward the very interesting ideas that they are bringing to the table.  

13:50

In the written statement today, you talk about reducing emissions and about modernising the steel workforce in relation to the power plant and in relation to the new facilities that are available. Of course, this was as part of a Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government budget negotiation, and I'm just curious to understand what phase we are at now in relation to releasing the funds for future phases. We've had many a discussion in the cross-party group on steel, wanting to progress this development but perhaps not understanding fully when future phases will be able to be released, to make sure that we can be as environmentally friendly as possible in the Port Talbot steelworks, but also making sure that it's a modern place for people to work as well.  

I thank the Member for that important question. I know that she, as others in this Chamber, welcomed the announcement in February of this year that Swansea University was appointed to lead a £35 million project, with other universities as well, specifically aimed at making the steel industry fit for the future in terms of emissions and the low-carbon economy that we want to create. Today's joint written statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport and the Minister for Education focused on the research and development support for the steel industry that the Welsh Government has been able to assist with.

In the autumn of last year, I met, with the then First Minister and others, with the chief executive of the Tata Steel group in the United Kingdom. I've since met with other senior members in the Tata group, and we are very close now, I believe, to being able to finalise a further series of investments of the sort that were agreed with Plaid Cymru and that we have had to work through with the company. The company, as you know, is itself undergoing a restructuring, and that leads to some complexities in making sure that the necessary guarantees can be put in place. But we are very close now to the point where I hope we will be able to make that announcement. My colleague Ken Skates will write to all Members when those discussions are finally concluded.  

First Minister, can I once again put on record my appreciation, and that of the steelworkers in Port Talbot, for the Welsh Government's commitment to the steel industry over the years? This has actually stood up for steel manufacturing here in the UK. It's the only Government that has actually done so, in contrast to the UK Government, which continues to fail to support the steel industry. In fact, last week, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commons published a report, and it concluded, in relation to steel:

'The Government’s misrepresentation of the steel sector’s proposals for a sector deal suggest that it is unwilling to meet the requests of the sector.'

It recommended:

'The Government should return to discussions with the sector on a potential deal and provide clarity on the asks and offers that could enable the Government to meet its commitment to develop the UK steel industry'—

and here's the important point—

'supporting a now commercially sustainable sector in a competitive global market.'

Many of the levers that we have talked about in the past—the energy costs—are with the UK Government. Will you now make further representations to the UK Government, supporting this committee's report and asking the UK Government to take action to address the issue of high energy costs, to ensure that our steel industry is a competitive industry within the global market?  

Well, Llywydd, I want to thank the Member for his recognition of the support that the Welsh Government has provided to Tata in his constituency in the difficult times that the steel industry has faced during this Assembly term. It's been a pleasure to have the opportunity to visit Tata Steel twice in recent months—on both occasions with the local Member. I've seen the report to which he refers, the BEIS Select Committee report published on 19 March. It is hard-hitting in what it says to the UK Government in relation to the steel sector. The report says that the sector itself presented the UK Government with a united front and an ambitious series of proposals, and that they were not only disregarded by the UK Government, but that they were misrepresented by that Government as well. I think that that is strong language from a select committee. We know how much the sector is frustrated by the UK Government's refusal to act, for example, in relation to electricity prices for heavy industry. Certainly, I give the Member an assurance that we will be in contact with the UK Government again, on the back of that select committee report, and on the back of everything that trade unions and the management of the Tata plant tell us that they need from the UK Government in order to secure that successful future.

13:55
Trunk Roads in Monmouthshire

2. Will the First Minister provide an update on Welsh Government plans to improve trunk roads in Monmouthshire? OAQ53683

I thank the Member for that question. We continue to work with Monmouthshire County Council on options to improve the flow of traffic along the A48 and the A466 through Chepstow. Several trunk road locations will also be considered as part of the current speed limit review.   

Thank you, First Minister. I think you’ve anticipated that I was going to ask about the A466 in Chepstow. Actually, I wasn’t on this occasion, for once. [Laughter.]

Yesterday, I was delighted to attend the topping off ceremony at the new Grange university hospital in Cwmbran, along with the Minister, Lynne Neagle, Alun Davies—I think we all had time for a selfie atop the new building with neighbouring AMs as well.

The project is looking good, and we hope that it will provide a first-class patient experience when complete, but attention is now turning to the transport links to that new critical care centre, because it will cover a much larger area than the existing critical care centres at Newport and Abergavenny, the latter of which covers south Powys as well. We know—and I’ve asked the Minister for transport about this in the past—that there are problems with the A4042 between Abergavenny and Cwmbran, particularly at Llanellen, south of Abergavenny, which is prone to heavy flooding. I don’t think we’ve got a solution to that problem yet. I wonder if we could have an answer as to what has been done to alleviate flooding at that point so that constituents of Kirsty Williams in Powys will be able to get down to the new critical care centre by ambulance, as well as my own constituents, and also a wider look at trunk roads around Monmouthshire and Gwent to make sure that all patients, whichever part of that area they come from, are able to access the new facilities at this critical care centre as they would hope to do.

Can I thank Nick Ramsay for that follow-up question? I’ve become a good deal more familiar with the trunk road system in Monmouthshire as a result of his persistence in putting this question into the ballot in recent weeks. [Interruption.] It has indeed. It would eventually.

He will know that a series of actions is being taken by the Welsh Government. The trunk road speed limit review that I mentioned in my original answer will look at over 600 sites across Wales, including a number of very important sites in the Member’s constituency. That is part of a further effort we are making in a £24 million investment in our pinch-point programme designed to address those specific problems that can occur on any road and to find solutions to that.

Transport to the new hospital has been integral to the planning of that site from the very beginning. It was one of the issues that were put forward as being on the side of that site when it was first proposed. And it is entirely in everybody’s interest to make sure that patients from the whole of the catchment area are able to find their way in a timely fashion for the treatments that that fantastic new centre will now provide.

I’m grateful to the First Minister for that earlier answer. Prior to visiting the new hospital in the Grange, I visited the site of the A465 dualling between Gilwern and Brynmawr, and I spoke to people there about the progress they're making. And when that dualling project is completed, we will have spent something like £500 million in this Assembly delivering on our manifesto pledge to deliver economic benefits for the people across the whole of the Heads of the Valleys.

First Minister, it’s important for us that we maximise the value of this to those communities that run alongside the A465. None of us wants to build a bypass, what we want to do is to build an investment in the future economy of those communities to ensure that we can ensure that we do have the investment that we need to address the poverty that we see all too often in the northern Valleys area. Can you commit, First Minister, to ensuring that we do have an economic development plan that runs alongside the dualling of the A465 to ensure that we do maximise the benefit and maximise the impact of that investment for the people who live in the Heads of the Valleys?

Well, can I thank the Member for that supplementary question? He's absolutely right to draw attention to the massive investment that this Government will have made in dualling the A465. As he says, it was never a transport project; it was always an economic development project. That was the basis on which the dualling has been carried out in order, at that top end of Valleys communities, to make transport access easier and to ensure the prosperity of those communities into the future. Now, I know, because he himself was much involved in it, that, as a result of the work that is going on there, an impressive range of community benefits has been secured during the construction period, with training for local people, employment for local people and work packages for local businesses. The point that Alun Davies makes is that, beyond the construction period, we have to go on making sure that the investment made in the road continues to provide economic opportunity. There was a meeting last year with officials, together with local authorities, business leaders, the Industrial Communities Alliance and the Bevan Foundation, to plan how to maximise the economic opportunities that dualling will provide. As a result, the Welsh Government has commissioned the University of South Wales to bring forward a set of ideas, proposals, priorities and so on, so that we can ensure that the road delivers exactly what the Member for Blaenau Gwent has said—long-term prospects for the economy of that part of Wales.

14:00
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, do you think that the Welsh Government's public procurement regime is fit for purpose?

Well, as the Member knows, the public procurement regime is undergoing review and reform. I published a written statement on this matter in September of last year, which set out the way in which public procurement is to be organised in the future, and work continues to deliver on the prospectus we set out there.

Well, it's quite clear, First Minister, that your National Procurement Service has of course been a complete and utter failure, failing to achieve its targets and costing the taxpayer when it should be saving money—all of this with a complete lack of competency and direction from your Government. Now, don't take my work for it: a Wales Audit Office report in November 2017 found that, instead of processing more than £1 billion a year for bulk-buy items, only £150 million was spent through public bodies in 2015-16, and, from 2015 to 2017, NPS has made annual losses of £2 million. The NPS has not been able to repay a £5.9 million Welsh Government loan, and Government reserves are now continuing to meet the shortfall until the end of this financial year. Finally, the audit office also found that only a third of public bodies that took part in a survey were satisfied with that service. First Minister, why did that the National Procurement Service fail so badly?

Well, Llywydd, I referred to my written statement of September last year, but I hadn't expected the Member to read it out, because absolutely everything that he has said was apparent in that statement then, and answers his first question. We are reforming the National Procurement Service in Wales. I don't accept what he said in his first sentence in his second question, because actually the National Procurement Service will deliver a higher level of saving for public procurement in Wales in the last financial year—in the current financial year, rather—than at any other time in its history. But it does need reform. Times have moved on since it was first created. The rulebook for procurement will be changing as we leave the European Union, and my statement in September set out the way in which the National Procurement Service will continue to have a slimmed-down portfolio of services that it provides to purchasers in Wales. We will do more at the regional and local level. We will rely on the Crown Commercial Service for a small number of procurement initiatives where we think that that provides better value for Wales. We will learn from the experience that we have had, and we will design a service that meets the needs of those who use it. That's all already part of Government policy. I'm not completely certain what the Member thinks he's added to that in his questions so far this afternoon.

Well, what I've added is clearly that your Government has failed, because the NPS has been an utter failure. The audit office has made that absolutely clear, because, when the NPS was set up, we were told that it would save taxpayers money and make it easier for small businesses to procure contracts. Instead, it has cost taxpayers money and failed to support businesses. So, will you therefore today take the opportunity to apologise to the people of Wales for its failure, and can you outline specifically now what changes have been made, the impact on regional and local working, or, once again, is this just a case of your Government dithering and kicking another decision into the long grass, just like the M4 relief road?

14:05

Well, it's a dreary old trope that the Member offers us week after week. I can assure Members that the review of the National Procurement Service has been led by the people who use that service. That's what we wanted to make sure—that the service that is provided is one that the people who rely on it find most useful to them. We continue to work alongside them, we continue to reform the NPS so that we move some of its capacity to that regional and local level. We do that precisely in order to make sure that local economies are able to take advantage of the power of public procurement as we move to a situation in which it is not the cheapest price, but it is the greatest value in the round for public expenditure that we get from the £6 billion-worth of public expenditure that is carried out in this way across Wales each year.

Thank you, Llywydd. First Minister, last week you told me in this place that it was your Government’s policy in terms of Welsh in the workplace to urge public bodies to do more to promote the Welsh language. However, the opposite seems to have happened in the case of the national library, where it’s become apparent that the Minister for culture has opposed making the Welsh language a requirement for the post of national librarian, contrary to your own Government’s policy. E-mails between the Welsh Government and the national library about internal communications between the Minister and his officials confirm that the Government had tried to make a deal in terms of the national broadcast archive to bring pressure to bear on the library authorities not to make the Welsh language a requirement for the post. This is a quote from a record of a telephone conversation between the department for culture and the library, where the library was told:

'if they do proceed, it could make things much more difficult in terms of other National Library issues on which they are hoping to secure our support (e.g. the Broadcast Archive).'

A month later to the very date of that e-mail, we know that this investment for that very broadcast archive was in the balance. First Minister, do you agree that the slightest suggestion of using inappropriate influence by Ministers is entirely unacceptable, and will you therefore give us an assurance that an inquiry will be held to consider whether the Deputy Minister for culture and his department have operated contrary to the ministerial code and the Nolan principles in this regard?

