Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd07/05/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Llyr Gruffydd.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on community hospitals in North Wales? OAQ53824
Thank you, Llywydd. Moving services from acute to community settings is central to the future of the Welsh NHS. In north Wales, that means rethinking and remodelling the contribution of community hospitals, as demonstrated in plans to invest £40 million in a new north Denbighshire community hospital in Rhyl.
Would you agree with me that a private hospital that’s about to be built in the St Asaph area shows that the closure of community hospitals back in 2013 was a mistake? Because some 50 beds were lost when the community hospitals were lost in Flint, Llangollen, Prestatyn and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Now, many of us warned, as did many GPs and others, at the time that that step-up, step-down provision was required, particularly with an ageing population in north Wales. But the health board and your Government insisted on the closure of those hospitals. And now we see a private hospital with 63 beds to be built not a stone's throw from Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, just to fill that gap that was left. And it’s not me saying that; it’s the developers themselves who are saying that. So, what we’re seeing, to all intents and purposes, is the privatisation of another layer of the health service in Wales because of the closure of those community hospitals. Now, isn’t that scandalous, and shouldn’t you and the health board explain to the people of north Wales why you’ve allowed this to happen?
Well, Llywydd, I don’t agree with what the Member has said in any way whatsoever. It’s crucial for the future of health services in north Wales that we modernise and that we move services closer to people and where they live, and, where we retain services in the community, we need to modernise them, as we have done in Blaenau Ffestiniog, for example, where more services are now available to local people, and certainly more than was the case when the Member’s party was trying to stop what the local board was trying to do in that area. And the fact that a private hospital has submitted a bid doesn’t mean anything about the privatisation of the services that we provide in north Wales. If a private hospital wants to try to build services in north Wales, it’s up to people who wish to support that private hospital. But that private hospital doesn’t rely on work coming from the public sector, because we are providing services through NHS services in north Wales, and the services we provide are the services that are as close as possible to where people live, and services that will succeed in the future.
First Minister, hospitals at all levels, to include our community hospitals, rely on teams of hard-working staff, who, as you know, are facing an additional increase in pressures. I am really sad to stand here today, though, noting that staff are facing a further challenge. Shockingly, Wales Online has discovered that assaults on hospital staff have reached record high levels in Wales, with attacks taking place on average 10 times every single day. First Minister, there were 3,805 physical assaults against staff reported by Welsh health boards in 2017-18, with this representing a 70 per cent increase since 2010. What action will you take to support those already having been affected by assaults whilst in work, working in our hospitals? And also, how will you support our hard-working front-line health workers from further risks as regards violence, going forward?
Llywydd, can I begin by agreeing with what Janet Finch-Saunders has said about the utter unacceptability of people facing assaults as part of their daily work? And those figures are shocking. I think the Member will agree with me that, in part, they are because of the greater willingness of people to report and record those incidents, which previously they may simply have accepted as part of the nature of the job that they do. That was never the right thing. And the actions that have been taken have been supported across the Chamber, to make it absolutely clear that people who work in our NHS deserve to go about the important work they do without the risk of being assaulted by people. It is, we understand, that NHS staff are often dealing with people who are distressed. They can be dealing with people who have problems of mental health, they can be dealing with people who have problems of substance misuse, and sometimes people's behaviour is inherently unpredictable. In those circumstances, staff always, I know, want to work with people to resolve those difficulties. But staff also face difficulties from people who have been drinking, who come in to accident and emergency departments, for example, worse for wear for drink, and, in those circumstances, a zero-tolerance policy towards behaviour that leads to these difficulties is part of the way we deal with it in the NHS. We deal with it with our partners in the police service, with our colleagues in the trade union movement, because reporting, recording and then responding to those incidents is absolutely the way that we want to see those incidents eliminated.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on EU funding for Wales? OAQ53823
I thank the Member for that question. Wales has been a long-term beneficiary of European Union funding. That continues to the present day, when over 90 per cent of our current structural funds allocation has now been invested in skills and infrastructure measures, including highly successful examples in the Member's own constituency.
Thank you, First Minister, and we can look around many constituencies where we see very important infrastructure and other projects that benefited the people of Wales as a result of EU funding. Funding is worth around £650 million a year to Wales. That means that, over a five-year-term, £3.25 billion comes into Wales. And, as yet, we have no long-term guarantee from the Tories. The Wales Office is silent, the UK Government remains silent, and the Welsh Tories remain silent. First Minister, what are the consequences of the Tories failing to deliver on those promises that Wales would not suffer a penny less as a result of Brexit?
Llywydd, the Conservative Party and the Secretary of State may be silent now on a long-term guarantee, but they were anything but silent in the run-up to the referendum in 2016, when it was the then leader of the Conservative party here in Wales who offered an absolute guarantee—that's his term—an absolute guarantee that Wales would not be a penny worse off as a result of leaving the European Union. That is why it is absolutely right that we hold the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government at the UK level to those promises. The money that Wales gets from the European Union comes to Wales because we qualify for it on the basis of our needs. Those needs will not have gone away the day after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, if that is what takes place. And the money to respond to those needs must come in future from the UK Government. It would be a very strange message indeed, Llywydd, wouldn't it, to people who voted to leave the European Union that they were worse off as a result of their membership of the United Kingdom than they had been as a result of their membership of the European Union. That's for the UK Government to address. The money must come to Wales, not a penny less, and not a power lost either, Llywydd, because the decision as how to use that money, as Mick Antoniw has said, needs to rest here in this National Assembly for Wales, where it has ever since the start of devolution.
First Minister, we hear a lot of crowing on the Labour benches about European money post Brexit, but, of course, the reality is that it's not European money, it's our money that has been sent to the European Union and is being sent back to this country having had a slice of it taken away. Do you accept that, post Brexit, Wales has the opportunity to be able to invest in areas that are currently outside of the European funding programme because of their location and yet deserve some investment? So, do you welcome the opportunities that could be presented to Wales as a result of a UK shared prosperity fund, so that those deprived communities outside of west Wales and the Valleys can receive the support that they also deserve?
I'm not as sanguine as the Member about the UK prosperity fund because we know next to nothing about what that fund proposes. We know next to nothing about the money. The chair of the Finance Committee is pointing out to me that when the Secretary of State for Wales has been invited to give evidence to Assembly committees so that we can have the detail that we need, he refuses to come here to answer those questions. So, I am by no means as sanguine as the Member is. Let me say this: we are working hard inside the Welsh Government, and through a group involving people beyond the Welsh Government, chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies, to make sure that we are prepared for the day in which that money continues to come to Wales, and where there are opportunities, if there are, to use that money in new and more flexible and more effective ways, of course, we will be ready to take those opportunities. But we know nothing about the money, we know nothing about where the powers lie, and it's the UK Government's responsibility to make sure that both of those things flow to Wales and remain in Wales in the future.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, do you have confidence in your health Minister?
The health Minister's discharge of his responsibilities has been absolutely commendable, particularly in the recent issue, which I know lies behind the Member's question, in relation to the significant difficulties that have been faced in Cwm Taf maternity services. And as I said on the floor of the Assembly last week, it is because of the health Minister and because of the actions that he took in the autumn of last year, as these issues came to attention, to set up an independent inquiry, to publish that independent inquiry in full, to answer questions on the floor of this Assembly and beyond, that we are now in a position where the board is able to act on the recommendations that it has received and to make sure that future services for those mothers, and for babies in the Cwm Taf area are of the standard that they and we have a right to expect.
Well, I'm not sure whether the First Minister does have confidence in the health Minister because he didn't answer a straightforward question. But let's look at the facts and let's look at your Minister's record, shall we? Since Vaughan Gething became health Minister in 2014, there has been a catalogue of failures. Five out of seven health boards are in special measures or targeted intervention. The accident and emergency waiting time target of 95 per cent of patients being seen in four hours has never been met since it was introduced in 2009. Under Vaughan Gething's leadership, the number of patients seen within four hours has shockingly dropped further from 86 per cent when he was appointed in 2014, to a disgraceful 78 per cent now. Ambulance waiting times have been missed and, instead of taking responsibility and improving response times, the targets were scrapped and the goalposts moved.
And then, last week, I raised with you the damning report into the Cwm Taf maternity services, despite formal concerns being raised seven years ago, and, as we know, 43 cases are now being reviewed. So, I put it to you, First Minister, given these catalogue of failures, why do you have confidence in the health Minister?
Well, Llywydd, what we hear, as ever, in an entirely partial and distorted account of the record of the health service here in Wales. It is because of decisions that the health Minister made on ambulance waiting times that ambulance waiting times in Wales have been met and exceeded in every one of the last 12 months, and why the model that was developed here in Wales is now being copied by other health services, including the health service where his party is in charge, in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is because of the focus of the health Minister on cancer waiting times, for example, that more people in Wales are treated today more quickly and more successfully than ever before in our history.
And when things go wrong, as they inevitably will in a system of the size and sort that we have, then, in the case that the leader of the opposition highlights again this afternoon, I say to him again it is because of the decisive action that the Minister took in insisting that there was an independent review of the discovery of difficulties in Cwm Taf that we are now in a position of having the recommendations we need, the arrangements in place, and the genuine prospect of those services recovering and being back in place as we would want to see them as fast as that can be possibly be brought about.
It's quite clear, First Minister, that there have been serious failings under your health Minister's stewardship of the NHS. Now, a YouGov poll released today for the twentieth anniversary of this place has found that 29 per cent of people in Wales feel that the National Assembly has led to a decline in NHS standards. There has been a lack of leadership by successive Welsh Labour Governments, and it is quite clear that it is not devolution that has failed Wales, but Welsh Labour have failed devolution.
Now, your health Minister has been directly responsible for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board since it was put into special measures four years ago next month. Since then, 29 per cent of patients in the Betsi Cadwaladr area are waiting more than four hours to be seen in A&E; 43 per cent of patients at Wrexham Maelor Hospital wait more than four hours in A&E; and, this is the worst in Wales, 38 people have died in unexplained or unintended incidents whilst in the care of Betsi Cadwaladr—38 deaths reported in the last year, which could have been avoided. This is more than all the other health boards put together.
And now—and now—we see the Cwm Taf maternity services scandal, where 27 babies have died. And last week's report made it absolutely clear that there was a lack of functioning governance and leadership. So, what does it actually take for people to take responsibility for these failures, First Minister? So, once again, given this catalogue of failures, why haven't you sacked your health Minister?
Well, Llywydd, I must say I think that last remark simply trivialises the importance of the issues that the Member rightly pointed to earlier in his question. Ever since these matters came to light, our focus has been on those brave women who came forward in Cwm Taf and who insisted that their stories were told, who have—as we know—suffered significant harm in their lives, which will be something that will live with them for many, many years to come, and what we need is a serious response to that position, not a scalp-hunting response. And it is the serious actions that the Minister has taken, and those actions will go on, because he's to be advised on any further action required to improve maternity services in Cwm Taf, as a result of the arrangements that he has put in place. That's a serious reaction to a genuinely serious position, and that's the sort of health service and that's the sort of Government that I think people in Wales are entitled to see and to continue to see in the future.
On behalf of the Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Llywydd. Twenty nine per cent of Welsh children live in poverty. Does the First Minister believe that that is acceptable?
Of course that is unacceptable, Llywydd. In the first decade of devolution, the number of children living in poverty in Wales went down year on year. What we’re talking about is the period of austerity, the period when the United Kingdom’s decisions created a situation where more children in Wales live in poverty and the number is increasing year on year. That is not acceptable. We are doing everything that we can as a Government, but the responsibility lies in the hands of the United Kingdom Government, because of the actions they’ve taken in the field of benefits, for example. That is what is creating the numbers of children living in poverty in Wales.
I agree that it’s unacceptable. I also recall that a series of Governments here have been missing their targets on tackling child poverty since the inception of devolution. This is one of the things that could arise as a topic for discussion in marking 20 years of devolution. And, on that twentieth anniversary, people can consider two things, I think. First of all, they can celebrate the fact that we do now have a national Senedd and that the choice to establish a Senedd was an important step forward in our maturity as a nation. The Assembly, of course, is a forum for everyone, for every party. It’s an institution that everyone can be proud of. But it’s natural that people will ask how effective Welsh Governments have been over that 20 years, and Labour has led each of those Governments. This First Minister is the fourth Labour First Minister.
So, back to the poverty figures. In a few weeks’ time, this Assembly will discuss a motion signed by Members of many parties, including the party of Government, calling for a strategy to tackle poverty with a budget and specific action points. Isn't it scandalous, after 20 years of Labour Government, that we are still in a situation where one feels that we need to have such a strategy? Backbench Members are eager to take action. The Assembly, if you like, is eager to take action, but it’s the Welsh Labour Government that has failed time and time again, just as you have failed to resolve the problems of the health service.
Well, Llywydd, let me find something to agree with in what the Member said, because the fact that we have this forum, and that the forum is an established part of the democratic landscape here in Wales, of course is a major achievement of the last 20 years and provides a forum in which debates of this sort can be carried out. The Member points to the fact that Labour, one way or another, has formed the Government here in Wales over that period. But there is a reason for that, Llywydd, and that's because, in every election since the Assembly was created, that is the decision that people who vote in Wales have made. And I absolutely understand that no party has any right to expect anybody to vote for them, and that my party has to earn every single vote at every single election that we are lucky enough to attract, and we will go on doing that and making that case to people in Wales as we approach another election.
