Y Cyfarfod Llawn
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 Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, and the first question is from Nick Ramsay.
1. What measures is the Welsh Government taking to decarbonise? OAQ54045
In March, we launched our first Government-wide statutory decarbonisation plan, 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales'. It sets out 100 policies and proposals, across all sectors of our economy, to meet our current carbon budget and set a longer term decarbonisation trajectory for Wales.
Thank you, Minister. I was pleased to hear recently that the UK Government had set some very strict targets in terms of decarbonising by the middle of this century. And I think we all agree that drastic action is needed. So, it would be interesting to hear how your Government plans to dovetail with that. Secondly, I recently asked the First Minister, in questions, about some interesting work on climate repair that was going on in Cambridge University. And that work involves repairing the climate through not just cutting emissions, but using carbon sinks—trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He responded that there's work ongoing into a new Welsh forest project in, I think, central Wales, but you would have more details on that. Could you update us on what form that work is taking? I think it's an excellent idea. I think that Wales is perfectly suited as a landscape, and as a destination for tourists, to have a lot more tree planting and new forestry, and I think that the people of Wales would be very interested to hear more about your plans for decarbonising the climate in this way.
In response to the first part of your question, the UK Government, I and my Scottish counterpart asked the UK Committee on Climate Change for some advice around the targets. And you'll be aware that, just last week, I accepted the UK CCC's advice that we should look to reduce our carbon emissions by 95 per cent by 2050. I have accepted that advice. However, I've said our ambition is to be net zero, so I'm certainly going to work very closely with stakeholders to ensure that we are able to do that.
The second part of your question, around the answer given to you by the First Minister, one of the First Minister's manifesto commitments, when he became First Minister in December, was to have a national forest. So, officials are working up options now, but we've had a lot of discussions over the past four or five months in relation to this. So, I don't think the plan is to have a forest in the middle of Wales; it's to look at having different sites so that the national forest is truly pan-Wales. And we'll look at how we form that policy, going forward. I think I'm due some options by the end of this month, so hopefully I'll be in a position to make some decisions and, obviously, working closely with the First Minister, to be able to update the Assembly, probably in the autumn.
I think that it's very important to get to net zero, but I think that we need to be more ambitious than that—I think actually start taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than we are putting in. So, net zero is a good way, but we need to go past that, and we can go past that by planting more trees and more plants. Through photosynthesis, they turn carbon dioxide into oxygen—it takes it out of the atmosphere. I think that's really important. I very much welcome this idea of planting trees. but can we have some targets? Can we say how many trees we're going to plant in each area each year? And that's not a stick to beat the Government—you say you're going to plant 1,000 but you only planted 900—but it's to actually let everybody know what is being attempted to be achieved. And I certainly wouldn't criticise you for planting 900 when it was meant to be 1,000, but it really is important we get these trees planted, to get the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
I absolutely agree with you that we need to plant more trees. We are not planting enough trees—nowhere near the number of trees that I want to see. And I've made it very clear that we need to certainly be looking at increasing the number. We had a target. We did not reach that target. I've been advised that we should be planting at least 2,000 hecatres a year. Again, I don't think that's enough. And, certainly, if we're going to mitigate climate change, we need to look at carbon sequestration, which obviously is a critical element of the low-carbon delivery plan that I referred to in my opening answer to Nick Ramsay. So, we need to increase that forest cover right across Wales. I mentioned the national forest. Again, I think the plans that we're bringing forward for that will accelerate reforestation and will also unlock some major economic and environmental benefits. We've also got the Glastir woodland creation scheme, which the Member will be aware of. The last window closed in May, and there was a huge amount of interest, so I'm certainly looking to have a further round in the autumn, which will have a budget of about £1 million.
2. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's priorities for biodiversity in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? OAQ54053
Thank you. The nature recovery action plan and our natural resources policy set out our priorities for biodiversity. I have recently announced funding to support several enabling natural resources and well-being projects in Merthyr and the surrounding area to deliver these priorities and to help tackle the biodiversity crisis facing us all.
Thank you, Minister. Clearly, all the expert advice received points to the decline of much of our biodiversity, so I believe it is vital to continue strengthening the connections between people, the local communities and their wider environment, and there's much to applaud in those local communities. In Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, for example, we've seen the local angling association managing both the waterways and the river banks, the Royal Crescent Allotment Society developing bug zones for schoolchildren, and the kids have now become little beekeepers as well, and groups like Actif Woods Wales providing well-being opportunities in the local environment, which is a great opportunity for social prescribing, and there are lots of other similar initiatives. But some of those groups tell me about the big problems that they face with invasive weeds, such as knotweed and Himalayan balsam, which endangers much of the work that they do. So, what more can the Welsh Government do to help tackle the problem of invasive species to improve biodiversity?
Thank you. Invasive non-native species challenge the survival of some our rarest species and damage some of our most sensitive ecosystems, and the impacts of them on our domestic and global biodiversity are increasing, and they're also increasing in their severity, I think. They are estimated to cost the Great Britain economy more than £1.7 billion per year, so you can see just how severe they are. We've been working with our partners, and that includes Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Local Government Association, third sector, industry, and there's also a GB non-native species secretariat, to have a look at what priority actions we need to take to control and eradicate invasive non-native species in Wales. You may be aware that, in March, I introduced the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019. That Order comes into force on 1 October, and it will provide the offences, defences and penalties for the restrictions that are set out in EU regulation on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of those invasive alien species, and the Order will ensure that EU regulation can be effectively enforced.
Minister, Welsh farmers play an integral role in protecting and enhancing the countryside. Many of the valued habitats and species found on Welsh farmland are reliant on active management by farmers. RSPB Cymru claim that current levels of support aren't protecting the environment and fail to keep farm businesses viable or farmers on the land. I'm sure, Minister, that you recognise that food production and positive environmental benefits for many species are intrinsically linked. Minister, I'm pretty sure what you are doing to ensure active management by farmers is fairly rewarded in Wales.
I can't disagree with anything that you're saying there, and you'll be aware of the announcement and the statement I brought forward in the Chamber last week around 'Brexit and our land' 2, for want of a better word at the moment, which will be the second part of the consultation around the post-Brexit agricultural policy. I always maintained that food production was very, very important. I think we were the only part of the UK that actually had food in the consultation. I certainly don't think 'Health and Harmony' did, because I absolutely recognise the importance of food production and our agricultural sector.
Also, environmental outcomes are very important, and we made it very clear that, going forward, post Brexit, our agricultural payment system will reward environmental outcomes, and I would urge everyone to participate in that consultation once I launch it at the beginning of July.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, you will be aware that Plaid Cymru has been campaigning diligently against the M4 black route and, of course, we welcomed the decision when it came not to proceed with that specific proposal. We believe that spending at least £1.5 billion of capital on generating more traffic would be unwise. But, as that money is now not going to be spent for that purpose, can I ask you what case you are making within Cabinet for that funding to be used to strengthen green infrastructure in Wales, to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change? Because £1.5 billion, of course, could, for example, transform the renewable energy sector in Wales, which would have potential to generate income for the public purse in years to come. So, can you tell us what case you have made for using that capital funding for an alternative purpose?
So, those discussions will be taking place. I have had discussions around climate change and more funding for climate change across Government. I've had that conversation with the Minister for Finance directly. The specific funding that you refer to—the £1.5 billion in relation to the black route—obviously, you'll be aware that the Minister for Economy and Transport made an announcement around the group that he's setting up to look at alternatives. So, clearly, some of that funding—the majority of that funding; I don't know what will be the outcome of that review—will need to be used for those alternative plans. But I think all my ministerial colleagues, and many of them sit on the decarbonisation ministerial task and finish group, accept that if we are to mitigate climate change—and the whole point of declaring a climate emergency was not just to galvanise others into action—clearly, as a Government, we need to look at our plans and policies. So, those will be ongoing discussions.
Fine, and you're quite right to say that the whole purpose of declaring a climate emergency is to see transformational change, if truth be told. And it is quite some time since you made that declaration as a Government—it's been some weeks now. You've made some written statements and a few oral references to that declaration, but we haven't seen anything transformational as of yet in terms of your work and your responsibilities as a Minister. Now, I'm sure you would agree that that's not just your role; it's a role for every Cabinet member. And I, as others have mentioned before now, would want to see every Minister making a statement here in this Chamber explaining exactly how their work will change and how their priorities within their portfolios will change as a result of the declaration of a climate emergency.
But just to return to your responsibilities, and this is something that I've raised with you previously—and I hope that, since I've raised it with you previously, you've had an opportunity to give it some consideration, but I want to know what new direction you have given, following the declaration of a climate emergency, to the bodies within your remit. I'm thinking of Natural Resources Wales, Hybu Cig Cymru—there's a range of bodies that you fund and are responsible for. So, do you intend to amend their remit letters, because, as you said yourself, the whole purpose of the declaration of a climate emergency is to have that transformational change? If you don't do that, then people will feel that nothing has changed and that it's business as usual for this Government.
Well, it's certainly not business as usual. You will have heard me say that the low-carbon delivery plan, which was launched just in March, which contains a 100 policies and proposals, is the foundation for us reaching our carbon emissions target and our carbon budget, but I have asked officials to review those 100 policies and proposals in light of (1) the advice that we received from the UK Committee on Climate Change, which I think was a couple of weeks after we declared the emergency. A you're quite right—I think that, across Government, everybody is having to look at their policies and proposals and the schemes that they're bringing forward to see if they fit in and what needs to change in relation to the climate emergency.
I think we have seen others galvanised into action. I think it's been very encouraging to see the number of local authorities and town and community councils that have decided themselves to declare a climate emergency, so I think we are seeing that galvanising the action that we hoped we would see.
In relation to your specific questions about whether I'll be changing the remit letters, that is something, again, I'm looking at. I meet with NRW on a monthly basis, so we've certainly discussed the climate emergency and what they're looking at doing. So, I know, for instance, that NRW are looking at what extra land they have for planting trees. I think they've got some land that they've banked that can be reforested, and we need to look at, obviously, money for that. HCC I'm due to meet in the near future and, again, it will be on the agenda.
Okay. Well, we'll await any specific changes. I will suggest one thing to you. I remember when the previous Government was eager to oppose fracking in Wales. The Government at that time had no powers in rejecting it specifically, but the planning system was used, you may recall, as a means of creating some sort of moratorium. Now, some of us disagreed as to whether it was really a moratorium, but we won’t follow that up at the moment. But, certainly, there was a desire in the previous Government, although it didn’t have the powers, to try and use the levers it had to prevent fracking.
Now, you’ll be aware of the recent application for seismic testing in Cardigan bay, which is being used by gas and oil companies to find the best locations for drilling. That is non-devolved; that is still the responsibility of the UK Government, but, of course, licences can only be given if NRW are satisfied. So, shouldn’t the Welsh Government state, exactly as they did with fracking and the planning system, that NRW, for example, wouldn’t be satisfied in licensing any similar plans in the future as a clear message to the sector that they are not welcome, because, of course, that would not be in keeping with the climate emergency that we have in Wales and, of course, we should be keeping fossil fuels in the ground?
Yes, absolutely, and you'll be aware that that particular licence that you referred to has been suspended, but I certainly made my views very clear to the UK Government. I've had a lot of correspondence—and I'm sure there are some Members in the Chamber, including the Presiding Officer, who I've also written to regarding that, setting out that very stance that you've just described. So, we need to do—. We certainly need to look at how we can strengthen that so people are very aware of our view. But you're quite right: it would have to come to us at some point along the chain, even though it's a reserved matter, and I think I've made it very clear in my correspondence that that's the case.
Conservative spokesperson, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Minister, I've raised with you on several occasions, and indeed I raised it with the First Minister yesterday, that, in your statement attached to the announcement around going for net zero by 2050, you said that that journey will be the biggest planned economic transition of modern times, and you've also made, obviously, a climate change emergency declaration. But when I go to the Cabinet minutes of that Cabinet meeting on 29 April, the declaration was informed to the Cabinet under 'any other business', and it says:
'The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs informed Cabinet that she had declared the climate change emergency...that day.'
That hardly shows much planning or planning into the scheme of things that you're going to need to do to change the economy and to protect jobs and create quality jobs. Do you think that's an appropriate way for Cabinet to work?
Well, you're reading the minutes from the Cabinet; you won't be aware of all the discussions that went on ahead of the declaration of a climate emergency. The decarbonisation ministerial task and finish group, which I chair, meets every six weeks/two months. Discussions are ongoing through that task and finish group. The Minister for Economy and Transport sits on that committee.