Well, I don't agree with what the Member said, Llywydd, at all. Instead of relying on random notes of telephone conversations, let's look to see what actually happened in this instance. The outcome that we have for the National Library for Wales is that we have a new national librarian who is a fluent Welsh speaker and competent to do the job. That's what we actually have. And we have a new broadcasting archive located at the national library. That seems to me—. Those two facts appear to me to be far more powerful and testament to the way in which the Government has conducted this than the Member's reliance on delving, as ever, far into the weeds of a matter rather than being able to recognise its substance. 

If I may say so—[Interruption.] If I may say so, that is a disgraceful response from the First Minister to a perfectly valid question, which asked just for an adjudication from him. According to the code, we do have a right to ask him for a decision. He’s made his position clear, and I’m sure that we will return to this issue when more details emerge.

First Minister, turning to the historic debates under way at Westminster this week on the future relationship with the European Union, I'm sure you'll want to join with me in doing all we can to give voice to the interests of Wales. However, at a meeting of the external affairs committee yesterday, you were unwilling to say which of the options that will be debated on the floor of the Commons tomorrow you prefer. You said that to do so would be to engage with hypotheticals. But, surely, on at least one respect, there is no hypothetical—it's a question of basic principle. That was at the heart of the march of over a million people in London on Saturday. And that's the question—whether whatever preferred deal emerges from Parliament should be put back to the people. Your health Minister was clear on this question, your international affairs Minister was clear on this question, as were many other Members of your own benches and, indeed, members of your party who joined with me at the people's vote rally in Bangor. The question is, First Minister: where do you stand?

14:10

Well, I stand, Llywydd, exactly where I've stood all along. His party—. His own position moves day by day. As we know, his party had four positions in a single day only a week ago. This Government has only had one position, and that is the one that was set out very clearly this afternoon by the Brexit Minister. I hope that this week, in Parliament, Members of Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the sort of deal that we set out in our paper, 'Securing Wales's Future'. I hope they will also have an opportunity to vote on a second referendum. Both of those outcomes are supportable from the Welsh Government's point of view and, if MPs are able to settle on either of them, we will be able to support that outcome. 

I have to say, First Minister, members of the Labour Party will be looking on with despair at what you've just said. I was standing in solidarity—[Interruption.] I was standing in solidarity with members of the Labour Party because, on certain issues, we should put aside our party differences. Yes, the people's vote is my party's policy; it's your party's policy too. Why are you and the leader of the Labour Party not standing up for it? Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, said over the weekend that whatever solution finds a majority at Westminster—and I'm quoting him directly here, First Minister—there must be a public vote as 'a lock or a check', and that needs to be between a credible leave option and remain.

Now, it is true—it is true—that Jeremy Corbyn remains more equivocal. In the House of Commons last night, he merely said,

'this House must also consider whether any deal should be put to the people for a confirmatory vote',

with no indication how he would vote. So, we have continuing confusion at Westminster about Labour's position, but we didn't expect that confusion to extend here when we voted clearly in January—the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru—together in favour of a people's vote. I have to say—I have to say to the First Minister that the water in the Labour leader's office in London may be now as red as yours, but clear it's not. Shouldn't your loyalty be to Wales? Shouldn't that weigh more heavily than your loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn?

Well, Llywydd, it's an afternoon for the Member not being willing to take 'yes' for an answer. He's already heard about four times now, I think, our position. We are in favour of a people's vote as an option. We are in favour of the sort of deal that his party and mine set out in 'Securing Wales' Future'. There it is; it can't be clearer. I'm not going to say it a further time. I think he can leave members of the Labour Party to me in Wales, thank you very much, Llywydd. On Saturday afternoon, while he was—[Interruption.] While he was engrossed in the march, I was knocking doors in Newport West. I could have introduced him to the person I met on the doorstep who told me that he had been thinking of maybe voting Plaid Cymru until he heard that they were throwing their lot in with the Tories and he certainly wouldn't be doing that now. 

The leader of the UKIP group, Gareth Bennett. [Interruption.] The leader of the UKIP group to ask question. 

Diolch, Llywydd. [Interruption.] First Minister—First Minister, a big part of your Welsh Government's economic strategy for Wales now appears—[Interruption.]

Can we hear the question, please? The First Minister especially needs to be able to hear the question. Gareth Bennett.

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, a big part of your Welsh Government's economic strategy for Wales now appears to be the development of something that you and your Ministers are calling 'the foundational economy'. This is a phrase that has become popular with academics and politicians in Wales but which, to most ordinary people, means very little. But, even in political and academic circles, there is a danger that the meaning of the phrase 'the foundational economy' is so nebulous that it means very little in practical terms. What is your understanding of the term, and what practical assistance do you see your Welsh Government giving to help grow this part of the Welsh economy?

I thank the Member for the question. The foundational economy debate is a very important one. I agree with him that there is more to do to get that debate beyond the circles in which it currently operates. The foundational economy refers to those things that, day in, day out deliver the services on which ordinary life depends. In some parts of Wales, it is the majority of that economy. It means things like social care. It means things like producing food. It means things like delivering those day-in, day-out services that cannot be moved to other parts of the world, that endure year in and year out, and around which communities shape their future. I think it's a really important part of what we want to focus on in Wales. I'm very grateful to Lee Waters for the work that he is carrying out on behalf of the Government in this area, and I look forward to that debate proceeding beyond political and academic circles and engaging those people whose jobs and livelihoods depend upon it.  

14:15

Yes, thank you for clarifying that, First Minister. Now, you mentioned social care and food, and housing, energy and construction have also been mentioned in the past by your Deputy Minister when we've talked about this subject here in the Chamber, although it's early days for this discussion as yet. Now, many of these jobs are already in Wales, as you pointed out, and many of these jobs, unfortunately, are relatively poorly paid. So, supporting the growth of this kind of job may not be a good way for Wales to try and move to a higher skilled and better paid type of economy, which is what your economy Minister has said in the past that you want to do. Is there therefore a danger, First Minister, that if you focus too much on the foundational economy, you might just be creating more low-paid jobs with poor training and poor working conditions?     

I disagree with the Member that the sort of jobs we are talking about are not highly skilled. I think it's one of the things that bedevils the UK Government's migration policy—this attempt to divide people into people with high skills and low skills. People who work in social care have very high skills indeed, and they are often very well trained, and the work that we are doing across the Government to make sure that we invest in the future of that workforce—to register it, to provide the training that they need—will have the effect of raising the skill levels in that profession. And as we do that, so too we are determined to make sure that people who do those jobs are properly remunerated for the work that they do. So, I don't agree with that basic proposition—that by focusing on these really important sectors, we end up in the trap that the Member refers to. In fact, our determination is to do exactly the opposite. 

Well, if we look at some of the types of jobs that have been mentioned before—the utilities—many of these are call centre jobs, and this sector is not particularly well known for good pay or conditions. Many people get taken on as agency workers. There's often a problem of shift work, lack of training and a sink-or-swim mentality for managers as regards worker development. Retail banking has been mentioned before. That has a better reputation but, of course, we're in an era where more and more bank branches are closing. Food retailing—many of these jobs are under threat from automation. These are major economic factors that are destroying these jobs, or rendering them not very pleasant sectors to work in, and it will be a heck of a job for the Welsh Government to be able to row against this tide and make these kinds of jobs a growth area, and an area that is going to be jobs that are not just a job, but jobs that actually have good conditions and career development. Given all that, First Minister, is developing the foundational economy really a very sensible long-term strategy?  

Well, Llywydd, I understand that the rules allow the Member to ask me a question for each Member in his group. [Laughter.] But I had hoped that by the third one, we might have had a bit more progress than we've managed so far this afternoon, because as far as I can tell, I've been asked the same question three times, and I offer him the same answer: the foundational economy is a very important part of the economy. Our ambition is to invest in it, to improve skills, to improve productivity, to improve pay levels and to recognise the significance that those jobs have both in the lives of the individuals who we are lucky enough to persuade to carry them out, but also in the communities that depend upon them for their collective livelihoods. 

The Cardiff Capital Region City Deal

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the Cardiff capital region city deal? OAQ53654

I thank the Member for the question. The Cardiff capital deal continues to make progress in responding to the major social and economic challenges of its constituent authorities. The programme office is being expanded to take forward a range of projects currently in development, in order to translate them into tangible investments over the course of this year.  

14:20

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. One of the projects, obviously, that are identified in the city deal is the link between junction 34 and the A48 at Sycamore Cross. This is a deal that's been on the table for some time, this improvement, and, as you can understand, many residents are concerned about the proposals—in particular, the property blight that's been caused by some of the indecision around some of the proposals. Can you outline today what commitment the Welsh Government is giving to this project and when it might come to a climax over a decision in relation to any Government funding that might be made available?

I thank the Member for that question. I want to make sure that I give him the best possible answer to it, and I will check some of the detail that he has asked about and make sure that I write to him to set all that out for him in that way. He is right to say that the Cardiff capital deal has an ambitious set of projects. The £50 million metro plus programme, which has been approved by the cabinet of the Cardiff capital deal, makes investments in transport infrastructure right across all 10 local authorities and is part, I know, of the determination of the capital region city deal to invest in those underlying conditions that will create a successful economy for all 10 constituent authorities. And, on the specific question, as I say, I will check the details properly and make sure the Member has the best answer I can provide.

At a conference last week on city deals, the future generations commissioner spoke about building equality metrics into the city deals so that, as well as providing clear and measurable indicators, they would also provide beneficial outcomes in and of themselves—for example, a reduction perhaps in numbers of children in care or improved life expectancy. What are the Government's views on this?

Our view, Llywydd—I thank the Member for pointing to the views of the commissioner—is that of course the city deal has to be more than a set of individual economic possibilities. It has to extend into that wider set of measures that help us to see whether the city deal is having an impact in the lives of the wider citizenry within the 10 local authorities, and I'm pleased to say that the city deal has been taking the advice of the commissioner very seriously. In their quarter 3 performance report, published only very recently, you will see that a formal future generations assessment framework has now been put in place for all the decisions that are to be made by the cabinet of the city deal and that these will include individual, measurable indicators on all the well-being of future generations strands, and that includes the equality strands that the Member has pointed to this afternoon. So, the work the commissioner is doing is having a direct impact on the thinking of the deal, and I think that that will help the deal itself to demonstrate to citizens in the area the type of impacts that it is seeking to achieve.

What progress has been made as part of the city deal on improving transport infrastructure around the Llantrisant Road corridor?

Well, as I said, Llywydd, there is a £50 million metro plus programme that the city deal has already approved. That does involve improvements to transport from the north-west of Cardiff out into Rhondda Cynon Taf. There are other conversations going on involving Transport for Wales, the local Member for Pontypridd and the two local authorities as well as the Welsh Government, and they aim to form a coherent response to the transport needs of that part of both the capital city and the Llantrisant part of the RCT local authority.

Research and Development

4. How is the Welsh Government supporting research and development in Wales? OAQ53644

I thank the Member for that. The Welsh Government deploys a wide range of funding sources to support research and development. Through the 2014-20 round of European Union programmes, for example, we have invested more than £310 million in research to date, and that has supported a total investment of more than £560 million.

Diolch. Figures published last December confirmed that Wales is still the least productive of the 12 UK nations and regions. Figures published this month show that unemployment in Wales is, once again, higher than in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why do figures also published this month show that, although the UK spent £527 per head on research and development in 2017—the latest figures published, with England spending £554, Scotland £456, Northern Ireland £371—Wales spent only £238 per head of population?

14:25

Well, I understand what the Member means—that some aspects of research and development in Wales have started from a lower base level than in other parts of the United Kingdom, but I think it would have been fair of him to have pointed out that, in that 2017 report that he referred to, R&D expenditure in Wales rose by 37 per cent between 2011 and 2017, whereas across the United Kingdom, it rose by 28 per cent and, indeed, it rose by 5 per cent in 2017 alone. So, while there is a long way to go, and the need for research and development in Wales is really important—it's why the education Minister recently announced £6.6 million extra for research funding to Welsh universities—from the starting point where we began, the investment that has taken place in Wales is outstripping other parts of the United Kingdom.