It will be for people in Wales, then, to decide whether or not what they want is another strategy, or whether they want the sort of practical actions that this Government is committed to making in the field of child poverty—in the things that we have done to more than double the school uniform grant; in the extra millions of pounds that we have found to bring thousands more children into free school meals in Wales; the fact that, even in this really difficult period of austerity, Wales is the only part of the United Kingdom that has a national approach to tackling holiday hunger, and we have nearly doubled the amount of money that we will put into that during the coming summer. It's for people in Wales to decide whether they would rather another strategy or would rather a Government that does those practical things, that uses the powers that we have every day to put to work to improve the lives of children in Wales.
The First Minister says that it's up to the people of Wales to decide if they want another strategy. The point is your own backbenchers believe you don't have a strategy at all when it comes to tackling poverty, at a time when nearly a third of Welsh children live in poverty.
Now, devolution has developed within European frameworks and I and Plaid Cymru believe that the evolution of a small nation like Wales, for the next 20 years and well, well beyond, will be best served by staying in the European Union. Our position on that is quite clear. After the failures of the British establishment over the past three years, does the First Minister agree with me that the people of Wales must now be allowed to vote on the terms of any deal on leaving the EU, and be given the option to stay, so power is genuinely put back in the hands of the people, whether they voted remain or leave three years ago on the principle of departing from the EU, or does he hope that Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May can come to some sort of cosy agreement—or stitch-up, some might say—that can drive Brexit forward without the need for another vote?
Well, the Welsh Government's position, Llywydd, is the one that I rehearse every single week in front of the Assembly, and it was the position that the Member's party signed up to when we jointly published 'Securing Wales' Future'. We've always believed that there was a deal to be done that would protect the Welsh economy and Welsh jobs were we to leave the European Union. If a deal of that sort cannot be struck, then of course—we have said time and time again that the decision will have to return to the people. That's our policy, that remains our policy. It was the policy that his own party signed up to not that long ago.
The UKIP leader, Gareth Bennett.
Missed you last week.
Thank you. First Minister, if I could raise with you the issue of council tax, I think it's interesting that we are, this month, marking 20 years of the Welsh Assembly, because this 20-year period hasn't been particularly great for Welsh council tax payers. If we look at the figures, band D council tax rates in Wales have increased by 244 per cent since 1996. This is much higher than the general rate of inflation in that period. First Minister, do you think that rapidly-escalating council tax increases are a price worth paying in Wales to enjoy the benefits of a Welsh Labour Government permanently running the Welsh Assembly?
Well, the reason that there is a Welsh Government in the Assembly, Llywydd, as the Member knows, is because, whenever there has been an election since devolution, that has been the decision that the citizens of Wales have made. That's the reason why. It's not some sort of act of God; we didn't win it in a raffle. We won it by being on the doorstep and persuading people to vote for the Labour Party.
As far as council tax is concerned, those are decisions for local authorities across Wales to make. They too are answerable to their local populations. They too face elections in which local populations can pass a verdict on those local authorities. And, in a period of severe public expenditure restraint, where every week on the floor of the Assembly Members in different parties pop up demanding more money to be spent on local authority services—you can't have more money spent on services without raising that money from somewhere, and the council tax and the pressure on it is a reflection of the fact that we do not have money coming to Wales to invest in those services in the way that we would like to see it, and local authorities find themselves at the sharp end of some of that difficulty, and decisions on the council tax are made in that context.
Yes, thank you for that answer. I'm glad that you recognise that the act of voting at the ballot box isn't an act of God, it's something that people with informed opinions actually do, and so you do take heed of the decisions, because that isn't the line you generally take as regards the vote of the people in Wales during the Brexit referendum.
Now, going back to the precise issue of council tax, yes, of course, local authorities are answerable to the electorate—that is a response that you have a habit of giving to me whenever I raise local government issues with you here in the Assembly. But, First Minister, it isn't going to impress people in Wales very much if we have an Assembly and you simply use the Chamber to dodge issues and avoid taking responsibility for policy areas that are clearly part of your responsibility as First Minister. Now, if we look at this issue of council tax, surely you must accept it's a preposterous situation when a Welsh council taxpayer who owns a £220,000 home in Neath pays more in council tax than the owner of an £85 million mansion in Kensington, as is the case this year.
Well, Llywydd, council tax rates are not set on the floor of this Assembly Chamber. The Assembly is responsible now for major taxation decisions that we make every year, but setting the council tax is not one of them. It is as a result of actions agreed in this National Assembly that we still have in Wales a national council tax benefit scheme, so that people who have the least pay no council tax at all, whereas the poorest families in the land in the part of the United Kingdom to which the Member refers are now paying £200 a year on average from benefits that have been frozen since 2015 towards council tax bills, and, in Wales, those families, I'm really pleased to say, pay nothing at all. So, where we are able to act and where we have responsibility to act, I think the National Assembly and the Welsh Government have acted together to protect those families who need that protection the most, while respecting the separate democratic accountabilities that local authorities have to make decisions that fall to them to make.
In terms of respecting democratic decisions, I take note of what the Member says about the European Union referendum. I think it's his party's policy that we should now have a third referendum on whether the National Assembly should continue to be in existence, despite the fact that we've had two referendums here, both of which—the first of which brought this Assembly into being, and the second of which confirmed its existence and strengthened its powers by a completely decisive majority.
Question 3 [OAQ53803] is withdrawn. Question 4, Mark Reckless.
4. What is the Welsh Government’s policy on implementing the decision made in the EU referendum? OAQ53801
Llywydd, the Welsh Government has always respected the result of the referendum, but has never believed that people in Wales voted for harm to be done to their own economic future and that of their children. That remains the basis of our policy.
The people of Wales voted to leave the European Union. Now, the First Minister doesn't agree with that decision, but doesn't he need to respect it? Did he see the results in the local elections in England last week and, in particular, that by far the worst results for Labour were across ex-coalfield communities? Does he agree with the Members who represent Blaenau Gwent, which voted to leave by 62 per cent, or Torfaen, which voted to leave by 60 per cent, that the electorate should be ignored and forced to vote again because they do not respect their constituents or the decision they made?
Well, Llywydd, it's never been the policy of the Welsh Government to ignore what voters say. I don't think that any member of the Welsh Government stood for one party and then ignored the views of the people who voted for them and decided to join another party here on the floor of the Assembly, so I don't think we need many lectures on this side of the Assembly about respecting democratic decisions.
As I said in my answer to the Member, we have always been focused on the form rather than the fact of leaving the European Union, because we respect the fact that there was a vote by people in Wales, and it's a vote that we regretted because we campaigned for the opposite result. I have always believed, as Steffan Lewis, our colleague, I remember said the day after the referendum, that while people in Wales may have voted to leave the European Union, nobody in Wales had voted to take leave of their senses. And it would be an act of leaving our senses to crash out of the European Union, to leave on the sort of terms that the Member is constantly advocating, because those would do profound economic and social damage to Wales, and the Welsh Government will not stand idly by and see that happen.
First Minister, as you quite rightly pointed out, the people of Blaenau Gwent did not vote for fewer services, did not vote for fewer jobs, did not vote to be poorer, did not vote to see a reduction in spending on essential public services. The people of Blaenau Gwent voted against austerity, voted against the Tory policy that is ripping the heart out of our communities, whether some people recognise it or not. On the basis that we are elected to protect the interests of the people we represent and to fight hard for the people we represent, can you assure me, First Minister, that you will keep fighting hard for a referendum that won't be fought on the lies of the previous referendum but on the hard reality of what we are facing in terms of a hard Brexit, a crash-out Brexit, a blind Brexit and a Brexit that'll undermine our economy and our ability to deliver services?
Well, Llywydd, let me agree with everything the Member said in relation to those complex reasons that lay behind the decisions that people made at the ballot box back in 2016, and particularly those parts of Wales that had felt themselves held back, felt themselves cut off from the prosperity that others were able to enjoy and had felt that they were being asked to bear an entirely unfair burden of austerity. Those people—I entirely agree with what the Member has said: none of those people voted to have a worse future for themselves or for their families. If a deal cannot be struck of the sort that protects those people's futures, that meets the six tests that the Labour Party has set out, then, going back to people for a further and final decision seems to me to be inevitable. As a Government, as I've said many times, if that position were to take place, nothing that we have seen in the nearly three years that have now lapsed since that referendum leads us to believe that the advice we gave back in 2016 was the wrong advice, and we will say again to people in Wales that, if they have that opportunity, our future is better secured and their futures and their families' futures are better secured through continued membership of the European Union.
5. How is the Welsh Government helping to embed co-operative principles at local and national level throughout Wales? OAQ53795
I thank the Member for that question. Co-operatives and mutuals add real value to the Welsh economy. Amongst other measures, the Welsh Government seeks to embed co-operative principles through the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 and through our economic action plan.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this democratic institution, it's also a chance to celebrate the growth in Assembly Members and Ministers, indeed, over those 20 years who are co-operators and members of the Co-operative Party as well as the Labour Party. In fact, though the Co-operative Party is, of course, a sister party of the Labour Party, it also happens to be the second largest political group, Presiding Officer, although we're not precious about that at all. So, I want to thank Welsh Government for making good in its commitment to put in place a Minister for co-operation across Government and to Lee Waters for his engagement with the group with a co-operative agenda.
In the manifesto for 2016 from the Wales Co-operative Party, we urged railways run in partnership with passengers and staff, tackling the housing crisis through co-operative housing, sports fans having a say in the club they support, credit unions as the best way to support strong, personal and community financing arrangements and financial literacy, and more and more. So, could I ask the First Minister how does he rate progress now against these and other co-operative aims—shared aims: the current campaigns on food justice, on a national community bank that can be a truly accessible bank into all our communities across Wales, and, indeed the UK Labour commitment on doubling the size of the co-operative economy?
Now, I'm sure he won't be able to answer all these questions today, so perhaps I could ask him whether he'd consider meeting with the group and with Lee Waters, at some point, so we can have a really constructive discussion around those shared aims that we have for delivering social justice and working together for the common good.
Well, Llywydd, can I thank Huw Irranca-Davies for what he said today and the work that I know he does all the time to promote the co-operative movement, to speak up for the principles of co-operation and of partnership? He's absolutely right to point to the number of Welsh Co-operative Party Assembly Members here in the Chamber. I was very pleased to ask the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport to particularly focus on the work that is being done on the co-operative economy. I'd be very pleased to meet the Member and others who have an interest in this, because on so many of the things that he mentioned in his supplementary question, there is work that we are determined to do here in Wales.
The £25 million Welsh management succession fund that has been set up by my colleague Ken Skates, through the Development Bank of Wales, is an absolutely practical example of the way in which we want employee ownership to grow here in Wales. We've recently supported a larger-scale programme for community-led housing, in conjunction with the Nationwide federation, to develop co-operative housing here in Wales, and the prospect of a community bank, I think, is one of the most exciting prospects that we have here in Wales. We know that there are whole communities where conventional banking no longer operates on the high street and in those communities, and we have an opportunity here in Wales, working with others, to develop a different sort of model that will return banking to the core of those communities, that will offer a service to small businesses—microbusinesses in particular—and doing it on the basis of those collaborative principles that the co-operative movement exemplifies.
I've had a number of interesting conversations with Alun Davies and Mike Hedges over the last few weeks about the co-operative movement. Well, I found them interesting, anyway; you probably groan as you see me approaching you in the tea room. But it is an interesting concept, and it is a concept that has been embedded within Wales for many, many years now. My colleague Mark Isherwood often talks about the benefits of co-production in this Chamber, and co-production can be seen as one aspect of the co-operative agenda.
Can you tell us—? As you're aware, First Minister, co-production turns service users from merely passive recipients of public services into active shapers of those services and shapers of their own destiny in the future, something that I think Members from across all sides of this Chamber would buy into. Can you tell us how you're embedding those principles of co-production into Welsh public services, particularly at a local level, as Huw Irranca mentioned in his opening question?
I want to agree with what the Member has said about the co-production principles—the fact that in a co-productive model, people who use our public services are regarded as people who have assets to contribute rather than being problems to be solved. And by identifying people's strengths and the things that they bring to the table, we are able to design services that are not organised around the question that begins by asking people, 'What's the matter with you today?'—a question that inevitably focuses on people's deficits—but we start those conversations by saying to people, 'What matters to you today?' Because if we're able to do that, then we are able to draw their contribution into that conversation, and to design outcomes alongside those people that meet their priorities. And in terms of doing it locally, let me remind the Member of a visit that I made to Raglan in his constituency, where he was also present, to see that co-production principle in operation in the field of social care, where, instead of having a pre-determined list of visits to make with time set aside for each visit, the worker was able to speak to the people they were visiting and work out with them how long they thought a visit was needed, to be flexible because those needs change over time and to co-produce the service that they were receiving in a way that was really highly spoken of, both by the people providing the service but also, in the visit that I made that day, by residents in Raglan, who felt that they were genuinely involved in the service they were receiving, rather than simply the recipient of it.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the terms and conditions for supply teachers working in Wales? OAQ53827
I thank Hefin David for that. The Welsh Government recognises and values the work of supply teachers. We have supported the work of the National Procurement Service, which is in the final stages of a new framework for the employment of temporary and supply teachers here in Wales.
I welcome that recognition and also the news announced on 6 April that supply teachers in Wales were going to be boosted by a Welsh Government mandated minimum daily pay rate. I think that's very much to be welcomed.
I think it is, in part, a tribute to the hard work of Sheila Jones, who is a Caerphilly constituent, a former supply teacher, and is now the supply teacher representative for the National Education Union Cymru. I spoke to her earlier today and she said that she still has some concerns. She says that a lot of discretion is still left to individual schools as to whether or not they employ supply teachers with qualified teacher status and whether or not they employ supply teachers through agencies. She's got grave concerns about how agencies are going to approach dialogue with the Welsh Government. And it also has implications for pensions for those supply teachers.