The low carbon delivery plan, which I've referred to a couple of times already in this session, was where we set out our 100 policies and proposals. Again, there have been many discussions across Cabinet to bring that forward, and this is all part—. As I said yesterday, all these parts: decarbonisation, climate change mitigation, air quality, all are very integral—they're separate things, but they are integral. So, those discussions—. It wasn't just an announcement I made; people were very aware that that announcement was coming.
Thank you for that. I'm not knocking the decisions that you've taken; actually I've been supportive of them, but what concerns me is the action behind some of these announcements. I have to say that I thought that the minutes of Cabinet were meant to reflect the discussion that went on in Cabinet. And I agree that this is a whole Government response. We've heard since those declarations that Government obviously is having to deal with all these issues around their policy portfolio issues, but that minute doesn't clearly indicate to me that there has been that discussion. So, obviously, you're telling us there has. For example, can you tell me how many jobs will be lost in the Welsh economy because of the transition and how many jobs might be created in the green revolution we hope to see? That's a pretty straightforward question and, if Ken Skates has been on your committee, let's have an understanding of this transition that you've talked about and what we might and might not expect as we go forward.
So, the minute that you referred to wasn't a minute of a discussion. You said yourself it was 'any other business', so it wasn't a minute of a discussion in Cabinet. Those discussions take place in other places across the Government.
In relation to your question about the number of jobs, I can't give you a figure. What I've discussed with Ken Skates is the opportunity for more jobs if we transition to a low-carbon economy and I think, in other parts of the world that are ahead of us, you will see that that's the case.
I appreciate that you might not be able to give me an exact figure today, but, surely, amongst your discussions with Cabinet colleagues, you would have some understanding of the job implications here—the ones that might be lost from what we might call the old carbon economy and what might be created in the green economy. So, I'd hoped that maybe you'd be able to inform Members of that. One of the things that is happening in Westminster, for example, around their declaration, is that the Treasury there have provided hard and fast financials around some of the commitments the Government might have to take if it is to hit its net zero by 2050, and the figure of £1 trillion has been talked of, and about £70 billion a year. What economic modelling has the Welsh Government undertaken and has been made available to you when you've been making your decisions—and other members of the Government—so that you can make informed decisions that obviously put us in the best possible place? And, if that modelling has been made available to you, will you commit to make that available to Assembly Members so that we can have sight of it and understand exactly how the decisions have been taken?
So, I go back to what I said in my second answer to you, that I think there are more opportunities in the low-carbon economy sector—or sectors, really. So, the balance—. I can't give you figures. Certainly, the chief economist who advises all members of the Government will have given us advice that we will have considered. I don't know if it's commercially sensitive or if there's any other reasons why I can't publish it, but I will look into that and let the Member know.
Question 3 [OAQ54055] is withdrawn. Question 4—David Rees.
4. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language on how Natural Resources Wales can work with local communities to promote tourism? OAQ54078
Thank you. I regularly meet with the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language to discuss various issues, including tourism. I've recently written to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism about the breadth of support my portfolio provides to the tourism industry.
Well, thank you for that answer, Minister. Many Valleys communities, including those in the Afan Valley, have developed tourism as a means of growing the economy following the demise of the mining industry in those valleys. Much of the land surrounding those communities is actually owned by the Welsh Government and managed on their behalf by NRW. This land offers outdoor experiences to those visitors who come to those areas. For example, in my valley, mountain biking is a big issue and it uses the NRW land, very much so, to give an experience to visitors, and some of those trails are renowned worldwide, with many visitors coming from outside of the UK to experience them.
Now, it's important, therefore, that NRW works with the communities to ensure that no unnecessary barriers exist that would damage the opportunities for tourism in these valleys. Minister, therefore, will you ensure that tourism is high on the agenda of NRW and will you seek support from your Cabinet colleagues, because I understand the funding challenges you will face, because this will need funding, because, for mountain biking, for example, you need to maintain the trails and sometimes those trails are vandalised by people using bikes as well? So, will you have those discussions to ensure that that agenda is high on their list?
Thank you. I think you're absolutely right to flag that Natural Resources Wales, amongst others, have a very important part to play in protecting our natural environment and supporting our tourism industry. If my memory serves me right, the letter I did write to my colleague Dafydd Elis-Thomas—the word 'NRW' probably appeared more than any other word. So, I know, for instance, they're a consultee in the planning process around the current developments in the Afan Valley in your constituency. I know there's the proposed Afan adventure resort development. But I think it's really important that we do work together. You're right about communities. We need to work with our future generations within the guidelines of the future generations Act so that everyone can benefit from our natural resources.
Thank you for your answer to David Rees then. I'm just thinking about how you can work with NRW with other portfolios within Government as well as tourism and where these possibilities can intersect with each other. In January, I asked you whether you thought there was an opportunity for Natural Resources Wales to work with schools so that children and young people could play a part in replanting trees in their local areas, and I think it cropped up in the context of the Afan Valley, actually, because not only does that help the well-being of communities and tourists and actually tourism business as well, it goes back to Mike Hedges's question about learning about science and carbon capture as well as the history of that valley.
At the time, you said you thought it was a good idea and that you'd be speaking to your colleague Kirsty Williams about that. I hear that you've spoken to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism. I'm wondering whether it might be worth an addendum to that letter to raise this as a possibility. Thank you.
Yes, certainly. You raise some very important points, and I've had in-depth conversations with both the chair and chief exec and other members of NRW around planting trees, because—I answered in my earlier answer to Mike Hedges that we're not planting enough trees, and, certainly, if we are going to mitigate climate change in the way we would want to, we need to ensure that happens. So, I know NRW are working with schools, from the last conversation I had with them. I don't know if it's specifically around planting trees, but it's certainly an opportunity, I think, that they can take forward. NRW manage 7 per cent of Wales's land area, and that obviously includes many reserves and picnic areas and woodland, so it's a very good opportunity to get out there in the fresh air and improve well-being.
Minister, I'd like to echo David's comments. My region is home to many natural wonders, including the Crymlyn bog national nature reserve. As the species champion for the fen raft spider, which has its home at Crymlyn bog, can I ask what discussions you've had with the Minister for international relations about how our biodiversity can play a part in our international tourism offer? I am sure that there are entomologists across the globe who will come to our area to see our amazing fen raft spider. Thank you.
I haven't had a discussion about that particular spider with my colleague Eluned Morgan—I think I would remember if I had—but it's certainly something that I'm very happy to look at, and, if there is research and data that will help us, I'd be very interested to see it.
5. What discussions has the Minister had with Meat Promotion Wales in relation to the red meat levy? OAQ54033
Thank you. I have regular discussions with Hybu Cig Cymru and also Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers to resolve the long-standing issue of repatriation of red meat levy. As a result of this, primary powers are now included within the UK Agriculture Bill and the levy bodies have developed initial proposals for the scheme's introduction.
Thank you, Minister, for that, and I'm very pleased to see a successful outcome of those negotiations and the passage of the Agriculture Bill at Westminster, obviously, with the transfer of these responsibilities coming here to Cardiff.
Will the Minister confirm that she won't use any uplift in levy income to make up any shortfall in Welsh Government funding that might occur in the future, and, actually, any additional money that goes to Meat Promotion Wales will be new money that's available to the promotion body to promote red meat sales either here in Wales, the UK, or across the world?
Well, the UK agri Bill is a little bit stuck at the moment in London. I do understand the reasons why—they're awaiting a date for debate. I too was very pleased with the outcome of my discussions with the Secretary of State. I thought it was very important it had a Government amendment, so I am very pleased at that.
Obviously we need to look at what funding comes; I certainly don't think that HCC and others would allow that to happen, but, clearly, we need to get those powers in the first place. My officials have been having initial discussions with DEFRA officials about how we implement—well, how we draft the scheme first of all. We need to get the scheme right and then implement it. I'll be very happy to keep Members updated on this because this has been dragging on for far too many years.
Carrying on with that scheme, Minister, I can see from the headlines yesterday about the Vice-Premier visiting Wales, and there is scope to open up our beef market to China, as Andrew R.T. has just stated. Can you give an indication as to the nature of any conversations previously that you've had with him, and also how will you assist the Welsh beef sector in preparing to take advantage of these opportunities?
Well, certainly, the Vice-Premier from China made the announcement around the opening up of the beef imports into China. I had a discussion with him about lamb as well, because I think it's very important that we have both of those going into China. I hadn't had any discussions directly with him before yesterday or today; I've met with him again this morning. I think it's very important, certainly, that, the two farms that we took the delegation to visit, the farmers were very keen that these conversations are ongoing and that we build on the relationship that we've already started now.
6. Will the Minister outline the actions taken to complete outstanding Basic Payment Scheme payments? OAQ54056
Thank you. Over 99 per cent of Welsh farmers have received their BPS payments, well in excess of the 95 per cent requirement set in EU rules. One hundred and fifty-three farms are still to complete necessary checks before final payment can be made, and 112 of these have already received loan payments.
Thank you, Minister. That's actually quite a heartening response because, when I last put WAQs in very recently about this, there were 229 claims that had been awaiting completion since December. So, as you'll be aware, National Farmers Union Cymru have been active in promoting the fact that for every £1 spent in promoting the fact—sorry, for every £1 invested in farm support in the UK, farming delivers £7.40 back to the local economy. So, clearly, the—. How many did you say, sorry, again? One hundred and fifty—?
One hundred and fifty-three farms are still to complete.
Yes. So, the wider agricultural sector and rural communities will be losing out also, as well as the farmers themselves. We know that land changes discovered at inspections and alterations to customer details are actually causing delays, and that has been explained to us, but really, all I would ask—. Because I do have farmers in my constituency, who, frankly, struggle. So, there is no excuse, really, for unnecessary payment delays. So, will you set a target for addressing these so that farmers across Wales receive the money that they are, in fact, duly owed?
Well, I don't think it's 'quite heartening'; I think it's very heartening—99 per cent of Welsh farm businesses have received a full 2018 BPS payment. Nothing is late; we have until 30 June. And I really want to pay tribute to my officials who work within Rural Payments Wales that they've achieved that. It's the best in the UK. If you look at other parts of the UK, we've exceeded every other country and, as I say, we've exceeded the EC target. It would be great if everybody could be paid by 30 June and then nobody will be late. I mentioned that there were 153 farms still to complete. Some of the ones that are outstanding are very complex, and that's the reason why they haven't been paid. Some of the issues that do prevent the final claims being paid are, for instance, land changes, and they're often discovered at inspections. Sometimes, there are just changes to customer details that we weren't aware of, and there are ongoing land queries and disputes. My officials are making every effort to process the outstanding claims as soon as possible.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the regulation of animal rehoming organisations in Wales? OAQ54059
We are working with the Animal Welfare Network for Wales and other key stakeholders on voluntary guidance for sanctuaries, to be published later this year. We will seek to better regulate sanctuaries and work with our counterparts in other administrations to ensure a cohesive approach.
I thank you for your answer. I do welcome that the Welsh Government are intending to run a pilot scheme to explore how a voluntary code of practice for the rescue and rehoming centres and sanctuaries could be introduced. It's certainly a step in the right direction. But currently, as things stand, anyone can set up an animal sanctuary or a rehoming centre. There's no legislation in place to prevent that happening. Whilst I'm sure that most of those will have high standards of animal welfare, it is concerning to know that there is equally, therefore, no obligation on local authorities to inspect premises or to ensure the needs of the animals are being met. And we all know that people can and do get overwhelmed by good intentions. So, that, I find concerning. My question is fairly obvious, then: when can we expect the Welsh Government to consider introducing statutory regulations of rehoming organisations and animal sanctuaries to improve the welfare of the animals and also the working conditions that people might find themselves under?
Thank you, Joyce. You certainly raise a very important point, and I definitely want to better regulate sanctuaries. I mentioned that we've been working with other administrations. You might be aware that the Scottish Government went out to consultation and they've been very helpful to us in sharing the responses to that consultation. And also, you'll be aware of the third-party sales of puppies and kittens. We've just been out to consultation and I'm going to produce the responses to that consultation probably in early August. I think that could also have an effect on what changes we do make to sanctuaries.
In relation to the code of practice, I have been working very closely with the Animal Welfare Network Wales group on the development of that voluntary code of practice that you referred to, and that will be produced later this year. I think we need to look at all the different pieces of legislation. You'll be aware that I'm bringing in a licensing scheme on mobile animal exhibits, for instance. So, I think we need to look at all the different schemes that we're bringing together, improving the codes of practice on specific animals, and decide then on what we further need to do.