And I was puzzled, Llywydd, I'm not sure, maybe I didn't completely understand the Member's point about employment levels in Wales, because the latest figures on employment levels are remarkably encouraging. Our unemployment levels are now at the UK level; our economic inactivity levels are below the United Kingdom level. His colleague the Secretary of State for Wales regularly claims credit for all of these achievements and, I think, would be very surprised to hear him criticise them here this afternoon. [Laughter.]

Horizon 2020 is a very important source of research funding to Wales. Some £100 million has flowed into various institutions through the Horizon 2020 programme. Yes, there are some kind of assurances for schemes that have been promised money already, but isn’t the truth of the matter that, whatever Brexit we’re facing, we know now that there has been undermining of this source of funding? Does the First Minister share that concern and does he see that the new evidence and the new understanding of what’s emerged since the 2016 referendum strengthens the argument for putting this to the people again in a fresh referendum?

Well, I agree with the Member on Horizon 2020, and what we’ve already done here in Wales to attract funding into Wales. More than 2,800 projects have involved people from Wales under Horizon 2020, and I had an opportunity attend M-SParc on the isle of Anglesey about a month ago. We were discussing what would come, following Horizon 2020, with the people working in that successful centre. And so, I share the concerns that the Member has alluded to, and we are working hard, through the various initiatives that the Ministers are taking. There is a UK ministerial meeting next week, where we’re trying to persuade the UK Government to invest in the programme that will be introduced following Horizon 2020 to keep them within the scheme on a European Union level or to create something else for us here in the UK.

As the First Minister's aware, before entering the Assembly, I actually worked as a research and development engineer. First Minister, would you not agree with me that industry links are crucial in this area and we need to secure more investment in north Wales, similar to the advanced manufacturing and research institute that we've successfully seen on the Airbus site?

I'm well aware, indeed, of the Member's previous career, and I know how much his work was appreciated in the centre in which he worked. Now, he will, I know, also be aware of the centre for photonics expertise that is soon to be under way under the leadership of Glyndŵr university, aimed to take place at the St Asaph centre in partnership with Aberystwyth, Bangor and the University of South Wales. There will be £3.7 million of investment from the European Union towards a total of £5.8 million of investment that the Welsh Government will make in that important research centre, and it is part of our continuing determination to make sure that investment in the north of Wales is part of the way in which we plan the research investment opportunities of the future.

14:30
Improving Cancer Services

5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve cancer services in Wales? OAQ53659

I thank the Member for that. The actions set out in our cancer delivery plan include improved early diagnosis, extended services in primary care, a new cancer information technology system for Wales, and a single cancer pathway. All of those initiatives are designed to go on improving cancer services in Wales.

Thank you very much for the reply, Minister. Three quarters of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis; 80 per cent of those with the disease are diagnosed at an advanced stage, by which time surgery is no longer an option. Each year, there are around 500 new cases of pancreatic cancers in Wales. The charity Pancreatic Cancer UK is calling on the Welsh Government to set a target of treating all patients diagnosed within 20 days by 2024. First Minister, what is your Government doing to remove avoidable delays to treatment, to increase the chances of survival of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancers in Wales, please?

I thank the Member for that important question, and of course I'm aware of the calls to introduce a 20-day treatment target for pancreatic cancer. While I absolutely appreciate the points the Member has made about the nature of pancreatic cancer—its difficulty in being diagnosed early, its aggressive nature once it is detected—in the end, I do not think it would be equitable to introduce a target specifically for one tumour type.

Our approach has always been to offer people with any type of cancer the opportunity to be treated as quickly as possible. That's why we are introducing a new single cancer pathway, because we're confident that it will support more rapid access to treatment. And that is very important, Llywydd, at a point where more and more people are being referred in for treatment—and that's a success story: more people referred in early, more people being assessed early. There were 32 per cent more people starting definitive treatment within target time in the month ending January of this year than five years ago. And that is a remarkable tribute to the service that is provided here in Wales, the clinicians, and others, who work in it, and their concerns quite certainly extend to pancreatic cancer, and our efforts in cancer as a whole will help to improve services for them too.

I'm grateful to the First Minister for his answer to Mohammad Asghar. If I can draw the First Minister's attention to research that was presented to us as Assembly Members by the charity Ovarian Cancer Action, showing that over 40 per cent of GPs in Wales wrongly believe that ovarian cancer symptoms only present at the later stages of the disease, while 40 per cent of women have to visit their GP three times with those presenting symptoms before they get a referral. I would like to ask the First Minister today if he will have some discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Services to see if there are ways in which we can improve GPs' awareness of the fact that, in fact, there are earlier symptoms of ovarian cancer that can be picked up, to ensure that women do get referred more quickly, where it's appropriate for them to do so, into specialist services.

Absolutely, Llywydd, I'm very happy to have those conversations. A great deal of effort goes on with the GP community in Wales to make sure that GPs are as well equipped as they can be to help with early identification and early referral into the system. The Member may be aware, I think, of the fact that we have recently funded two new pilot initiatives, where, when GPs have a patient whose symptoms are not such that they would allow them to refer them into the main diagnostic pathway, they are able to refer them to these two centres for rapid diagnosis. Now, we will learn the lessons from the two centres that we have funded to date. They have some promising aspects about them—certainly, they are well liked by patients. And they may offer GPs an opportunity, if we were able to extend them further, to provide an early insight for those patients where symptoms are uncertain, but where GPs have an an anxiety that they think is worth following up.

The Development of a Wales Brand

6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the development of a Wales brand? OAQ53672

14:35

Llywydd, since its introduction in 2016, the award-winning Wales brand has achieved significant success, delivering strong results through tourism, business, food and drink and health campaigns, and providing a consistent platform for promoting Wales.

First Minister, thank you. I must admit to being a bit confused about the Wales brand. Tourism, food, transport, meat, business—all of them seen as part of the brand. I make no apology for returning to the magnificent six nations victory by Wales and the wonderful event that took place at the Senedd last Monday. During your speech you mentioned Team Cymru and how Wales excels at team events. This is simple and effective. From food producers, enterprise, education to tourists, they, and we, are all part of Team Cymru. Is there any way Team Cymru could be incorporated into the marketing of Wales and all it has to offer? 

Well, I think the Member is absolutely right when she says that the things that draw the eyes of the world to Wales are often things like sporting events. And our aim, as she knows, in the post-Brexit period is to make sure that Wales continues to have an open door to the world, and the brand of Wales is recognised in places as somewhere that remains engaged, open and committed to welcoming the world to Wales. Sporting events are often an excellent way to showcase that and we have, in recent years, taken many opportunities to promote such chances here, and I'm sure that we will want to go on doing that in the future. 

First Minister, while the welcome host programme provides some customer services training, Welsh tourism businesses are now telling me that Wales needs something more than that, which encapsulates what Wales has to offer and is recognised and accepted by the tourism industry itself, improving not just the quality of our offer, but promoting the visitor economy as an arena where young people in particular can have a long-lived satisfying career. I wonder if the Government would commit to acting swiftly to developing a Welsh hospitality and tourism training quality mark, so that visitors who come to Wales can be confident in the warmest and best of welcomes as well as superlative service, of course, which complement our marvellous sporting record. 

I thank the Member for that, and it is an issue that has been raised with me on a number of occasions by the hospitality industry. They face, as you know, real anxieties about their future the other side of the European Union if their ability to recruit people from outside Wales is compromised by the migration policies of the UK Government. That means they know that in the longer run they have to do more to attract young people into that business and for that business to be seen as somewhere where you can have a career that takes you from your entry point to a future that you would think of as one that would enhance your own prospects in that future.

We want to work alongside the industry to do just that, and making sure that there are properly recognised qualifications and training programmes that people can take will undoubtedly be part of the conversation that we will want to go on having with the sector, building on the recognition that they themselves have about the efforts they need to make to make their product more attractive to young people, and to design the workplace in a way that will allow them to retain the talents of those young people and to make them long-term members of the workforce. 

Questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip

The next item is questions to the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, and the first question is from Joyce Watson. 

Online Abuse Of Women in Public Life

1. What actions is the Welsh Government taking to tackle online abuse of women in public life? OAQ53660

I thank Joyce Watson for that question. The online abuse of women in public life is wholly unacceptable and detrimental to our diversity and democracy programme. The UK Government must hold service providers to account for unacceptable abuse in public life. 

There was a recent review by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life and they found that female politicians are disproportionately the targets of online intimidation. In 2017, there was a study by Amnesty International and it found that women politicians and journalists from across the UK and America have abuse every 30 seconds on Twitter. Under current regulations, it's not a crime to target someone because of their gender. With online abuse of women so rife, I'm really concerned about how we're going to encourage more women into public life in such a hostile environment. And I want to call this out for what it is: it is absolute cowardice and it is people hiding behind their keyboards to exact that on individuals.

So, Deputy Minister, what discussions has the Welsh Government had with social media companies like Facebook and Twitter on how they're tackling this very serious issue? And will you issue a statement that clearly and substantially makes it clear that this behaviour is completely unacceptable?

14:40

Again, I thank Joyce Watson for this very important question. It's critical that we hold social media platforms to account, and the Welsh Government is fully supportive of introducing those clear and consistent standards that we need across social media platforms to improve user safety.

The Welsh Government is officially represented on the UK Council for Internet Safety, allowing us to influence policy decisions taken at a UK Government level. The internet, of course, is a non-devolved issue, so ensuring that Wales is represented at a UK Government level is absolutely critical, but I am very happy to make a statement on this very important point. In order to do that, I am writing to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, to ask him for what engagement he has had with social media providers about the online abuse of women in public life. But also, it is very clear that we have evidence and we have very useful support as well, for example, from the Electoral Reform Society's 'New Voices' report. Their recommendation about social media and the development of our political parties' joint code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour, online abuse is the thin end of the wedge, and reports show that it is gendered and reflects the same kind of gender inequalities in the off-line world. So, again, diversity and democracy, we want to address this in terms of women in public life.

I've no doubt in my mind that the trolling of women on social media is an epidemic and that it's getting worse. I've got my own personal experience of this, and I make a point of standing up to that abuse whenever I receive it, and when I see other women receiving it as well because we can't afford to let the bullies win.

At a conference called Slaying the Trolls that I attended towards the end of last year, we heard about the findings of research undertaken by the Open University and Stirling University, which found that the risk of young women aged between 18 and 29 of becoming a target of threatening and offensive advances on the internet is twice as high as the risk for women aged between 40 and 49, and more than three times as high as the risk for women aged between 50 and 59. I ask myself what this is all doing in terms of putting women off from using their voices.

The team made a few recommendations, including the recognition that online violence and threats against women should be classed as a form of gender-based abuse of women and girls. I support this. Does the Government agree, and if you do, can you tell us, please, what you're going to do about it?

Thank you again, Leanne Wood, not only for the account of your experience, as I'm sure we can across this Chamber, in terms of online abuse of women, we cannot afford to let the bullies win, as you say, and thank you as well for the further evidence you have given. That will be very important in terms of the statement that I wish to make and the representations that I am making to the UK Government in terms of their responsibilities.

It's also very important that we look to the 'Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence, and Information' consultation that took place. In fact, we did respond to that as a Welsh Government, and I'd just like to report from what my predecessor, Alun Davies, said in his response to Chloe Smith, the Minister for the Constitution, when he said, 'The Welsh Government shares the overall position that threatening behaviour towards both candidates and holders of public office is intolerable, as is the intimidation of voters, and we support transparency in digital election campaigning.'