Another constituent has also contacted me concerned that the pay framework won't apply to supply teachers in further education, because they won't have qualified teacher status. So, with those issues in mind, will the First Minister bear them in mind, and also, with the Minister for Education, commit to an ongoing further dialogue with supply teachers in order to address these issues?
I thank Hefin David for those important points. I was very pleased to meet his constituent, Sheila Jones, while I was finance Minister responsible for the National Procurement Service, and it was largely as a result of the very important points that she and colleagues made that we revisited the framework that was then in place. We will now have 30 successful agencies on the framework and 22 of those agencies are Welsh suppliers. Hefin David is quite right, Llywydd, to say that a supply teacher recruited through an agency will have to have qualified teacher status. That's exactly as it should be; it's a requirement of the new framework, as will be minimum pay rates for qualified teachers, as will be the abolition of the Swedish derogation, which was particularly something that Sheila and her group were exercised about. There will be discretion. There's always been discretion at school level for schools either to use the framework or to recruit teachers outside the framework, and I think that that is an essential freedom that we recognise in the framework and want to sustain.
I hear what the Member says about FE qualified teachers, and he's right, of course, that they don't have qualified teacher status and therefore can't be recruited as supply teachers under the framework. But one of the things that the Welsh Government has done and the education Minister has done is to introduce new part-time courses that mean that somebody qualified as an FE teacher who wants to become qualified with qualified teaching status—that within one term, they can now take the actions that are needed to convert themselves from an FE teacher into a full classroom teacher, and then, of course, they will be available to take advantage of all the new things that the new framework will provide.
7. What is the Welsh Government's view on the use of 20 mph zones in Wales? OAQ53821
I thank the Member. The Welsh Government believe that 20 mph should be the default speed limit for residential areas. The Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, together with the Welsh Local Government Association, is taking forward work to identify the practical actions needed to implement 20 mph speed limits in residential areas across Wales.
Can I congratulate the First Minister for making my supplementary utterly redundant? [Laughter.] Because I was going to call for exactly that default position. It's logical that we set the standard limit in built-up areas at 20 mph and then councils have the power to set it at 30 mph for those more arterial routes through their urban areas.
I thank the Member for that. I've heard him previously speak up in favour of a default speed limit of 20 mph in residential areas and, of course, across this whole Assembly term, my colleague Ken Skates has provided hundreds of millions of pounds for small area 20 mph zones. What we now want to do is to go beyond that. The city of Cardiff is, I think, a good example of what can be done. As the Member says, Llywydd, local authorities have to have discretion to retain 30 mph zones on key arterial routes, but outside that, and in residential areas, we know that 20 mph zones reduce speed of traffic, reduce accidents, particularly accidents to children, and we want to see that become the default position right across Wales.
I very much welcome the setting up of the task and finish group, First Minister, I think, in recognition of a very strong level of cross-party support for this policy and a very strong campaign run across the UK by 20's Plenty, and we've had some important events in Wales to further that campaign. Would you agree with me that, in addition to the benefits that you've mentioned, it's very important in terms of enabling community life to strengthen, because older people will feel happier if they're able to walk along the streets with 20 mph limits in place and parents will feel much happier in enabling their young people to play outside? It will enable active travel—walking and cycling—to a greater extent, so it has very, very many benefits, and I'm pleased that they're now strongly recognised by Welsh Government.
Well, I thank John Griffiths, of course, for that. He's right, the task and finish group has a very important part to play, because it brings local authorities around the table with the Welsh Government to look at the practical ways in which we can make this happen. There are a whole series of advantages, including all the ones that the Member has mentioned, including the better air quality that you get through slower traffic speeds. In the jargon, Llywydd, the issues that John Griffiths has pointed to are talked of as 'community severance', the fact that fast-moving traffic through a community breaks one part of the community up from another, both geographically—but we know that those impacts fall differentially on people, whether it is older people, whether it's children, whether it's people without cars and so on, and so, 20 mph zones allow a reduction in that community severance, and that's another really important social benefit that comes from the policy.
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the retail sector? OAQ53807
I thank the Member for that, Llywydd. Retail is a foundation sector in our economic action plan. Over the past year, we have increased business rate relief for the high street, expanded the business improvement district programme as we work with the sector in what are, we recognise, undoubtedly challenging times.
Thank you very much, First Minister, for the answer. But the figures revealed by the Welsh Retail Consortium show that there were 1,100 fewer shops in Wales in 2018 than there were in 2010—a drop of nearly 9 per cent. They went on to say that business rates were partly to be blamed for these closures and that firms in Wales have recently faced the greatest rise in business rates in Britain. First Minister, in view of the decreasing footfall to Welsh shopping destinations and with shop vacancy levels among the highest in the United Kingdom, what action will your Government take to reverse the decline in the Welsh retail sector?
Well, Llywydd, let me begin by making it clear that business rates are charged for very good reasons, because businesses that operate on the high street get all the advantages that come with public services: the roads that people drive to are paid for by the public; the pavements that people walk on are paid for by the public; the education that is provided to their workers is paid for by the public; the health service that looks after their workers when they fall sick is paid for by the public. Business rates are a contribution that businesses make to the services that allow those businesses to prosper. Here in Wales we now invest more in business rate relief than at any time in the whole of devolution. More than three quarters of business rate payers in Wales benefit from the different forms of rate relief that are provided by the Welsh Government, and in this financial year, we are investing an extra £23.6 million specifically in high street rates relief.
Now, that's not to say for a moment that there aren't real challenges that the high street faces. We know that out-of-town shopping and online shopping make a great difference on the high street. We know that there are changing patterns of consumer behaviour. And 10 years into austerity, wages have been held back to the point where there is a lack of effective demand out there in the economy to buy the goods that are supplied on the high street. So, the challenges are real. We work very closely with the British Retail Consortium and with its Welsh members to make sure that the assistance that the public purse provides to those businesses is as effective as we can make it.
And finally, question 9, Neil McEvoy.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the environmental impact of local development plans? OAQ53816
Local planning authorities must comply with the legal requirements of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the strategic environmental assessment directive of 2001 and associated regulations when preparing a development plan, including environmental impacts.
First Minister, last time you arrogantly gave no answer to my question—
There is no arrogance from the First Minister or any other Member of this Assembly. Please don't start—
With respect, Presiding Officer, I said 'last time'—'last time'.
There is always respect. There is no arrogance. Just pose your question and scrutinise the First Minister.
Last time, First Minister, you arrogantly gave no answer to my question—
No. [Inaudible.] The microphone is switched off and you have forfeited your right to ask the question.
The business statement and announcement is the next item. I thank the First Minister for his responses. I call on the Trefnydd to make the statement. Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Minister, please, could we have a statement from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism about the future of grass-roots rugby in Wales? The secretary of a junior rugby club was recently quoted as saying that grass-roots rugby is, in his words, 'dying on its feet' as amateur sides struggle to attract players. Around 30 per cent of teams in the amateur second and third divisions said that they had postponed games this season because of a lack of players. Eighty per cent—eight out of 10—have said that they had at least one fixture postponed because the opposition could not raise a team. Could we have a statement from the Deputy Minister on what discussion he has had with the Welsh Rugby Union about ensuring that grass-roots rugby has a viable future in Wales? And don't forget: I think rugby is Wales and Wales is rugby. Thank you.
Thank you very much for that, and I would certainly agree with you in terms of the importance that we attach in Wales to our national sport. I know that the Deputy Minister will be having regular meetings with both Sport Wales and with colleagues in the Welsh Rugby Union to discuss issues relating to grass-roots sport in the round, but particularly to support for grass-roots rugby, and I will ask him to write to you with an update on his most recent discussions.
Trefnydd, a report recently presented to Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council's Cabinet has threatened to withdraw from the Swansea bay city deal if sufficient progress isn't made over the coming months. Members will see parallels here with a similar threat to the education consortium, ERW, from the very same authority. Nevertheless, the loss of a local authority from the city deal, with the resulting uncertainty and upheaval, would clearly be unwelcome, particularly given recent difficulties. The report, written by the council's chief executive, Steve Phillips, also talks about remodelling three of the four projects that it currently leads on as part of that city deal.
Personally, I fail to see why any local authority would wish to reject UK and Welsh Government funding that could help economic growth within their locality. Clearly, as a regional Assembly Member, I would want to see Neath Port Talbot capitalising on the city deal funding available, so that it can try and tackle the hugely challenging set of economic circumstances that it faces. With Neath Port Talbot due to make a final decision on their city deal membership by the end of this year, will the Minister or Deputy Minister provide an update in terms of the work that they are doing with Neath Port Talbot on this matter? I would also look to the Welsh Government to confirm that if Neath Port Talbot were to withdraw from the city deal, other local authorities within the region would then be able to access the funding that was due to benefit Neath Port Talbot.
Well, it is, of course, ultimately up to the leaders of the four local authorities to decide among themselves how they wish to strengthen the region's programme management office in response to the report that was published recently, and also to consider the roles of their committees and to prioritise the schemes and the programmes and the projects that they will bring forward. The Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport has recently reiterated his commitment to the Swansea bay city deal, and we stand ready, of course, to release funding to projects that demonstrate confidently that they are fit for purpose and can provide value for public money. But, may I suggest that you write to the Deputy Minister with your specific concerns, and when he is in a position to, he will respond regarding the specific actions that Neath Port Talbot may or may not take?
On Thursday, Universities Wales will be publishing their report, 'Solving Future Skills Challenges in Wales', and it's going to be launched at the breakfast meeting on Thursday of the cross-party group on universities, which I chair, and to which all Members are invited, and attendance is expected. The report points out that our population here in Wales is generally older than in England and Scotland, as well as having lower levels of qualifications, and Members have talked a lot here about the potential impact of automation and the future of work in Wales, and how it would impact people's livelihoods in general, and their employability in particular.
A key question posed by the Universities Wales report is: how can we get more people of all ages higher up the skills ladder? That will be the subject of discussion in the cross-party group. Would the Trefnydd therefore be willing to commit to a debate on this subject in Welsh Government time, so that we can hear the views of the Minister for Education and the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, and have a detailed plan as to what they intend to do and how they intend to respond to that report?
Thank you very much, and I'm sure that colleagues in Government will be looking very carefully at the report that will be published on Thursday of this week, and I certainly expect good attendance for your event as well. In terms of the issues that you have raised, many of them are addressed through the approach that we are taking through the employability programme, which takes a different approach to the one that we've had before, which often has been about early intervention in ensuring that people have the best start in terms of their career. But, actually, we know that people will need support right throughout their career to upskill and move on to roles, and that people at all ages need the kind of support that the Welsh Government should be providing. I do think that that's encapsulated within the employability plan, but colleagues will have heard your request for a statement and the opportunity to debate it within the Chamber.
Could I call for two statements? The first is on support for disabled people experiencing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence in Wales. Last week, I chaired a joint meeting of the cross-party groups on disability and on violence against women and children, looking at the impact of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence on disabled women. We produced a report—or, more importantly, we launched a report—jointly produced by Disability Wales and Welsh Women's Aid on supporting disabled people in these areas. Because evidence continues to show that disabled people are more likely to experience violence, abuse and sexual violence in these areas, yet support and resources for them are still limited. A series of recommendations were made—I haven't got time now to list them all, but I would urge the Welsh Government to look at those recommendations and respond accordingly.
Secondly, and finally, could I call for a report on support for deaf people and people who are hard of hearing in Wales? Because this is Deaf Awareness Week—6 to 12 May. We know that, for instance, the Department for Work and Pensions's Disability Confident campaign is encouraging Disability Confident employers to boost deaf awareness by checking out Action on Hearing Loss's employers' hub. We know that Remploy Cymru's work and health programme Wales includes people who are deaf or with hearing loss who need support. I was contacted this weekend by COS, the Centre of Sign Sight Sound, based in Colwyn Bay, of which I'm patron, talking about their project on deaf awareness for children, and the many activities they're taking across north Wales this week. And we also know—a few weeks ago, we debated the Deffo!, the voice of deaf youth in Wales, petition, when they stated that in 2003 the UK Government and in 2004, this place, the Assembly recognised British Sign Language as a language in its own right. But 16 years later, we've made little progress in some areas, and our education as a whole, a generation later, is still failing our deaf young people. It has to stop, and we have to do something about it. Given all these areas, the progress achieved, the good news, the third sector working, but also the problems that continue to be highlighted, I call for a statement recognising Deaf Awareness Week accordingly.
Thank you for raising both of those issues. With regard to the violence against women, and particularly against disabled women, I would be very grateful if you would share a copy of the report that you referred to with me, and I'll be sure that the relevant Minister is able, then, to explore the report and look at the recommendations for Welsh Government that are within it. And the health Minister has indicated that he would be happy to write with an update on the support for people who are deaf and who are hard of hearing across the range of issues that you've outlined in your question today.
I, like many other people, am concerned about the treatment of homeless people in this country. I was horrified to see the Labour-run Cardiff Council forcibly evict homeless people from parkland in Museum Avenue. People might have seen one homeless man crying out as his belongings were tossed into the back of a flatbed van, heading for who knows where. 'They basically just took my world' was how we responded. Now, I know the Minister with responsibility for homelessness was not happy with the punitive approach her Labour Party colleagues on Cardiff Council took to tackling homelessness in the city centre. She, like me, was probably left wondering why they seemed to take the advice of a Tory councillor who said, 'Tear down the tents in the city centre'. So, will the Welsh Government join me in condemning the actions of Cardiff Council? And can we also have a statement from the Government outlining good and compassionate practice in terms of dealing with homeless people, who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, and, of course, who are growing in number? And taking a compassionate approach to tackling homelessness would also involve repealing the Vagrancy Act of 1824. Because of their extra autonomy, Scotland and the north of Ireland have already repealed this archaic legislation, which specifically criminalises rough-sleeping and begging. We can't wait for Westminster to get rid of legislation that's been around for nearly 200 years. This is yet another reason why we need full devolution of our criminal justice system, so that we can develop workable, compassionate and evidence-based laws that tackle the problems that we have in society and not allow them to be added to.