In March last year, the Welsh Government announced its intention to develop a voluntary code of conduct for animal welfare sanctuaries and it's quite welcoming that you're going to bring that in towards the end of this year. But I'd like to echo the call from my colleague Joyce Watson AM: I think we need to go stronger than that. RSPCA Cymru has itself called for urgent regulation to stop the commonplace welfare issues presented by agencies operating without appropriate skills and resources. Currently, there are around 90 animal sanctuaries doing invaluable work to improve animal welfare across Wales. However, we do know of some registered sanctuaries operating under the radar where animal care standards fall short of desirable standards. Minister, can you explain what steps you are taking to move beyond guidance to introduce some robust regulation that will ensure animal welfare standards meet a suitable baseline criteria in all instances?
I think I've set out what work we are doing at this current time in my answer to Joyce Watson. I was very interested to see the consultation responses from the Scottish Government in relation to whether we should go further. So, obviously, officials are considering the advice we've had from there, and I will be bringing forward the code of practice later on this year.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the farm business grant? OAQ54071
Diolch. The farm business grant is one of the Welsh Government’s 'Taking Wales Forward' commitments. To date, 2,970 farmers have had applications to the farm business grant approved, worth £20.6 million of support. This on-farm investment supports the improvement of the technical and financial performance of farm businesses in Wales.
Thank you. The Farmers Union of Wales contacted me on behalf of one of their members a few weeks ago because an application from a constituent for a grant had failed because he'd failed to provide a letter from his accountant to confirm that the turnover of his business was below £1 million. Now, I should say that his turnover is way below £1 million, and I should add that virtually every farmer in Wales has a turnover of less than £1 million. But the decision meant that he had lost out on £5,000, despite having provided a letter once it became known that that was a requirement. I appealed directly to you—thank you for your response—and officials have now changed the letter in the application pack to highlight the need for this evidence. I welcome that, but that does suggest to me, as I know is the case, that it wasn't sufficiently clear that this accountant’s letter needed to be included in the first place. I do understand that there are many similar cases across Wales that have now emerged, with an average loss around £5,500, which is a significant sum for small farms. According to your own figures, only one in 100 farms in Wales has a turnover of over £1 million. Shouldn't you therefore review this issue, as it is clearly a more general problem than just affecting my constituent? I want you to look again at the applications that have been rejected for this reason and I would appreciate it if you could tell us how many applications have lost out because of this reason.
Thank you. Obviously, I am aware of your constituent. As you say, you and I corresponded, and also the FUW and I corresponded. You'll be aware I'm unable to comment on that specific one due to the appeals process. I think the farm business grant was very well received. The idea was that we made it as simple and easy as possible to use for ourselves and also for applicants. There is a small number of people whose applications were unsuccessful, and I will certainly—. I thought I had the figure here, actually, but I can't find it at the current time. But I think it is—. Oh, sorry; 688 businesses were written to retrospectively to request an accountant's letter, and fewer than 1 per cent of beneficiaries had payments recovered as they failed to provide an accountant's letter before the deadline. But I think you're right; it needs to be very much upfront, and we certainly have reviewed that, and, as you say, we have changed that. I'm very happy to look, if we can review the applications—I don't know if it's too late. But you will appreciate we obviously are audited and we have to make sure it is effective use of public money and we have to have some criteria. But we have tried to make it as simple as possible.
I declare an interest, obviously, being a partner in a farming business. Minister, one of the things that is so frustrating, very often, is the complexity around, in particular, the woodland grant schemes that have been made available. Given that there's been much conversation in this Chamber tonight—this afternoon, I should say—about increasing woodland uptake, can you commit the department to look at how that scheme could be simplified to make it far quicker in its turnaround of applications so that it does encourage greater participation rates? I know you opened a new window back in April for this, and I appreciate it's public money and the auditing and the accountability have to be robust, but when businesses have small windows to, obviously, plant up trees, they need to have confidence that the grants they're applying for can be turned around in a timely manner. Certainly, I've had constituents coming to me saying it's very cumbersome, it's very bureaucratic, and it puts them off actually applying.
You make a very good point. Obviously, this question was specifically about the farm business grant, and as I said in my answer to Rhun ap Iorwerth, the whole point of this scheme was that we made it as easy and simple as possible. I thought we really had succeeded with that. Clearly, the issue that Rhun raised shows that it wasn't quite as simple and easy as I would have hoped for. Certainly, other grants, now—we need to look at making them as easy and simple as possible. And if Brexit provides any opportunities, obviously as we have our own agricultural policy and we're revising the payments system, I think it's certainly something that we can look at. Because as you say, if it's a very small window at a particularly busy time of year, we need to ensure that everybody can apply for it as simply as possible. I'm glad that you echoed the point I made around the most effective use of public money.
9. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to reduce air pollution? OAQ54068
Thank you. Tackling air pollution across Wales remains a top priority for Welsh Government. In my statement on clear air yesterday, I highlighted actions across Government and a range of sectors to improve air quality. These will be set out in our clean air plan, which I intend to consult on this autumn.
Thank you, Minister. I welcome your statement on clean air yesterday and Welsh Government's commitment to bring forward a clean air Act. Caerleon is one of 11 designated air quality management areas within Newport. The high volume of traffic that pours out onto the narrow streets is regularly forced to a halt due to constrictions and congestion in the road system. Sites of archeological importance mean that there is very little scope to alter the layout of the local road network, and many HGVs use the road in Caerleon as a throughway. Caerleon Civic Society is looking to work with the local authority to take action on improving air quality in the area. Can the Minister outline whether the clean air Act will make provision for engagement with communities looking to improve air quality?
Well, I certainly think it would have to. As I mentioned in the statement yesterday, we'll use the clean air plan to then see what proposals we think we need to bring forward for the clean air Act. But certainly, I think working with communities is absolutely vital in any areas that we're trying to improve, and I do hope Newport City Council certainly work with them when they're looking at their local air quality management and where they've got their site monitors, for instance. So, I do hope they'll work together.
Minister, it's Love Your Lungs Week, and I know you will wish to—[Interruption.] Here it is. I know we all wish to commend the British Lung Foundation's work. Indeed, we had our photograph taken outside the Senedd earlier when we were chatting about the need for a clean air Act. But can I tell you that it's also official that the quickest way to travel in Cardiff during the rush hour is by bike? A group of Cardiff councillors, volunteers and other campaigners raced by the various modes of transport to Cardiff castle. Actually, 'race' is perhaps an exaggeration for some of those modes. The bikes averaged nearly 12 mph, buses just over 6 mph, and bottom of all, cars—barely 5 mph. It's quite clear that active travel is one of the greatest ways to promote not only efficiency in terms of commuter travel but also clean air, and I commend all those activities that promote these modes of transport.
Thank you. Certainly, I'm very happy that the British Lung Foundation have brought forward their week. It's also—I'm going to give a plug—Clean Air Day tomorrow; I think we should all think about something that we can do to promote that. The Welsh Government has given £30 million to local authorities in relation to active travel, and I certainly commend Cardiff council. I think they're bringing forward really good schemes around cycling, and I've certainly seen said councillors whizzing around on bikes many times.
Minister, one of the most congested and polluted areas is of course the A470, and of course there are measures in place there to try, as an interim measure, to control the degree of pollution there by restricting traffic speeds and so on. But of course there are a number of variable speeds along that area. There seems to be a considerable degree of breaching of those speeds. So, any monitoring that is taking place is going to be very adversely affected by, effectively, the breach of the measures that has taken place. I wonder what discussions you've had, or could have, with perhaps the Minister for Economy and Transport over ensuring that there was proper evaluation and monitoring of that process, and perhaps even a simplification of the rather complex changes of speed that take place along that particular area. I have written to the Minister for Economy and Transport. You will not have seen that, but it does seem to me that it's a matter that directly impacts on your responsibilities in terms of air pollution.
Thank you. As I made clear yesterday in the oral statement, road transport certainly contributes to the quality of our air, more than probably any other sector. I have had many discussions and meetings with my colleague the Minister for Economy and Transport, and I think that my officials and transport officials probably meet at least weekly, if not more often, to discuss this.
Again, yesterday, I talked about the need for better signage at the pilot sites—the five sites that we've had with the 50 mph—across Wales, because people clearly don't understand why those variable speeds have been brought in. They don't realise that it's for carbon emission reduction. They think that it is perhaps for speed calming.
Clearly, we are having mixed responses to those sites, and officials are going to report on the effectiveness of them, probably late summer or early autumn, to me. But, I mentioned yesterday that I have made the sites—or the Minister for Economy and Transport will be making the sites—permanent from the middle of July. We are having a look also—. We will have a full 12 months' worth of data by the end of this month to look at, and I think that that will then better advise us going forward.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item is questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The first question is from Helen Mary Jones.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on funding provided by the Welsh Government to improve the quality of housing in Wales? OAQ54050
Welsh Government provides £108 million each year to social landlords in the form of the major repairs allowance to councils and dowry gap funding to large-scale voluntary transfer housing associations. This is to ensure that everyone living in our 225,000 social homes in Wales will live in good-quality homes by December 2020.
I'm very grateful to the Minister for her answer. I'm sure that she would agree with me that it would be extremely unfortunate if Welsh Government funding from other sources inadvertently had a negative effect on housing quality in Wales. I have a number of constituents who have been having real difficulties with inappropriately sold or inappropriately installed cavity wall insulation. I know that this is a matter that has been raised on a number of occasions, recently by David Rees.
Obviously, this matter isn't directly in your portfolio, Minister, but it is having a real impact on the quality of the housing of some of my constituents, and I know of many others. What is unfortunate is that the evidence that is being sent to me is that the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, which is supposed to put this right, is in fact being profoundly unhelpful. There is one particular case that I am going to write to the Minister for environment about because they are really just not responding and, when they are responding, they are offering to partly put the work right.
The particular family that prompted this question are not well-off people. They have worked very hard to be able to afford their own home. So, can I ask the Minister if you will, with your housing quality hat on, have a further conversation with the Minister for environment to see if there's any more that the Government can do to ensure that the guarantee agency is fit for purpose and that it responds in an appropriate, but also in a compassionate way to people who are dealing with really difficult damp problems in homes that they really had to struggle to purchase?
Yes, I'm happy to do that. If you send the details to the Minister for environment, we can, between us, look at the specific matter that you are dealing with. Actually, much more generally, we are about to receive the report of the decarbonisation of housing working group. They are looking at housing across the piece, not just social housing. So, we are expecting recommendations from them about a number of the things that you raised more generally in terms of the specific things there: so, the skills available to private home holders—sorry, private home owners; I got my tongue in a twist there—in Wales; the advice that they can receive about the best way to insulate their homes without causing some of the difficulties that you are talking about there; and whole issues around energy efficiency and condensation and such things. So, we're expecting that report imminently, and I am expecting to have a really good conversation across the Government and with the Assembly about how we can best implement some of the recommendations.
Minister, earlier this year, my colleague here, David Melding, led a debate that recognised that the number of homes being built in Wales is inadequate to meet demand, and during the debate we all recognised that there was a shortage of social housing across Wales. But there is also a shortage of other types of homes that will attract younger, aspirational home owners to move to Wales. I understand that Shropshire, for example, the next county to my own constituency, has a more flexible planning policy that allows landowners to develop their land for executive level homes, therefore attracting younger professionals, including teachers, business people and doctors, which we desperately need, of course, in mid Wales, to move to Wales and set up home in Wales, to make a career and invest in the local economy. Can I ask what intentions you have to review planning guidance to give local authorities the flexibility to implement their planning policies in such a way that will ensure that the demand for these types of homes is met to encourage younger families and professionals into Powys and counties such as mine? Or, indeed, do you believe that local authorities don't need that flexibility because they've already got that flexibility, and no change to planning guidance is required?
This is actually a question on the quality of the housing supply, and that's a question about the actual housing supply. But we've only just reissued 'Planning Policy Wales' just before Christmas. That emphasises a place-building approach, with an emphasis on sustainable place models. So what we're asking local authorities to do, within their LDPs, is to look at sustainable place making with mixed tenure developments there. Actually, all the market statistics show us that we build enough market homes; the things that we're desperately short of are homes for social rent. So, at the moment the market is providing more than adequate market homes, and our Help to Buy scheme has driven some of that, but what we actually need to build far more of—thousands more of—are homes for social rent, so, rather different to the picture you've just painted.
We have too many poor-quality houses in Wales, many with very poor energy efficiency, meaning those who are poorest end up either cold or paying more for heating their homes than you and I do. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve energy efficiency, especially in the private rented sector and the very low-cost part of the private rented sector?