This has clearly now got to focus on the gendered impact of this in terms of the online abuse of women, and I'm grateful that this question has been raised this afternoon, so that we as a Welsh Government can not only make a statement, but make a very clear statement from Members across this Chamber in terms of this point.

14:45
Third Sector Funding Pressures

2. What assessment has the Deputy Minister made of the funding pressures facing the third sector in Wales? OAQ53688

I thank Lynne Neagle for that question. Financial sustainability remains a key issue in the current financial climate. This remains one of the four pillars of our infrastructure support for the third sector via Third Sector Support Wales.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. One of the clear themes that has emerged for me in recent committee inquiries has been that local authorities and health boards are increasingly relying on third sector organisations to deliver services but are often not providing sustainable funding for those services. This has been the case in the children's committee's inquiries on perinatal mental health, on the emotional and mental health of children and young people, and in the health committee's recent inquiry on suicide prevention. Given that relatively little funding is distributed centrally by Welsh Government to the third sector, what more can the Welsh Government do to ensure that regional partnership boards and public services boards work fully in partnership with the third sector, but crucially provide them with the essential funding that they need?

It's very helpful, again, to have that evidence that has come to your committee, but I'm sure also in your constituency capacity as well. Welsh Government and the third sector recognise the challenges that public services face, and that has had an impact in terms of the third sector expectations, increasing public funding under continuing pressure. In fact, the First Minister and I attended the Gofod3 event last week. It was attended by hundreds of volunteers and third sector organisations, and we took part in discussions on the future of civil society in Wales and looked at the whole issue in terms of sustainability and funding. And it's very clear that, because it's a key pillar of our third sector, via our Third Sector Support Wales, we need to support organisations. They are diversifying their income streams, they're increasing their financial sustainability, but also it's crucial that local authorities and, indeed, the county voluntary councils work with the third sector organisations at a local level. But, just to say, the total contribution to the funding provided to the third sector support in Wales for 2018-19 is over £6 billion.

Community Safety in Mid and West Wales

3. What recent discussions has the Deputy Minister had regarding community safety in Mid and West Wales? OAQ53662

In February, I chaired the safer communities programme board. The board oversees the implementation of the Wales-wide working together for safer communities review. We have adopted a regional approach in order to best address the specific needs of each of our regions to promote community cohesion.

I thank the Deputy Minister for her answer. I'm sure the Deputy Minister is aware of a relatively recent phenomenon that gets referred to as 'county lines', where people dealing in drugs are moving young people—predominantly young people, but certainly vulnerable people—from large urban centres and using them to sell drugs and, unfortunately, sex services as well, in our smaller towns and county towns. Dyfed-Powys Police service has recently raised cases with me in Newtown before Christmas and, just a fortnight ago, Dyfed-Powys Police had to deal with two 14-year-olds from outside the area who were involved in drug supply in Llanelli. These are obviously young people who should be treated as victims. They are undoubtedly committing offences, but they're certainly not doing so of their own free will. Will the Deputy Minister undertake to have further discussions today with the appropriate partners, which obviously include the police service, but also includes prosecutors, because we have to ensure that these young people are not treated as criminals, and that the charges are pursued, as they are being in the Llanelli case, against the adult men who were involved in putting the young people in this position? And will the Deputy Minister talk to social services, to housing and, if necessary, have discussions with Ministers at UK level, because many of these young people are coming from large English cities, to try and put a stop to this phenomenon, which is having a big impact in the communities where it's happening but is also having a devastating impact on the young people directly invovled?

14:50

Helen Mary Jones also raises a very important question, which we discussed with the chief constables and police and crime commissioners at the policing board, which was chaired by the First Minister last month. In fact, Dafydd Llywelyn, the Dyfed-Powys police and crime commissioner, was very clear about the challenges in his area. I think it's a valuable opportunity for us again to see how we can share practice, share intelligence. Of course, this is crucial in terms of seeing this as a way in which we need to prevent the county lines taking hold of some of the most vulnerable young people in Wales.

I think it's important that we are liaising with Home Office officials, just in terms of importance of funding issues, and the fact that the Welsh Government also is continuing to provide funding for our community safety officers. Of course, 74 of those are located in your area, and they play a very important part in positive engagement with young people. So, this is a key issue not just for police, but also for the youth offending teams in terms of our work with young people across Wales, but particularly, from your question, in your area.  

The Voluntary Sector in Montgomeryshire

4. Will the Deputy Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's support for the voluntary sector in Montgomeryshire? OAQ53647

In 2018-19, Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations received £315,957 in core funding to help local community and voluntary sector organisations with fundraising, good governance and volunteering.   

Thank you for your answer, Deputy Minister. A Voice for You has provided citizen advocacy for people with learning disabilities in my constituency for over 30 years, and they are certainly concerned about the effect of the potential reduction of core funding that they receive from the local authority, and I share much of Lynne Neagle's views in her question that she brought to you and raised with you a few moments ago. This organisation is in the same position as many others. If they lose their core funding, then this makes it extremely difficult for them to secure match funding from other avenues as well. I wonder how you believe the Welsh Government can support this particular issue. Clearly, if we can lever in third party sector funding, this is extremely helpful to support our voluntary bodies, but they can't do that if they are losing that funding from local authority sources.

Clearly, the funding that we provide to Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations is key to providing that infrastructure support for organisations like A Voice for You, in terms of citizens' advocacy. And, we also need to look at the ways in which we support organisations, for example, through the community facilities programme. Capital grants can be extremely helpful, and I'm sure you will have welcomed the fact that there's £500,000 in capital grants to two community projects in Montgomeryshire. You're probably aware of them. So, we are trying to find other ways to lever in funding.

But also, the crucial point that we're making in terms of European transition funding is that we are looking into ways that we can support voluntary sector and third sector organisations of the kind that you mention. But, it is a key pillar in terms of sustainability of funding. Much of our discussion last week at Gofod3 was about ways in which we can support the voluntary sector and third sector in those communities, of the kinds that you've said today, which are crucial because they are, clearly, volunteer led and they are providing a service.

I'd like to refer the Minister back to points that I've raised with her before, with regard to services provided through the third sector for women and girls needing support. I'm thinking particularly of domestic abuse and of rape support services. We know that those are very often most effective if they are small, locally led and locally supported, and with the active participation of volunteers. We know that providing those services can be particularly challenging in rural communities like Montgomeryshire, like the whole of Powys. We also know that those services are increasingly under pressure from large commercial companies that tender against them when local authorities or community safety partnerships or whichever public bodies are putting out the tenders. What further steps can the Deputy Minister take to ensure that those local services, led by women and girls and provided for women and girls, continue to receive the public support that they need in order to ensure that the services that really meet the needs of those communities are not some kind of top-down model from big commercial companies, which we know often don’t meet the needs, and we also know often, in the end, are not sustainable.

14:55

Not surprisingly, this question came up directly to me last Thursday at the Gofod3 event. We know what impact the whole commissioning regime has had in terms of sometimes smaller organisations—local organisations cannot compete within that environment. We know also that there are funding streams that actually respond to regional as well as local funding arrangements. But it’s very clear that we need to ensure that, for those local organisations who can prove that they are providing a service that is needed, meeting the requirements and the specifications, there should be a level playing field in terms of their opportunities.

One of the points I made at a conference yesterday, organised by Welsh Women’s Aid for leadership in the public sector, was that we need to look at and listen to the voices of survivors and also local communities and volunteers who have the experience of what local women and people need.

Community Safety Initiatives in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

5. Will the Deputy Minister provide an update on community safety initiatives in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? OAQ53684

We work closely with chief constables in Wales and our police and crime commissioners on making communities safer. In particular, we're working alongside partner organisations to take forward the commitments of the working together for safer communities review.

Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. In asking about community safety, and as it’s the first opportunity I’ve had here, can I firstly offer my thoughts to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand on the horrors that they’ve recently faced due to the terrorist attacks by extremists? It’s another horrific event that, of course, we condemn, but it does reinforce to us the importance of maintaining community safety and prevention work in our communities. Indeed, when major crimes also occur in our own local communities, it’s important that we see high-visibility community safety measures. So, I for one welcome the ongoing initiatives in the upper Rhymney valley by the police and crime commissioner Jeff Cuthbert, Gwent Police, Caerphilly County Borough Council, and other local partners.

We also need to celebrate local successes to remind us that not everything is always so gloomy. And so, today I’d ask you, Deputy Minister, if you would join me in congratulating the award-winning Heddlu Bach, the Mini Police scheme in schools like Fochriw and Phillipstown in the upper Rhymney valley, which has seen a significant number of young people actively engaged with the police in community safety and awareness events. And would you agree that this is a good example of both community pride and early prevention work that we should encourage going forward?

I thank Dawn Bowden not only for her question, but also for that excellent example, and would also like to celebrate that local success. Wales is a warm and welcoming country, and that’s exemplified by the Heddlu Bach initiative in Fochriw and the involvement of those schools. It’s a Mini Police scheme, and it’s something that we need to share across Wales, but it’s the young people themselves who have benefited from that scheme.

I think it’s very important just to—. You will have seen my written statement last week in terms of the response to Christchurch, that horrific event, and to the engagements that we’ve had. The first Minister and I, and other Assembly Members—Julie Morgan, Jenny Rathbone—attended a vigil at the Temple of Peace. In fact, tonight, there’s an inter-faith event—I’m sure there’s representation from across this Chamber—as well as working with police forces and regional community cohesion co-ordinators to ensure that we can monitor community tensions here in Wales. But, of course, for us, this is about Wales being an outward facing nation, celebrating diversity, multicultural history, shared commitment to peace and understanding within and between communities, and I’m sure that’s reflected in the Fochriw project.

Thank you, Deputy Minister.

Before we move to our next item, I call Helen Mary Jones.

Thank you, Llywydd. I'm grateful to you for allowing me to apologise to this Chamber and to any others who may have been distressed or offended by a term that I inadvertently used in a debate last week. In responding to a debate, I made a reference—a commonly used phrase for if a person is already in trouble, perhaps they should desist. But the term that I used was entirely inappropriate and made reference to suicide. I understand that that may have been very distressing to individuals. I am incredibly sorry. I pride myself on being careful in the language that I use. That's certainly not a phrase, for example, that I would have used in a scripted speech or question; it should not have come into my head. I apologise profoundly to all those who were upset or distressed by it, and I also apologise to this Chamber for language that, while it may be common parlance, was inappropriate to use here.

15:00
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister to make her statement—Rebecca Evans. 

Diolch, Llywydd. There is one change to today's business, and that is to change the order of the regulations for debate at agenda items 4 and 5. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

May I ask, Minister: you will remember that, during last week's business statement, both Jenny Rathbone and I raised the issue of cervical screening in Wales? Cervical Screening Wales said that a third of women under the age of 30 are snubbing invites to be tested for cervical cancer. In England, recent concerns about the low rate of women having the test have led to a pilot project being launched whereby women are to be offered the chance to carry out a smear test at home. Organisers hope to offer self-sampling kits to more than 20,000 women from September this year. Please can I repeat my call for a statement from the Minister for health on this issue, with particular reference to whether he intends to carry out a similar pilot project here in Wales?

And for a second statement Minister, I humbly request you to look at how Jacinda Ardern—the Prime Minister of New Zealand has set an example of how to protect and how to behave and how to react before and after the scenario of what happened to her country. The mosques in Wales are well protected, but I think places of religion are used for religion and not for any other use, yet people are making some serious, offensive terrorist attacks on these religious places. I think it's totally unacceptable. I'd rather have a statement from the Minister to make sure that religious places in Wales are protected, and also communities are given assurance that we are here to help them, to make sure they are living in a peaceful and helpful and loving country of the world. Thank you.