We clearly recognise the complex and difficult balance that local authorities do have to strike between supporting individuals and also responding to wider community safety issues, and those are challenges that the police also have to face. But supporting rough-sleepers off the streets and into accommodation isn't always easy, but it is our expectation that local authorities and services, including the police, do take a trauma-informed approach to doing that, and ensuring that the individual is at the heart of any actions that are taken.
You mentioned having that compassionate approach, and Welsh Government has invested in psychologically informed training for front-line housing professionals, and we would expect local authorities also to take a trauma-informed approach to all service delivery. Front-line services will often be dealing with extremely vulnerable individuals, particularly rough-sleepers, and whether the issue being raised is one of anti-social behaviour or drug use, supporting that individual to get the help that they need has to be at the heart of any response. I know that the Minister for Housing and Local Government is taking a very strong interest in this and showing strong leadership on it. She's established a taskforce with Cardiff Council and the prison service, which will look to offer people accommodation who are in these very vulnerable situations, through the housing first model in Cardiff.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Go Girls, Go Brothers, Pobl, parents and Newport youth forum to discuss first-hand their experiences on universal credit. They spoke powerfully about the impact on their own lives. One key point that was discussed was that parents under the age of 25 are £66 a month worse off since the introduction of this scheme. Now, these families are not just statistics on a piece of paper, and it's painfully evident that this damaging and unfair policy from the Tory Government in Westminster is penalising and trapping these young people. Can we have a statement and update on what pressure the Welsh Government is putting on the UK Government to change this policy, and will you join me in commending the Go Girls, Go Brothers, Pobl, parents and Newport youth forum for their determined campaign? They certainly are a force to be reckoned with.
I will certainly join you in complimenting those organisations on the work that they're doing to share their own real-life experiences and the challenges that they face, and to talk so openly about those things with people who they hope they're able to make a difference for them. I know that the Minister with responsibility for our liaison with the UK Government on all matters with welfare reform frequently raises various concerns relating to universal credit. I'll be sure to ensure that the issues relating specifically to young people—and the fact that they are worse off now, and, as you say, find themselves that they are penalised and being trapped in their current situations—are issues that are raised with the UK Government, and I'll ask the Minister to let you know the most recent representations that have been made.
Organiser, could I seek two statements, or certainly ministerial clarification? One is in relation to the environmental impact assessment that I've asked you and your predecessors about 101 times about Barry incinerator. We're in a new term, I live in hope—God loves a trier, he does—and I've tried long and hard in this Chamber to try and illicit some response from the Minister on this. Residents in Barry and beyond are very anxious to understand why the Minister has not carried out what she indicated was her favourite option, and instructed that an environmental impact assessment would be delivered for this particular site. I understand she was seeking legal clarification and legal advice. We are now 15 months—15 months—after that willingness from the Minister in ministerial questions back in February of last year was indicated. Surely the Government can come forward with a position on this after 15 months.
And secondly, from the Cabinet Secretary for the environment and rural affairs, could I seek some form of timeline that she'll be responding to this—I think it was your own working group this year, Minister, tackling agricultural pollution? It was a very varied group of individuals and organisations that came together to bring recommendations forward to the Minister so that she could understand how agricultural pollution could be tackled without the need to revert to the nitrate vulnerable zones proposals that the Minister has brought forward at the moment. Those proposals are due to be enacted on 1 January 2020. It does seem slightly remarkable to me that there hasn't been a formal response, at least to the recommendations for the Government contained within this report. So, could I have an indication as to when the Minister might be responding to those recommendations? It seems that they enjoyed widespread support from all organisations that drew them up, where compromise was the order of the day from all parties, to come forward with a blueprint that wouldn't revert to legislation. So, if we could have an understanding of how that's progressing I'd be most grateful.
Thank you for raising both of these issues, and no-one would like more than me not to have to discuss the Barry incinerator with you in business statement week after week, but, unfortunately, we still don't have the legal clarification that we need to be able to bring a resolution there.
On the issue of agricultural pollution, the Minister has indicated that she will bring forward a statement before the end of this term.
I would like to ask for two statements. Many pupils are placed at a disadvantage because revision textbooks for some GCSE subjects aren’t available through the medium of Welsh, and that’s just weeks before the exams. I’m specifically talking about higher maths and business. Now, there’s no point whatsoever for them to arrive in time for the exam, as WJEC have stated today.
In the summer of last year, a report was published on this very topic by the children and young people committee, with a number of recommendations made that were far-reaching in order to put the situation right, but here we are once again discussing this very same problem. It would be very useful for Assembly Members to receive an update on what happened to those recommendations, and what action has been taken on them? Therefore, I would like to ask for a statement from the Government noting that, and also I’d like to ask what steps will now be taken by Government to ensure that we aren’t discussing this in this place again next year. It’s time that this was sorted out, and it’s time that young people in Wales had full fair play in whatever language they study.
In turning to another subject, nine local authorities in Wales are now of the view that the Government needs to address this anomaly that means that some owners of holiday homes don’t pay any taxes. And I congratulate these nine authorities that have stated that clearly last week. I will be meeting your officials to discuss this in due time, but we need the political leadership here. So, may I ask you for a statement on what steps your Government is considering in order to resolve this unfortunate situation and unsatisfactory situation? The £2 million lost to the coffers of Gwynedd Council as a result of this—that money could be used to meet the need for social housing in the area and to increase the housing stock for local people.
Thank you very much. On the first issue of the Welsh-medium resources to support WJEC qualifications, I am able to provide an update, which is that we are committed to ensuring that the relevant resources are available to Welsh-medium learners, and we invest over £2.7 million annually to ensure this provision. In 2018-19, a grant funding amount of £1.1 million was awarded to the WJEC to provide Welsh versions of textbooks, including revision materials that are published commercially by publishers in England, and we will be increasing this grant funding in 2019-20 to £1.25 million, and that will equate to a further 50 new titles. Positive steps were taken last year by the WJEC and the publishers to reduce the lead-in time between the production of English textbooks and the availability to schools of the Welsh-language versions, and under the new curriculum, Welsh Government is working with partners to establish a new infrastructure in Wales for the production of relevant resources in both languages at the same time in the future.
On the issue of the homes that are moving from paying council tax to seeking to pay business rates, of course I did send quite a detailed letter to you in terms of the steps that Welsh Government is taking to address this issue, and I'm pleased that you're able to take up that offer to have a briefing with officials in terms of Welsh Government action in this area. We do recognise that there is potentially an issue and that there should be safeguards in place, in the sense that houses or homes have to be available to rent for a certain number of days a year. But if there are individuals who are working their way around those rules, then perhaps we are needing to look at ways in which to expand on tightening up those rules.
Trefnydd, last week, I had the opportunity to visit a community pharmacy in Caergwlre in my constituency of Alyn and Deeside. And it's doing some fantastic work and is leading the way on the pilot scheme for a sore throat test and treat service in Wales. It's already delivered great results by radically reducing the amounts of medicine prescribed and reducing the pressure on local general practitioner services. Therefore, could the Minister for health bring forward a statement and update on this pilot scheme, because I actually think it would be a great benefit to Wales and our GP services to roll this out, to be well ahead of the game, ahead of this year's winter pressures that we will face?
Secondly, Llywydd, in Wales, as many people know, we are celebrating 20 years of devolution. And I truly am looking forward to both your and the First Minister's address to the Senedd Chamber later on. But, with your permission, can I pay a personal tribute to all those Assembly Members, including dad, who are no longer with us any more? It was 18 months ago today when we sadly lost dad, and I do know that he would love to be here with us. So, can I say 'thank you' to all those Assembly Members who are no longer here on behalf of Wales, to their families as well, for their commitment and hard work towards their communities and the people of Wales? [Applause.]
Thank you very much, Jack. On the issue of community pharmacies, I know the Minister does update regularly. I know there was a written statement just a short while ago relating to community pharmacy, but you'll certainly be watching that pilot scheme very closely, and I will ask the Minister to think about when the next appropriate moment will be to talk about that.FootnoteLink
And I would absolutely endorse everything that you've said, on behalf of the Welsh Government, in terms of celebrating the contribution and remembering the contribution of all those Members of the Assembly who are no longer here.
May I ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on the Government’s consultation processes, because many of us will have been quite shocked to understand recently that a petition presented to the Petitions Committee in this Assembly, despite having thousands of signatories, only 12 per cent of those names had addresses in Wales? That raises a question, which is a matter for the Petitions Committee, of course, but it encouraged me to think, ‘Well, what does the Welsh Government do with the responses that it receives to consultations, and how can we as Members here be assured that the Government is giving appropriate weighting to responses from Wales, because petitions will be presented as part of responses to consultations?' Responses provided online by certain pressure groups and lobbyists will also contribute to those consultations. So, in terms of transparency, will you as a Government consider publishing what percentage of all consultations—and not retrospectively, perhaps, but from here on in—that you publish what percentage of responses to consultations have responses coming from Wales so that we can be clear that the Government is giving full consideration to those responses coming from Welsh constituents?
I'll certainly give consideration to what you've said and write to you with a response in terms of our approach to the information we publish and how we consider that weighting in relative terms from the people who respond from Wales and from elsewhere.
I wanted to thank the Welsh Government, and the Minister for International Affairs and Welsh Language in particular, for writing a letter at my request last week to Jeremy Hunt, asking him to intervene in the case of my constituent, Imam Sis. This was a truly welcome intervention and I am sincerely grateful for it. Members might be aware that Imam Sis is now critically ill. He's been on hunger strike for 142 days. His condition is very serious. Could I ask the Welsh Government please to give an update to Members on the floor of this house on recent developments and, also, to please write to the European committee for the prevention of torture highlighting the case of Abdullah Öcalan, as it was instructed to do by this place on 20 March?
Thank you very much for raising what is an extremely important issue, which many people feel very, very passionately about, as we saw, I think, here in the debate that we had in the Assembly. As you say, the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language has written to Jeremy Hunt, and she enclosed a copy of the letter, where she set out very clearly the seriousness of the situation as it currently stands. She also included a link to the transcript of the debate that we had here in the Assembly so that all of the contributions to that debate could be considered. And she was very clear that, given the UK Government's strong tradition of opposing human rights abuses, she would be very grateful if the issues, which were specifically spoken about in the debate and in your correspondence, could be addressed by the UK Government. And I'm sure that she'll share a copy of the response as soon as she receives it.
Trefnydd, I'm sure we’ll all be devastated by the report published yesterday by the 450 experts on their work on the state of the world’s nature and the fact that nearly a million species are at risk of extinction. We know that native species have disappeared from our land, our seas and our shorelines, and crops are at risk because of the decline in pollinators. And we know that the species at the bottom of the food chain, insects, is causing catastrophic declines in our bird life, and generally it is a call to action for all of us. So, I wondered if we could have a statement from the Welsh Government on how we are going to completely rethink our use of our land and our seas and, in particular, the way we produce our food, because, simply, inaction is not an option amidst this catastrophic climate and natural environmental catastrophe. I know that global targets will be set in China next year, but surely Wales must be in the lead in changing our behaviour to try and avoid the catastrophe that faces us all.
As you say, that report was extremely concerning, and I know that the Minister with responsibility for the environment has asked her officials to study it and to provide advice as to what more Welsh Government could be doing in this particular area. The Minister has also recently, I think, made a statement on ‘Brexit and our Seas’, or intends to do so—
It's going out to consultation.
It’s going out to consultation on that particular issue very shortly, and many of those issues, I think, will cut across into that consultation, and the way in which we seek to manage our marine areas post Brexit. But it's cetainly an issue, and the report is an issue that the Minister is very aware of and will be seeking to learn from.
I would like to request a debate on dentistry. There are a number of levels of our dental service that needs discussion and I think a debate would be a means of airing those. First of all, there are serious concerns about the UDA agreement—the units of dental activity—where I’m convinced there is a disincentive for dentists to deal with multiple problems, including problems suffered by children who can’t access treatment.
Secondly, we need to have a debate on the availability of NHS dental care. A surgery in my constituency, Bridge Street Dental Practice in Menai Bridge, announced recently the intention to close—it was a problem in getting hold of staff that was the cause of that. I wrote to Betsi Cadwaladr to ask what the patients are now supposed to do. The response I received was, ‘Tell them to phone around looking for a dental surgery that provides NHS services.’ I know that the opportunities for people to access NHS services are few and far between, and, on a recent list, Holyhead in my constituency was the place where people had to travel furthest to access dental services—59 miles there and back to the nearest surgery.
And thirdly, as I said, a failure to recruit new dentists was the problem in terms of Bridge Street Dental in Menai Bridge. Just as we succeeded with our campaign to provide medical training in Bangor, I think that this debate would also be a means of discussing the need for dental training too, to be developed on the back of the medical training that is due to commence there soon.