So, at the moment, we've concentrated on the Welsh housing quality standard for publicly provided housing. Mike Hedges knows very well that the Welsh housing quality standard asks social landlords to get to a standard assessment procedure rating of 65 or higher, or an energy performance certificate D rating equivalent. About 97 per cent of our stock so far is up at that standard and we've got a small amount more to do before we meet the entire Welsh housing quality standard. What we've been trying to do in the private rented sector is change the relationship between landlords and tenants and ensure that tenants have a better deal all round in terms of the way that properties are let, the sorts of property that are available and the regulation through Rent Smart Wales. We haven't at this point in time got any particular energy efficiency indications there, but as I just said in answer to Helen Mary Jones, we are expecting the decarbonisation working group report imminently, and they were asked to look across the piece in Wales, and I am expecting a set of recommendations around what we should do across every tenure in Wales to improve energy efficiency and indeed insulation and standards to go with it.
2. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the House of Commons' Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report on leasehold reform? OAQ54065
I have read their report with interest. However, it is a devolved matter and our own independent task and finish group for leasehold reform is on schedule to deliver its report to me in July. I will be reviewing its recommendations and then deciding which actions to take forward for Wales.
I do commend you for reading the report. England and Wales law is often common in this area, and I think there are lessons to be learnt, and I think the House of Commons committee's done a great service here.
Estate management fees as well as service charges have been criticised for their size, lack of transparency and the difficulty with which they can be challenged. Those are certainly problems that we have in Wales. And Which?, the consumer organisation, has pointed out that no new-build housing estate should have their roads as the responsibility of the leaseholder, yet this is happening more and more at the moment. Often, as the report indicates, developers blame the local council, the council blames the developers and it's an unholy mess.
I have met with residents on a new-build estate within my own region and they've informed me that they're in a conflict between the estate and the local council and the developer over the adoption of a main road through the estate, which is a bus route. And despite that road being a key bus route, it's not at the moment going to be adopted. This is just a crazy situation. The planners should never allow it and the developers should not be allowed to produce roads of inadequate quality when they're clearly marked as being required to be bus routes.
I entirely agree with the Member's analysis of that. We do have a significant problem in some of the 106 agreements that have been negotiated between developers and councils throughout Wales. And one of the difficulties that has arisen as a result of that is the issue around the adoption of roads, the standard they have to be brought up to, the beneficial use of the estate in question prior to the adoption of the road and so on. So, we're attacking that on a number of fronts.
The most straightforward of that is that, alongside the leasehold reform group, we also have a task and finish group who are tasked with a review of unadopted roads. It's actually a joint task force between myself and the Minister for Economy and Transport, and they're due to give us their recommendations very shortly. We've specifically asked them to look at the introduction of a code of practice for estate and property management agents to enhance the professional and ethical standards that they operate to.
Simultaneously, Members will be aware that, yesterday, I did an oral statement on some of the suggestions that we're having for more regional working with local authorities. One of the areas that that was addressing was in economic development and land use. One of the specific drivers for that is to get the very valuable and unfortunately increasingly rare skill of being able to negotiate those agreements properly, so that the people who have those skills are available to all of Wales, rather than to those lucky local authorities who have managed to retain them. It's quite clearly an issue that we need to bottom.
So, we're looking at coming at it from both ends, if you like, but I think we're also looking at renewed guidance to local authorities, in terms of what they should be looking for when they're looking at a situation where a new development has largely been completed, but the roads are not at adoptable standards.
So, just to recap, we've got the leasehold reform group coming back, we've got the task and finish group coming back on unadopted roads, the UK Government's announcements are very interesting in terms of legislating to ensure that freeholders who pay charges for the maintenance of communal areas have access to the same rights as leaseholders in terms of the way that that's regulated. And we're very interested in looking at that as well.
Can I echo the comments from David Melding, because, clearly, leaseholders are facing some very serious challenges, particularly financially? And, when you come back to your working group, I hope that they recommend that you take action on putting regulation upon estate management companies—and if they don't, I hope you put it in anyway. Because, for example, I've got many constituents in my constituency who own properties on different estates—not just one, many estates—which are leasehold. And I've got one here in front of me that has actually given them the breakdown of the leasehold bill they've received for this year. They are required to pay £187 a month on top of everything—that's on top of council tax, on top of the utilities. And I'll include what they say: included in the list are out-of-hours fees; a management fee, twice; an accountancy fee; and banking charges. They're included in the list they're expected to pay.
Now, these are management companies that are looking after estates on behalf of these, and they are using it as a money machine. I hope you put in place, in those proposals afterwards, regulations to put upon these agencies to ensure that they deal with people fairly and that any funding they require is based upon actual need and not costs that they incur anyway.
Yes, again, I share the Member's disquiet at some of the practices that have arisen as a result of this. The fundamental issue is that when somebody buys a freehold house that they ought to be receiving the proper advice from their lawyers acting on their behalf about the other charges that are associated with that house, including whether there is an adopted road for which they will be required to provide maintenance. In response to David Melding, I rehearsed the things that we're doing to look at this. Certainly, in the short term, we're looking to see if there’s anything we can do about some of the specific charges.
The difficulty, though, is that there are protections in place for leaseholders, but those protections do not extend to freeholders who've entered into that kind of management agreement. So, the UK Government has seen that this a lacunae, so, with any luck, they'll step into that place, because we're on the boundary of the devolution settlement here as well.
So, we have asked the task and finish group to look specifically at some of the charges as well, but, actually, a much better solution would be to get the roads to an adoptable standard and get them adopted. So, it may be that we have to look at schemes in order to be able to facilitate that. And I will certainly be looking at our own Help to Buy scheme, to see if there's anything we can do in that scheme to make sure that we aren't promulgating practices that are unhelpful, to say the least.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, I'm sure you'll join me in welcoming the excellent report that was launched yesterday by Tai Pawb, the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru and Shelter Cymru on the right to adequate housing in Wales. And I commend the report to all Members who have not had a chance to see it yet. The report makes a compelling case for the right to adequate housing to be enshrined in Welsh law, whilst also clearly setting out a route-map for how we should get there. Do you agree that the right to housing in Wales should be recognised in statute?
Yes, I absolutely do. I spoke at the event yesterday. Unfortunately, I had another event to go to, so I was sandwiched in between two parts of the author of the report's introduction of it. But I was very impressed by the clarity with which he set out some of the legislative issues that he'd researched, and I'm very much looking forward to going through with my officials what the route-map might be to achieving some of the recommendations in the report for Wales. But in my contribution to that event, I did say that it's not only important to make sure that people have housing as a fundamental human right, front and centre, but that, actually, we're in a position to deliver it. So, if, for example, an individual has a right to enforce that, we have to have an adequate housing supply, in order for them to be able to have the houses to get into. We also have to have the right support mechanisms in place to enable people who have a range of difficulties to stay in their accommodation and so on. So, whilst I absolutely fundamentally accept the purpose of the report, and concur with it, we do have a range of practical issues to consider as well.
Thank you, Minister, for that very encouraging answer, if I can say. And you quite rightly say you need a strategy to be able to ensure a right exists in practice. And, indeed, the report sketches out what needs to be done in terms of a rights-based national housing strategy. And it's indeed something I've already called for—and I think other parties share this aspiration. And can I just say, it would be a fantastic year for us to achieve a commitment to this development of a national housing strategy. After all, we are fast approaching the hundredth anniversary of the birth of council housing as we know it. The Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act 1919—more commonly known as the Addison Act—received Royal Assent in July 1919. And I think, indeed, that it was referred to in the meeting, at the launch, yesterday.
Minister, will a national housing strategy emerge from the affordable housing review, with targets on increasing supply of housing at its heart, but also other issues addressed as well?
I'm certainly very interested in looking at housing in the round. It's not just the affordable housing review that we've got to look at. You've heard me mentioning already in Plenary today the decarbonisation review. We have a rent policy review, we have a leasehold reform review, we have an ongoing priority need review—I think there are two more that I'm not currently thinking of. I've already put in train meeting together with the chairs of all of those reviews, and a number of officials, so that we can look in the round, across all of the advice we've got, so that we can come up with a coherent response to the series of reports. That may or may not turn into a strategy, but I am looking to have a coherent response across the piece. And I'm very keen to make sure that the report that was launched yesterday is part of that.
I do think the strategy would be the way to look at all these things comprehensively. You're quite right—it's not just affordable housing, it's the totality of housing. But there are other key areas as well that we could mention here that should be part of a national housing strategy: the eradication of homelessness; increasing security of tenure for generation rent—nearly 20 per cent of those in housing at the moment; leasehold reform; and a strong tenant's voice. These are all major things that we should be pushing for. And, Minister, is it not time for us to forge a consensus on these issues—between all the parties in this Chamber, I think—that we could come together, and have a cross-party national housing strategy? What a wonderful achievement that would be, in the twentieth anniversary year of devolution. And will you invite the representatives of all parties to discuss this objective with the Welsh Government, because I think we could agree it?
Yes, I'm very happy to say that I'd like to do that. In fact, I'm very happy to say now, Llywydd, on the floor of the Assembly, that I'd very much like to look at where the consensus across the parties is. We've had this discussion a number of times in Plenary, and you're absolutely right—a number of parties have put out housing documents, and there is much that we agree upon; there are nuances that we do not. I think David Melding is absolutely right in saying that it would be good to seek where the consensus is and see what can be done, once we've had all the reports in and we can look at them in the round.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Dai Lloyd.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, the importance of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 cannot be understated in the deliberations of local authorities. So, Minister, how does the Welsh Government track the implementation of the Act's principles by councils?
We work very closely with councils to ensure that they embed the seven ways of working of the Act, and that the principles of the Act are far-reaching. We're working currently with a working group in local government to make sure that, in everything we do with local authorities, we implement the Act and put it at the front of centre of everything that we do.
Thank you for that, Minister, but we still see councils failing in some areas to seriously consider the Act. Might I just point to an example in my own region, in Bridgend? Recently, there has been a bus consultation on removing services. A report to cabinet recommending the cuts quite simply failed to do either an equalities assessment or an assessment of the impact on future generations. They said they would do both after the consultation before a final sign-off on the decision. In other words, after a decision had been made. Another example, then, in the same authority, Bridgend—the selling of the only playing field serving a council estate for housing. Are these not examples of local authorities being unable to think differently?
I'm not aware of the detail of those. I was aware of the bus consultation; I'm not aware of the detail of the other one. If the Member has any more detail, I'm very happy to look at it. I very recently met with the leader of Bridgend, but it was unfortunately on the day of the announcement of the Ford closure, and so our meeting changed from the normal meeting that I was due to have with him obviously into a crisis meeting about Bridgend. But I am due to reconvene with him, so if the Member wants to give me the details, I'm more than happy to raise it with him.
But the fact is that it looks like there's either no teeth to the Act itself, or no will in Government to track implementation, because on the other side of the region, Swansea, Swansea Council is looking to sell off land on the foreshore to make a quick buck, as I'm sure you'll be aware, and not even the iconic Singleton park is safe from this wheeling and dealing attitude. Is this not in direct violation of the future generations Act, and is there enough capacity in Government to track the implementation of the future generations Act?
I understand that the proposals in Swansea are out to consultation. I too have a large postbag on the subject, and I'm sure you do as well, and my colleague Rebecca Evans is the constituency Assembly Member for that area, and I know she has similar concerns. We will be talking to the council about the way that it's taking some of those things forward, but it's at the beginning of a very long process of planning, economic development and so on, so I think it's rather early to say that they're not taking that into account. My understanding is that these are preliminary proposals. Again, if the Member has any more detail than I am aware of, I'd be grateful to have it.
3. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle child poverty? OAQ54069
The Welsh Government is committed to working across Government to tackle child poverty. My colleague Julie James is leading a review of Welsh Government funding programmes to ensure they have maximum impact on the lives of children living in poverty. In addition, Lesley Griffiths will act as an advocate for poverty during budget preparations, to identify opportunities to increase the impact of collective investment.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. The discretionary assistance fund, which was introduced in April 2013, is a critical fund that supports the very poorest families in Wales. Children and families in the most pressurised circumstances and facing financial crisis have access to this fund. An evaluation was undertaken in 2015 to examine the effectiveness of the fund, which included suggestions on how the fund and its administration could be improved. Could the Minister outline if there has been any further evaluation on the discretionary assistance fund, or whether there has been any progress on addressing the suggestions for improvement in the 2015 evaluation?