Thank you very much for raising both of these issues. I hope that last week I was able to give a good oversight in terms of what the Welsh Government is doing regarding cervical screening in Wales, which is a different approach to that that is being taken across the border. However, I will ask the health Minister to write to you on the specific issue that you raised regarding home testing kits, and we'll certainly be looking at that pilot project that is being undertaken in England very closely to see what we would need to learn here, because, as you say, it is particularly young women now who are not presenting for cervical screening tests. Last week I made reference to the #loveyourcervix campaign that is going on at the moment, and that specifically aims to engage with young women in order to encourage them to go along there for those tests. I've seen some really powerful testimonies from young people on the television as well, so I think that it is something that we can all work hard together to raise awareness of.

I hope, again, that the statement that my colleague the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip issued following the terrible terrorist attack in New Zealand did provide communities and individuals with some reassurance of the level of work that is ongoing all year round between Welsh Government and all of our partners to ensure that we give as much protection to communities as possible, and to ensure that, as you say, Wales is an open and tolerant and, as you say, a loving place for everybody in our country.

Trefnydd, you will no doubt be aware of the announcement by Neath Port Talbot Council last week that they intend to withdraw from the ERW regional area education consortium as of March 2020. Now, clearly ERW has been through a difficult time in the past few years, but in recent months, following the appointment of a Welsh Government official as interim managing director, positive progress seems to have been made in terms of its strategic direction. Now, if Neath Port Talbot were to withdraw from ERW, it would find itself as the only local authority in Wales operating outside of a regional education consortium, and concerns have been expressed by the National Education Union Cymru and the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru around the impact that this move might have for schools both in Neath Port Talbot and the other local authorities remaining in ERW. I'm aware that the council leaders from the ERW region met with the Minister for Education and the Minister for local government yesterday to discuss the issue. Given the uncertainty that this is causing locally, could I ask for a debate in Government time on this particular issue? I'm sure that you would agree that it is imperative that we reach a position where ERW can focus on delivering school improvement as opposed to dealing with distracting membership and financial issues.

15:05

Thank you for raising this, and, of course, regional working is crucial if we are to raise standards in our school system. And we all have a duty to be working across local authority boundaries, not least in this important area. As you say, the education Minister and the Minister for Housing and Local Government did meet with ERW council leaders to discuss the issue further. I think, in the first instance, if the Member is content, I will ask the Ministers to jointly update you on those discussions and a potential way forward.

Trefnydd, could we have time to discuss the Government's Safe Routes to Trunk Road Schools programme and how planning authorities are implementing the guidance? Yesterday I met parents outside the school gates at Ysgol Caer Elen in Haverfordwest. This is a brand-new school and it's just off the A40 on the Withybush road that leads to the industrial estate, and has a 40 mph speed limit. Anyone who knows that stretch will appreciate just how busy and how fast that particular road is. So, quite frankly, I can't believe that Pembrokeshire County Council has built there without prioritising, in the very first place, child safety. There are no safety measures in place to speak of, despite parents' complaints. To my mind, the need for a 20 mph speed limit is fairly obvious, not to mention other road-calming measures, and also a safe place for children to cross that road.

So, what I'm really interested in here is to understand how local authorities can be so inconsistent in delivering road safety measures outside schools within their jurisdiction. And I would like to know, Minister, whether there could be some engagement with Pembrokeshire County Council on this issue so that they take their responsibilities seriously before accidents happen, not afterwards, as is the case outside this particular school gate.

I thank Joyce Watson for raising this important issue in the Chamber, and I know that she's also raised it directly with the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport. As a result, he's asked his officials to be in direct contact with Pembrokeshire County Council to express these concerns. And I'll ask the Deputy Minister to write to you with an update on those discussions.FootnoteLink

Organiser, could we have a statement—I think it could be your good self I'm directing this at, but I'll be directed by you in return—over the commercial advertising that the Welsh Government places with local radio stations? In my own area, I have three local radio stations, and they're all well subscribed, they are. In fact, Bro Radio, based in Barry, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with an awards presentation on Saturday night, and I commend Nathan and the team around that radio station. But by virtue of the relatively small size of audience capture that they have, and the way Welsh Government places its advertising slots, it is excluded from much of that—the ability to benefit from much of that advertising spend. I'm sure that's not the intention of Welsh Government and so I'd welcome an opportunity for the Government to put its position as to how it might be able to free up more ability for that advertising revenue to find its way into community radio when much of the audience that listens to community radio is the very audience that the Welsh Government is seeking to get through to with its public health messaging, for example, and many of the other messages. And it does seem that a slight tweaking of the system would free up not inconsiderable amounts of cash for a very worthy sector within our communities. And when you look at what's happened to commercial radio here in Wales—I think it's next week the changes happen at Global radio—actually, the footprint for local radio can be expanded with the right environment. So, could we have a statement, either from you, or from the Deputy Minister who'd have the responsibility for this?

Thank you for raising this issue, and you'll recall that last week, in response to a question from Alun Davies, I was able to express the concerns that we have in terms of the recent decisions regarding commercial radio stations and the impact that might have on their ability to provide the best possible news service for the local populations. But you make a good point and I'll certainly look into it and write to you following that. 

15:10

I've been contacted by a woman from the Rhondda whose 23-year-old daughter recently went through a health scare. After getting symptoms, she went for a blood test and, while at the clinic, she read information on a poster about cervical cancer and realised that she had all the symptoms that were described on that poster, bar one. When she told the doctor of her concerns, she was told that she couldn't have a smear test because she was under the age of 25. Now, this was in a week when all of us were being encouraged to go for our smear test, and she was told that she would have to wait until she was over 25 before she could have it. Such was the worry in the family about the symptoms that this young woman was displaying, they arranged an appointment with a gynaecologist at a private hospital the following morning. The woman and her family had a two-and-half-week anxious wait for those test results to come back, which thankfully were clear. 

Now, this family were lucky, they could afford to pay to go privately, but what if they didn't have the money for that private smear test? I agree with the mother of this woman when she said, 'If there is advertising of symptoms and someone displays those symptoms, surely it's common sense to investigate.' So, I'd like a statement on Government policy on this, and in that statement I want the health Minister to clarify what the Welsh Government policy is on the screening of women with symptoms of cervical cancer under the age of 25. Are there exceptions to the general age rule? And I also would like to know what mechanisms there are in place to reimburse this family for being forced to go privately in order to get the peace of mind that they should have been able to get through our NHS. 

Thank you very much for raising that. It is my understanding that the GP could have referred the individual for the test that you described. However, given the interest that I'm glad there is in cervical cancer, I'll certainly ask the health Minister to issue a statement that does capture all the issues that have been raised in the business statement both this week and last week. 

I was wondering if we could have a debate in Government time on fair pay for civil service workers. You'll be aware that the Public and Commercial Services Union—I currently chair the cross-party group—is balloting on industrial action until 29 April. Now, they're concentrating on the UK Government at this point in time, in order to secure a fair pay increase for vital Government workers after a decade of pay squeeze. Do you agree with me that civil service salaries should be increased above inflation in line with PCS demands, to go some way to correcting a decade of unfair treatment and civil servants being used as a scapegoat in austerity policies? And would you commit to having a debate so that we can have a discussion about how we can support this sector here in Wales?

The second statement that I wanted to ask for was in reaction to something we've already discussed today, but I wanted to re-emphasise it, in relation to asking for a Government statement on community cohesion. I think that we need to understand what the Welsh Government is doing as a direct consequence of the attack in New Zealand, not just what the Government does every day of the week. I know that there were fewer people attending Friday prayers last week than would otherwise have done in this city as well because of the fear that they felt with the current situation towards the Muslim population. It's not just about community cohesion in terms of the groups that are speaking to one another, but that visual presence that the community will feel by the police, by the authorities, so that they feel secure in their own communities. So, I would urge you to bring forward that statement so that we can share that with communities here in Wales and we can engage with them in a positive way. 

Thank you for raising both of those issues. On the first, as negotiations are currently still ongoing in terms of pay, it probably isn't appropriate for me to say anything further at this particular point. But on the matter of community cohesion, I've been having some discussions with colleagues regarding the kind of statements that Members are bringing forward on Tuesdays in the business statement and asking for as we plan our programme of statements and debates moving towards the end of the summer term. I know that the Minister with responsibility, the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, certainly wants to bring forward a statement that looks at tackling racism, and this could be something that would be an opportunity to discuss in that statement.  

15:15

I would like to request a debate in Government time on the steps being taken to tackle the increasing problem of attacks by dogs on livestock. There has been another case in my constituency recently, at Llety farm in Rhosybol, where a number of sheep and lambs have been killed. I know this is an issue that Llyr Gruffydd has been in correspondence with the Government on, as has Ben Lake with the UK Government. We are also in discussions with a Member of the Scottish Parliament, where Emma Harper there has recommended legislation that could be introduced in Scotland in order to tackle this situation. Now, from what we see, the Government here believes that this is a devolved issue. The Westminster Government believe that everything possible is being done, but clearly the problem is ongoing. So, I would appreciate a debate in Government time, where you would have an opportunity to explain what the Government is doing and we could have an opportunity to suggest improvements in terms of possible legislation that could move things forward in terms of safeguarding livestock in Wales.

Thank you for raising this issue and, obviously, the matter of responsible dog ownership is extremely important, and I know we've all been very distressed by the kinds of stories that we've seen recently. I think it's a fact that the legislation on this area is mixed in terms of being a mixture of devolved and non-devolved elements, but specifically the issue of the enforcement by the police of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 is a non-devolved issue. That said, I know this is an issue that the Minister has taken particular interest in, and just in the last week has attended two events where dog ownership was the key focus. And we'll be continuing to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as part of membership of the National Police Chiefs Council working group to ensure that any possible changes to legislation are relevant to our devolved powers. 

3. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services: The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill

The next item is a statement by the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill, and I call on the Deputy Minister to make the statement—Julie Morgan.

Thank you, Llywydd. It’s a huge pleasure for me to introduce this Bill to the National Assembly for Wales.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill to the National Assembly today. This Bill has been long awaited and long campaigned for, including by myself. And, in fact, Christine Chapman, the former Assembly Member for Cynon Valley, who I believe is in the gallery today, led a debate in the Assembly Chamber in January 2002 entitled, 'Hitting People is Wrong, and Children are People Too'. So, we have a long history in this Assembly.

Its introduction today marks an important milestone in our commitment to improve and enshrine children’s rights in Wales, and in our commitment to the people of Wales to keep the promises we made on the doorstep. We promised we would bring forward legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment when we asked the public to vote for us in 2016. And I’m proud that we can honour that pledge today.

Before I turn to the Bill itself, I would like to pay tribute to the work of two of my immediate predecessors who have played such a fundamental role in getting us to this point today. So, I'd like to thank Huw Irranca-Davies, who introduced the Bill with the consultation exercise so enthusiastically, and, of course, Carl Sargeant.

It's fitting that we are introducing this legislation this year, the year that the international community celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The overarching aim of the Bill is to help protect children's rights.

I want to be clear from the outset what this Bill will not do—it will not create a new criminal offence. Our intention is to support parents as they raise their children and provide them with extra help and support, if they need it, while making sure that children have the same levels of protection against physical punishment in the law as adults do.

If the Bill is enacted, the defence of reasonable punishment will no longer be available within Wales to parents, or those acting in loco parentis, as a defence to a charge of common assault or battery. It will be removed under both criminal and civil law. While corporal punishment has long been banned in schools, children's homes, local authority foster care and childcare provision, adults acting in loco parentis in non-educational settings, including the home, are able to use the defence of reasonable punishment. So, this Bill removes this loophole.

15:20

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

This legislation will not only remove the defence but it will support a wider cultural change in Wales and make it absolutely clear to everyone—to children, parents and professionals—that the physical punishment of children is unacceptable in all circumstances. The Welsh Government is not advocating letting children do whatever they like. Every child needs some discipline and to have sensible boundaries as they grow up. But physical punishment is not a part of disciplining children or setting those boundaries. This Bill does not stop adults caring for children. This Bill will not interfere with parents' ability to physically intervene to keep a child safe from harm—to stop them from running out onto the road, to help them with day-to-day activities, such as dressing, or with hygiene and cleanliness. It will not prevent them from using alternatives to physical punishment to maintain discipline and address poor behaviour.