You’ll recall that the health Minister made a statement very recently on access to dental services, and within that statement there was a strong focus on tackling health inequalities, with regard to both outcomes and access. The Minister will have heard your request for a fuller debate on dentistry that encapsulates recruitment and so on, and I’m sure he’ll give it his consideration.FootnoteLink
I’d like a statement from the Welsh Government on the proposed closure of two Welsh-medium schools in Pontypridd. Labour Rhondda Cynon Taf wants to close ysgol Pont Siôn Norton and ysgol Heol-y-Celyn to build a bigger Welsh-medium school miles away—miles away—from pupils. There are children as young as three years of age who will be expected to travel up to six miles to go to school. It's extremely difficult for parents getting the children to the school. I'm told by some it'll be an impossibility. So, what we have here, despite the target of a million speakers, is a Labour council putting up barriers to working-class communities accessing the Welsh language in their own communities. Schools are more than bricks and mortar; they're building blocks of communities, and what is happening here in Rhondda Cynon Taf is an absolute disgrace. So, I'd like to know what the Government has to say about it.
Can I encourage you to write to the education Minister with your concerns? Of course, it will be for the local authority to determine where it places its schools and where it invests in its schools within the local authority area, but I'm sure that you've shared your concerns with the local authority in terms of any impact it might have on access to Welsh-medium education, and I would encourage you to share those concerns with the education Minister.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item of business, therefore, is the statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on the report of the Fair Work Commission. I call on the Minister, Julie James, to make her statement.
Diolch, Llywydd. In March 2017, the then First Minister of Wales made clear the Welsh Government’s commitment to make Wales a fair work nation. Since that time, a huge amount of constructive work has been done in tripartite social partnership between Government and our business and trade union colleagues to begin to turn that commitment into practical reality.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
I informed you all last July that we had appointed the Fair Work Commission, chaired by Professor Linda Dickens, to consider and work alongside our social partners to make recommendations on how Welsh Government can promote and encourage fair work in Wales. We felt it important for the commission to be independent of Government in order for it to be objective and to call it as it is. The report was drafted by the commission, free from editorial input from Welsh Government officials, and the commission was asked to report by March, and both the First Minister and I were delighted to receive the report when we met the commissioners at the end of March, and it's with great pleasure that we publish that report today.
Dirprwy Lywydd, I’d like to place on record the Welsh Government’s thanks to the commission for its commitment to what has clearly been a detailed piece of work over several months. It is a testament to the commission that they have not only reported on time but have produced an excellent and measured report. As acknowledged by the commission in its report, the Welsh Government is committed to fair work as a way of building a stronger, more resilient, more inclusive economy.
I agree with the commission when they say that fair work accords with the long-established traditions in Wales of social solidarity and community cohesion. It is vital to addressing the inequality, poverty and well-being challenges we face in a twenty-first century Wales. I believe that the commission has developed achievable recommendations that provide a practical route forward to deliver that fair work Wales. It builds on the solid foundations we as a Welsh Government have already built, which include the ethical code on procurement in supply chains and our economic contract, which promotes fair work and inclusive growth.
The commission has made a total of 48 recommendations across eight areas for action. Firstly, it has sought to articulate why there is a clear need for us to embrace, promote and drive fair work across all sectors in Wales, the growing concern about the quality of jobs, the growth of low-paid, low-skill and insecure jobs, and the consequences of this in terms of low productivity, indebtedness, inequality and in-work poverty. The commission has developed a definition of fair work where workers are fairly rewarded, heard and represented, secure and able to progress in a healthy, inclusive environment where rights are respected. The definition will not only help Welsh Government use all its available levers to promote and encourage fair work, but it will also have meaning for employers and workers.
Whilst we acknowledge there are limitations on what Welsh Government can do within the current devolution settlement, we asked the commission to consider the additional actions that could be taken, including the potential for new legislation. The commission has recommended how we might use the competence we have to drive fair work, and I’m pleased that it has endorsed the commitment we have already made as a Welsh Government to put social partnership on a statutory basis in order to embed social partnership more securely.
The report has helpfully suggested how we might influence this vital policy area in non-devolved areas, an issue of particular importance as we leave the European Union. The Welsh Government has been clear that, in leaving the EU, there should be no weakening of existing employment rights, that new trade agreements should protect employment standards, and future UK employment legislation keeps pace with progressive EU employment law.
The fourth area the commission considered was the use of economic incentives to promote fair work. Their proposals very much accord with the something-for-something ethos in the Welsh Government’s economic contract. We can already point to many instances of businesses of all shapes and sizes doing the right thing when it comes to fair work, and I am pleased at how the commission is helping us think about how that practice can be extended across Wales using the levers we have.
Part 5 of the report considers the importance of trade unions and collective bargaining for fair work in the economy. The commission's research evidence consistently demonstrates that important fair work objectives are served by union and collective bargaining presence in the workplace. The commission states that trade union presence is important in embedding, monitoring and enforcing legal standards in workforce practice and in assisting effective enforcement of employment rights. We support the commission's fundamental assessment that trade unions and collective bargaining contribute to productivity and economic growth, while trade union weakness or absence contributes to inequality.
The commission has also considered how we might take action to create interest, enthusiasm and buy-in for the fair work Wales agenda and has recommended the steps we might take in assisting and supporting willing employers to be fair work organisations. This is a very important point. Fair work is a vital part of a modern, competitive economy and nobody has anything to fear from it. As a Welsh Government, we stand ready to work collaboratively with businesses and organisations of all sizes to build into a modern, competitive and productive twenty-first century economy.
Part 7 of the commission's report looks at the capacity for carrying the work forward in Wales and suggests that the existing institutions and mechanisms should be enhanced and additional mechanisms created, and has made recommendations as to how we might do this. In the final section of the report, the commission considers how we might improve and collect data in order to measure progress, which our knowledge and analytical service will need to consider in some detail.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I don't intend to go into that detail today, in advance of our formal response, other than to say that this report will help shape our thinking about how we use the powers and levers available to us to enhance employment opportunities in Wales. As the commission has indicted, fair work requires action beyond the scope of any single ministerial portfolio. Ministers will now discuss the report, its recommendations and implications for their portfolio areas with their officials to feed into the wider Welsh Government response.
I can, however, tell Members today that the Welsh Government will be accepting the six priority recommendations that the commission have developed. They accord with our commitment as a Government to drive fair work forward. They are that fair work will become the responsibility of all Welsh Ministers and officials; the proposed definition of fair work will be adopted and used across Welsh Government and in its promotion of fair work; the commission's findings will be used to inform the development of the proposed social partnership Act and how Welsh Government might promote trade unions and collective bargaining in consultation with social partners and stakeholders; a structure will be established and adequately resourced within Welsh Government to co-ordinate and drive fair work activities; and Ministers will monitor how fair work is being advanced within their areas to inform an annual Welsh Government report on fair work Wales.
The commission has invited formal responses from our social partners. We will provide the Welsh Government response that reflects their views in June. And, finally, as the commission has stated, our social partners will be crucial in carrying the fair work agenda forward. We will fully consult them on the implementation of the commission's recommendations on a tripartite basis and we will be hosting a fair work conference in June to develop an agreed approach. Diolch.
Well, 38 years ago, I was party to my thesis at university with two other students on industrial democracy, believe it or not, looking at many of these areas and experiments and proposals at that time, but, at core, recognising that a successful organisation listens to its customers, both externally and internally, and that an organisation that maximizes productivity and success, recognises employees, gives them responsibility, acknowledges their strengths, but also develops their potential—. How, within this, therefore, do you propose to recognise the need across all sectors, not just the private sector, to maximise the potential of effective performance management, where too often we hear, when the term is used, of appraisal only, which is meant to be a single snapshot of a year and not an opportunity to lecture an employee, when throughout the year the individual should be given voice to agree their needs, propose their own ideas and agree models and action plans to take that forward, including the training skills and involvement that they need to mutual benefit? Again, that seems to be something I couldn't pick out from the report thus far.
You say that fair work accords with long-established traditions in Wales of social solidarity and community cohesion, and, clearly, it's disappointing that Wales, two decades after devolution, has the highest percentage of employees not on permanent contracts, the—once again—highest levels of unemployment and, of course, lowest levels of wages across the UK.
You say the Welsh Government has been clear that, in leaving the EU, there should be no weakening of existing employment rights and I, of course, agree with you on that. What consideration have you given to the actual withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Union and Council, where it, for example, refers to the rights of workers, the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality, the right to equal treatment in respect of conditions of employment and work, and collective rights and so on, and also states that the United Kingdom should ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity as set out in the 1998 agreement entitled 'Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity' should result from withdrawal from the union.
Beyond that, in your statement, you refer to collective bargaining and the role it can play in economic growth. A quick look at the UK Government website: it says you will need to work with the unions to discuss changes to employees' terms and conditions, but what discussions have you had or will you have with employers—private sector, third sector and statutory sector—to look at the potential implications of different models of taking this forward? As you know, at the moment, bargaining in the private sector is primarily conducted at company or workplace level, but industry-wide agreements or organisation-wide agreements are more common in the public sector. So, how will you ensure that the voice of employers, as well as employee representatives, are engaged in maximising employment and productivity and minimising absenteeism and labour turnover as we take this forward?
Of course, at UK level, the UK Government commissioned a report from Matthew Taylor regarding modern working to ensure that employee rights are protected and upgraded as we leave the EU and the UK labour market is successful and competitive as it evolves. The resulting 'Good Work' plan is part of the UK Government's modern industrial strategy and includes and upgrades the rights of millions of employees to ensure we benefit from fair and decent work. So, what assessment has the Welsh Government made of the UK Government's 'Good Work' plan and the opportunities that it represents for enhancing employee markets, conditions and terms in Wales in areas over which the Welsh Government has devolved responsibilities? What plans has the Welsh Government made to adjust the strategic objectives of Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales in relation to the promotion of collective bargaining? What practical measures is the Welsh Government itself taking to support fair work, or the 'Good Work' plan, potentially, in employment in Wales? What assessment—finally—has the Welsh Government made in relation to how much public money will be involved in the adoption of the report's recommendations, for example, its suggestion that the Welsh Government continues investment in the Wales union learning fund, and the suggested promotion of fair work through other measures, including the development of a communications and marketing strategy to create widespread awareness of the agenda? Thank you.
I thank the Member for that comprehensive contribution. I think I got up to 24 questions in all. I don't think I'll be able to answer all of them today. I may be wrong, it may have been 27—I lost count there at one point—but, nevertheless, a tour de force in terms of some of the issues raised.
Unfortunately, I have to disappoint the Member and perhaps please the Deputy Presiding Officer by saying that, of course, all we're doing today is publishing a report and accepting the broad reach of the recommendations. Much of the detail that the Member referred to is embedded inside the more detailed parts of the report and, as I said, the commission is asking for responses to its report—and perhaps the Member would like to consider making one—from social partners and others across Wales. The Government will then respond towards the end of June, and we will then hold a fair work conference in order to take this forward in tripartite working.
I think the Member pointed out quite a few of the things that we agree on, but perhaps he and I take a slightly different slant. The report, I thought, was a very well-balanced one. The employers have broadly greeted it with the same enthusiasm as the trade unions. So, I want to just once again take the opportunity to thank the commission for the really thorough piece of work they've done to welcome the Member's contribution, and to say that, if he wants to submit a response along those lines, we'll be very happy to consider it when we respond formally in due course.
Can I welcome the Minister's report on the publication of the Fair Work Commission's report? Of course, on this side, here on the Plaid Cymru benches, as we've expressed quite recently, we believe in the fair work agenda because of all the background that the Minister's outlined in her statement—the growing concern about the quality of jobs, the growth of low paid, low skilled, insecure jobs, and the consequences of this in terms of low productivity, indebtedness, inequality and in-work poverty.
So, I'd like to welcome the fact that the Welsh Government are taking this forward. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government will not only consult with the relevant stakeholders, as it is key to get them on board, but also the fact that this will be the responsibility of all Welsh Government Ministers.
Now, obviously, going forward, our job on this side of the Chamber is to ensure that implementation of the fair work agenda happens, and that it is consistently considered in legislation drafted by this Government, because, as we have seen in the past, and, as a former member of Cabinet has expressed in a session of the Finance Committee, the future generations Act can be and has been overlooked in the drafting, say, of a budget, and in other pieces of legislation as well. So, can I ask first of all that the Minister can assure us that due regard will be paid to the provisions of the future generations Act as we move forward with the fair work agenda?
In addition, can I ask: how will the provisions of the Fair Work Commission's work be reflected in future public procurement? We've heard, obviously, there's a lot of work being done at present, and the Minister emphasised all the work that is happening now that matches up with the Fair Work Commission's agenda, but what will change then in the future, because we've got the Fair Work Commission's report—how will that facilitate any change, particularly as regards future public procurement provision? And, finally, can I confirm the timeline when we can see some of the fair work agenda actually being brought into operation? Thank you.
Yes, thank you very much for those points, Dai Lloyd. I'm very, very happy to confirm that we're looking very carefully to ensure that we enhance the well-being of future generations Act when we do this work and, indeed, when we do other work. You'll know that, in my previous portfolio, I was instrumental in getting a piece of research done to make sure that we don't inadvertently weaken that Act by subsequent legislation, and we're very keen to make sure we carry that forward into this Act as well. If necessary, we need to amend that Act to strengthen it, but that will be part of the consideration in taking forward the social partnership Act.
In terms of public procurement, the report makes some very detailed recommendations about the use of public money as leverage in order to get particular types of response. That will be one of the things we'll be very carefully considering. The report has already been discussed with social partners and so on, so the timeline is that we will respond at the end of June once all the social partners, and anyone else who wants to make a contribution, have been able to do so. That's a very tight timescale in one way, but, in a sense, we've developed this in social partnership, so it's a timeline that people are happy with and happy to take forward. We'll then have a conference in June, which we'll be inviting a large range of stakeholders to, in order to shape it to go forward.
The whole purpose of this is, of course, to take the private sector, the public sector, the trade unions and the Government, including all of us here, along the same path together to a shared goal. And I think it's clear that there are shared goals here. The big question will be how can we get the most leverage in place in order to achieve those shared goals, and I think that, rightly, you'll be holding us to account on how fast we do that.