I'm going to start by saying that I absolutely agree with the Member with regard to the importance of the discretionary assistance fund, whether that be through individual assistance payments or emergency assistance payments. And I actually visited the Wrexham centre where it's facilitated not too long ago, and I sat and heard first-hand some of the distressing calls that are made by people who are really very vulnerable and struggling to make ends meet.
Like you say, an evaluation was undertaken and published in 2015, which made a number of recommendations for improvement, including making use of the DAF partner network to help support clients to apply successfully. They have all been implemented. A further survey was also carried out in 2016, but, in addition to this, an audit was carried out by Welsh Government in August 2017, which made a number of recommendations for improvement, which included things like simplifying the application process to assist vulnerable clients, making online applications for emergency support funding, without them needing to have that partner support that was needed beforehand, and I'm pleased that these have all been actioned.
Child poverty in Wales has been rising since 2004. It had already reached the highest level in the UK before the credit crunch, when more than one in four children in Wales were living in poverty, with 90,000 in severe poverty. We know that, last month, the End Child Poverty Network stated that Wales was the only UK nation to see a rise in child poverty last year and, although the Children's Commissioner for Wales said in March that the Welsh Government should write a new child poverty delivery plan focusing on concrete and measurable steps, the Welsh Government failed to support calls for any tackling poverty strategy during the individual Member's debate calling for this two weeks ago here. How, therefore, do you respond to the representations made to me after that debate by sector representatives regarding my emphasis on the need to focus on Welsh policy levers that the Welsh Government has within its power, that 'This is exactly the area in which we would like to focus our influencing as we agree there are powers the Welsh Government can and should be using to tackle the root causes of poverty', i.e. within a plan or strategy rather than a generic approach, which has left us at the bottom for more than 10 years?
Llywydd, I do find a hint of irony in the question from the Member without actually talking about the impact of austerity on child poverty in Wales and across the UK and how that has been significantly amplified as a consequence not just of austerity but of the regressive welfare reforms as well.
We are committed to taking action to reduce and ultimately eliminate child poverty by not just using the levers at our disposal across Government, whether that be through housing, education, health, but also the First Minister is committed to and work is under way on the First Minister's commitment to reorganise Welsh Government funding programmes to ensure that we have maximum impact on the lives of children living in poverty in Wales.
We now have some communities where one in two children are living in poverty, and that is utterly disgraceful, but it is something that your Government can do something about. The Welsh Government could have an anti-poverty strategy—that would be a good start—a strategy that includes raising the threshold for free school meals to that of Northern Ireland, for example. Hunger, which is linked to poor attainment in school and is a consequence of poverty—I don't see much action from the Government on the question of hunger. And being a lot more proactive on the devolution of the administration of benefits to Wales would also make a difference, as the austerity consensus that has existed in Westminster has brought so much misery to our communities here in Wales. But do you agree with me, Minister, therefore, that it is neither enough nor acceptable to hide behind the pernicious policies of the Tories in Westminster while there is so much that could be done here in Wales to mitigate this child poverty?
The Member's absolutely right that one child living in poverty is one child too many, particularly in 2019. That should not be the case, and I share the Member's passion for tackling this. On a Welsh Government level, we are committed to using all those levers at our disposal, as I just said to Mark Isherwood, whether that's through what we can do in terms of education, supporting childcare—. And that is a commitment that the Minister is taking forward—my colleague the Minister Julie James—in terms of actually how we maximise that funding and those things to actually bring it together across Government and really have the impact we want in terms of minimising and reducing and ultimately eliminating child poverty.
The Member refers to welfare reform and the potential devolution of the administration of welfare reform. This is something that I'm taking forward on behalf of the First Minister. We've tasked the Wales Centre for Public Policy to do a piece of work on that with us. I will be meeting them in the next couple of weeks to take that forward, and I'm more than happy to keep the Member updated, because I know you're so passionate and interested in this area, and to speak to you about this in the future.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the funding available to renovate houses for older people? OAQ54072
Yes. There is substantial Welsh Government support available to home owners and landlords, including older people, to renovate properties. Across Wales, £148 million has been made available to local authorities to invest in Welsh homes.
Thank you very much. We know, on Anglesey, that, within the next five to 10 years, there's going to be an increase of around 30 per cent in the number of older people—that's people over the age of 60. We already know that there’s a shortage of appropriate housing for older people with mobility needs and other health needs. We need to build new houses, of course, which are appropriate, and we also need to renovate houses within the current stock, and of course we need to invest in adaptations for homes for older people. Whilst you, as the current Government, can’t give a commitment beyond the next election, of course, do you agree that grant levels from the Welsh Government to local authorities such as Ynys Môn for adaptations should increase at the same rate as our population is growing older?
Actually, only this lunchtime I was at the launch of the 'Adaptations without delay' report done by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, which my colleague Dawn Bowden had sponsored. We had a very good conversation about how we can accelerate the care and repair schemes in order to make sure that—. They have a number of functions, as the Member will be aware. They are preventative, obviously, and they help people stay in their own homes and not have to go into any kind of social care or NHS care, and also they are ameliorative in the sense that they get people back out of those settings into more independent living. My colleague Julie Morgan and I have had a couple of meetings very recently with various agencies delivering care and repair schemes, to see what data we can make the most use of to see what we need to do with it in the future, including actually looking to see whether we've got the demographic spread right, whether we've got the right kind of adaptations, and, frankly, whether we're building in our innovative housing programme the right kind of houses so that we build a 'house for life', as they call it, so that you don't have to have it adapted—they're built with stairs wide enough and all that sort of stuff.
I've been to some very good programmes. As it happens, only last week I was up in Ynys Môn and I went to see the new modular factory being built there for the passive house. The council leader was at the opening of that factory, and I know that they are commissioning bungalows especially with that in mind—with the increase in the older demographic in mind—with a view to having them being as flexible as possible so that people can stay in them for as long as possible. What we're doing is looking to see whether we can use the data coming back from our care and repair agencies to help us to decide which homes are worth adapting, which houses it's impossible to do it to economically, what the best options for people are, so that we can get them the right kind of accommodation in the right place, and what ameliorative programmes we can put in place to ensure that people stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. So, I think that's kind of a 'maybe' answer to your question, but I would be very interested in discussing it further.
Many of the older people who come to me have been very grateful for the grants that they've had to adapt their homes or to renovate them, because as you and I and most of the Members here know, stability in your home is incredibly important as you get older because you are able then to stay connected to your community, things are more familiar, and it helps with mental health issues, loneliness, isolation and the raft of it—it's very important. However, the issue with the money is that, very often, the councils will give out that money, they've awarded the contract and then the contract itself, or the builders who provide it, are sub-service: the renovations have not been to the right standard, the adaptations do not meet the needs of the person, and they have not done what they said they would do. You go back to the councils and they say, 'But we've given out the money; our job has finished'. What can you do, as a Minister for this area, to encourage councils to actually just be a little bit more savvy in their business dealings with these organisations, and to do simple things like have a 5 per cent or 10 per cent retention fee, so that once the householder, and only when the householder, has actually signed off on it and said, 'Yes, that disabled bathroom is now fit for purpose', or 'Yes, that renovation is allowing me to stay in this home safely and securely', does the council then pay the balance? Because it's a loss-loss situation—the council have got money that's not being utilised properly, the poor person involved in this has got the stress, at an older age, of trying to deal with a recalcitrant company and they're not getting what they need.
I said in response to Rhun that what we want to do is look to see what the evidence coming back to us is telling us about the way that some of the care and repair schemes across Wales are managed. Actually, it's my colleague Julie Morgan who has overarching portfolio responsibility for that, but I have the housing bit of it, so it overlaps almost entirely. So, we've been working together to try and get the best out of it.
If you've got very specific examples, I'd be very happy to hear about them and see what we can do. It is helpful to us to know where the problems are. As I say, we are looking at data collection so that we can redesign the schemes appropriately. We're also looking to see whether the way we currently deliver it is the best way to deliver it or whether there are other methodologies available. It's not done in the same way in every part of Wales, so it'll be interesting to see some of the detail of the things that you're telling me.
Minister, we all agree that we must do everything we can to ensure older people remain in their homes for as long a possible. Home adaptations are essential in ensuring this. What is your Government doing to reduce the inordinately long waits for such adaptations?
I don't accept there are inordinately long waits. Actually, over the last two Assembly terms, it's improved out of all measure. I don't know if I speak only for my surrounding AMs, but we've had this discussion. Certainly, when I started as an Assembly Member, I had a fairly large postbag full of people waiting for adaptations. I certainly don't have that now because the service has improved out of all measure. So, I don't think waiting is the issue.
There are some quality issues that Angela Burns highlighted, and there are some issues around at what level you get the support. I think there are some issues about, if you're an older person living in your home and you have a couple of steps going down to your garden, how you would know how to get hold of that assistance. We're very keen to make sure that we have the right information out there, that people know how to access the assistance, and they have a relatively simple and user-friendly way of getting hold of it. But I don't accept that there are long delays. That's not what the evidence is showing us.
We have invested just short of £3.5 million into core funding for care and repair agencies to support this work, with a view to making sure that we are not having long waits. Long waits are in no-one's interests, as I said in response to Rhun ap Iorwerth. These are both preventative in the sense that they keep people out of expensive secondary and tertiary services, and ameliorative in that they get people back out of those services as fast as possible. So, in terms of value for money, it's an absolute no-brainer to spend the money on this rather than on the more expensive acute services. But if the Member has any specific examples of long delays, again, I'd be very grateful to hear specifics from her, because that's not our general experience.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the availability of housing in local authorities across Wales? OAQ54062
Yes. The need for housing continues to outstrip the number of homes available. With borrowing constraints now removed by Westminster—at long last and after much lobbying by us—and record low interest rates, we are working with local authorities to build at scale and pace, for the first time in a generation, to make more homes available across Wales.
Thank you, Minister. As was mentioned here in the Senedd yesterday, we've seen housing developments approved despite them falling outside the settlement boundary of local development plans. A key consideration allowing these is the obvious need for new homes. However, whilst controversial applications are receiving consent, it is true that Wales has an empty property problem. All local authorities in Wales have an empty home strategy and an action plan. Yet, despite this—and I would add that I've been here eight years now, and right from my very first week as an Assembly Member, I was raising concerns about the number of empty properties in Wales that would turn into very good homes for people who are waiting desperately—currently there are around 27,000 private sector and 1,400 social sector empty properties in Wales. Therefore, will you explain what further support you will give to local authorities and other agencies—registered social landlords—to go about helping them to bring these empty properties back into purposeful homes for those who desperately need them?
There's absolutely no excuse whatsoever for anybody in the social housing sector to have a void issue. We provide them with more than sufficient grants to bring those voids back into beneficial use. So, again, if you have specific examples of social housing in that position, I'd be really glad to see it, because there's something going very wrong there. I can assure you that no RSL or LSVT should be in a position where they can't bring their voids back into beneficial use.
In terms of the private sector, my colleague Lee Waters has been working very hard on a scheme to bring empty properties back into beneficial use by looking at loan schemes and a series of grant schemes so that we can find out why it's empty, find out who the owners are, and then find out what it would need to either buy it off them or bring it back into beneficial use. He's been working very hard on getting a number of pilot schemes running in that area.
We also encourage local authorities to act properly in terms of their council tax to make sure that they are levying the right amounts of tax on empty homes. It depends why the home is empty and my colleague Rebecca Evans is working very hard on the vacant land tax implications of some of this work. We're very keen that local authorities use all the levers that they have in order to bring homes back into beneficial use. We also have a number of grant schemes. We have schemes designed to bring homes back into beneficial use that private owners can access, and we have schemes for landlords that they can access as well. And if the Member wants to write to me, I'd be more than happy to provide her with details of those schemes.
I wonder what role the Minister sees modular housing playing in meeting the needs within local authority areas. I was delighted to be able to join her only recently in Maes Glas in Ynysawdre to look at the Valleys to Coast initiative with modular housing, very much on that theme of houses for life that can be adapted and changed as the years go by. Now, that's being developed by a Port Talbot company, Wernick, who are new to this residential market but have a long pedigree within modular construction. And I just wonder how much more we can do to deal with those issues of quality, homes for life and meeting those massive supply needs that we have with different local authority areas, and building local jobs, I have to say, in Port Talbot and locally with me.