And I am sure that, as this Bill progresses through its scrutiny stages, there will be healthy debate about the evidence around whether physical punishment is harmful to children and on parental attitudes. However, I believe that we cannot condone the use of physical punishment, however mild, as a form of discipline or for any other reason. But, already, attitudes towards the physical punishment of children are changing in Wales. It is becoming steadily less acceptable. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and there is nothing more important than their safety and well-being. While the primary responsibility for raising children lies with parents, the Welsh Government has a very specific role in creating the kind of society in which children can grow up in a safe, happy and nurturing environment.

In developing this legislation, we've carefully considered all the responses to the consultation we carried out last year and the range of international research into this subject. This includes the Wales Centre for Public Policy review, which concluded

'the majority of researchers in the field make the judgment that the balance of evidence is sufficient to support the claim that all physical punishment under all conditions is potentially harmful to child development.'

Rather than improving children’s behaviour, it found that the way physical punishment is typically used by parents is linked with anti-social behaviour and other undesirable behaviours in children. 

The potential criminalisation of parents is something that has been discussed at length and has been raised with me on numerous occasions. I want to be clear: removing the defence does not in and of itself criminalise a parent or any other individual; it is their actions in relation to the law that matter. And our intention is not to draw more people into the criminal justice system. But, by removing the defence, some parents who physically punish their children and are subsequently reported to the police or social services may be charged with a criminal offence in circumstances where that would not happen now because there is a defence they can call on.

This Government understands the importance of providing parents with information, support and advice on a range of topics, including positive alternatives to physical punishment. We do this through a number of ways, including our 'Parenting. Give it Time' campaign, health visitors, other professionals and our family support programmes, Flying Start and Families First. And we will build on this as part of a programme of support alongside the legislation, because, to be really effective, this Bill must be accompanied by a well-planned information campaign.

If the Bill is enacted, if it passes through this Assembly, we must ensure that people know that the law is changing. We will therefore make sure there is sufficient time between Royal Assent and the commencement of the legislation for a public campaign to be carried out.  

Another issue that has been raised with me has been the potential impact on the police, social services and others, and I think we have to—and we have looked carefully at what happened when similar legislation was introduced in New Zealand. There may be an increase in social services referrals and police calls as a result, but predicting the impact is difficult because there's no precedent in the UK for removing the defence and current reporting and recording practices make it difficult to gain an accurate baseline of current activity. We will continue to work closely with the police, Crown Prosecution Service and social services, and we're working with local authorities to collect data to monitor the impact of the Bill. 

Deputy Presiding Officer, I'm proud to be able to introduce this Bill to the Assembly today. I look forward very much to working with Members and with the scrutiny committee over the coming months as the Bill progresses. I hope we will have the support of Members across the Chamber in protecting children and in protecting children’s rights in Wales. Thank you.

15:25

Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. I have to start at the onset by saying that I really do respect the Member in question bringing this Bill forward for the work that you've done and you continue to do in safeguarding our children across Wales, and I share in your hopes, your aims and your ambitions on much of the work that we seek to work together on, but, I think, on this one, I would like to reference the fact that you say that there's been a desire to have this since 2002—I still don't believe that we're there yet when it comes to the evidence that makes this Bill actually right to be bringing forward at this time. Because, as you've rightly pointed out in your own statement, Deputy Minister—you do make the point that you're currently collating the impact this Bill will have. There isn't the data out there that tells us how big the problem is in Wales and, so, for me, I like to see legislation passed by this institution that actually is going to make a difference and this currently is so subjective an issue I think all constituency AMs will already have started receiving correspondence, and the scales of balance at the moment in my own constituency are such that the concerns that are coming forward already on this actually tell me that there's more work to be done before this is introduced as a piece of legislation.

Now, I note that this is technically—. I mean, we have a bilingual Bill coming before us, but it is literally on one side of an A4, and, for me, I'll just reiterate why I'm concerned: this is a Bill that will remove physical punishment as a reasonable defence and prohibit smacking as an acceptable mode of punishment. Firstly, as evidenced by my own role on the Children, Young People and Education Committee, I want to make it clear right here and now that I too believe that I'm an advocate also for standing up for our children's rights and those who are particularly vulnerable. Now, child:

'States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence'.

Now, I'm confident that all of us here will agree that child abuse is intolerable and violates the Children Act 2004 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. No child should be subjected to abuse, whether that be physical, emotional or coercive control, yet this Bill does not encapsulate the full breadth of abuse that some children can be exposed to and merely proposes to remove smacking and physical punishment as a reasonable defence.

Now, the Member stated also in her statement that this kind of behaviour is associated with antisocial behaviour, and the other issues that I've raised—. I believe that emotional abuse and coercive control and behaviour over children is equally as damaging as actual physical—. Now, I feel this Bill de-contextualises smacking from the broader issue of abuse—and that's what we're really talking about here—that is chronic, systematic and intentional. As we are all well-aware, physical, emotional and coercive abuse often go hand in hand, and, according to article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

'States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative'

actions

'to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence'.

This Bill does not do it. Crucially, this proposed Bill lacks the necessary detail and clarity. First, it isn't clear how much this Bill would cost, how this Bill would be successfully implemented by health visitors, and how this Bill would be enforced at the ground level. Now, when we talk about cost, we're talking now about social service departments across Wales that are already seriously underfunded, and it may well be a situation, should this Bill be passed, that a report is made, a family is visited, and then the resources—of the police, the health visitor, the local authority, the social service department—I do think we need to be very clear about the associated cost. Furthermore, it is unclear what definition of smacking this Bill is premised on. When we met, there was a difference of opinion, if you like, on what constitutes an actual smack; there was disparity between your own definition and interpretation of that, and even compared to your private secretary's. There's this issue around literal and technical interpretation.

For public behaviour to change, and for this Bill to work in practice, this clarity is essential, as it would determine the literature and parental guidance that will be available for parents, and of course the very enforcement of the law. The enforcement of this law—you know, how are we going to police our homes? Are you not worried that this may actually drive families apart, when accusations are made, when families, for whatever reason—the pressure on our families now, the pressure on relationships, inter-relationships with new families. I really do think more work has to be done on this. Now, despite the Minister's comments that public support of non-physical discipline has increased, from 71 per cent in 2015 to 81 per cent in 2018, it is absolutely unclear how the public will receive this Bill, and whether such a measure will be deemed an interference to parental judgment and families' private lives.

I certainly don't believe that this institution, or the Welsh Government, should seek to criminalise our families, or our parents. And I would urge the Deputy Minister to perhaps go back to the drawing board, and bring forward a Bill that encompasses far more—something that we can all work with, cross party, to ensure that our children are protected from all forms of abuse. Thank you.

15:30

Thank you, Janet Finch-Saunders, for your contribution to the debate. You raised a lot of points in what you said; I'll just make a few comments in response. First of all, I think it's important to remember that we are not the first country to be doing this, that, I think, 54 countries have now introduced the legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. We have actually got Ireland very close to us, who have removed it; Scotland are in the process of removing it. So it's not something we're doing that is unique, or odd, or strange. It is a natural progression from the legislation that has already taken place to stop hitting in schools—physical punishment in schools—to stop foster parents, and this is a gradual progression. So, I don't think it is such an unusual thing as you suggest that we're doing.

You talked about the issues that we'll be facing—health visitors and social workers, and people at the grass roots who are dealing with all these issues. This legislation is strongly supported by health visitors, overwhelmingly supported by social workers, and they want to see it enacted. Because they know that there is a clear message then, when they are working with parents, to help them with the very difficult job of parenting. Because I think we all have to acknowledge that it is very hard to be a parent. I've been a parent, I'm a grandparent now, and I know how difficult it is to bring up children. And it is important for the health visitors and social workers, and everyone who's working with children, that they're quite clear in where they stand. And having this defence, it makes it difficult for them, because they want to encourage positive parenting—as I know we all do—but it is difficult when you have that defence there, which does give the implication that physical punishment is acceptable. And so all those people who are working at the grass roots are very, very supportive of this legislation, and, in fact, have lobbied us to do this legislation. So I think it's very important that we remember that.

What we are actually doing is bringing the law of physical punishment, that is the definition—a physical punishment, which is more than smacking or hitting. It is a lot of other things as well. It's the physical punishment. But I accept what she says that there are other things that are damaging to children. I look forward to working with her on the committee, when I'm sure we can discuss all these other issues, because to me it's very important in this Committee Stage that we do discuss the issues that are concerning people and the issues that will be brought up, I've no doubt, in the Committee Stage from the public and which have already started as a result of the publicity of the Bill. But I have been very pleased at the amount of support there is for the Bill so far. 

15:35

Unlike the Tories, you’ll be pleased to hear that Plaid Cymru is very pleased to see this Bill begin its journey. I have to add one caveat to that, and that is: 'at last'. That is to say it has taken us some time to get to this point today, although one does appreciate that we have got here, and I do believe that the Assembly passed in principle the need for a Bill of this kind back in 2001. You mentioned 2002, so it’s been at least 17 years since the discussion was initiated, and that is far too long, I understand that there are various attitudes towards this, and we’ve heard some of them expressed today, but it’s the responsibility of Government to lead behavioural change, so I’m very pleased that we are beginning this journey. And my party has been at the heart of the effort to deliver this, with former Members such as Jocelyn Davies, Lindsay Whittle and others playing a key role in the attempt to abolish the defence of reasonable punishment, and we included a pledge in our manifesto for the 2016 election to introduce legislation to that end. Passing this Bill would mean that children in Wales would have the same defence against corporal punishment as adults.

It is an absurd situation at the moment. Why on earth are children now treated differently to adults? Why on earth do we not need a defence against reasonable punishment for one individual using physical force against another individual, but that there is a defence of using physical punishment against a child? One of the clearest signs of a civilised society is the way in which we treat vulnerable groups within our society, and passing this Bill would support children’s rights and would ensure that Wales complies fully with article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which of course requires that the state takes all necessary and appropriate steps to safeguard children.

I would like to pursue two issues—two questions, if you like—this afternoon. There are over 50 nations worldwide who have abolished the reasonable punishment defence, so my first question is: what lessons can Wales learn from the experiences of those nations—not only Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, but a whole host of other nations too? Positive lessons that we could benefit from, but also lessons in terms of how we can introduce this legislation in a more effective way.

My second question relates to positive parenting. There’s increasing evidence available that demonstrates that physical punishment is not effective and that it does damage children both physically and emotionally. And there are more and more parents who recognise that now, and attitudes towards bringing up children are changing. But it’s not always easy to know which techniques are best used in order to teach children that there are boundaries that should not be crossed. And I have to say, from my own experience as a single parent to four young children with only six years separating them, separating the youngest and the oldest, I know that parenting requires all sorts of skills and skills that, often, need to be learnt. Being a parent is one of the best jobs in the world, being a parent is one of the most important roles in the world, but being a parent can also be very challenging indeed. So, I believe, along with introducing this new legislation that we warmly welcome on these benches, we do need positive parenting programmes in place across Wales.

So, my second question is: will there be sufficient resources allocated in order to provide programmes of that kind? I don’t believe that it’s enough to extend the current provision, which is provided through Flying Start and so on. I’ve seen some of those in operation, and they can work superbly well, but they don’t reach everyone, and we do need to reach everyone. So, are there sufficient resources to do that? I look forward to the scrutiny work on this Bill, as a member of the children and young people’s committee over the next few weeks. Thank you.

15:40

Thank you very much, Siân, and I really do appreciate the support you're giving to this legislation, because I know that your party has been very supportive—and Jocelyn and Lindsay were tremendous—and I believe Helen Mary Jones was very supportive in the previous Assembly. And I think we are united in wanting to improve the lives of children. So, thank you very much for your support.