Can I first of all welcome what is a very timely and a very comprehensive report on fair work? I think at a time when the two great challenges within our society and globally, really, are that of emergency climate change and the need to tackle that, but also the other great destabilising social factor, and that is the inequality of wealth and income—. And, in the UK, 60 per cent of all wealth is inherited; it's not earned, it's not created, it's inherited wealth, and we know the consequences of that. We are also aware that, year after year, for the last 10 years, the income for the poorest 10 per cent of society has gone down and the income of the top 10 per cent has increased. The figures for 2018 are that the poorest 10 per cent decreased by just under 2 per cent; the richest one fifth increased by almost 5 per cent, and that has been a trend really across Europe, and I think it's a destabilising factor.
There are many aspects to this report that are very important. I think this really adds support to the commitment by the First Minister to the introduction of a very timely social partnership Act, and that will put social partnership between trade unions, business and Welsh Government on a statutory basis. But can I just highlight one bit in there that I'm very pleased is in the report? It is recognising the link between collective bargaining, trade union membership and poverty. And we see this actually globally across Europe. The International Labour Organization has recently published incredibly valuable information, and it actually shows that, where there is collective bargaining, where working people actually have a voice within what happens within the industry, within society, their actual terms and conditions are better and the wealth gap—they're not pitted one against the other on a downward spiral to the lowest common denominator.
And might I suggest that there are three key criteria in a social partnership Act? One is obviously putting that partnership on a legislative footing. The second one is using our procurement of £5 billion to £6 billion a year. If companies want a share of that public funding, surely it is not unreasonable for us to establish and to set ethical standards of employment. Because if there was one fundamental principle that we can underwrite within this Assembly, within Wales, within the UK and further afield, it is this: if someone works hard for a full week's work, then they should be entitled as a matter of right to a decent standard of living. That surely must be the minimum standard, and us using our procurement power to do that seems to me is right. And then the fundamental point that follows on from that—and the reason for an Act—is that monitoring and enforcement must be the case. We have seen the disregard to the enforcement of the minimum wage, and we mustn't make that mistake. So, it seems to me that that's very important.
So, in terms of the three questions I'd like to ask you, one is about a potential timetable for the introduction of the promised social partnership Act. Secondly, do you think there might be an opportunity within that to incorporate some of the International Labour Organization convention on fair work? And, thirdly, perhaps a timeline in respect of the commitment also—the very valuable commitment—to the implementation of section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which the Tories in Westminster have refused to implement, but which would enable us to take further action in terms of the promotion of a socioeconomic duty within our society.
Thank you for that contribution. I entirely agree with the points that you've made. The report, I'm delighted to say—and I'll take this opportunity to just thank all of the fair work commissioners, who were, Deputy Presiding Officer, Professor Linda Dickens MBE, emeritus professor of industrial relations at the University of Warwick; Sharanne Basham-Pyke, the consultant director of Shad Consultancy Ltd; Professor Edmund Heery, Professor of employment relations at Cardiff Business School; and Sarah Veale CBE, who was head of the equality and employments rights department of the TUC until she retired in 2015. I think they've done a tremendous piece of work in a very short period of time. We set them a very tight deadline, with some trepidation, I have to say. I'm delighted by the piece of work that they've produced, but the timescale was driven by our desire to get the Act in place and the timing of it inside the Assembly term. So, that is the timetable, effectively.
They produced that piece of work; it's a very good piece of work. There'll be a rapid turnaround of our official response to that, then the conference in June for the taking forward of this in the tripartite social partnership—because that's, of course, the crux of it—with a view to getting a draft Act onto the Assembly floor as soon into the next autumn term as we can conceivably manage it. Mick Antoniw will be as familiar at least as I am, if not more familiar, with how far you've got to come back from the introduction of an Act in order to be able to get the instruction right, so time is of the essence. So, we want to get that in.
That Act will, I think, look to give teeth to the ethical procurement code of practice that we have so that people are rewarded for complying with it and for signing up to it, and we'll have to look to see whether there's something we can do where people breach it once they have signed up and so on. I think there is a whole set of things in the report—I know there's a whole set of things in the report about how we can embed proper collective bargaining across tiers of operation in our economy, not just in individual employers and so on. He will know at least as much, if not better than I do, how much trade union bargaining of that sort drove not only levels of pay—because this is not just about levels of pay; this is about levels of equality and share in the production that your labour produces. The report is very strong on that, I thought; I was very pleased to read that.
I would like to emphasise, at this point, that it is not causing our social partners any problem. That's why I'm able to say that this is consensual and very much in accordance with the Welsh traditions; I'm very pleased at that. And then, in terms of the equality Act duty, I completely agree with what he said. He will know that the Deputy Minister is taking forward the piece of research about how we can best encompass a rights agenda inside our legislation, building on the well-being of future generations Act and ensuring that we do enact the section 1 duty in the best possible way and how that leads across into the new Act that we are proposing.
I just want to say one final thing on this: this isn't just about procurement, although a procurement spend is very important and represents billions of pounds in our economy; this is about all Government funding. So, we will be looking to see what levers we can use to get fair work right across the economy in Wales, using all the levers of Government funding, and they are much more varied than just the procurement spend.
I'd like to welcome what I think is a very detailed and comprehensive report by the commission, Minister, and obviously it addresses issues that affect very many people right across Wales. In fact, I met with the commission as part of their evidence gathering as Chair of the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee, and I was very pleased with the commitment that I think they demonstrated at that meeting. There was a clear commitment to drawing up proposals that were workable and really would make a difference, which is entirely what I wanted to see. And, of course, the committee that I chair has carried out inquiries that are very relevant, particularly the inquiry on making low pay less prevalent across Wales, and also on parenting and employment, 'Work it out'. It's very pleasing, again, that many of the recommendations that we've made chime with the work and the recommendations of the commission, and we're very pleased to see that.
In particular, the commission has made recommendations identifying a voluntary living wage as the minimum wage floor for all fair work and seeking to establish guaranteed minimum hours as a default position for employment, both of which were recommendations from my equalities committee. And it's very encouraging that they say there should be no trade-off between the characteristics of fair work, highlighting the interaction between levels of pay and number and security of hours, which, I think, is really, really important and, again, something we highlighted in 'Making the economy work for people on low incomes'.
Minister, in terms of the recommendations that we've made in both those reports, the Government stated that it couldn't provide detailed responses while the Fair Work Commission was undertaking its work. Now that the report has been published, I would like to ask if the Government will now provide a more detailed response to my committee on those relevant recommendations. They were recommendations 18, 20, 21 and 22 in 'Making the economy work' and recommendations 9, 12, 28 and 34 in the parenting and employment report. Thank you.
Well, I'm more than happy to make that commitment, because that is exactly what we said: we wanted to see what the Fair Work Commission said. In developing our response to the Fair Work Commission's report on social partnership, I'll be very pleased to make the commitment that we will respond in detail to your committee's report. You're absolutely right in pointing out that it's really pleasing to see the read-across between them. We are indeed on the same page, so to speak, so I'm very happy to make that commitment. We can make sure that we take into account all the evidence that the committee took into account as well in working up our conference in June, which I hope you'll be able to be a part of.
Because we're almost saying trusims here. It's quite clearly obvious to me, anyway—and actually, from what Mark Isherwood said, across the Chamber, so far—that you should be able to earn enough money in your place of work that you don't need any kind of Government benefit, otherwise, the work that you're doing clearly isn't fairly remunerated and you're unlikely to have a secure place of work. That does not contribute to any of the things that we hold dear—family or community cohesion, economic growth, proper career structures in Government and so on. But also, from the business point of view, it doesn't contribute to them being a viable and economic entity likely to grow. If you're not able to pay your employees a fair remuneration, you're unlikely to have a good business plan in place that allows your business to grow properly. These are the flip sides of the same coin and we really do need to be able to help our businesses get to the point where they see that.
And that's why I'm so pleased that we're taking this forward in social partnership. And our social partners very much take that on board. So, there's been no disagreement here. And as we develop our response to the recommendations in detail, I'm not anticipating that we will have any kick-back from that. We need to take our employers with us along this journey, so that they too can turn into the vibrant, viable businesses that we need to make our workers have secure and economically fair jobs.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 4 on the agenda this afternoon is the debate on tackling racism and racial inequality, and I call on the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to move the motion—Jane Hutt.
Motion NDM7041 Rebecca Evans, Darren Millar, Rhun ap Iorwerth
To propose that the National Assembly of Wales:
a) wholeheartedly the global fight to root out racism and racist ideology and strives towards a more equal Wales, tackling all forms of racial inequality; and
b) the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
2. Calls on the Assembly Commission on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales to facilitate the development of a cross-party Welsh declaration embodying the principles of the CERD in consultation with the most appropriate persons and organisations.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm pleased to open this debate on the twentieth anniversary of this Assembly to tackle racism, to root out racist ideology and review our commitment to the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. I thank Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives for making this a joint motion to unite us today in the commitments we make as a result of this debate.
Fifty people died in the terrorist attacks in Christchurch on 15 March and 250 more in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019. On 27 April 2019, on the last day of passover, the shooting at a synagogue outside San Diego left one woman dead and three others injured. The shooting came exactly six months after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people in the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. The global response to these terrorist attacks has been powerful and inspirational. In the wake of the New Zealand attack, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a global effort to root out racism and bigotry. Her profound statement,
'They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not',
requires us all to look at ourselves and our responsibilities personally and politically. She said that if we want to make sure globally that we are a safe, tolerant and inclusive world, we cannot think in terms of national boundaries. She said we must weed out racism where it exists and make sure that we never create an environment where it can flourish. Today, we have an opportunity to add our voices to the calls for racial harmony, peace and justice. We must publicly condemn racism, Islamophobia, Afrophobia and anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, and we must take further action to tackle racial inequalities that are present in our own country. We know that means that we must take action here in Wales.
We've already come a long way. Fifty years ago this year on 7 March 1969, the UK Government ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, making a commitment to condemn and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and to criminalise acts of violence or incitement of violence against people from minority ethnic groups. We now have legislation that mirrors the standards in the convention, outlawing racial discrimination at work and in the provision of services such as healthcare, housing, employment and education. We must make that legislation work effectively here in Wales. In Wales, the systems we have in place for addressing hate crime and supporting victims are seen as world leading. Public bodies in Wales are subject to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010, with a duty to promote equal opportunity and foster good relations between groups in society.
The twenty-second of April, Deputy Llywydd, marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence and the first national Stephen Lawrence Day. We marked his life and the achievements of his family, which have created an important legacy to be safeguarded and built upon. Last year, here at the Senedd, we worked with Windrush community elders from Race Council Cymru to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation to British and Welsh life. That was such a powerful, moving and joyful event that we will be holding similar events around Wales, funded by the Welsh Government this year, and, I hope, for years to come.
Let us be in no doubt, everyday racism, structural racism and racially motivated crimes are still each and every day having a profound impact on the lives and life outcomes of people in Wales. It's unacceptable that many BAME people in this country have come to the conclusion that they just need to tolerate everyday racism. In 2017, the British social attitudes survey evidenced that a quarter of people admitted being very or a little prejudiced towards people of other races. Structural and institutional racism is also very real. We know this for certain too, because of the pay gaps that exist and the lack of BAME people in more senior management or leadership positions.
Likewise, there is substantial evidence that many of our BAME children and young people are experiencing racist bullying in schools. Some of us will have heard the stories first hand. Show Racism the Red Card has had a major impact in schools. Their dedicated and experienced staff run workshops with children and young people, both to highlight the issues and change attitudes.
Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are also very real issues in Wales today, with extremist groups fuelling hatred and spreading lies. We must reinvigorate our approach in Wales, so that we can secure a more peaceful and more inclusive future, not least in the context of Brexit. That's why, for example, we're investing £2.4 million to expand our regional community cohesion programme, to identify and mitigate community tensions.
There are many other challenges facing us, but we're not starting from scratch. Over the last two years, we've been engaging with BAME communities right across Wales through our all-Wales BAME engagement programme, run by EYST, as well as through our Wales Race Forum. The engagement programme has given us recommendations for action to tackle racism and the inequalities that arise as a result. We can do something about this.
The themes of the programme are representation of BAME people in public and political life as a key theme—already a priority for this Welsh Government, and for me personally. I recognise that this is crucial to everything else we want to do. This isn't about tokenism or making up numbers. Wales needs diverse representation of ethnic minority groups, women and other protected characteristics in our top management positions and in our politics. We need to change the processes and culture of institutions. We won't succeed until we have fresh voices and new perspectives in our Welsh public bodies, in the council chambers, boardrooms and top tables, and of course in this Chamber.
On the second theme, employment and socioeconomic inequality, there is variation between and within different ethnic minorities, but the overall picture is clear enough: people from diverse ethnic backgrounds consistently face additional obstacles in the Welsh labour market.
And thirdly, the BAME engagement programme has made 13 far-reaching recommendations about tackling racial inequality in schools. Both I and the Minister for Education are determined to take action to tackle all types of racial inequalities in schools and improve outcomes. That is fundamental for unlocking the potential of the next generation of racially aware, ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world, ready to be citizens of Wales and the world. We must take the important opportunities that we have through the new curriculum, our anti-bullying guidance, and our investment in professional learning for the school workforce.
Last but not least, tackling racist incidents, hate crimes, and structural racism has never been more urgent than at present: 68 per cent of all hate crimes are racially motivated. And nor can we afford to ignore the impact of right-wing extremism in Wales. Numbers may be small, but the activities of such groups, both online and locally, can have a disproportionate effect on our communities, and are a disgrace to our society as a whole.