Yes, that was an excellent scheme and a very good visit, and I was very impressed, as I know Huw Irranca-Davies was, at the speed of construction, the niceness of the house—I can't think of another word, but it's just a really lovely home. But I was also very impressed by the ability to add on another unit if you had a growing family, and to actually pick the whole house up and put it down somewhere else if you needed to. It was a very interesting and, I thought, instructive visit, and he's absolutely right—what we are looking to do in Wales is, using Welsh materials with as low a carbon footprint as is humanly possible, build house to passive standard if at all possible, so the bills are £100 or less a year, using local labour in local factories.
And one of the lovely things about modular factories—I haven't visited that one, but I did visit one in Ynys Môn last week—is that no matter what the weather—and although Ynys Môn is very beautiful, the weather was a little inclement, I think it's fair to say; a bit horizontal rain last week—of course, in the factory it was warm and dry and the people could carry on their jobs, they were not having to work at height, and so on. They were constructing the house that would then have its final stage of construction actually on the site, exactly like the programme we saw.
So, I actually believe that is the future for housing in Wales and, at the moment, we're about to go out to what's called the third iteration of the innovative housing programme, so that was the fruit of the first part of the programme. That will deliver 1,000 new homes across Wales in the next few years. It's got 45 schemes running, and we expect to learn a lot of lessons about the way that we can build at pace and scale using that kind of modular construction.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the weight given to environmental considerations in the planning system? OAQ54075
Sustainable development is at the heart of the planning system. 'Planning Policy Wales' is clear that environmental issues have parity with social, economic and cultural considerations and, together with technical advice and supporting guidance, provides comprehensive coverage on environmental considerations in the planning system.
Thank you for that response, because that’s the theory, but I think the practice is slightly different, because as the First Minister made clear in relation to his decision on the M4 that the weighting that he has given to environmental considerations is different to the weighting given to those considerations by the Planning Inspectorate, I think that does highlight an inconsistency, and an important inconsistency, within the system. One does question how many other decisions would have been different if the Planning Inspectorate had given the same weighting to environmental considerations as the First Minister and the Government clearly do now. So, how do you intend to amend or correct the incorrect perception of the Planning Inspectorate of the weighting that should be given to environmental considerations, particularly given the declaration of a climate emergency?
I take the point the Member's trying to make, but I think it's not entirely a fair one. Obviously, when any individual human being brings a judgment to bear on a set of facts, there's an element of subjectivity in that, no matter how objective the rules are that are set out. And one individual gives slightly different weight to something than another for a variety of reasons. But what we try to do in Wales—and we're about to go out to consultation on the national development framework and, as I said yesterday in my submission about regional working for local authorities, we're putting a strategic planning tier in as well—here in Wales we want to have a plan-led system where local people have a big say in what their local plan says, that we assist them to have that very loud say in what their local plan says—every area should look the way its local people want it to look; that's the point of the planning system—but that there are a set of rules that we agree here in the Assembly and in our various tiers of government that are applied to make sure that people have the right considerations in place. So, this is a set of rules that says that environmental considerations have the same weight as the economic, social and other considerations. That is the weight we expect the inspectorate to put on it, and I just recently spoke to the royal institute of town planners and I made very clear what our expectations were for the places of the future and I made it extremely clear that what we want to see are local, sustainable communities with a sense of place, which value their local environment and their local culture and their local economic arrangements, which have sustainable jobs closer to where they live, in a system that allows us to make the best use of Wales's natural resources—so, very much what you said. But what we're doing is putting the plan-led system in place that would allow that to happen.
Now, ideally, you would have put the national development framework in first, but we are where we are. So, we've got a set of LDPs that are going through review at the moment. We will put the national development framework in place in consultation with the people of Wales over the summer and then we will put the strategic bits in place, and, at each one of those, there will be a loud conversation with the people of Wales to make sure that we have that balance right for them, because people in different places put different emphasis on different types of things, depending on local need.
So, I'm sort of agreeing with you, I think, but the element of subjectivity is necessarily there. So, in the end, the decision maker brings that to bear, but they do it in a way that is compliant with the system that's in place and unchallengeable in the sense that they show that they've put that balance right. But there'll always be nuance in that. So, the individual decision maker will always bring that nuance to it. And that's the case for planning committees and for planning inspectors. We would like to see as many decisions as possible made in the planning committees themselves, in the democratically controlled councils that are elected to do these things, and, if we can get that system right, we will see a diminution of the appeals to the Planning Inspectorate and—Llywydd, if you'll forgive me for going on at length about this, but I think it's an important point—we are also, of course, consulting about separating the planning inspectorate for Wales into a separate body for that exact reason, because we want a planning system in Wales that's fit for Wales's future.
I'm struggling to think of anything that the Minister could possibly add to that in a supplementary question. [Laughter.] If I could just ask—. You mentioned in the middle of your speech there, Minister, the need to build houses for the future. I've had correspondence with one of my constituents—. I don't want to go into the individual planning applications, but the local authority has turned down a modern eco house—or is in the process of doing that—on the basis that the land within which it's being built also contains a derelict building that they say should be done up first. My constituents have raised a valid point, which is, surely, now that we've got the climate change emergency and we're talking about environmental concerns—is there a need to overhaul planning guidance to local authorities so that the climate emergency and the need for environmental concerns are factored into it at a far greater level, so that, if someone does want to build an eco-friendly house, then surely that should be pushed a little bit higher up the agenda so that we are getting homes that are more helping with the decarbonising agenda?
Well, I'm not going to comment on the individual planning application, about which I know nothing, and so I'm going to make my remarks much more general. But we changed—. Actually, my colleague Lesley Griffiths, one of the last thing she did as the planning Minister was to issue the new 'Planning Policy Wales' document, which fundamentally changes the planning system in Wales, which, I think—. People are talking about a review; we've just fundamentally changed the system, and, if you haven't read it, I recommend it to you. It is not a dry planning document. It's a very living document, which fundamentally shifts the landscape in Wales that we're talking about, and it does it in the way that you've just outlined. So, it talks about the sustainability of placemaking, it talks about using local resources in the best way, it talks about the development of proper planning processes with local people at the heart of it.
And, as I've just said, we're also putting the rest of that framework into place now. We will shortly be consulting over the summer on the national development framework. I encourage all Assembly Members to engage with that and come back to us with both their own and their constituents' comments on that plan. And, as I said yesterday, I've started to outline a process by which we want local authorities to put the strategic layer of plans in place. People have to be at the heart of that process, because it's their place that they're making and what we want to ensure is that the citizens of Wales feel that their planning system properly represents them. The individual decisions are then made in the light of the weight of the documents that their locality has put in place. So, if you don't engage with your local development plan process, you will not have a say in what those rules are when they come to each individual planning application. So, we need to strengthen that voice because I think often it's the case that a local community only realises when an individual planning application comes forward that there's an issue and they don't engage with the plan part of that process in quite the way we'd like. So, I very much welcome views on how we might get a better engagement so that people own their plan in a much more realistic way.
Not only for humans but for animals as well, please. Apart from acting as boundaries and keeping animals inside fields, the hedgerow is an important habitat for a wide variety of animals and plants. As woodlands have been destroyed over the years, a lot of wildlife in them has adapted to living underneath hedgerows and in hedgerows. Will the Minister ensure that, for planning rules, they give due regard to the protection of both the urban and the rural wildlife by conserving and creating the habitats that sustain these creatures?
Yes. I think that's a very valid point, and, as each local development plan goes through, those are the sorts of considerations that the planners and the councillors in each local area should be giving to the preservation of their local landscape. My colleague the Minister for environment has recently been consulting widely on the protection of countryside—things such as hedgerows—and we will certainly be taking that into account.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the planning process for developments of national significance? OAQ54057
Certainly. Developments of national significance is a specific process where defined categories of infrastructure planning applications are made to the Welsh Ministers rather than local planning authorities. Since the process was introduced in 2016, four such applications have been made and were determined within the statutory time frame.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. There is an impending large-scale incinerator application proposal at Buttington Quarry in Powys, which has prompted me to look at the relevant planning guidance. Now, I was quite surprised to see this proposal because it is in a particular site where there's no other large industry at that rural location. When the application is submitted, the scale of it means that it will be decided under the developments of national significance process. Can I ask you to look at national waste strategy as a whole to ensure that waste is dealt with strategically for Wales's needs, and also in the most environmentally conscious way possible? I think the Welsh Government needs to take some time to consider whether the current processes and rules surrounding large-scale incinerator applications are fit for purpose, and, in doing so, develop a national plan. Having noted the lack of a national plan myself, I certainly feel that a moratorium on all applications for incinerators should be put in place when a full and detailed review is carried out ahead of a plan being developed.
I'm not going to comment on the individual application; I don't know anything about it, anyway. As far as I'm aware, it's not being done under the developments of national significance route, but if it is, it is. I'm not aware of it, so I'm not going to comment on that.
My colleague Hannah Blythyn is actually undertaking a review of our 'Towards Zero Waste' strategy with a view to looking again at the circular economy in Wales. And, in her debate response only last week, she talked about the work that we're going to be doing towards that. Certainly, the end disposal of any waste that's remaining will be part of that relook. Obviously, a circular economy wouldn't have any waste in it and so there'd be a falling need for end-of-life disposal of that sort. So, we will be looking again at our 'Towards Zero Waste' policy, with a view to implementing as much of a circular economy in Wales as possible.
8. What action is the Welsh Government taking to speed up the planning and delivery of home adaptations? OAQ54061
The rapid delivery of housing adaptations is key to helping people stay independent in their own home. We are working with colleagues in the health services, local authorities and the voluntary sector to tackle the complexity that can sometimes hamper speedy adaptations.
Thank you, Minister, and, in some ways, this question follows on from the earlier question from Rhun, and you mentioned earlier that we both have just come from an event organised by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, and they were talking about this very issue. I won't repeat what you and others have already said about the benefits of adaptations, but we all face the challenge of delivering those adaptations in good time, and the royal college are recommending a categorised approach to adaptation work focused on person-centred outcomes, driven by the level of complexity of each person's needs. So, can I therefore ask you: do you broadly endorse the guide to planning and delivering home adaptations differently in Wales from the royal college? And can you tell me whether you'll be working with them to see how the recommendations in their report can be effectively delivered?
Yes, it's very good. I haven't read it all since lunchtime, but I've had a flick through and it certainly does look very good. I very much welcome the guide, which certainly will help housing providers consider how to provide a wider range of adaptations to their tenants, using an assessment that reflects the complexity of a person's needs and the adaptation they require. Obviously, the guide is aimed at reducing delays in the delivery of adaptations by providing tools that support proportionate responses and making more effective use of occupational therapists in particular, since it's done by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. And it echoes our preventative approach to adaptations that I outlined in my answer to Rhun. I do think that the royal college makes a very pertinent point about the best use of scarce resource.
So, the example that the speaker before me was making was that, if you need a grab rail in your house, then you need somebody who can fit a grab rail and yourself to say where you need it; you do not need an occupational therapist to come and tell you where to put it. What you need is some common sense. On the other hand, if you need adaptations for the way that you get in and out of a complex seat or bed, for example, you may well need an occupational therapist to be able to work out the best way for you to stay as independent as possible. And she was making the valid point that they are best placed to say which of those pieces of advice they would be best placed to give, and there are a range of other experts who need to be involved in that. And, as I said in response to a number of other Members who've raised this issue today, I very much welcome details from around the country, if you have any, of any things that are particularly good, as well as any issues that are coming back. And Julie Morgan and I have had a number of meetings with care and repair agencies in Wales looking at what data is coming back so that we can make the best use of scarce resources.
Thank you, Minister.
The next item, therefore, is topical questions. The first question is for the education Minister and the question is to be asked by Bethan Sayed.
1. Will the Minister respond to ongoing administrative issues at Swansea University, including recent news that the University is seven months late publishing its financial report? 327
I met with the chair of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales yesterday for confirmation that the council is engaging with the university and monitoring its financial position in accordance with the council's regulatory and financial responsibilities. The university, as an independent, autonomous institution, made a public statement about the delayed publication and confirmed it has no bearing on its financial well-being or performance.
Thank you for the answer. I thought it was important to raise this issue again, given some of the reports that emerged last week, and I appreciate that you've met with HEFCW. But I wanted to put on record that we all value the work that the university does, but that's one of the main reasons why I wanted to raise this again, as has my colleague Helen Mary Jones. And we can't be satisfied with the public statements that have come so far regarding the administrative and management issues at the university. I think that it's our role to scrutinise that particular aspect, and I think it's entirely appropriate for that to happen. Because, as much as any education Minister across the world may say that universities are autonomous bodies, they're also in receipt of public funds, and therefore cannot be above scrutiny or oversight, and, in my view, have a public duty to be more forthright.