Of the two questions that you ask, as you say, over 50 nations—I think 54 nations—have now abolished the defence and more are thinking about doing it, so I do think it is something that, eventually, will be everywhere. I think that there are lessons to be learned. One of the things that I think is very important is that from the introduction of the legislation, when it receives Royal Assent, there should be sufficient time for us to allow it to bed in. So, we are thinking of a considerable period of time, up to two years, and the Ministers will be able to introduce it when they feel the time is right. Because I think it's very important that everybody is aware of the change, and in order to do that, we'll have a big public awareness campaign, which is very important, and then, it's very important as well that the front-line staff, the universal people who go to everybody—. Because every mother will have a midwife and a health visitor, and it's really important that we're able to get the message through them about what the change of the law is so that people know what the change of the law is. So, I think that's very, very important and I think we have learnt that.

The other thing that we have learnt, which links into your second question, is that changing a law by itself doesn't mean a lot. It's got to be accompanied by the information, but it's also got to be accompanied by support for parents. And that, I think, is absolutely crucial. So, we see ourselves increasing the support for parents. As you say, Flying Start and Families First are huge measures of support, but they don't necessarily go to every family who are in need. So, the health visitors and the midwives are absolutely essential—that they are able to take the message. And, of course, there is the Welsh Government programme, 'Parenting. Give it time.', which is something that is being widely used, and we do intend to increase the amount of support that's given.

What we have learned from other countries is that there often has been a lot of concern, trepidation and just reasonable anxieties when this sort of legislation comes in, but that, quite often, very swiftly after the legislation happens, the mood moves on and people wonder what all the fuss was about, really. I am pretty sure that that's what'll happen here, that we will be able to move on after, I hope, the legislation is passed. And I think that's what we have learned from other countries, that there wasn't much anxiety after the change had taken place, and not one country, even with a change of government, has tried to reverse the legislation. So, I think we've certainly learned that, once it comes in, I think that will be when the change of legislation will really influence the mood in the country. So, again, thank you for your support.

15:45

I'd very much like to congratulate Julie Morgan and, indeed, Chris Chapman, for their really resilient work in keeping going on what was a very unpopular issue, and some of the scars on your back are from Members of our own party as well as from wider members of society. It's wonderful to see you introducing this legislation here today.

Becoming a parent doesn't come with instructions and it's our job to promote society's responsibilities towards all our children, whether we are parents or not. Of course, that starts with the UK Government, whose deplorable reduction in the value of child benefit and child related tax credits and benefits over the last nine years has plunged even more children into poverty. But this is another way in which we can support those children who are most in need of society's help.

One of the most vocal opponents of this piece of legislation is my constituent. I can find no reason to suppose that she isn't a completely excellent and caring mother, but I am simply not persuaded by her arguments that she needs to be able to smack her children in order to keep them safe. I've explained that I cannot find any evidence that smacking is anything other than harmful to a child. We have to remember that the child is defenceless, unable to assert their rights and entirely dependent on adults for their well-being, and the younger they are, the more that holds true. So, I really commend this initiative and I'm sure it will make for a better Wales for children.  

I just wanted to pick up on one point in the statement you made, Minister, which is the research done by the Wales Centre for Public Policy. You indicated that, rather than improving a child's behaviour, they found that the way physical punishment is typically used by parents is linked with anti-social behaviour and other undesirable behaviours in children, and I wondered if you could say a little bit more about that, because it seems to me that that is very, very important evidence.

Well, I thank Jenny Rathbone very much for her support and the support she has given to this as well in the past. I certainly agree that becoming a parent doesn't come easily and you're not given something that tells you how you should be a parent. Obviously, there are many stresses on parents, and she refers to the changes in welfare benefits, which, of course, does bring additional stress.

I think the point that she makes about the child being defenceless is a very strong point, because I think that's what really got me involved in this in the beginning—the thought of a big person using physical punishment against a little person. I mean, it just does not seem right that that should happen. That's really what made me feel very strongly right from the beginning that this is something that we should legislate about. So, I certainly support her in the fact that children are so defenceless. And, it does seem to me, why is it necessary to think that you do need to be able to use physical punishment in order to bring up your child? So, I am hoping that when we have the opportunity to discuss these issues widely—and I think during the passage of this Bill, we will have that opportunity to discuss all aspects of parenting, which I think will be a help to families and children—people who are very concerned about it perhaps will be able to change their views. And I'm thinking of her constituent, who, I concur, I'm sure is a very good parent, but obviously feels the need to be able to use physical punishment against her child. 

In terms of the research, I think I did say when I was responding to the research that the majority of researchers in the field make the judgment that all physical punishment under all conditions is potentially harmful to children and there is no need to take this risk when there are non-physical approaches to discipline available. Obviously, there is a variety of views; researchers do present a variety of views, but that is the overall conclusion. But, there has been more recent research that has come out, which is quite wide research, bringing in different pieces of research, which does say that anti-social behaviour, particularly among young teenagers, can be associated with using physical punishment at an early age—that they are more likely to get involved in fights. So, that is a fairly recent bit of research. But, once again, I thank Jenny Rathbone for her support and her contribution. 

15:50

Thanks, Minister, for your statement today. I do appreciate that for many Members of the Chamber, and several past Members who have been mentioned, this has been a long campaign. It is an emotive issue, so I am mindful of what I say, but I think we do need to look carefully at any proposed legislation in this area.

Minister, you say that this proposed legislation merely closes a loophole and that it doesn't create a new criminal offence. I agree that, technically, that's the case, but Crown Prosecution Service guidelines are quite clear on where the law lies on this currently. Currently, the defence for smacking a child only covers reasonable chastisement. So, logically, people who are unreasonably punishing a child in a physical manner are open to prosecution as it stands. So, there is an argument that we don't actually need this legislation, that this could confuse the issue, and that, logically, people will be open to prosecution for reasonable chastisement, which seems to me an unreasonable application of the law. So, how can we ensure that parents are not punished for legitimately disciplining their children who may be misbehaving? What safeguards are there going to be against needless prosecutions in these instances?

There are potential problems of the police, the CPS and social services dealing with a large increase in complaints. Now, I appreciate what you just said, which I think was very sensible, when you said that you were looking at two years to bed in any change in legislation, and that there would be a public awareness campaign. I think that if we are going to go down this road, that is going to be a very important element. Siân Gwenllian was also raising the issue that, in harness with your legislation, we may need more support for parents. You mentioned that health visitors and midwives could potentially be used, I think, in an educational way, in encouraging parenting that doesn't involve physical chastisement and, of course, we need to avoid that as far as we possibly can. So, I agree with all that. The bit that Siân asked you that you didn't perhaps answer was about any increase in resources to fund such a campaign and to increase that public awareness, and also whether there will be any resource implications regarding the police, the CPS and social services, particularly when the legislation first kicks in.

Finally, New Zealand, you've mentioned. You're going to look at—or you are looking at, rather—the example of New Zealand and, indeed, the 53 other countries that have introduced this legislation. I appreciate that you are doing that. If we could have more detailed responses to how they have dealt with this, either today or at a later date in the proceedings. Thank you.

Thank you, Gareth Bennett, for your contribution. You mentioned closing the loophole. It's not just closing the loophole in terms of physical punishment in the home; it's closing the loophole about physical punishment in Sunday schools, in leisure facilities, in quite a wide range of non-educational settings. Anybody who is looking after a child in those settings, at the moment, is able to use the defence of reasonable punishment, which I think is quite a surprise to many people. So, that is a loophole that is being closed, as well as the issue of parents in the home.

In terms of the work involving the CPS, the police and social services, I have met with all those bodies. I met with the police and crime commissioners, the chief police constables, the CPS and the social services, and they are all in support of what we are doing. We will be setting up an implementation group. We will be setting that up fairly soon, and, obviously, if the legislation is passed by the Assembly, that will continue to operate during the period until the final implementation. On that implementation group, we plan for these different groups to work together very closely in order to look at any implications in a very detailed way, so we will be involving all those organisations that he mentioned. Of course, all of them have said that it may need more resource in order to make this happen.

It’s very difficult to actually determine how much extra resource is needed, because, obviously, we haven't got rid of the defence of reasonable punishment before, so it’s very difficult to say how much is needed. We've made an estimate of £4 million over five years, which would cover an awareness-raising programme—a very big public awareness-raising programme—and looking at increased support for parents.

There is more information about what’s happened in New Zealand. It’s very difficult to find out from all the countries that have done this something that you can actually link and use for what’s happening here, but what they did find in New Zealand was that the number of parents who actually ended up in the justice system was very small and, calculating on the New Zealand evidence, it’s been estimated—although this is just an estimate—that, in Wales, it would be under 10 in any year.

15:55

I'm really pleased to be able to speak on this item today, Deputy Minister. As far as I'm concerned, this Bill proposes a long-overdue change to the law to remove an outdated Victorian concept. I have to disagree with the Assembly Member for Aberconwy, because most people I speak to in my constituency are actually of the opinion that children already have the same legal protection from physical assault as adults, and I see overwhelming support for this Bill in my constituency. I feel it really is time to bring the law into line with society and I'm also delighted, of course, because it is a manifesto commitment for Welsh Labour from the 2016 elections that we will be delivering on.

I'd like to praise you, Deputy Minister, for your long-term campaigning on this issue and welcome your warm words about your predecessors as children’s Ministers, too. But I’d like to beg the indulgence of the Dirprwy Lywydd also to say a few words in tribute to Christine Chapman, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Cynon Valley, who campaigned so fervently and so diligently on this issue for such a long time. I remember, as a young member of the Labour Party, hearing Christine come in to speak to us regularly at our party members about this issue and her strong feelings on it, and the evidence that she collated over many years from around the world as to the benefits that a Bill like this could bring to young people in Wales.

I'd like to ask a few questions today. Firstly, of course, we have recently seen the establishment of a Welsh Youth Parliament here at the Senedd, and I wonder if you've had any discussions with our newly elected Welsh Youth Parliament representatives on their thoughts about this Bill and the best way that it could actually be discussed and portrayed to families across Wales.

Secondly, I welcome your commitment to promoting positive parenting and the answers that you've already given to Members who have asked you questions around that. I note there is a private Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament that seeks to put a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote public awareness and understanding of the Bill that they're proposing there. I wonder whether you've considered building something similar into our Bill here in Wales.

Also, in relation to the positive parenting campaign that Welsh Government will be undertaking, have you given any thought to how this can be tailored to reach more marginalised groups in society, for example, individuals who are reluctant to engage with statutory services or have specific cultural, linguistic, communication or other needs?

Finally, Deputy Minister, would you be able to give any further information on the timescale of this Bill moving forward, and particularly on when the law itself would take effect?

16:00

I thank Vikki for her contribution and also for her mention of Christine Chapman and all the work that she did. I would agree with her that many parents do actually think that you're not legally able to use physical punishment against your child now, because lots of people have said to me, 'Oh, I didn't think we could do that'—they have already thought—. So, there is this mood, a change of mood. I think things are changing in relation to children and what may have been something that did seem very unique or strange that we were proposing some years ago I think is now coming much more into the mainstream.

The Welsh Youth Parliament—I haven't had a discussion with them yet, but I hope to do so, and I'm sure that the committee, the Children, Young People and Education Committee, when it does look at this, will be thinking of speaking to the Welsh Youth Parliament, and also Children in Wales—I think they would be a good group to speak to as well.

As part of the consultation, Unicef talked to over 1,000 children, and 72 per cent of the children who attended primary schools were in support of our legislation, and 56 per cent of children in secondary schools were in support of the legislation. So, children I think generally are in support of the legislation, and there have been some studies done with children to ask how they felt about physical punishment, and it's been very interesting, I think, to hear what young people do feel about how they feel humiliated and how they feel powerless, and the effect that it has had on them. I think it's very important for us, when we bring in this legislation, that we must remember what young people do actually feel. So, I think during the course of this period of time we will use every opportunity. I know that the officials working on the Bill are planning focus groups with young people during the passage of the Bill so that they can talk about what this means to them, and any help that they can give us. So, I think the issue about that is very important.