So, finally, in opening this debate, we must continue to build a strong and diverse society, where people of every race, faith and colour are valued for their character and their actions. We want to create a peaceful and harmonious country where our children and future generations can thrive. It's crucial that encouraging reporting, supporting victims, holding perpetrators to account, continue to be top-level priorities. On our twentieth anniversary of devolution, we must make this a renewed commitment for the Welsh Government and this Assembly, and I look forward to this debate.
The UN convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination is an international treaty adopted in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly. The convention covers the rights of all people to enjoy civil, political, economic and social rights without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. The UK ratified this in 1969, 50 years ago.
Hate crime is defined as an offence that the victim considers to be driven by hostility towards their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity. It can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property. Although people's experience of hate crime captured by the crime survey of England and Wales has gone down steadily over the last decade, police recorded hate crime in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2012-13, when 42,255 such crimes were recorded. In part, this is due to improvements made by the police in identification and recording of crime offences and, in part, to more people coming forward to report these. However, there have also been spikes of hate crime.
Speaking at last October's Celebrating International Integration Day event in the Temple of Peace, organised by NWAMI, the North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration, I referred to the Let Us Integrate through Music and Art Assembly event that I hosted last May with NWAMI and with Cwmbran-based KIRAN, the Knowledge-based Intercommunity Relationship and Awareness Network. As the honorary president of NWAMI, I've worked with the organisation for many years. NWAMI is dedicated to building up a cohesive community and integrated society in Wales in the twenty-first century, and to achieving this by promoting an understanding of, and respect for, this country's diverse cultures, through cultural engagement and interaction, education and training, organising cultural performances in music, dance and other art forms, as well as activities including speaker sessions and workshops.
In south Wales, Cwmbran-based KIRAN aims to advance education and raise awareness about different racial groups and different social and cultural settings.
Will you take an intervention?
You're describing some really good work on the part of some really good organisations in Wales. But do you accept that their work is made so much harder when politicians, like Boris Johnson from your party, refer to Muslim women as letterboxes, for example?
I'm not going to comment on fly-by partisan comments, because I want this to be a united debate with a united message. I'm happy if we want to have a partisan debate on issues to partake in on that basis but not this debate.
In south Wales KIRAN want to promote knowledge and mutual understanding between different racial groups and generate activities to foster understanding between people from diverse backgrounds with the objective of encouraging acceptance of social diversities and facilitating meaningful engagement between members from different communities.
Last May, I had a meeting in the Assembly with the Welsh Refugee Council, the North Wales Association for Multicultural Integration and the personal support service CAIS, to talk about how we can work in partnership to break down barriers and increase understanding of each other's cultures. We must recognise the vital work being carried out by front-line community and third sector organisations to promote multicultural integration in Wales.
As the chair and founder of NWAMI, Dr Sibani Roy, has stated,
'Some of the people think that when you talk about integration you mean assimilation. We have to explain to people that integration is not assimilation. We have to respect the law and culture of the land.'
'What we need to do is educate people and say, "We're all human beings, we're friendly and we should try to understand each other's cultures." When they learn about other cultures, then they will possibly become friendly. Change will happen slowly, but tit for tat is not the way to change people. By talking to people and educating people, eventually by convincing them that human beings are not all bad.'
'It doesn't matter. It's individuals and that is what I've always believed myself that we treat people as individuals. It doesn't matter what the background is, their faith or colour.'
In terms of Brexit, when people voted to leave the EU, they were voting for control not extremism. However, as the Minister referred to, some extremists have sought to hijack Brexit for their own unsavoury ends. But at this critical time we must remember that this is not about a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit, but an open Brexit that ensures that the UK is turned outwards and is more engaged with the world than ever before. We must build a cohesive community and integrated society in Wales in this century. To achieve this, we need to promote an understanding and respect of Wales's diverse cultures through cultural engagement and interaction, education and training. We therefore support the call for a cross-party Welsh declaration embodying the principles of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and, as I have said many times, this is about celebrating our glorious diversity together. Diolch yn fawr.
My community is enriched by the presence of a rich variety of nationalities, faiths and cultures, and I appreciate the great deal of work that the Welsh Government has done to promote racial harmony in our communities across south Wales and tackle racial inequality.
In education, for example, we can see the very real differences that have been achieved where educational outcomes amongst different ethnic groups have been almost eliminated in terms of differences. If anything, ethnic minorities now outperform our indigenous white community. The exception, of course, is the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller community whose attainment and qualifications are wildly at variation with the average, and a lot of work remains to be done to address that.
I'm also aware of excellent work being done in schools to promote community cohesion, and the Minister has already mentioned the great work being done by Show Racism the Red Card, both in schools and on the terraces. I have noticed a much more robust response in clamping down on racist language in schools that I'm involved in, as well as, I hope, most schools. Remarks that were previously ignored or overlooked are now dealt with and addressed. Persistent offenders are subject to disciplinary proceedings, including exclusion, and quite rightly so.
Sadly, this is against a rising tide of racist incidents outside school. A recent Cytûn analysis highlights a 40 per cent increase in religious hate crime, which has doubled over three years. Islamic communities have been the most targeted, followed by Jewish communities. And the rise of the far right should concern us all. It's nearly two years since a deplorable crime was committed by one of my constituents, who drove all the way to London to mow down innocent worshippers as they gathered outside their place of worship. This man had never met any of these people, nor knew anything about them. His actions, according to his former partner in court, were influenced by the hate messages he'd read online by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and other people on the far right. The attacks on worshippers in Christchurch in New Zealand in March remind us that this isn't just a problem caused by a particular man now on the payroll of UKIP. Social media has allowed the far right to develop a global profile. There's clearly a lot of work to be done by our colleagues in Westminster to ensure that those who provide a platform for these hateful messages are made liable for what they allow to be published.
In light of the events in New Zealand, not even two months ago, I'm concerned about the slowness of the Home Office response, because they've been very slow to come forward with the funding to strengthen security at Islamic places of worship. There was finally an announcement made on Good Friday, but it was merely asking people to express an interest, and no funding is actually going to be available to do anything until July, and, of course, then they'll have to process the applications before they actually decide on who's going to get what. I hope it won't be a repeat of what happened in the last financial year, when, as I understand it, no place of worship in Wales was in receipt of this Home Office funding, and that is a considerable cause for concern.
But on the wider issue, I'd just like to express some concerns about the way in which we're handling another aspect of a rise in crime, which is in relation to stop and search. In response to an increase in knife crime—which at one time I regarded as mainly a London problem, which has now spread, unfortunately, to most other large cities across the UK—in March this year, Mr Javid, the Home Secretary, increased the powers of the police to stop and search, and the seniority of the people who were allowed to do it. It is of considerable concern to report that this increase in stop and search has also led to an increase in the targeting of people from racial minorities. Black people are now seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in south Wales, and that is just in the last year, when it is up 4.5 per cent more likely. And I think that we need to stop and reflect, having learnt all that we've learnt from the Stephen Lawrence report about the way in which stop and search was being used inappropriately on the black community and was deterring the black community from coming forward. We now have to ensure that it is not used in a way that discriminates against a particular community. This is not devolved but a matter I hope that the Deputy Minister can take up with the Home Office.
It's hard to see how anyone could disagree with the second part of this motion, that we need to root out racial discrimination in our society. To me, that's pretty obvious. Apart from isolated voices on the far right, few would argue that someone could be less worthy because of the colour of their skin, despite the fact that many people undoubtedly hold those views in private. But this is exactly why we must put in place systems that directly challenge structural racism and discrimination. Stopping people speaking in favour of racism is not enough. Stopping people acting on it is what is vital. That's why it's essential, in my view, for us all to be part of what this motion calls
'the global fight to root out racism and racist ideology'.
We know that the far right is on the rise, and we must, on a global scale, call out the slurs and the prejudicial comments that poison our political debate and cause harm to people. But calling this out is only useful if we go deeper and challenge the ideology of subtle racism that runs through our political discourse and society, because the far right did not emerge from nowhere. Blaming migrants, asylum seekers and health tourists for the decline in living standards has become as standard, yet these problems were caused by austerity. The ground was laid for them by the deliberate creation of a hostile environment for people from other cultures and countries. Comments like Boris Johnson's Islamophobic statement that I referred to earlier have to be rooted out, and you have to accept that. The ground was laid for them when Labour produced a campaign mug promising immigration controls at the same time that they were more than willing to vote for crippling austerity measures. Whether it's the financial crash and the greed of the bankers or the subsequent austerity that was used to punish working people, it's obvious to see that it's the political and financial class who are to blame for our current situation, not immigrants. It's no surprise that the far right can thrive under these conditions. Now, Labour may well have new leadership since that infamous mug, but I say this today because it's simply not good enough. This new supposedly left-wing version of Labour is also now promising tight border controls and an end to freedom of movement as part of implementing Brexit. How is that different to the mug? It's pandering, and it's arguably the oldest political lie in the world to say that your home-grown elite is not to blame for your living and working conditions: 'Those different people, those other people over there, are to blame.' Blaming others for our problems is morally and politically lazy, but it's repeatedly used as a strategy because it's very effective.
Racism is part of our history. Whilst our country has spent most of its history being ruled from London, we've also taken part in the British colonial empire that was responsible for countless wars and numerous genocides of non-white peoples. This global domination was often justified by the idea that others were inferior to us white people, and the hangover from that mentality still lurks in the background today. It's this heritage that makes it so easy to believe that other people around the world are somehow problematic adversaries that we must either dominate or keep out.
I'm afraid that I'm not able to draw a line under the past, because that's what got us here. But I do welcome the fact that there is at least some political will from at least some political parties here in this Senedd to work together to combat racism and to combat hate crime, and I support this joint motion on that basis.
I very much welcome this debate at a time when racism and intolerance is at the worst that I can remember for a long time, and I do further welcome the support of both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives for it. The worrying rise of the far right across Europe, including Britain, is seemingly normalising racist language and behaviours and, as Leanne Wood said, blaming foreigners or those of different religions for all of our nation's ills. Meanwhile, the fascist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is being feted by UKIP in a disgraceful display of far-right kinship, and I don't think it's any surprise that no member of UKIP is here today to take part in this debate.
Our current political discourse should be a worry and a concern to every right and fair-minded person in this country. But, Llywydd, as we all know, no-one is born racist. It's something taught and learned. That's why it's so important that we invest time and money in anti-racist education, and why I want to spend a few moments to build on the comments of the Deputy Minister and Jenny Rathbone and talk a little bit about the work done with young people here in Wales by the anti-racist education charity Show Racism the Red Card.
Going back almost 20 years, I was first introduced to the then fledgling organisation by my friend and then Unison colleague Sanjiv Vedi, who was working to establish Show Racism in Wales after it had been set up in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1996, when the Newcastle United goalkeeper Shaka Hislop donated £50 to an anti-racist educational charity run by the now chief executive officer of Show Racism the Red Card, Ged Grebby. Working in partnership with Unison, the Football Association of Wales and Sports Council for Wales and others, Show Racism the Red Card in Wales appointed its first full-time member of staff, Sunil Patel, and he's still working with them. That organisation has gone from strength to strength.
Its success comes from working directly with schools and local football and sports clubs, and this work has shown how the anti-racist message can be relayed by using high-profile sports personalities as role models. Initially, this was with footballers such as Shaka Hislop, Ryan Giggs, Ian Wright, Sol Campbell, Brendon Batson and Thierry Henry, to name just a few. But it moved into other sports, including rugby union, and worked with the likes of Colin Charvis. Of course, I'm always pleased when I see the players of Merthyr Town Football Club wearing their Show Racism the Red Card t-shirts.
But, most importantly, Show Racism works in schools and other educational settings to offer a range of educational training, workshops, resources and activities designed to educate young people about the causes and the consequences of racism. Their work helps to make sure that the young people that they work with, up to 18,000 a year across Wales, are given the opportunity to learn about tolerance and diversity in tackling racism.
Sadly, Show Racism report that the situation in our schools has been getting worse—and why I also welcome the Deputy Minister's commitment to the Welsh Government addressing anti-racism within the new curriculum. And we know that racist incidents in sports have risen. Indeed, there have recently been a number of disturbing high-profile incidents at the highest level of football, and almost certainly linked to what I said at the beginning of my contribution about the rise of the far right. That is why it is so important that their work continues.
So, I hope that the Government is looking at the success of Show Racism the Red Card, that they get a fair hearing and, more importantly, they get a fair crack of the whip when funding is being allocated, because they have a successful model on which we can build, and the anti-racist message that they were set up to promote is more important now than ever.
I represent Newport East, which is a multicultural area, and I was brought up in Pill in Newport, in Newport West, which is very multicultural, more so now than it was when I was growing up there. But I must say, Dirprwy Lywydd, I always found it a very positive experience in terms of the richness of culture, music, dance, clothing, cuisine. It was a very enriching experience in terms of all of that variety, and learning about other people’s cultures and countries was absolutely fascinating, and I still find that fascinating today. But, of course, it did have many issues, social and economic issues, as an area, and it still does in Pill, and Newport East, as I know my colleague Jayne Bryant would say as well.
So, there are many matters that we have to deal with, and many of them are based in the economy, the quality of jobs that people have, the opportunities that they have, and, in turn, much of that comes from the educational experience and education system.