So, the suspensions of senior management at the university began late last year, and it's around six months later and we're still not at all clear on the specifics of what happened and why any investigation is still ongoing. If you could provide more clarity on that, it would be much appreciated. Myself and colleagues have been approached by staff at the university who have told us that the investigation is being purposely delayed. Now, I'm not going to comment on the accuracy of that, but that is what they have told me in e-mails. So, an estimate of when we should expect the findings of an investigation and a publication of any report would be welcome, if you could provide it. You've mentioned that you've talked to HEFCW and they're satisfied with the way in which it's carrying out its work, but do you understand that all appropriate stages that are outlined within HEFCW's control have been exhausted, and do you believe that it's not the right time to think about the nature of any intervention that's taken place so far?
I'm also concerned that, to my knowledge, the university court has not been convened this year. Its meeting in February was cancelled, and I was told that a new meeting was being planned for May, but, as far as I know, I haven't had an e-mail telling me when any new meeting takes place, which is where it's an opportunity for AMs to scrutinise them. So, I would like reassurances from you—are you personally satisfied with progress in any investigation, that HEFCW are taking the necessary steps of oversight, and that Swansea University is not having any systematic problems? What time frame would you tolerate as the education Minister in drawing conclusions to any of these investigations?
Just to finish, I think, on a broader level, these incidents, where the public, students and many of the staff of the university are largely unaware of what's happening—I'd like you to comment as to whether you think that's appropriate. I've said before we should have a wider governance review of Welsh universities in terms of the oversight arrangements so that we can understand fully what's happening and that we understand that, given the significant amount of public money involved—that the public and those working at university, more fundamentally, understand what's happening as part of these processes. Because while we understand that you don't have direct control, we also need to understand that we have all of these overarching policies in place where we can scrutinise exactly what's happened here. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Of course I'm aware of the situation at Swansea University and am monitoring the situation and have had regular updates from HEFCW. In my meeting with the chair of the higher education funding council yesterday, I asked a direct question as to whether he and the council had any concerns around the processes that had been employed by Swansea University in dealing with the disciplinary cases that we are all aware of, and the chair confirmed to me that they had no concerns regarding the processes undertaken by Swansea University. I take the chair's word for it when he tells me that.
With regard to a wider governance review of the entirety of the higher education sector, I'm sure the Member is aware of the contents of my remit letter to HEFCW this year, which calls upon them to undertake such a review. That work has already begun, and we will look to work with HEFCW and our institutions in Wales to see that that review strengthens corporate governance in the sector, ahead of, of course, our wider set of post-compulsory education and training reforms where we will look to abolish HEFCW and establish a new commission that will have a regulatory and a governance role, not only for higher education, but also for further education and, indeed, all providers of post-compulsory education in our nation.
I agree with Bethan Sayed that once an institution, whether it's an autonomous body or not, is in receipt of public funds, it has an accountability to this place, either through yourself or through us directly. I just want to follow up on the comments you made about the conversations that you've had with HEFCW, because, actually, I think this is where, as an Assembly, we can be asking some questions. You just said that they have no concerns about the processes that Swansea University has been following during this rather sorry period, and you were happy to take their word for it. Well, the fact that we're standing here asking this question shows that there should be some concerns about those processes. What exactly did they tell you that they had done in order to satisfy themselves of the processes that Swansea had followed? Because it may well be that this seven-month delay in putting the accounts forward is the only thing that they've done wrong, but I would be pretty astounded if anyone just took their word for that. So, perhaps you can give us a bit more detail on that.
The university, of course, in recent years, has done phenomenally well in improving its status and its reputation throughout the world, and the work that it's done has done nothing but impress me in recent years. However, in 2016-17, its income from student sources had already started to fall, which made me wonder whether, perhaps, some of the more recent bad news, if you like, had started to affect confidence in the institution. So, I'm wondering if you've got any views on this issue of confidence in the good name of the university, not least because it is one of the major players in the Swansea bay city deal. So, this is not just about the learners and their individual futures, because it's not just student money that's going into this place at the moment. There's UK Government, Welsh Government and private sector money all being put into the city deal on the basis that this is a fantastic institution with whom they can do business. Obviously, we don't want to undermine that, so perhaps you can give us a little bit of reassurance on that front.
And then finally from me, it's been a stated ambition of the university to make major investment in its estate that will dominate its financial position for the next 10 years. Now, we're talking about long-term investment, particularly in capital estate here. The fact that we haven't got a one-year financial report submitted in time is a cause for concern longer term as well, in that case. And then I just go back to that initial question about what it was that you did ask HEFCW, because if they're not worried about that specific financial question, then I would be worried. Thank you.
HEFCW have no concerns over the financial status and stability of the institution. Their risk board, I understand, meets next month, and I was given no indication that they will change their attitude and their rating of Swansea University as a result. Clearly, they are engaged with Swansea around the late publication of financial statements. As you will be aware, the university has made a public statement saying that the reasons behind the delay have no bearing on its financial well-being or performance. Rather, the delay is due to the further work being required related to an internal audit, and the ongoing internal inquiry at the university. HEFCW is engaged with the university to monitor the cause of the delay, and it is important that they are then able to address the issues as soon as possible, relating to the internal investigation, after which they will then be in a position to publish their financial statements.
With regard to that process, I have not been presented with any evidence to suggest to me that the processes undertaken by the registrar at Swansea University are the incorrect processes, and HEFCW are satisfied themselves and have reported to me that they believe that the processes undertaken by the registrar and the university are the correct processes. Clearly, when dealing with such sensitive personnel issues related to individuals' livelihoods and reputations, those processes need to be robust and they need to be fair, and sometimes they take longer to work their way through the various stages than perhaps any of us would like. But I am clear and I have not been presented with any evidence that suggests that the processes that have been undertaken have been unfair or have not followed correct procedures.
Can I associate myself with the comments the Member made about the success of Swansea University? The university has performed extremely strongly in a whole variety of ways—academically, and the impact that it's had on the city has been significant. I am confident that the university will continue to play a really, really important role, not just in educating its students but helping us to develop our research capacity to be able to help provide meaningful employment opportunities and business opportunities within the city and the region. I understand from colleagues that issues around the city deal are moving forward.
Thank you, Minister. The next question is to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, and the question is from Andrew R.T. Davies.
2. What discussions has the Minister had with Allied Bakeries in light of the company's announcement that it's to halt production at its Heath site in Cardiff, putting 180 jobs at risk? 328
Well, Llywydd, this is clearly very disappointing news for the company and its workforce, and our thoughts are with the families and the employees at this difficult time. Welsh Government officials spoke to the business yesterday and are ready to support all affected staff through our Working Wales programmes, Jobcentre Plus, and the citizens advice bureau.
Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. As you said, this is very disappointing news to say the least in an area that has lost substantial jobs over recent years: Barclays and Tesco, for example, and now this particular site, which has been a bakery for many decades—not just years, but many decades. It is an announcement that obviously they're looking to reconfigure the site and turn it into a distribution hub, so there will be a retention of jobs if the proposals go through the consultation process and are agreed. But can you confirm, Deputy Minister, whether there were any approaches to Welsh Government to see whether there might be support available to retain manufacturing capacity here? As I understand it, the manufacturing capacity is moving to other sites that the company owns in the UK.
Secondly, from those conversations that you have had with the company—or your officials have had with the company—has the company taken up the Welsh Government's offer to support workers in this transition, which I appreciate is subject to consultation, and obviously that process has to be undertaken? But, by the announcement, there do seem to be—regrettably, if it's carried out—significant job losses, so it's important that workers at the plant fully understand that that support will be made available at the earliest opportunity, and that the company is allowing access to Welsh Government support, should it be required.
Thank you for that question. As I said, we share the disappointment of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, who are deeply disappointed with the news too. As far as we understand it, this is a straightforward commercial decision. The nature of the market for bread has changed. Demand has reduced as people's diets are changing and people are eating less bread. The company, therefore, is looking to consolidate its production on other sites to make sure that all of its units are profitable.
We are pleased that they are, at least, going to be retaining a significant number of jobs on the site to make it into a logistics hub. We will be working with the company, as I mentioned, through our Working Wales and Jobcentre Plus projects to see if we can find employment for those who face redundancy if, as you say, the consultation continues as we anticipate it will. As we do have a developed sector in the Welsh Government on food and drink, we are going to see what we can do to match those people who may be laid off into other jobs in the existing sector, to make sure that those skills aren’t lost to the Welsh economy or to the industry.
Joyce Watson took the Chair.
I'm also very concerned about the workers at Allied Bakeries, where there has been, as we've heard, a very long tradition of baking on and near that site in that part of Cardiff, and I'm pleased to hear the Deputy Minister talking about the need to focus on the skills that the workers have there. While it would be positive if jobs are kept there in a distribution centre, that's not the same as the skills that have been developed over many years in baking. These are very skilled workers.
This is the latest piece of bad news after many instances of job losses and threats to jobs in the south-east of Wales. Even in the capital city, this is a significant number of jobs. One must consider the pressure that this puts on the Government's ability to deal with these announcements by various companies in terms of putting various schemes into place, working with Jobcentre Plus, working with implementing ReAct schemes, and so on. Will the Minister give an assurance that thought will be given—and consideration will be given—to providing additional resources and increasing the capacity within Welsh Government in order to deal with blow after blow, and to make sure that workers, wherever they are affected in the Welsh economy, are given the support that they need to look for new employment?
Certainly, we announced yesterday in the supplementary budget that we are increasing resources to be able to be nimble enough to respond to the changing needs of the economy as we hit increasingly turbulent times. But certainly in this case, this is simply a matter of the market changing. This was a factory, as I understand it, that produced bread. It didn't produce other pastries or higher premium products. As the company made clear in the press quotes, they lost a contract for an own-label bread supply to a supermarket and, simply, demand is shifting, and there is simply not the work for the company as a whole to justify keeping as many bread-producing factories running. So, I don't think that there's a great deal that the Government can do in situations like that. This is the nature of the market. However, there are things that we can do to make sure, as I said, that the skills of the Welsh workers are redeployed to make sure that our food and drink sector remains vibrant and viable.
I'm going to move on now to the 90-second statements. The first 90-second statement is by Elin Jones, celebrating 50 years of Sali Mali.
Sali Mali is 50 today. On this day in 1969, the first Sali Mali book was published by Cymdeithas Lyfrau Ceredigion, as part of the Darllen Stori series. In those days, books in the Welsh language for young children were very rare indeed and I, like others, was very lucky to be able to learn to read with the help of Sali Mali.
Sali Mali was the creation of Mary Vaughan Jones, and Rowena Wyn Jones was the illustrator. What a contribution by these two to the Welsh language and to reading by creating a character with such longevity, who captured the imagination of generations of young children and their teachers, and do so to this day. Mary Vaughan Jones was also responsible for the characters Jac y Jwc, y Pry Bach Tew and Jaci Soch. These were my childhood friends, and thinking about them today warms my heart.
Sali Mali also became a tv superstar, through animated series and the Caffi Sali Mali series on S4C. Ifana Savill wrote the television series, and it was she and her husband who established Pentref Bach in Blaenpennal in Ceredigion, which became a television set and a holiday destination for families, so that children could live Sali Mali’s life.
Sali Mali visited the Senedd and sat in the Llywydd’s chair during the Urdd Eisteddfod recently, and tonight the Senedd will be bathed in orange to celebrate her birthday. Thank you to those who had the vision to create her, and happy birthday, Sali Mali.
And the next 90-second statement to follow that is Mick Antoniw on World Humanist Day, 21 June 2019.
Thank you for that. In a world of increasing intolerance and division, and in a world undergoing dramatic technological and social change, it is sometimes easy to become entrenched in narrow beliefs and to ignore the expanse of thought and imagination and the commonality of libertarian belief that there is in the world, whether that be related to a belief in God or a rational belief in none. Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s greatest thinkers and creative artists and science itself.
Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. In many respects, humanism has similarities to religion. However, the key difference is that humanists recognise that the power to resolve problems lies exclusively in our hands, through rational analysis and the use of science.
Those who are not religious have much to contribute to the values on which our society is based and to its future direction. By fully recognising humanism as a civic ethic in all our social and public institutions, we can harness the potential of unencumbered thought for the benefit of all.
So, on Friday, we celebrate World Humanist Day, when we recognise our common humanity and obligations to one another. It is a day for promoting and celebrating the progressive values of humanism as a philosophical life stance and means to effect peaceful, collective and consensual change in the world.
And the next 90-second statement will be from Vikki Howells on LGBT Pride Month 2019 and the twentieth anniversary of the very first Cardiff Pride.