It is a very simple Bill. It's just one sheet, removing the defence, and I would really prefer to keep it as simple as possible, just to remove the defence. But our intention is to promote public awareness, and, then, reaching groups that may be marginalised is obviously a crucial part of the exercise, and we are planning to make particular efforts to reach different groups of people who have, maybe, issues, who feel marginalised and who don't readily come to meetings. But I think that, as I've said before, we do have a universal service that reaches everybody—the health visitors and the midwives. I've worked a lot with the Gypsy and Traveller community, and I know you have to make a specific effort to reach different communities so that you can explain what you're doing. So, I think you're absolutely right—we will need to make particular efforts.

Then, on the timescale, we would hope, if all goes well going through the Assembly, that we would get Royal Assent early next year, and then, as I say, we are thinking of up to two years before we actually finally implement the legislation.

Can I thank the Minister for her statement? I know that she's very sincere in her beliefs about the need for this particular ban, and she will understand that I have been opposing the smacking ban that the Government is proposing. I'm very concerned, obviously, about the potential criminalisation of many tens of thousands of decent, loving parents across Wales who use the occasional smack to discipline their children, and I do believe that the overwhelming majority of parents know where to draw the line between reasonable chastisement and child abuse. We've got comprehensive legislation that is already in place to deal with the abuse of children, and people quite rightly are prosecuted using the existing legislation, and they should face the consequences of the law in that regard. But I am concerned about the potential impact of this on parents, particularly given that your own explanatory memorandum draws out some of those potential impacts, in terms of them having a criminal record, this appearing on their Disclosure and Barring Service disclosure, and the impact that that then has on their employment—prohibiting them from certain roles and jobs, and the restrictions that it might place on them being able to travel overseas to certain countries. And I know that you've said that it's not your intention to criminalise parents—I understand that that's not your intention—your intention is to promote positive patenting. But the reality is that that is what will actually happen—that anybody who smacks a child after this law is changed will be regarded as a criminal. So, I am very concerned about that and I wonder what you're going to do to ensure that the application of this law, should it become law, is absolutely proportionate and supportive of parents, and not something that is going to be malicious as far as they are concerned, in terms of hunting them down, as it were.

I am also a little bit concerned about how this will be enforced. You've already referred to, in some of the other questions, how the law will apply across Wales. Obviously, it's important that we have a promotion campaign about any change in the law, should a change come, within Wales, but we obviously have a lot of visitors, from England in particular—day-trippers et cetera—and I wonder how we're going to communicate with them about a change in the law so that they're not unwittingly breaking the law when they arrive and cross the border into Wales if they give their child a smack as a form of discipline.

I heard what you said about the promotional activity that you're going to do, and it clearly states that you've set a budget aside for that promotional activity, in terms of educating people about a change in the law, in the explanatory memorandum that was published yesterday. But there's no additional finance available in accordance with that memorandum for more positive parenting courses in order to increase the capacity of those courses. That concerns me, because I would expect there to be a significant increase in demand from parents who may well want to have the opportunity to learn other parenting techniques. But unless you're actually prepared to put some money on the table to expand the provision that we currently have in Wales, which the overwhelming majority of parents don't participate in at present, I think we're never going to achieve the sort of change that you and I want to see in terms of the availability of the promotion of positive parenting. I'm absolutely with you on the need to promote alternative parenting styles, but unless you increase the resource, unless you increase the capacity of those people who are already putting on these sorts of services, we're never actually going to fulfil the sort of ambition that you want to see in terms of a change in behaviour across Wales.

I do know that there's a mapping exercise, as I understand it, which is under way by the Welsh Government, looking at the different places where positive parenting is being done, and I wonder whether you could give us some information about when you expect that mapping exercise to be completed. You've referred to the fact that positive parenting courses at the moment are universal in terms of the offer, but I don't think they're universally being promoted amongst patents. People expect to go to an antenatal class, for example, if they're having their first child, but they don't seem to be offered in the same way access to a positive parenting course. And I do think that we ought to get smart about offering these sorts of things in the future in order that we can equip people with everything they need.

16:05

And finally, because you are the second speaker, and you've had five minutes.

I appreciate that. Can I just ask you about parental attitudes and the attitudes of society at large as well? The memorandum refers to some of the survey work that the Welsh Government has done, but it doesn't refer to other pieces of work that have been undertaken with the public at large. So, there's a ComRes survey, for example, back in 2017, where it made it absolutely clear that over three quarters of parents did not believe that parental smacking of a child should be a criminal offence, 68 per cent of those surveyed in those ComRes surveys said that it's sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child, and they also said that 77 per cent of the respondents said that it should be for parents to decide whether or not to smack their children. That seems to be significantly at odds with the findings of your survey, and I wonder why you haven't referred to the ComRes survey, given that it's the only significant piece of work that has been done with the public at large in your memorandum. It doesn't seem right that that has been overlooked or ignored. And just finally—

16:10

No, no, I'm sorry, I've got five more speakers after you and some of them are not going to get called. Deputy Minister.

Thank you very much, Darren Millar, for those comments. Obviously, most of those issues that you have raised are things that we have been considering very carefully. In terms of the reasons why we may reach the stage where parents would come into the justice system, there are quite clear lines that have to be taken into consideration, and the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have to have enough evidence—you have to take into account the public interest and you have to take account of the interests of the child. And as things stand at the moment, there is a proportionate response from the authorities that are involved in the system. That happens already and I thoroughly expect that to continue, and so there is certainly no question of people seeking out parents or pursuing parents. What we're going to do is to provide as much evidence and support as we possibly can and as much information as we possibly can. And I think that this will result in a change of behaviour.

I know that Darren Millar says that many parents don't know about some of the support that is available, but that is linked to what we are intending to do. And this 'Parenting: Give it Time' has actually been very well used and does address all the difficult issues that parents need to address, and will be even more important as we bring in this legislation. For example, it looks at tantrums, it looks at mealtimes, it looks at potty training—all these sorts of triggers that cause great anxiety for parents. So, any response will be proportionate, as it is now. In terms of the change, what we're saying is that no physical punishment is acceptable, and that is what we want to legislate about and that's what we think is the right thing to do.

Just quickly, on why we didn't— . The ComRes survey is obviously a general survey. What I've quoted is what we have commissioned ourselves. There has been quite a shift in opinion, and the opinion has been actually amongst parents, not the public as a whole. So, it is parents. For example, there's been a shift in that, in 2018, 81 per cent of parents disagreed with the statement that it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child—81 per cent of those parents didn't think that was right. Two years previously, it had been 71 per cent, and it was the same questions, the same group doing it. So, there had been quite a move. And in looking at parents of children under six, I think the most recent survey has shown that only 5 per cent felt happy about using physical punishment against a child, and the actual number who were still using physical punishment was 11 per cent, but only 5 per cent of those felt that they had done the right thing. I think one of the things that has come out quite strongly in what we've heard is, when parents do actually use physical punishment against their children, how many of them bitterly regret it afterwards and it haunts them. And we have a lot of examples of that. 

Can I just say how delighted I am to be in this Chamber today to see this piece of legislation brought forward? As Siân Gwenllian has said, it has been a long time coming, but that is no reason not to welcome it very warmly today. I'd like to associate myself with everything the Deputy Minister has said about her predecessors, but I also feel that I need to say that I can think of no more fit person on her benches to be the Member in charge of this piece of legislation today and I hugely, hugely look forward to working with her as the legislation is brought forward.

I very much welcome—as I know do the groups and organisations, some of which the Deputy Minister has referred to—the fact that this will be a simple Bill, that it will be a simple question of repeal. I have, of course, heard what other Members have said about there being many issues that we need to do to support children and ensure that they're not abused, but this piece of legislation is not the place for that. A simple repeal is very much what's required, and I'm delighted to be able to support that today as, as Siân Gwenllian says, all of my fellow Plaid Cymru Members will be doing. 

I won't, Deputy Presiding Officer, reiterate the discussion points that have already been raised, but I do want to refer to something that the Deputy Minister has already mentioned about the way that children and young people feel when they are physically punished. We know that the best research now shows that little ones are upset and confused, because mummy and daddy tell them all the time big people must not hit little people—'Do not hit your little brother, that's not kind'. And if, then, in the next breath, daddy is smacking you for having hit your little brother, that's a very, very confusing thing if you're four or five years old. We know that the reaction of older children if they are physically punished, if they are hit—because that's what we're talking about—is that they feel humiliated and powerless, and that there is a direct link then between that and those children then going on to behave worse. That's the link that Members have mentioned—between physical punishment, between adults hitting children, and those children then going on to commit acts of anti-social behaviour. 

I know and I really understand the concerns that other Members have raised here, and I believe those concerns are absolutely genuine. And I hope that, through the passage of the Bill, we will all be able—particularly the committee members, but we will all be able to look again at the best, most current evidence, and be reassured that nowhere where this legislation has been introduced have we had hundreds and hundreds of perfectly good parents being criminalised. What, of course, this legislation will do is to make it very clear to families what is and isn't acceptable. Certainly, from my constituency postbag, there are a lot of people who very warmly welcome that. 

I just want to ask a couple of specific questions. Vikki Howells has already raised the point about children and young people being consulted in the process. I would like to put to the Deputy Minister that it's very important that that includes younger children, and not only teenagers. There are some excellent projects that I know the Deputy Minister is aware of, like the Little Voices project based in Swansea University, where really small children, six and seven-year-olds, have been able to have a voice in policy, and in terms of what they think is going to work for them—I think not so much in terms of the legislation, because they're not going to care about that, but about how they feel that they learn best, we can usefully listen to them. 

Again, in terms of who will get access to parenting services, I hear what's been said about the need for additional resources, and I of course would associate myself with what Vikki Howells has said about the importance of reaching out to what we call hard-to-reach communities. I sometimes think it's a question of communities where we just haven't tried hard enough, to be honest. But I would also want us to be very careful that we don't give the impression that problematic parenting is something that only happens amongst people who are economically poor. As a middle-class single mother myself, there were times when I would desperately, for example, would have liked to have my mum next door, and she wasn't there. So, I think we have to make sure in this debate that we're not giving any impression that we think people living in those communities are any more likely to behave inappropriately to their children than middle-class parents. I think we also mustn't be under any impression that middle-class parents don't need help either.

So, I'd like the Deputy Minister to give some consideration as to how we can—. I would argue that those middle-class parents struggling behind closed doors are potentially one of the hardest-to-reach groups in this discussion, because there may be a question of humiliation in terms of saying, 'I can't manage'. So, perhaps to give some consideration—and I hear what the Deputy Minister has said about health visiting services, maternity services for very young parents, but also whether there are things that we can do through schools to raise awareness and give access to more middle-class families, who might find it more difficult to access perhaps more traditional routes. 

And, finally, in relation to the timescales, I appreciate what the Deputy Minister has said about the need for things to bed in. I would argue that the very fact that we've been having these debates in this place over a number of years has contributed to the shift that the Deputy Minister has already referred to in public opinion. People know what we've been talking about. We now know that 80 per cent of parents of young children in Wales don't believe that physical punishment is acceptable, and they don't want to use it.

So, I think we've been talking about this for quite a long time. It's good to see Christine Chapman here today. I wonder if I can ask the Deputy Minister to keep that two-year implementation period under review. I think that children in Wales have been waiting a very long time to receive the equal protection that most of us here feel that they deserve. I appreciate what the Deputy Minister says about needing to be clear that everybody understands about a change in the law, but I just think that two years, once the law is passed, seems like a very, very long time to me. So, I'd ask the Deputy Minister to keep that under review, if she'd be so kind. 

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