I’m now chair of the cross-party group on race in the Assembly. We haven’t yet met, but we will be meeting soon. Race Council Cymru provide the secretariat, and I have in front of me, Dirprwy Lywydd, the report on racial inequalities in Wales in 2019 from the members of that cross-party group. And it is very comprehensive, and it goes right across the whole, unfortunately wide range of negative and prejudicial experiences, discrimination that ethnic minorities in Wales face, you know, from employment, from public appointments, into sport, as Dawn Bowden mentioned, schools and, of course, everyday life. As Leanne Wood said, I do think it is very important that people in general understand the importance of what is said and that, when they come across people saying things they shouldn’t be saying, they do make their views clear and challenge what is said. It’s often said, isn’t it, that all that’s required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing? And I think in this day and age, all of us need to take on that message very strongly, and particularly those of us who are front-line politicians and have an opportunity to speak out strongly and clearly.
Will the Member take an intervention?
Thank you very much, John. Would you agree with me that it’s really important that we help teach our children, through schools, how to be that positive bystander, how to effectively step in and intervene when you see something is going wrong? Because it can be very difficult, I think, when you’ve got peer pressure, you’ve perhaps got a group of people, and it’s very difficult for you to be the one voice that says, ‘Stop it’, whether that’s about sexism, racism or whatever. So, I think it’s really important, as the new curriculum comes in, that that element of good citizenship—that we work on giving those young people those skills, with a clear understanding that if it happens in an institutional setting like a school, they’ll be backed up.
I would very much agree with that. I think there’s a lot in our education system today that is about empathy and empathising, isn’t there? And a lot about diversity, understanding diversity, and respecting it. And I’m sure Kirsty Williams is very committed to making sure the new curriculum builds on that.
I was very interested in what the Deputy Minister said about community cohesion and the strategy, because I think that is very, very important, and it would be great to have more detail on that—you know, when it’s expected, what the timings are, and perhaps maybe a little bit more on the content, and whether there might be a campaigning element in terms of public attitudes.FootnoteLink Because I do believe, in terms of challenging some of the negative views and stereotypes around, that we do need that public campaign, to make absolutely clear what Welsh Government and, I’m sure, the vast majority of Assembly Members believe people should say and do and not say and not do. I think a campaign around that and providing clarity on that would be very useful indeed.
Also, I think, very important, and perhaps part of community cohesion, Minister, are some of the events that many of us would be familiar with that take place in our communities, that bring people together, allow that sharing of experience, and that enriching experience of different cultures, music, dance, food, drink, and so on. One that has taken place for many years in Newport East is the Maindee festival. It is a parade and a day of events and activities that really does bring members together from different sections of society. I think in the round of considering how we take forward community cohesion, it's very important to support and value events such as that.
Recently, along with the two MPs for Newport, my colleague Jayne Bryant and I met with the Polish community in Newport, and they were saying, 'How can we share our culture, our experience? How can we develop links with others and be a more integrated part of the local community?' We were able to say to them that one opportunity would be in July this year with the Maindee festival, where you can have a stand, you can do a dance, you can provide some music—whatever you think appropriate—but it's a platform and an opportunity for you. I really do think we need to value those cultural events.
Thank you for giving me time to speak on this very, very important issue. The Race Relations Act actually started in 1965, and it actually outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, colour and belief. That is virtually not happening. Since 1973, governments in the United Kingdom have spent millions and millions of pounds on race relations. Today, have we really achieved it? That is, we have to ask the question of all the politicians in London and here. That is not there. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and so on—mentioned here by a few colleagues regarding black and ethnic minorities—the jobs sector, families, schools, children. The young generation hasn't been taught the beliefs of others. That is the problem. We must understand. Now, this is the fourth or fifth generation of ethnic minorities, and still we call them ethnic minorities. It surprises me, because now my child is fourth generation. We are British. That Britishness is not there—or Welshness is not there.
Will you take an intervention? I accept what you've just said about Islamophobia. Do you therefore share my concerns about the comments of Boris Johnson about Muslim women, calling them letterboxes and contributing to making this problem even worse? Do you have anything to say about that?
In Islam, as I'm telling you now, Leanne, you must remember that our belief is that when you live in a different country as a Muslim, live like them. I'm not saying that I'm agreeing or disagreeing with Boris. Personal views are different. He might have seen a woman living with purdah or a hijab in a different way. But there is a personal choice. This woman or anybody who uses purdah—yes, I agree with that if there is a matter of security. Now, nobody knew 20 years ago about extremism. It has come into this equality reason now. Extremism has come out of all this nonsense about third-world countries, or the middle east when the problem started. Islamophobia has become the norm for others, and people take one step backwards from Islam. It's not that. Islamic belief is very kind and very loving. There are people in the Chamber here—as John Griffiths just mentioned, the biggest mosque in Wales is in Newport, in his constituency.
Purdah is a religious belief. Let people think what they believe, but I would not go against anything, because we've got to abide—. It's not against the law in this country yet, so why are we discussing it? If there is a law you make, yes, I'll come and talk to you about that. But the fact is, Deputy Presiding Officer, race relations is a very, very crucial issue for our next generation. What laws are we going to make now? We have been talking about this for the last 12 years, since I've been here. Look at the real statistics. Have we really achieved anything? We have to make some movement now by law, or with communities together, to make sure that we are one nation. Forget race, colour, religion, faith—we are one nation, and that should start from the family.
Education is the most important. If we start doing it now, in 2019, it may take another 15 to 20 years to make sure our young generation will understand each other nicely. That is what my point is, Deputy Presiding Officer: we must educate our children to make sure—. We have failed. We all failed to bring this racial equality. We have failed. I agree with that. But, to make our future better, we must make some better rules and regulations in this Chamber. Education, education, education. Religious understanding and belief must not discriminate. We just heard that a black person—the police check them quite often, more than others. That is discrimination. They're all British. There should be no difference between him and her—or black, white, yellow, green or whatever it is.
So, my point is: please, please, in this Chamber, we must make rules so that young generations must be taught in a way that they do not discriminate in future. It'll take 15 to 20 years before this nation is definitely transformed.
I do think that proclamations about our principles as an institution and representatives of the voting public are important. I think that it is crucial in this time that we do make it absolutely clear what we intend to do. So, I welcome the opportunity for this Assembly to support the principles of the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The first part of the motion refers to the global fight to root out racism and racist ideology. We know that it's easy these days to be pessimistic about the rising tide of populism with its racist appeal, but I think some of us ought to cling to the broadly optimistic view that President Obama did set out in some of his speeches. And it went something like this: if you didn't know where in the world you'd be born, or gender, or race, or how wealthy, when in human history would you choose to live? And it seems mostly the case the answer will be 'now'. On average, across the world, a person born today is more likely to be safer, healthier, wealthier and better educated than at any other time. But, that isn't to deny that there aren't differences in different parts of the world or different people within the world.
So, that, in general terms, is good news. But, the motion continues to commit us to strive towards a more equal Wales, tackling all forms of racial inequality, and we can't ignore the march of populism as has been mentioned. The upcoming elections will be a barometer of where we are. We have a party represented in this Chamber that supports a candidate, Carl Benjamin, who says he finds racist jokes funny. What worries me is not that idiots like Carl Benjamin think that, but that a political party openly supports and promotes his particular view. That's what concerns me. And it concerns me also that those views have been represented in this Chamber.
When we mentioned that we wanted to become a nation of sanctuary—
Can I say how much I agree with the point that you've just been making in here? I think we all note that that party isn't represented in this Chamber during this important debate.
I absolutely agree with you.
When we here agreed, most of us, that we would become a nation of sanctuary and that that would be positive, we had Members of UKIP saying that it couldn't at all be a positive move forward because all we were going to do was open the floodgates for everybody to come along, and almost suggesting that Wales would be overtaken by—and I can't use their words in the way that they would bring them and describe them. I just think that that really adds fuel to the fire of racism. So, in the Assembly, we have moved forward, and I just want to say a few words about what we are doing and what our commitments are.
As the Assembly Commissioner for equalities, I'm proud that our BAME Assembly network, REACH, is advising on how we can better support BAME staff and how we might attract more talent. I'd like to give a special mention to our HR team and the REACH network who have worked together on a recruitment campaign to select our latest intake of apprentices. The focus was to attract applicants from the BAME community, and we adopted a number of approaches to achieve that, including blind applications and collaborating with external partners to promote the scheme within BAME communities, putting on workshops, and helping applicants with those applications and helping them to better understand the institution and its work. And, as a result, I'm delighted to say that we've had the highest number of applications we've ever received, and that 13 out of the 14 BAME candidates were invited to the assessment stage, and they were successful in filling two of the three apprenticeships that were available. Now, it's things like that that create integration, which Oscar and others here have mentioned today. Because it is clearly the fear of the other that mostly incites hatred and racism.
I'm going to finish, because I can see the clock. I don't think that history is going to treat us well. When we turn back boats full of refugees, when we somehow have created a graveyard in the seas and the oceans of the world because we simply wouldn't offer refuge or sanctuary to the people who so desperately needed it—I think that's where we need to start really, seriously examining some of our actions.
I would like to thank the Welsh Government for tabling this important debate today. It's a sad fact that we have to table such a debate in the twenty-first century. Racism has no place in our society, but unfortunately racist elements still exist.
The United Nations ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the 1960s, at a time when the civil rights movement was in full swing in the US, trying to put an end to racial segregation. The world has seen massive progress in the intervening decades, but racism continues to raise its ugly head.
Across Europe, we have seen the rise of far-right political parties. Hungary is run by a far-right Government; the Swiss People's Party won almost a third of the vote in Switzerland; in Austria, the Freedom Party won a quarter of the vote; and in Denmark, the Danish People's Party won over 20 per cent of the ballot.
Caroline, will you take an intervention?
I don't know if I've landed in an alternative universe, here. Weren't you elected on a far-right ticket and haven't you recently met Nigel Farage?
Sorry—? Yes, I have. Yes, I did. [Interruption.]
Far-right parties have gained between 10-20 per cent of the votes in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands and many others. And, closer to home, we've seen UKIP lurch to the far right. When I joined UKIP, the leadership made it clear that there was no place in the party for racists, and it even said on the application form to become a member that you could not become a member if you had been a member of a far-right party. And this changed when Gerard Batten became leader. And it was sickening when Gerard Batten and Neil Hamilton shared a platform with Tommy Robinson, and they went further into decline when they welcomed Carl Benjamin, Mark Meechan and Paul Joseph Watson into the party. [Interruption.] Not another one, sorry. It was clear that the party leadership were embracing the far right, and I decided to leave and was soon followed by others who were as outraged as I was. How could the UK leader and the Welsh leader condone outright racism and bigotry? How could they share a stage with people who celebrated Nazi values, if they weren't of those same beliefs?
Anti-Semitism also has no place in society, and many remarks that have been made are distasteful and have incited hatred and riots. And there should be no place in public office for anyone who believes that it is okay to discriminate based upon race, sex, language or religion. We must ensure that what has happened in the US or in other parts of Europe doesn't happen here. We must eradicate the ideology of the far right and the far left who believe it is okay to discriminate based upon race or religion. There is only one race—the human race—and every single being must be free from persecution, and worship whatever god they choose, and this will only happen if we stamp out racism and bigotry, and integration here is of paramount importance.
I urge Members to support the motion as a step on the road to eradicating hate in all forms. And my grandfather always said, your pen writes the same for everyone, and my pen always does.
I welcome Wales having some declaration on eliminating racial discrimination, based on the United Nations convention. As a developing democracy and a nation in our own right, this is a good move to make. Wales is the right place to be doing this. Cardiff, Newport and other cities here were amongst the first in Europe to embrace people from other cultures. We've all heard about Tiger Bay, Cardiff docks, where people came from all over the world to make their home.
But our welcoming way of being is under threat, and we can feel this. There's been large immigration to Wales over centuries, particularly during the industrial revolution, and much of that immigration came from England when hundreds of thousands of people moved here for work. But we have a culture in Wales that is strong enough and attractive enough that people embraced it. I'm proof of that myself, with a Yemeni/Irish/English background, and if you go further back, there's Swiss, there's Greek, there's Filipino, there's Bantu and there's black South African, yet I stand here as a Welshman speaking to you today, and a proud Welshman.
I'm getting tired of everything being blamed on immigrants. I don't know how people can look at the NHS and blame problems on immigrants and immigration, because they keep our Welsh NHS going, and it's political decisions that cause problems with the NHS. When things get tough, we don't have to turn on our neighbours, because that's what too many irresponsible politicians are doing nowadays. And it's also not so simple to say, 'Racists bad, non-racists good', because we've all been socialised in society, and we all sometimes need to recognise our own prejudices that need to be overcome by reason.
So, I welcome this motion, but I hope in future that we can also see some action focused on outcomes. When we look at Welsh democracy, I'd like to see more people from minority backgrounds involved. I think NWAMI with Dr Sibani Roy are doing great work in encouraging integration—not assimilation, but integration, understanding—and I'd like to see that charity supported more. We need more people of colour to work as journalists to scrutinise this Government. We need more people of colour involved in politics.
Will you take an intervention?
Do you think the media is one area where we can make the best use of it to make sure that the harmony is there among the communities?
I think the media has a responsibility to promote positive interaction between people of all backgrounds, of all colours and of all races. I think we need more people involved in the law—more lawyers, more judges—to implement laws that we make here. It would be great to see more people from different backgrounds in those professions. I think we need a Welsh bill of rights to protect minorities in addition to this declaration.
But we can't just fight racism, because we also have to fight poverty and classism. The limitations and subjugation that poverty brings also prevents people from getting into this Assembly and realising their potential. As the first Welsh-born Assembly Member of colour ever elected to this place, I can tell you that being working class made things just as difficult for me.
I welcome the declaration to eliminate racial discrimination. I hope we can now take that further to other areas of discrimination and bring forward concrete actions. Diolch.
Thank you. Can I now call the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to reply to the debate? Jane Hutt.