June is LGBT Pride Month, and an occasion for LGBT+ people to celebrate advances in their rights around the world. It's also a chance to raise awareness of current issues facing the community. 2019’s event is particularly poignant, coming as it does in the month marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Closer to home, there is also a significance to Pride this year, as Pride Cymru celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The first such event, then Cardiff Mardi Gras, took place in September 1999 and it drew 5,000 people to Cooper's Field in the heart of the city. In the period since, there have been ups and downs. But thanks to the persistence of volunteers, Pride Cymru as it was re-branded in a potent symbol of its national importance, has grown in strength. It now hosts 50,000 participants over three days, bringing visitors from all around Wales, the UK, and indeed the world, into the city, generating over £2.5 million for the local economy, and seeing 16,000 people marching through Cardiff in the cause of equality—the march itself being a much-loved addition since 2012.
2019 will see Pride Cymru gain its place as the fifth largest Pride in the UK. It will also look ahead to EuroPride 2025, which Cardiff will host, and which has just attracted 0.5 million people to Vienna, this year’s venue. But, as both Cardiff Pride and the National Assembly for Wales celebrate their twentieth birthdays, there is a chance for us to reflect on the association between devolution and equality.
I'm going to move on to item 5, a motion to annul the National Health Service (Welsh Language in Primary Care Services) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) Regulations 2019. And I call on Dai Lloyd to move the motion.
Motion NDM7057 Dai Lloyd
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 27.2:
Agrees that The National Health Service (Welsh Language in Primary Care Services) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) Regulations 2019, laid before the Assembly on 9 May 2019, be annulled.
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. And I move the motion on the annulment of the regulations on primary care and the Welsh language. The primary care sector—dentists, opticians, pharmacists, and GPs—are responsible for 90 per cent of patient experiences in the health service, and, indeed, it’s the starting point for most on their journey on the care pathway. These are the most vulnerable people, with the greatest need, where receiving treatment through the medium of Welsh can be crucial, such as in the case of those with dementia, or young children who speak no other language other than the Welsh language.
The Government pledged in the spring of last year, in exempting primary care providers from the standards for the rest of the health service, that specific regulations would be introduced in order to secure rights for the Welsh language in primary care through the service contracts. But, we are here today looking at regulations that don't provide any statutory rights, or even half a statutory expectation, of receiving face-to-face services through the medium of Welsh for patients. At best, over time, we will see a few new Welsh signs as a result of these new regulations. There is nothing here: no rights, no expectations, and no change.
A quarter of a century since the passing of the Welsh Language Act 1993, and eight years since the passing of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 that established official status for the language, and seven years since the Government adopted 'More than Just Words', which committed them to providing health services through the medium of Welsh proactively, these limp regulations don't even provide the most basic things such as noting the language of choice of the patient—something that is crucial to plan Welsh language services. What’s the purpose of encouragement? Even if the will, the time and the resources were available to the health boards to ensure that encouragement was there, these regulations don't even require a record. They don't ensure any actionable legal right of any value. And neither do they provide assurances of having a Welsh language service, even when that is a matter of clinical need. That, in and of itself, just shows how deficient these regulations are, and why they need to be annulled and redrafted.
But on top of that, the Minister has shown the same disregard for this Senedd, and democracy, in introducing these regulations, as he shows to the linguistic needs of the most vulnerable people in our society in terms of the content of the regulations. He didn't attend committee to respond to questions. He’s even refused the request of my colleague Delyth Jewell, who is a member of the committee, to discuss the way forward before today's debate. Such is his disregard for the Welsh language, he hadn't even bothered to translate the explanatory memorandum for these regulations into Welsh at the time of their introduction, although it was only five pages long. So, in introducing language duties, the department has gone against its own language responsibilities. You couldn't make it up.
But what is clear is that the Government is concerned about the views of the profession. Indeed, the only bodies listed in the explanatory memorandum as bodies that were consulted by Government are the five professional bodies. It’s clear that their views are more important than those of the elected representatives of this place. They had far longer than 21 days to have their say; indeed, they had over a year. The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee had to insist on holding a very brief inquiry within the 21 days they had, and seven of those days were during recess. If a committee Chair doesn't deserve the respect of this Government, then who does? To whom are they accountable? This is no way to treat our national Parliament.
So, rather than having an open, transparent debate on these issues, in order to ensure the best for our patients and users of the Welsh language, we have a Government that has done everything within its power to avoid accountability to this Senedd on the content of these regulations. I, as Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, the Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, and the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee have complained, but you haven't listened. It is damning. The strategies and the warm words have failed. Now is not the time for first steps and encouragement; it is time to have far firmer regulations in order to safeguard and expand the rights of Welsh speakers. Members of the Assembly have the opportunity to ensure that today by supporting the annulment of these regulations.
We will be supporting this motion to annul these regulations, not on the basis of their content, but because of the fact that the scrutiny role of the Assembly has been ignored. Personally, I feel that it’s easy for practitioners to adhere to the regulations—someone else is paying for them and they're not challenging. I don't want to impose standards on small businesses, even directly, but these are simple steps to take, which cost next to nothing, and it’s embarrassing, in a way, that we need legislation at all for these steps. But, other people may think that they should be more challenging or less challenging or completely different. We don't know, because there has been insufficient time to scrutinise these regulations. If the Chairs of two committees say to the Welsh Government that they need more time, well, we should have more time for scrutiny. We're the ones who are legislating; we're the ones who decide on the legislation.
And also, we've already been holding our noses from having received assurances from the Government about the acceptability of some secondary legislation from the United Kingdom in devolved areas, without looking at them ourselves. We shouldn't have to do that with secondary legislation put forward by our own Government. We've opposed time after time attempts by the Welsh Government to justify the use of the negative procedure for secondary legislation on the basis that this Senedd doesn't have the time to scrutinise or because any changes are technical in nature, and we've had enough of that. The way that these regulations were put forward proves our point. Will you respect the Senedd and support today’s motion? Thank you.
I call on Bethan Sayed, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.
I thank Dai Lloyd for tabling this motion. I want to start by emphasising the importance of these regulations. They are supposed to take us closer to delivering primary healthcare services in Welsh—something that was acknowledged by everyone who came and spoke to the committee as a necessity, not merely a preference, for some people. For vulnerable patients, it can be vital to talk to their doctor in their first language. Although I personally believe that the regulations should be annulled, committee members were divided on this, and I should make it clear that I am speaking on behalf of the committee.
But before talking about the content of the regulations, I want to discuss the way in which they were laid before the Assembly. In March of last year, the committee scrutinised the standards regulations relating to the Welsh language and the health sector, and was told by the Minister for the Welsh language at the time that we would be given more than the minimum 21 days to consider these regulations.
The committee clerk wrote to the Welsh Government three times to ask about the timing of the regulations and to confirm that we would have more than 21 days to scrutinise them. After having no reply, the committee clerk was told on the phone that they would be coming forward 'before Easter' and then 'before the end of May'. Without any prior warning, they were then laid on 9 May and came into force on 30 May.
The Government has failed badly in its handling of these regulations. When I wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services to point out that the timing meant that the committee had only 10 working days to consult stakeholders, to discuss and report on the regulations before they came into force, I received a most unsatisfactory reply. The Minister replied that
'under Standing Orders 21 and 27, there is no provision for a Committee other than the responsible Committee...to report on an instrument subject to the negative procedure.'
This completely disregards the fact that we, as a committee, have been signalling our intention to scrutinise these regulations for over 12 months.
The health Minister gave a more gracious response to the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on the same issue. Mick Antoniw was told:
‘Previous amendments to these Regulations have not gathered the same level of interest and I have asked my officials to ensure in future, if they involve the Welsh language, we alert and engage with CWLC earlier in the process.’
Dai Lloyd has already raised the issue of an explanatory memorandum to regulations on Welsh language service provision being laid in English only. It would be amusing if it was not so disrespectful. I note that the health Minister also writes that his officials have, and I quote,
'reached agreement in principle that we will progressively increase the number of explanatory memoranda for statutory instruments that are laid in Welsh before the Assembly.'
Is such a weak commitment the most we can expect from a Government with ambitions to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050?
As a committee we want the Welsh Government to commit to giving us the opportunity to scrutinise all legislation relating to Welsh language duties on primary care providers before it is made or laid in the Assembly. I would assume it goes without saying that all supporting documents should be presented bilingually, but in this case I’ll say it for the record.
With regard to consultation, before moving onto the content of the regulations, I want to record our concerns about the consultation process. The Welsh Government formally consulted the representative bodies of doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists, and so on. We were told that discussions were held with the Welsh Language Commissioner, none of which are in the public domain. I'm shocked that the Government has failed to consult the most important group, namely the patients. The fact that patients were not consulted about services in Welsh speaks volumes about which stakeholders the Government value. The committee calls for the regulations to be amended following further consultation that must include patient bodies and the Welsh Language Commissioner.
In terms of the requirements, I'd like to talk about what duties will be imposed on primary care providers and the opinions of those providers on the relevant duties. The regulations only go so far as ensuring that providers make forms available in Welsh and that new signs are available through the medium of Welsh, and that they encourage Welsh speakers and learners to wear a badge, encourage staff to attend awareness training courses and record the language preference of a patient.
In our previous report, we wrote of our concerns that there is still no right to receive face-to-face services in Welsh, and that the right to receive a service in the language of the individual’s choice should be an established principle in the public sector in Wales. I still feel this way, and I'm pleased to say that the committee members agreed that the Welsh Government should work towards developing this capacity.
I have a great deal of things to add, but I'm aware that time is against me. We are disappointed at the weakness of these regulations, and the lack of oversight, the concerns raised by the professional bodies, and the lack of consultation with patients and the commissioner. All these elements add up to regulations that manage to be both late and rushed.
This has been described as a ‘first step’ on a journey towards greater provision of primary care services in Welsh, but this is worrying. If the direction of travel is not agreed, if the costs are not transparent and if the providers are not on board, then the journey can’t even begin. I urge the Welsh Government to consult again and to revise these regulations.
I call on Mick Antoniw, Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.
Thank you. We considered these regulations at our meeting on 20 May 2019 and we reported on both the technical and merits points to the Assembly. We welcome that the Welsh Government has accepted the technical reporting point relating to the drafting of the regulations, and that it proposes to rectify the issue by means of a correction slip.
With regard to the merits points, we noted that these regulations impose six contractual duties relating to the Welsh language on contractors who provide primary care services to the NHS. This contrasted with the 121 Welsh language standards applicable to other health service providers. The Welsh Government’s response to our report stated that the duties imposed by these regulations are the first duties relating to the Welsh language to apply to independent primary care providers, and that they are distinct from the Welsh language standards applicable to local health boards and NHS trusts.
We further noted that the regulations into which these additional duties are inserted make it clear that they are part of the contractual duties of contractors from 30 May 2019. However, there is nothing in the explanatory memorandum or accompanying the explanatory memorandum to explain that the amendments apply to all contracts from that date and are not limited to new contracts entered into after that date. The Welsh Government responded to this point by saying it had consulted and corresponded with the applicable representative bodies of the independent primary care providers, and that it was satisfied that the relevant bodies are aware that the duties are not limited to new arrangements entered into after the date on which the regulations came into force.
In addition to our usual report, we also wrote to the Minister to support the concerns raised by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, of which I am also a member. And I note that the Minister has said, in his reply to us last week, that he had asked his officials to ensure engagement with committees much earlier in the process for future regulations. And I take this opportunity to emphasise again, to all of Welsh Government, the importance of engaging with the relevant subject committees on significant regulations, particularly where a committee has sought that engagement.
And I have further points. I have great sympathy with the points that have been made by Dai Lloyd and to the procedural inadequacies that have occurred, particularly when it comes to the ability to properly scrutinise regulations that come before this Assembly. That is a fundamental part of the parliamentary process, and the concern that has been raised is one that I think was shared across the board, both in the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and also on the Welsh language and culture committee on which I sit. There are those of us who I think fell short of supporting the idea of annulment, but primarily because of the damage that we felt it might do, or the implications of not proceeding with regulations that seek to advance the interest of the Welsh language. But that should not mean that there isn't a warning shot across the bows of Government, that if procedures are not properly followed, if there is not proper opportunity for scrutiny, then the issue of annulment is one that is taken seriously, I think, by our committee structure. And I think on future occasions it may be something that we consider. So, I would certainly seek an assurance from today that those lessons have been learnt, that that constitutional importance is recognised, and this is something that will not happen again during the course of parliamentary processes in this Assembly.